Sometimes attaining goals can be anticlimactic - A squat story
I was thrilled to see that a video existed of our training partner Bob “Nacho Del Grande” Myers squatting 700 for the first time back in the 1990s. The video capturing Bob’s 700 barbell squat was shot at Ian Burgess’ Maryland Athletic Club right before the national powerlifting championships – where Bob got 2nd place. The 700-pound barbell squat was a milestone that Nacho had worked towards for ten years.
I remember the session and the season. Bob, Kirk Karwoski and I were training partners: Bob and Kirk were preparing for the USPF national championships, I was preparing for the IPF world master’s championships that would be held in Toronto. (I got 2nd place behind Lovaz of Hungary in the 220-pound class.)
When this video was shot, we were all prepping for big competitions that were impending: every training session was life or death. On that day, no one pointed out that Bobby would be assaulting the 700-pound barrier, that would be bad juju, like talking about an ongoing no-hitter in the dugout, it wasn’t done. He had hit a tough 680 the week before so 700 was hardly a sure thing.
It was obvious that he was psyched out of his mind as soon as he walked through the door at Maryland Athletic Club. He didn’t say a word; he didn’t have to; he had the look: it was game day and he was ferocity-cubed; his mindset was betrayed by his blazing eyes. I knew he had been thinking about this 700 from the instant he racked his successful – and difficult – 680-pound barbell squat the week before. Every spare minute of every day for the last seven days he fixated on the 700.
Auto-visualization is a process wherein the athlete repeatedly runs a mental movie of themselves performing the upcoming athletic task. Science has shown that continuous mental repetition improves technique, focus and concentration. Visualization effectiveness improves with time and practice. The 700-pound barbell squat movie had been playing over and over in Bob’s head all week long and now it was time to turn vision into reality.
After finishing work, he loaded his gear into his car for the forty-minute drive around the beltway from Silver Spring to College Park. He bought a 16-ounce coffee from 7-11 and during the 40-minute drive from work to MAC, he drank the coffee, played death metal at top volume and tried to keep his psych under control.
It would be so easy to shoot his psychological wad thinking about the 700 lb. barbell squat. That would be a rookie mistake. He needed to stay on simmer from now until the session. He would have to keep his psych subdued during the warm-ups. It would take a while to work through the warm-ups: 135 x 8, 255 x 3, 345 x 1, 455 x 1, 545 x 1, 595 x 1, 655 x 1 – then the magic 700.
On the ride to the gym, he thought about the leadup to this day. He’d been thinking about this milestone since taking up powerlifting a decade ago: to join the 700-squat club seemed an impossible dream. Starting out, Bob had been gob smacked seeing his first ever 700-pound barbell squat in competition. The guy that squatted 700 was a physical monster and young Bobby was blown away. At the time he was a tall skinny guy – could he ever achieve that?
He spent the next ten years of his life inching closer to 700. Now he was on a car ride to do just that. And yes, he had turned himself into a physical monster. He knew that in this calm before the storm his best thoughts would be no thoughts. He drove with alertness, listened with hypersensitivity and concentrated on not thinking about the about-to-happen event. Focus, center, stay chill and do NOT allow oneself to become engaged in a psyche-sapping, adrenaline-draining mental movie about the feat. All that was over with.
Now it was the day and time to do the deed. This was real and it was now. When he arrived at MAC, he parked, exited, uncoiled and stretched. He gathered his gear and headed inside. He entered, nodded to Ian, who was on desk duty, and headed to the free-weight squat area. Kirk would be working up to 880, Marty was scheduled for 635 x 5 and Bobby would assault 700. As was his habit, Bob bought his musical sound system so that he could play an appropriate soundtrack for the session, one designed to further jack him up, Motley Crue, Ozzy, Van Halen.
There were always other elite lifters in attendance at our training sessions, men not training but showing up to spot and watch the Iron God that was Karwoski in action. He was at his peak and there would routinely be 25 people watching our barbell squat sessions. In addition to having 3-5 burly spotters and a videographer, a mob of people would show up for one reason: to watch Kirk Karwoski squat.
The three of us weren’t much for talking during the workout: Kirk would resort to his Walkman between sets. I would do the same. Bob listened to his stereo. Everyone had a different soundtrack going. Kirk and I wore headphones to center, psych and eliminate external, energy-draining interactions with other humans.
When confronted with a herculean task, the athlete needs to be selfish. An experienced athlete will have a series of highly individualized psych strategies. There is the pre-workout psych strategy that uses auto-visualization. There is a separate psych strategy used during the workout’s preliminary sets. There is third and final psych strategy; the berserker, banzai, nitrous oxide psych strategy saved for the climactic moment of the workout.
After all the preliminaries were done, after all the thoughts were thought, after all the workouts taken, after all the meals eaten, it was time. Bob didn’t sneak through or squeak through the 700-pound barbell squat barrier, he kicked the 700-door down screaming “HERE’S JOHNNY!”
He obliterated the weight. Looking at the video reinforces my then impression that he could have tripled the 700 on that day and that time. He put on an incredible, out-of-body psych that in my estimation upped his non-psyched capacities by a full 5%.
He didn’t become so manic or deranged that he lost or forgot his technique. His rep stroke was perfection for a tall person. He might have been crazed but he was still in control. There was a sizeable crowd of people that day. A good thing, alphas perform better when strange eyes are watching. Psychologically, he was primed and loaded; still, that sluggish 680 a mere seven days ago wanted to push its way into his consciousness: he had a psychological choice…
- Allow nagging doubt to take root
- Bust thru to a new level of psych brought on by the biggest physical challenge of his life
He chose to break through to a new level. I have trained with and encountered scores of lifters that wilted in the clutch, men that just fell apart in actual competition.
In the immediate aftermath of his manhandling 700 there was much jubilation amongst spotters and spectators. Fifteen minutes later he was sitting on the edge of an exercise bench totally drained. He was exhausted, emotionally burnt out; dog tired, sweat drenched, decimated mentally and physically. As he sat, I walked over, caught his eye and said,
“What’s up? Are you waiting for your Parade?”
He looked up, “My Parade?”
“You know,” I made like I was marching, “the parade for you squatting 700?”
He looked puzzled for the briefest of instants, then his whole expression changed, he set up suddenly energized and laughed.
“EXACTLY! Where’s my goddamned PARADE!”
You work so hard and so long for something profound, something so challenging and inspirational that you dedicate your life to it, and then when you attain it, it seems…
“Where’s my parade?? Don’t folks understand how profound this is? I demand a PARADE!”
“If there was any justice, they’d make today a national holiday.”
“And they’d name streets after me!”
We laughed but there was sad truth in the reality. The goals that were so motivating and inspiring when we started out invariably lose their luster as we actually approach them. The magnificence of the feat is diminished by time and continual application. All those years of creeping up on a goal lessens the ultimate impact. On the other hand, as I pointed out to Bob that day,
“Imagine if you could go back in time and show your old self, the skinny kid setting out on the 700-squat journey, the video of you finally achieving it – young skinny Bob’s mind would be blown! You slaughtered the 700 and you’ve added 70-pounds of pure muscle!”
“I’d have fallen in love with myself!”
For the elite strength athlete, when one numerical benchmark falls, another one always presents itself. Kirk, Bob and I still train together. All three of us are still in hot pursuit of brand-new goals. And we are all three still awaiting our respective parades.
*Special thanks to "Nacho Del Grande" for sharing this pic.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.