Take the Difficult Shot
Keith WassungChallenge yourself to become a bigger, better you
Picture it: I was preparing to perform my next-to-last set of deadlifts off of blocks, one of the forgotten exercises. The movement is even more painful than the conventional deadlift, but the dividends it pays in strength and development are well worth it. I hate the next-to-last set of any compound movement. Sure, the last set is always the hardest from a physical standpoint, but on the next-to-last set you’re already tired, you know the set is going to hurt, and you know you still have one more to go. I’ve often said that on a set of 20-rep squats, the tough reps are from about nine to 15. Reps 16 to 20 are very difficult, but knowing it’s almost over seems to make them easier. Success in lifting, as in many endeavors, largely depends on one’s state of mind—the body will do whatever the mind dictates.
I completed both deadlift sets and was about to finish with some abdominal movements, when Jack walked into the weight room carrying a basketball. Jack was a good friend, a guy who always said he wanted to train with me but never showed up. Today he’d been distracted by a pickup game of basketball. He asked if I wanted to get something to eat, a question I rarely say no to.
We walked over to the eatery, and the special of the day was rib eye sandwiches. We ordered two each and then sat down at a table. 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 me if we wanted to shoot a game. Jack declined, but I accepted, knowing our food wouldn’t be ready for another 20 minutes. He 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’s on his way to the professional ranks.”
Chris appeared confident. He lined up each shot carefully and handled his cue like a real pool professional. The only problem was that he missed about half of his shots. I won the first game without too much trouble, but Chris seemed unfazed and racked the balls for the second.
I beat him because he took the craziest shots. The ball he was shooting at would be right in front of the pocket, but rather than taking a straight shot, he’d bank the ball off three cushions or use some sort of combination shot—and I could tell he wasn’t just showing off.
I finally asked him why he never took the easy shots. He replied, “Because I know I can make them. If I took the easy shots, I’d never improve my game.”
I said, “But you’d win a lot more games.”
He shrugged and said, “I really don’t care about winning everyday pool games; it’s far more important for me to use each game to be a better pool player than to have the temporary satisfaction of winning a meaningless game.
He’d often practice the same shot as many as 300 times in one session. On the weekends he’d seek out pool halls and compete against the best players he could find. He taught me a valuable lesson about success in lifting—or any endeavor: You can do things in your training that might make you feel good about yourself, but they do little to improve your strength and development. Are you interested in temporary satisfaction or long-term success?
It’s easy to get comfortable in your training, especially if you’ve reached a level that surpasses the average trainee. You start doing what feels good or what impresses those around you rather than what’s difficult and uncomfortable. It’s easy to work hard on lifts that you excel at, and it’s hard to work on those that are difficult. I look back at my training journal and can’t believe how much time I wasted in the gym doing things to feed my ego and impress total strangers.
Let’s say a guy works hard in the gym and gains muscular bodyweight and strength. After a couple of years his squat and deadlift have surpassed the 400 mark, and he’s on his way to 500. His bench press is on track for 400, and he can overhead-press his bodyweight for several reps. He’s the strongest guy in his gym—but not even close to realizing his potential. A few years go by, and he’s still working on hitting 500 on the squat and deadlift and trying to reach a 400 bench. His progress stagnated because he fell into a comfort zone.