Randall StrossenTrain your mind to grind out gains
The iron game has a dirty little secret—it’s the real key to most people’s progress. It alone will transform a bag of bones or a tub of lard into something approaching an authentic husky. The secret isn’t anything illegal, and it isn’t linked in any obvious way to your DNA patterns. For all its wondrous benefits, there’s no place you can buy more of it. It is, however, equally available to all, and it’s just as useful whether you’re a lifter or a bodybuilder. In fact, it transfers extremely well to all parts of your life. If you could put it in a bottle, you might think of it as something that enhances good fortune because the results that follow are nearly always positive and often so stunning that you would think the stuff should be banned.
We call the secret “grinders.”
To back up a little, it’s no secret that the movements that produce the most dramatic gains are the time-honored basic lifts. They’re done with free weights, the poundages are substantial, and they’re the types of exercises on which making your eyeballs pop out leads to another rep or two or 10. And that’s the essence—you grind out more than you comfortably can; you stretch beyond what’s easy; you stick doggedly with it way beyond what most people would consider reasonable. Grinders call for having a quit switch that’s set somewhere around the red line.
Grinders aren’t flashy, they’re never fashionable, and most people avoid them like the plague. Sure, they work like nothing else on earth, but at a price: You pay for grinders in the currency of hard work. If you want to succeed, you might as well learn about grinders as soon as possible so you can reap the benefits.
Consider the average person who lifts weights. For starters, he or she probably chooses a gym for all the wrong reasons. Maybe the aerobics class looks good, or all the machines are strictly the latest generation; maybe the color scheme makes it easier to coordinate training clothes. Once in the gym the person picks a training routine that offers the course of least resistance: lots of machine work; most movements done sitting down; training frequency and intensity reduced; multijoint, basic movements avoided. That’s not a good attitude for grinders.
Grinders tend to fit in places that are a bit primitive. It might be that primitive surroundings inspire brutal efforts, but at least your focus is locked on the rep you’re struggling to complete, not the color or condition of the vinyl. One of the most famous lifting gyms in the U.S. had holes in the floor and a locker room that was so disgusting, the municipal health department told the owner to redo the whole thing or be shut down. The lifters barely noticed the surroundings, and nothing they saw deterred them from training there. Down the street was a slick gym with a nice this and an even nicer that; the lifters there were strictly local and regional level. The lifters from the first gym frequented the Olympics and the world championships.
One of the best setups I’ve ever seen for grinders was in China. World-record holders, world champions and Olympic champions were more common there than 300-pound bench pressers in any chain gym. How could athletes of that caliber be expected to produce their world-class results in anything less than a world-class environment, right?
Consider the facts: For starters, the squat racks were the old-fashioned design that looks something like a pair of barstools. Many were made from wood, none were adjustable, and they were the wrong height for almost everyone. Short lifters had to pile up plates on the platform, under the bar, so they could reach it. Tall lifters had to stack plates on top of the rack and then balance the barbell on the stack to raise the bar enough to get under it. Some put plates under the legs of the racks to prop up the whole affair. The things were shaky at best, and more than once the bar fell off the racks or lifters nearly ate it going up and down from their improvised step under the bar. Even though the local lifters kept the lifting area neat and tidy, rats greeted me in the bathroom—not exactly an advertiser’s dream. Nonetheless, there was nary a whimper from the lifters.