Last month, I wrote about an article which first appeared in the June 1972 issue of Strength and Health magazine. As I had mentioned, there were numerous quality articles in that particular edition of Bob Hoffman’s flagship magazine. To underscore that point, this month I am going to write about another article which caught my attention. The article is about the former Soviet weightlifter and coach Rudolph Plukfelder. His name may or may not be instantly recognizable to many readers, but his most famous pupil, David Rigert, is one of the best known- as well as one of the very best- weightlifters of all time.
“A Man of Iron Speaks” is the title of the article, and it was reprinted and translated from a Soviet magazine at the time. If the title doesn’t grab you, then the opening words of the article should: “Weightlifting is a sport in which man pits his strength against iron.” I can’t think of a better way to describe the process of lifting weights. Whether your goal is weightlifting, powerlifting, or simply to get stronger, these words will resonate with you. Unlike team sports, when you lift weights, it is simply you versus the weight. Whether that weight be a barbell, kettlebell, stone, or anvil, there is nobody there to help you. It is a struggle against the force of gravity, according to the article.
“Man’s muscles must be made of iron if he is to win over real iron.” I believe this to be true. However, I also believe that you must have a will that is made of iron, as well. Your mind must be focused and you must possess determination as well as courage to conquer a heavy weight.
I have always believed that the sport of lifting is one where you compete against yourself. Your opponent is your potential. So in addition to the poundage to be lifted, you must also compete against what you are capable of doing. You do not have to be a competitive weightlifter to feel this way. Any person who has “hoisted the steel” knows this feeling.
“When an athlete is hoisting a weight, it is best if he is calm and in complete control of himself.” This stands in stark contrast to what you see in a typical commercial gym. How many times have you seen someone attempt a heavy poundage and he is surrounded by his retinue of “gym bros” and other assorted useless hangers-on? Since when is lifting weights a team effort? What good does it do to have a bunch of guys screaming at the tops of their lungs? If you need an entourage to succeed, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them.
Then there are the ranting, screaming lunatics. I’ve seen this particular type of “lifter” in contests many times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone carry on like a crazed maniac, only to miss a lift. I’ve seen guys break blocks of chalk on their heads ( this must get expensive at some point), have their handlers punch them in the face, and carry on like a mad banshee. A famous football coach once said that emotion can only take you so far. Truer words were never spoken. If you have to depend on emotions, then you are doomed to fail.
“When a weightlifter trains his body, he also trains his spirit. And the main psychological struggle is fought not during the actual competition itself.” I interpret this to mean, that the hard work should be during the workouts themselves. It’s like any athlete who trains for a competition. The hardest part should be the training. So that the actual contest should seem easy, and therefore lead to a positive mindset.
“All beginners should recognize one thing: There is a very wide gap between desire and achievement. One has to have strong willpower to train day-in and day-out, month after month, and year after year.” Everybody who lifts weights has an desire to get either bigger or stronger. While everybody may have the desire, how many have the will to work brutally hard? I remember one day, years ago at Iron Island, there was a young guy who approached Dr. Ken and asked him to spot him on his squats. He told Dr. Ken that he wanted to go “to failure.” I happened to be near the power rack, and Ken asked me to help spot him. I kind of knew what to expect. The kid did about nine or ten squats before trying to give up the set. I say “trying to give up the set” because Dr. Ken was not letting him quit. He told him that he had to reach twenty at the very least. When he finally made rep number 20, Doc had him stand with the barbell on his shoulders. At this point Doc asked me to move the safety pins from the low position to about the halfway point. He then had the kid do partial squats, one at a time until he did another ten half-reps. The kid could barely move, but he received an education in hard work. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw him at Iron Island after that.
There will be times when your workouts will be monotonous, exhaustive, even a drag at times. But is the act of pushing through and staying consistent that will lead to progress. Most of the time, results will not be immediately visible and, naturally, many people will not have the patience to wait.
“From the point of view of psychology, there is no limit to man’s strength and energy. The trick is to develop them.” I think that this type of thinking only comes from years of training. Constantly setting goals, working towards those goals, and achieving them will only strengthen your ability to set further goals. But it is important to set reasonable goals, especially if you are a beginner.
“To win over your opponent is a great feeling, but to win over yourself is even greater satisfaction.” I mentioned before that when you lift weights competitively your opponent is your potential. Yes, it’s nice to win a trophy, but to reach new personal bests is much more satisfying. Many years ago, when I was relatively new to the sport, I competed in a local meet against a former world champion powerlifter. Naturally, if you looked at the numbers from that contest, I got throttled. But I achieved new PRs in all three lifts, and achieved my elite ranking for my weight class. So, while I may not have won my weight class, I did win over myself.
On the other hand, there are guys who pick and choose what contests they enter. They only enter those meets where it is assured that they will come out on top. They may win some cheap awards, but in the big picture they are losers. If you’re lifting puny weights against minimal competition- or no competition at all- and win a trophy or a medal, then what have you really won? You may fool people into believing you are a champion, buy you can’t fool yourself. At least not for long, anyway.
“Weightlifting means health, and it will add years of life and that it will improve your willpower.” It would be great if this were an absolute fact. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. But one thing is for certain, if you lift weights, and you do it the right way- the drug free way- and you combine it with proper nutrition then you have a better chance at improving your life than someone who does not.
I’ve included many references to competitive lifting, but the fact of the matter is that you do not have to enter contests to benefit from advice various lifting coaches. Getting stronger is an intensely personal endeavor and however you pit your strength against the iron, the goal is to come out on top.
York Barbell Co.
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