Third Wind - Pushing To New Levels
I am a reader and always have been. I enjoy reading about folks who have to reach down deep inside themselves to find out what they are really made of, to find out how far they can really push themselves.
Today I was reading “Pugilist at Rest”, a bunch of fine stories by author Thom Jones.
I turned to the last short story of the collection where a professional boxer is talking about the time when he was in a fight and he came to the corner between rounds and was totally exhausted. He had nothing left in the tank, or so he thought. The cut man/corner man then told the fighter about the “third wind”. “He said, “Kid, there’s a third wind. It’s between here and death. Don’t be afraid. Go on ahead and grab a hold. The third wind. It’s all yours.”
After being told about the third wind, the fighter went out and he dominated the next round and won the fight.
Now, who knows if this “third wind” even exists physiologically, but that isn’t what is important. What I gleaned from the passage was that most folks have something left in reserve when it comes to training and pushing through seemingly impossible reps, a reserve that exists way down inside of a person that most folks never come close to touching. It lies dormant, a switch that is never turned on. But, if you can find it and dominate it, you will go places that you couldn't fathom going to before in your training.
There are certain ways of exercising that will test you, which will give you the choice of reaching deep or backing off when it gets to the point of making the choice whether to push towards it or back away from it. Running lends itself to the choice. No, not shuffling along, slow distance jogging. I am speaking of hill sprints or gassers where you sprint 10 yards and back, sprint 20 yards and back, sprint 30 yards and back, and so on. If you are sprinting up a hill that is relatively steep and 20-40 yards long and are coming back down the hill at a decent pace and then immediately sprinting back up again, you will have the opportunity to make the decision to go into that deep reserve or not.
As far as training with free weights, squats, and deadlifts, especially high rep squats and deadlifts lend themselves to getting you to the level of effort, exertion, and intensity that will bring you to the third wind, yes or no point.
Years ago, the 20-rep squat was a popular workout to gain size. What I found out real quickly was that the 20-rep squats are “man makers” and will test your guts usually when you get to around the 12th rep.
Doubt and hesitation are death to reaching inside yourself with these high rep squats. For example, I trained a guy years ago who had a quest for bigger legs and asked me what a good program would be to accomplish his goals. I told him that we would try the 20 rep squat program. I started him out at 225 and we went up 10 pounds a week, and he made it to 265x20 and it was easy. He definitely had 3-5 reps left in him. The following workout called for 275x20. “Oh, I don't know coach, 275x20? That will be tough.” I said, “You crushed 265x20 last week and you can definitely do 275x20. I wouldn't have you put the weight on the bar if I didn't think you would succeed.”
So he puts the weight on the bar and he's crushing the set. I mean, the first 15 reps were smoke! In fact, reps 15-18 moved a little more slowly, but he did them and I just knew that he would get 20 reps and I was all set to tell him, “I told you so”, but then came the 19th rep and it barely moved. He got the 19th rep but it looked like he was climbing a mountain in order to finish it. But he did finish it. I was yelling, “ You got this! One rep! Anyone can do one more rep!” Hell, now I was fired up. But I looked at his face in the mirror that was in front of the power rack where he was squatting and I could see in his face that doubt was rearing its ugly head. And with that doubt came the hesitation. He stood there and stood there. It seemed like an eternity but was probably around 10 seconds. No way is he going to complete this rep now, I thought to myself, and he didn't. He went down with the 20th rep and collapsed at the bottom, with zero effort to get out of the bottom. He went from crushing reps to getting buried. Did he all of a sudden get weak right before the 20th rep? Not physically, but for sure mentally. His legs and lungs were burning and he doubted himself even before the set began. 275 is a weight that he couldn't wrap his head around doing for a set of 20 reps. And then that doubt was planted in his head and then at the top of that 19th rep, he hesitated, doubt running through his mind.
“What happened?” I asked, but I already knew what happened. If he would have just completed that rep, had some confidence in himself, just told himself that he would not be denied, he would have broken through that barrier that holds him back from reaching the extra gear, the third wind.
And I have seen it many times, especially in the squat and the deadlift. Both of those exercises when done for high reps are brutal on the body, the whole body, and it's a must to be able to tap into those mental and physical reserves to continue to get stronger, bigger, and mentally tougher.
Some never get there, and that's okay. Maybe some folks aren't meant to be the type that grit their teeth and complete the reps, that WILL themselves to persevere and finish.
Can you train to tap into it? Here is my experience with it: The younger that you start pushing into and past that zone, conquering the hesitation and doubt, the easier it is to tap into it at will. You use the “cookie jar” approach, where you say to yourself, I did it before, I can do it now. Reaching back into that cookie jar to recall the times when you didn't take no for an answer.
One can get bigger and stronger without reaching down deep, but never as big and as strong as they could be if they learned to delve into a place that they have never been to.
Push past it just one time and you will realize that you didn’t die and then the level is raised for you, the level that you know can be reached with a supreme effort, the place where the greatest gains are realized.
About The Author - Jim Steel
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog Basbarbell and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Jim Steel is co-host of the RAW with Marty Gallagher Podcast along with Marty Gallagher and J.P. Brice and is a monthly content contributor at IRON COMPANY.