Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Taking the Difficult Shot -- Keith Wassung (2008)

Originally Published in This Issue
April, 2008
Thanks for writing it, Keith! 

More from Keith Wassung here:

The Bottom of the Squat

Once a Lifter, Always a Lifter

Bottom Position Squats

The Hise Shrug  

Improving the Overhead Press

Human Genetics and Weight Training 

Good Workouts, Bad Workouts 

Joe Versus The Squat Rack 

More of Keith's Articles

If you're unfamiliar with Keith Wassung's body of work you're in for a treat. 
He also works on bodies as a chiropractor! 

I remember a workout in which I was preparing to perform my next to last set of dead lifts off of blocks, which is one of the those forgotten exercises of the past. The movement is painful, even more so than the conventional dead lift, but the dividends it pays in strength and development are well worth it. I hate the next to last set of a series of compound movements. The last set is always the hardest from a physical standpoint, but the next to last set is emotionally and physically draining. You are already tired, you know the set is going to hurt and you know that you still have one more to go. I have often said that when doing a set of 20 rep squats, the really tough reps are from about 9-15. Repetitions 16-20 are very difficult, but you know it's almost over, which seems to make it easier. Success in lifting, just like in many endeavors, is largely dependent on one's state of mind-the body will do whatever the mind dictates.

I completed both sets of dead lifts and was preparing to finish off the day's workout with some abdominal movements, when Jack walked into the weight room carrying a basketball. Jack was a good friend, and one of those guys who was always wanted to train with me, but never showed up. He had come to the gym this day, but had gotten distracted by a pick-up game of basketball. He asked me if I wanted to get something to eat, which is a question to which I never respond with a no. While I was doing some incline sit-ups, Jack decided to do his workout, which consisted of super setting concentration curls with leg extensions.

We finished up and walked over the enlisted club to eat. The special of the day was rib eye sandwiches. Thick hunks of rib eye on a hoagie roll smothered with provolone cheese, beefsteak tomatoes, romaine lettuce and horseradish sauce. We ordered two each, though being concerned about excess calories; I ordered mine without the lettuce. We sat down at a table while our food was being prepared. Jack pointed at a lone figure at the pool table and said "See that guy over there, all he ever does with his free time is shoot pool. I bet he shoots pool five or six hours a day." A few minutes later, the pool player walked over and asked Jack and I if we wanted to shoot a game. Jack declined, but I accepted knowing our food would not be ready for another twenty minutes or so. The guy introduced himself as Chris and in the same breath mentioned that he intended to be playing pool on the professional circuit in a few years.

"Great", I thought, I can barely play the game and I have to compete against a guy, who is on his way to the professional ranks. We started the game. Chris appeared confident and sure of himself. He lined up each shot carefully and handled his cue like a real pool professional. The only problem with his game was that he missed about half of his shots. I won the first game without too much trouble. Chris seemed unfazed and racked the balls for the second game. I noticed that he took the craziest shots one could imagine. The ball he was shooting at would be right in front of the pocket and rather than taking a straight shot, he would bank the ball off of three cushions, or use some sort of combination shot. At first, I thought he was showing off, but this did not seem to be the case. I finally asked him why he never took the easy shots. He replied "because I know I can make them, anybody can make them. If I took the easy shots I would never improve my game" I said "but you would win a lot more games". He shrugged and said "I really don't care about winning everyday pool games, it's far more important to me to use each game to be a better pool player than to have the temporary satisfaction of winning a meaningless game. He told me that he would often practice the same shot as many as 300 times in one session. On the weekends, he would seek out pool halls and compete against the best players he could find. That skinny pool player taught me a valuable lesson about success as a lifter and I was able to use this lesson on many occasions.

You can do a lot of things in your training, which might make you feel good about yourself, but they do little to improve your strength and development. Are you interested in temporary self satisfaction or long term success?

It is easy to get comfortable in your training, especially if you have reached a level that surpasses the average trainee. You start doing what feels good or what impresses those around you, rather than in doing what is difficult and uncomfortable. It is easy to work hard on lifts that you excel at and it's difficult to work on those that are lagging. I look back at my training journal and can't believe how much time I wasted in the gym doing things to feed my own ego and to try and impress total strangers.

There are many applicable examples of this type of thinking, but I am going to share just one. Take a guy who gets involved in lifting and works hard. He gains muscular bodyweight and grows in strength. After a couple of years his squat and dead lift have surpassed the 400 mark and he is on his way to 500. His bench press is on track for 400 and he can overhead press his bodyweight for several reps. He is very strong compared to the average person, but had not even come close to realizing his own potential. Those types of number will make him the strongest guy in his gym in about ninety percent of all of the health clubs and gyms in the country. He is known as the strongest guy in his gym, maybe even his community. A few years go by and we see that he is still working on hitting 500 in the squat and dead lift and still working on the reaching the 400 bench. His progress has become stagnant because he fell into a comfort zone. If you are the strongest guy in your gym, then it is TIME TO FIND A NEW GYM, where you are not the strongest or best built guy.

Now, I know what you are thinking-I like my gym, it's the only gym in town or I train in my garage, what am I supposed to do? Okay, you don't necessarily have to give up on your current training headquarters, but you do need to occasionally venture into other places, where bigger and stronger people train. You might have to travel to do this. I used to make a monthly trip to Coffee's Gym in Georgia. I would leave early Saturday morning and would get down there in time for a Saturday afternoon session. I would leave the comfort of my neighborhood gym, where I was a "big deal" (at least in my own mind) and would walk into a gym where a 600lb squat was something you did for reps on your light days. All of a sudden, I was in the lower echelon of strength. Going there was difficult, it was uncomfortable and I hated it. But it made me a better lifter. Each visit I acquired knowledge and a burning desire to pursue the achievements of those who were better than me.

The same can be said for lifting competitions. If you can travel and compete at events, where you are clearly out-gunned, then you will become a better lifter or you will quit lifting altogether, which means you were not cut out for it in the first place. I have helped organize and officiate at many local and state meets. At every local competition there is a group of guys who show up to "maybe compete". What they are doing is trying to figure out whether they should enter based on who else is entering. If they are confident that they can enter and win a trophy, then they compete. If they feel that the competition is too difficult, then they become a spectator. This is a perfect example of so
meone who is seeking to take the easy shot, rather than in improving themselves. These people rarely make much progress from year to year.

By the way, Chris entered his first professional pool tournament 18 months after we played and placed third. He went on to win many, many tournaments over the years. Trading temporary satisfaction for long term results is always a good idea. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 

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