Not long after a top level powerlifter posts a high ranking total on the leaderboards, criticism soon follows. This is human nature after all. One blog post won’t do anything to change that though, and I won’t bother with trying. Rather, I’d like to address a single comment I often hear after a lifter performs well on the platform:
“I don’t know how he stays healthy enough to do that. I mean, my shoulders are trashed and I’m not even benching half what he does. He must have not played sports in high school or suffered any injuries when he was younger.”
WRONG. The difference between the most successful strength athletes, and the ones who assume top guys are invincible, is the relentless desire to find a way. Not under most circumstances; under every circumstance.
There’s a fine line between training around injury, and ignoring obvious risk factors for serious injury. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll reference the former. Problem is, often those without the will to persevere in the first place will likely lump every condition into the latter. Usually out of fear, laziness, or both. Sometimes you’ve just got to sack up and get back into the weight room. Fortune favors the brave.
If you don’t think those at the highest level in strength sport have been dealt their fair share of painful setbacks, think again. Of course they have. The difference is that they just don’t let roadblocks stop their progress. Pectoral strains may mean spending more time training overhead press until the muscle heals. Quad injuries can recover while backing off from the squat, but training stiff legs deadlifts and good mornings with even higher priority. A lifter may rest a sore bicep by pulling with a hook grip or straps. Beaten up low backs may mean taking a break from wide stance low bar squatting, and employing a more vertical high bar squat setup. Find a way; keep moving.
You can’t get something for nothing in this world, and everything comes at one cost or another. Take enough attempts at or near 100% of your 1RM, and no matter how diligent your recovery strategy is, an injury is bound to force its way through the door at the least opportune moment. That exact moment is my focus here. What separates the peanut gallery and the man with ten plates on his back, is the decision made at this fork in the road. The strongest don’t give a shit what it takes, and will find the way to continue training. They will NEVER stop moving. If it means doing a thousand reps a day on a hamstring curl machine with an empty stack, so be it. Means to an end. The internet coach will cash out and tune in online to bitch about why his bum is too sore to squat tomorrow. Don’t be that guy. Or girl.
The greatest lifters don’t possess magical healing powers the rest of us only dream about. They have invested as much time and effort into injury recovery and adapting to sub-optimal conditions, as they have invested into any other part of their training package. Recovery know-how is invaluable on the path to maximal strength. If this is a subject that interests you (it should), there is an infinite supply of quality information out there. No excuse to claim ignorance, that’s for sure. But this isn’t about whether or not you know how to heal properly, it’s about possessing the fortitude to push forward no matter what you must heal from.
I’ll close with this: Understand I am not an advocate of grinding head first through major trauma and injury, all in the name of a bigger total. Reckless training will lead you down a very short road with an unpleasant end. This should be obvious, because making stupid training decisions and ignoring warning signs will ultimately hinder a big performance more than it will ever help. What I am saying is that the next time your mom is driving you home from the gym in her minivan, ask yourself if that sprained ankle is really the end of your powerlifting career. Is it? Or is it something you can probably find a way to work around and grow stronger while it heals.
Not even Coan was immune to injury. He simply found a way where others didn’t.