DIMINISHING RETURNS: OVERTRAINING AND LIFESTYLE

In the firearms training world we preach “practice practice practice!” In fitness it’s often, “Train hard! Train often!” However, there is a point where putting in more effort will result in negative results rather than positive rewards. I’ve personally hit my own wall of degradation of skills many times as the result of putting a massive effort out. I’m sure most of you have as well.

There are 3 ways to look at diminishing returns for training.

  • Diminishing Returns in the Training Session
  • Diminishing Returns over the Long Term
  • Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

 Saturation: Diminishing Returns in The Training Session

This is a pretty simple concept. There is a certain point during one single training session that if you keep going, you are not going to gain any more improvements. In fact, in fitness or firearms training you could actually hurt your progress or yourself. Think about physically working out to the point of exhaustion, where your muscles can not successfully perform the movements any more. Continuing to work through that post-fatigue level of exhaustion can not only work against you but eventually it becomes dangerous as the muscles can no longer do the job of protecting the tendons, cartilage and joints from damage while under load.

The same thing happens in firearms training, and it can be as much mental as it is physical. I’ve found in running my own courses that the average student typically hits a serious wall at about 6 to 7 hours of range time and coursework. There’s mental and physical fatigue, lack of concentration, degradation of skills and most importantly, a degradation of safety awareness. You can tell when it begins to happen. Groupings that were good all day will begin to open up, and mechanics such as draw stroke and reloading will become sloppy. When the instructor calls out another course of fire, your eyes slightly roll back and an expression of “oh joy” drapes over your face. You’re tired, spent and your commitment to each movement is waning fast.

When it comes to firearms, this is the point to call it a day and be happy with a full effort for a full day of training. If you did not hit specific goals, it’s ok. Pushing past this point won’t help you reach them and the harder you try to push it the farther away those goals will get. It’s also the point where safety awareness begins to fade under the weight of mental drain and physical fatigue and mistakes become more likely. With firearms, there is no room for mistakes, since they can be life-changing or life-ending.

There is a technique of training just into the point of diminishing returns that I am a fan of. Basically, it means not quitting at the first sign of becoming weary. There’s that point where sometimes you’re ready to quit, but it’s well before you’re spent or drained. There’s a short opportunity there to push your limitations, force yourself to pull it back together and perform at your higher level for just a bit longer. 

I would argue it’s more of an exercise for mindset than for improving skills. Overcoming the desire to shut down and forcing yourself to focus is a form of stress training and does work. Doing this correctly will help you perform better under stress and helps to build stronger character. But remember, this in no way means pushing into that dangerous territory of mental and physical fatigue or forgetfulness when it comes to safety awareness.

The same holds true for accomplishing strength gains or increases in capabilities in fitness training. Pushing past that first urge to quit, to give in and not do another set, another run, is where the boundaries of your work capacity begin to get pushed out. But eventually fatigue both physical and mental will take over and your form will deteriorate with your capability. You will, at that point, be doing too much damage and risking injury. 

The trick is knowing when to actually walk away and save it for the next session, which is another reason to have the guidance of an experienced coach or instructor. 

Adaptation Threshold: Diminishing Returns over The Long Term

This is the one unavoidable instance of diminishing returns. Basically, the better you get and the more capable you become, the less improvements you will gain from training sessions. This applies to fitness activities as well as to fighting skills such as firearms training. In the early days of your training endeavor, you are brand new and have close to zero skills or fitness level. When you start at the bottom you get your first gains quickly. 

In fitness training, nearly any program or method you try at first will give you good results. Basically just getting off the couch and becoming active will make you better rather quickly. But as time goes on, those methods, workouts, rep ranges, etc. will not have the same affect. Your body will adapt and you will become more resistant to adaptation, which is the desired result of training. That is where quality coaching, experimentation and good programming come in to help you continue to grow.

For firearms, with decent instruction you can go from unsure and cumbersome, lacking the ability to hit a target, to confidently handling the weapon and hitting a target in really short order, often after just one day. Spend a little more time and you start to get better groupings of your shots. However, as those groups start to tighten up, the improvements begin to come a bit harder. It’s easier to go from not grouping your shots to shooting 10” groups in the torso of a silhouette than it is to work 5” groups down to 2.5” groups. Patience and persistence will overcome this. You just have to be aware that you will hit plateaus and you have to push through and keep working at it.

Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

Diminishing returns due to lifestyle is a bit more complicated, and probably the most important one to fix. There are endless factors that combine to affect your training abilities and the rewards you will get from that training. I am speaking mainly to those of you who are ambitious and are actively pursuing an increase in your shooting performance and/or physical fitness on a regular basis. I mentioned that I’ve hit my own walls of diminishing returns. The worst wall, for me, is due to lifestyle. 

Everything affects your performance: how much sleep you get, what you eat, when you eat, stress levels, work schedules…every factor will enhance or diminish your performance. As you get older, the impact those factors have on your performance becomes magnified. Once I hit 40, even something as simple as not getting a full night’s sleep can seriously affect a day of fitness or shooting performance for me. 

We all have our own physical and mental issues that need tending to on a regular basis. For example, if you are sensitive to carbs, or you are diabetic or hypoglycemic, you can forget about shooting nice groups at any considerable distance if you don’t eat correctly that day. Likewise, if you try pushing through a hard workout you could end up unconscious on the floor. The examples are endless but it’s easy for you to understand what your own issues are if you take the time to log your inputs and your outcomes and compare the notes after a few times. 

Using my own example, I used to have a habit of letting my ambition run me straight into the ground. I can remember working 80 to 100 hour weeks regularly. This resulted in a multitude of problems. The administrative tasks of my business ran late into the night causing me to lose sleep consecutively day after day. The busy work schedule prohibited proper eating. The stresses wear my mind down to mental fatigue. Do you see the negatives stacking up there?

Nothing will destroy your performance or your ability to recover from performance like the accumulative effects of insufficient sleep, poor nutrition and stress. On top of this, we can allow a busy schedule to prohibit regular practice and training. It can happen even if you work in the business; it’s easy to be the proverbial mechanic who’s own car doesn’t run properly. So, it’s no mystery why over a few months you will watch your groups begin to open up, your mechanics become sloppy, and eventually you venture out onto the range or into the gym and your performance is nothing other than bad. 

Why is this an example of diminishing returns? All of our hard work each week is put toward a goal. At a certain point you’re just putting out maximum effort but you are spread out too thin and you are hurting your performance and thereby hurting your ability to attain your overall goal. The returns for your efforts are diminishing. 

In some ways, you are hurting your goals because you are repeatedly performing things incorrectly, which makes them a trained performance. You are training yourself to do it poorly. 

Of course, this is reversible. When I get fixated on a goal I pursue it relentlessly and will burn myself down to get to it. I’ve ran across a lot of students and athletes who exhibit this same intensity in their desire to shoot well or perform well on the field or in the gym. If you are forcing your shooting training into your life where it doesn’t fit, you will not get what you want out of it. Sometimes we need to sit down and prioritize and, sometimes, sacrifices need to be made. The fix is there. If you are unhealthy or unhappy, figure out why and fix it.

 Breaking the Plateaus of Training

When you reach plateaus, places where diminishing returns seem to halt all progress, take the time to examine your regiment and your lifestyle to determine what you can change to disrupt that plateau. It’s that old saying about not getting different results as long as you keep doing the same things. Sometimes, it’s technique related. For example, if you have spent a lot of time doing speed, tactical and “combat” type drills, your accuracy could easily suffer. For fitness, if you spent a lot of time doing slow, heavy lifting, after a while your body is trained to move slow, it makes sense that you will find fast, explosive movements to be subpar in performance. 

The easy remedy is to change up your routine and start doing some work to push your effective range out to farther distances and holding yourself to higher accuracy standards, or to change your fitness training to include more movements and methods. You have to cycle your workouts, vary your rep ranges and intensity levels and venture into different programs to reach new goals.

Lifestyle causes are a bit harder to change, but it can be done. While most people can’t quit their jobs and go on a quest to achieve a mystical level of skill, you can adjust how you sleep, eat and improve your fitness level. Shooting, especially the active endeavor of defensive shooting, is also a physical activity. Improving your strength and fitness level will improve your abilities in defensive or competition shooting. Your core and grip strength increases, your speed improves, and your “combat stress” is more easily regulated due to a lower resting heart rate, a slower climbing heart rate and a faster heart rate recovery time.

The point is that there is a solution for most problems leading to diminishing returns. But it does require change. It requires doing things sometimes that are not fun, or working on things that might not be the “focus” of your goals but will hoist you over the plateau and on to the next level of your performance potential. Working hard is a good thing, but working too hard for diminishing results is not working smart. Identify your goals, work hard to reach them, and improve or change any factors in your routine or lifestyle that might slow or obstruct those goals in any way.

Physical Conditioning: In Conclusion

         There are many great ways to get in shape, be stronger, healthier and live longer. Some are definitely better than others so you need to find what fits your lifestyle and your goals. Seek out proper guidance and coaching if possible; if not, then get on YouTube and make a go of it.  Much of what I talked about in this section can be done with moderate equipment at home that can be purchased $50 to $100 at a time. The important thing to remember is that no matter what your “mission” is, whether it is to be a warrior, a professional in law enforcement, or a hard to kill civilian, none of it is realistic without the physical fitness to carry your ass through to it. And, as I have said before, if your mission is to be safe so you can live a long and happy life with your family, then you will be just as concerned about your health as you will about all of the cool tactical shit.

Reflecting on four years of change

Yesterday was a typical weekend day here in Florida: I hiked in the forest to a hidden lake with my daughter and my Great Dane. We had a picnic by the lake and hiked some more. Then we went home and got the Road King out and took a ride into the National Forest to do some swimming in the beautiful springs of the forest. I floated around under the palm trees on a huge pink flamingo, swam with my daughter, and then we rode back through the forest on a beautiful sunny afternoon and headed back to the farm for dinner.

Laying on that float, I did some reflecting:

Two years ago this week, I was quietly packing my things to move 1000 miles away to Florida. I didn’t tell anyone, aside from the one friend who had to help me pack and swore an NDA to not tell a soul.

I had finally made some strong decisions in my life. First, I was never going to let anyone abuse me again in any relationship–girlfriend, wife, family member, boss, co-worker–no one. I decided that a peaceful life in solitude is better than a tormented life in servitude.

I also made the decision to put my own health and wellness first, above relationships, jobs or projects. Having been a fitness professional and at least a part-time athlete for much of my life, I knew better.

But I was misled into believing that “being responsible” meant sacrificing your own health and wellness to accomplish external (usually financial) goals. That could not be more incorrect. If you are not strong and healthy, everything you put forth diminishes. It’s just how it is.

All this had gone on for a year and a half before the move to Florida, so I had a good head start. In that time, I accomplished a lot, including publishing my first book (and it was very successful for a self-published work).

I also took ownership of my own story, choosing to embrace who I am and take the power away from those who would use my story against me. No more hiding my past. It’s mine. If you don’t like it, then go away, I don’t need you.

I didn’t tell anyone about my plans to move because my mind was made up, and there was no reason to listen to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work, or that I would be back, on and on ad nauseam.

People are always quick to tell you how something you want to do or some idea you have will not work. I knew to just not even give them the chance.

Now, for two years, they’ve watched me through social media living a pretty good life in the sun down here in the FL. I live on a few acres out in the country, with my horse, my dog, and now my oldest daughter.

Like anyone else, I have some problems, and I struggle still with rebuilding my life after divorce, custody battles, and a life of mistakes and hardships.

I fought an intense custody battle for the past year and a half for my two daughters, against a woman I have been divorced from for 13 years now, and ultimately got to have my oldest with me full-time for her entire senior year of high school, which was worth every bit of it.

That battle put a damper on my financial health, and also on my business with my being emotionally drained and distracted for much of 2019. I wasn’t able to finish the next 3 books I’m working on in that time, either. I lost my youngest daughter for a second time, which was one of the three hardest losses I’ve felt in my life. I suffered it all quietly, in peaceful solitude.

But here’s the difference now: I cut off the patterns. I cut off the toxic people. I cut off the neglect of my own heart, mind and body. All of my problems today, are residual from a life of bad decisions, and they are one-by-one being eliminated and cleaned up. Not one significant problem I have today was created solely and independently in the last 4 years. After 40 years, I finally stopped the madness.

And I waited.

I waited for the right people to come into my life. I did not settle. Not for friends, not for work, and not for a companion. I didn’t let loneliness drive me into bad relationships, or to hang out where I would simply be around people without regard to what type of people they really were.

I didn’t hang out with people or be “friends” with people just because it could help my business or career. In fact, choosing not to do so hindered my career growth in many ways. But that’s ok…

I was patient. I created my standards, and no matter how high or seemingly unattainable they were, I stuck to them, resigned to a life of peaceful solitude if they could not be met.

That patience paid off. I may not be wealthy, and could even be considered financially poor by some standards, but my actual life is pretty dreamy. I wake up on a beautiful piece of property in rural Central Florida.

The sun is almost always shining, I walk out into my yard and am greeted by my faithful dog, and my beautiful mare, an American paint, in my pasture (who happens to be quite an amazing horse). The birds are almost always singing. The neighbors have horses and goats and small cattle that border my fence line. I’m surrounded by wildlife, nature, animals.

Within a 1.5 hour drive I have both coasts of Florida, beaches, springs, rivers, the National Forest and several State Parks full of amazing beauty. There’s also the cities, theme parks and lots of attractions if I’m in the mood for that. I have a few Harleys, and live where riding weather is year round and great.

I have my outside gym platform, sufficient equipment, a firepit, and I can sit in my yard and never see a neighbor. I coach in the evenings at the most awesome Crossfit/weightlifting gym in the region helping people improve both through Crossfit and Olympic Weightlifting.

I also run my own remote coaching business with several great clients who work hard, which allows me to watch them develop into stronger, healthier humans.

I am well into my life-long dream of making a living as a writer, with a successful book and some other lucrative writing deals going. I largely make my own schedule and my time is owned by me.

Most of all, I am cultivating relationships with some great people; people of amazing quality that I previous thought didn’t even exist. Comparing the people I meet now–after spending years to turn life around and focus on living my own quality life–to the people I used to meet on my path before, it just really blows my mind.

Relationships like this were unattainable to me in my prior mindset. It took real change to make this happen, and that change was not easy or quick. It’s not that I was a bad person or doing bad things, I just hadn’t understood the difference between true motivation and surface presentation, and how important it is to clearly know that difference both in yourself and in others.

Here’s what I have learned four years later:

A peaceful life in solitude is always better than a tormented life in servitude.

Your health and wellness have to come first, it is the foundation for all things you want to be or do in this life.

A peaceful life of solitude focused on health and wellness cultivates you into a high quality person, and will lead you to attract high quality people into your life.

Patience is the way to true fulfillment. This is true for self-development as much as it is for skill development and even for finding fulfilling relationships.

Your real motivations, and the real motivations of others, are exposed through the totality of actions. See what is there, and you will be able to make great decisions with good outcomes.

Anything worth having will take patience, work, fortitude, incredible amounts of faith, planning, spontaneity, pain, joy, fear, courage, and every other strength or skill that you can muster. We have to earn the great things in life, and we have to be strong enough to cultivate and maintain them. The universe has a way of doling out what we earn. If you don’t control what you earn in this life, someone else will, and it will not be pleasant.

And last but not least, Florida is beautiful and fun and I am not leaving any time soon.

I share this reflection with my readers to offer both some insight and encouragement. You can change your life, and if you want it to change, YOU have to do it.

That faith word got a seemingly passing mention in this article, but believe me it is at times the only thing you will have to go on. You will need it. Faith in yourself and faith in God, or the universe. The rest is hard work and the willingness to fight for what you want.

Fighting isn’t always forceful or violent. In fact, the hardest battles are the ones that go on in quiet, lonely solitude. I’ve suffered some great injustices in my life, many before I was even old enough to understand. This led to many mistakes on my part. But today, I am in control.

Be strong, cultivate your faith, raise your standards and don’t stop moving forward and growing. You’ll get there. If I can travel the great distance I did to get here, surely you can cover the distance that sits in front of you.

Helping others

This past Sunday I had a great, sold out pistol class in Okeechobee. This class had a lot of new faces that I had never met before, and a few things really set in on me while I was teaching it…
 
The class had a good amount of beginners in it. For a few it was actually their first real training course, while some others were still working off of 15 to 30 year old government/law enforcement training (that probably had not been practiced in that time gap).
 
There was also a wide spectrum of gear, from unacceptable holsters that I had to immediately remove from the range for safety reasons before we even started, to Serpa’s and other subpar examples. There were also some very tuned up shooters in the course with tricked out Glocks and solid gear to run them with.
 
After spending some time working in the training industry at a national level (traveling throughout the year to teach, attending SHOT Show and NRAAM, training at national level events like OTOA, working for companies in the industry, etc.) I’ve seen the spectrum of students and instructors from the local levels to the widely known popular level.
 
One of the things that sticks out to me is how the level of student can change the more well known you get. It’s like a hierarchy, and the higher you are in popularity the more you can charge, the more you charge the more “serious” the students become, and so on.
 
At that level, “the industry” (everyone who considers themselves “in the know” about gear, weapons, training and tactics and falls into similar choices and beliefs) gets pretty harsh in their views of the average gun owner. If you are on social media, which seems to be where “the industry” actually lives, you will no doubt run into this harsh attitude.
 
Name calling and shaming for weapon and gear choices, making fun of people for being poor (“the poors” as they call them) and just a general negative attitude towards anyone who is not at least making a good attempt at being in the cool club is pretty much the norm.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I do get it. The gun world is full of absolute bullshit. The NRA, the glossy magazines and the TV shows all pump out garbage information about garbage guns and gear and the masses eat it up because they don’t know any better. In fact, they believe it is good information because all of those named sources are actually the most well funded and best looking sources out there. I mean, they’re on TV, right?
 
So, we have this general gun culture that is at best misguided and misinformed on a large scale. It is a problem. I am saying this after years of working in gun stores, working at public ranges, working for holster manufacturers and other companies in the industry as well as running my own training company for many years. (To the NRA, the magazines, the gun shows on TV, the manufacturers, you ARE the problem.)
 
Many of the people at my class this weekend would fall into those categories of dislike: less than optimal gun choices, a lack of fundamental skills like grip and trigger press, beliefs in myths about gunfighting and, especially when it came to gear and holsters, it was a serious struggle.
 
I even had one contraption calling itself a “belly band” that was basically an oversized Ace bandage with no velcro and a patch sewn into it to “hold” a gun. (If you make such a contraption and sell it to the public to carry guns around, you should be absolutely fucking ashamed of yourself, whoever you are.) It literally hit the top of my list as the worst holster ever seen with my own eyes.
 
To the guy’s credit, he immediately recognized that his rig was unsafe and told me it was not going to be suitable for the course, so he did recognize his poor choice just by being exposed to the introduction of the course in the morning.
 
It took some of the others a few hours of struggling with gear failures to get the idea that their choices were not only poor for training, but that such failures in a life or death situation on the street would be catastrophic.
 
I was patient. I was helpful. I kept the class safe. If something was unsafe, it was not permitted to be used. The failures that did happen, were well within the safety margin so I let them happen for their educational benefit. I didn’t attack anyone. I didn’t shame them.
 
I did my best to balance the class out and deliver the goods to everyone who showed up, no matter their skill level. People learned on Sunday, and when I asked the question at the end of the day, “Did you feel like I provided a safe and comfortable training environment for you today?” It was a quick and resounding “Yes!” that followed.
 
I ended up with this group for a few reasons. I am not established yet in Florida locally, so I am attracting new people into the fold by design and that is a good thing. Another reason is because the course was intentionally priced very affordably. My overhead is lower because I am a short drive away, and I want to build the type of local training culture that I had successfully built in Ohio for so many years.
 
I am intentionally declining more and more opportunities to travel and teach, opting to stay close to home for my family now. So, I end up with beginners, newbs, bad gear, and all that comes with them.
 
All I could think about at certain points throughout the day is how interesting it is that I have traveled full circle to come back to where I started: teaching average people how to be safe and effective with the guns they carry.
 
Average people. People who do not eat, sleep and breath training. People who work jobs, raise families, have hobbies, who do not live on social media talking about grip stippling, flashlights and triggers for the 57,000th time. I was very happy to see these people showing up for a course. I am happy to be of service.
 
I am happy to be of service because that is why I am here. To help people. I did not become a firearms instructor because I thought it was going to be super awesome, or because I want to be some famous instructor guy. I sure as hell don’t do it because it’ll make me rich, because it definitely will not. I started out doing it because I saw bad things happening and I wanted to fix it as much as I could.
 
I saw cavalier attitudes with little experience to back them up, macho personas based on purely bad information, and flashy bullshit based on just plain garbage (the days of plate carriers at “pistol” classes comes to mind).
 
I saw good people trying to be prepared to defend themselves and stay out of the cemetery or prison while doing it, and they were being fed information that would lead them directly to those places.
 
That is why I started this, and that is why I still do it.
 
As I make my long talked about and planned for partial exit from the industry, I look to maintain my ability to help the average people who are genuinely looking for help. I intend to teach a limited number of courses annually.
 
I have very little interest in making the cool club person feel “cooler” by having attended my course. I have very little interest in working with someone who is looking to shave that next 2/10ths of a second off of their Bill Drill time. Not only is it not my lane, but it’s not what I prioritize in fighting and self defense. Glory seekers will not find satisfaction in my classes.
 
That is where the most money is. But unfortunately, it’s not where the greatest need is. The greater good is served by welcoming more good people into the fold of the knowledgable and trained populace, and eliminating the dangerous misguided information that saturates the concealed carry population as a whole.
 
I have also found over the years that many professional students who think they are really tuned up are nothing more than great shooters. This is because there is still a shortage of classes about fighting, and a ton of classes about shooting.
 
At best you can work your way up to CQB courses, which are limited to working inside of structures and largely founded on team-based military or law enforcement doctrine. Solo foundational fighting knowledge is hard to pass on in a one or two day course, and even harder to find someone attempting to do it.
 
If my course is “open” enrollment without prior training requirements, you are welcome to make it your first training course. Those who are “tuned up” are also welcome to attend. You will see the foundational levels of how I prioritize what is important in fight training.
 
If my course lists having “developed fundamental skills and equipment choices” as a requirement to attend, then you should not show up unless you clarify with me directly that you are where you will need to be.
 
It was no shocker to me to get these students of course, because it was a no pre-requirement course. I am just happy that I have retained the ability and humility to be able to help these people raise their skills and equipment to be safer in their defense plans.
 
I will still run advanced level courses, as well as my favorite: the application-approved-only limited spot courses where I take 6 hand picked people out and we go hard on a specific skillset or procedure. There is no money in that, I do it because I love it.
 
I don’t have any tolerance or time for shithead people who think they know something, that they actually have no idea about, and they are unwilling to learn any different.
 
I have all the time in the world for the average person who doesn’t know any better, but they are genuinely out there trying to learn what they don’t know and improve their position.
 
As I go forward, progressively I want training to be something I do because I enjoy it and because I enjoy helping people, not something I do to strictly for money. It has a higher purpose than that for me.
 
 

 

Writing your life into your fitness programming

Dealing with life events that “disrupt” programming is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in a fitness routine. Time consuming work projects, travel, vacations, family and other intermittent life demands all have a way of knocking you off of that “perfect” workout groove you’ve been trying so hard to stay in.

Here’s a way of looking at it from a programming standpoint that can help keep you on track by actually turning these temporary situations into opportunities rather than disruptions. 

Programming is not just a static workout plan

Programming, in its most effective form, is individualized. The best program is not only one that is written specifically for you, but one that constantly evolves as you change physically and psychologically, and as your life changes around you.

If you are paying a trainer or a coach, hopefully they are listening to you and asking the right questions to take all of that into consideration while guiding that evolution towards optimizing the results of your efforts. 

Listening to, recording in detail and then synthesizing the information from your workout performance, your results and your life are the best practices that separate high-level programming from the rest of what’s out there. If you are self-coaching, you need to be doing these practices

This includes taking into consideration vacations or travel that will remove access to your regular gym/equipment/schedule, as well as any psychologically stressful events in your life and how they affect your drive and susceptibility to fatigue.

For many, sticking to a program and not missing the workouts, meals, and rest required for success is a huge struggle even when everything else is going right in their lives. Throw a change in that pattern and it’s extremely easy to “fall off the wagon” and lose your momentum.

It can take weeks to get back on track, only to have something else come up the following month and here we go again…

Disruption vs Microcycle vs Back-off Week

If you are like most normal people, this will sound familiar to you. Jobs, kids, taxes, life…they all can be emotionally stressful and cause real fatigue, if not keep you from getting to the gym at all.

Much of the internet would yell, “Power through it!” or “No crybabies!” But this just is not always practical or even safe. Not considering fatigue in its these forms can push you into dangerous territory resulting in injury or burnout if you “just power through it.” And sometimes, you just can’t get to the gym as planned.

There is a better way. 

Instead of viewing these events as disruptions, we need to look at them as opportunities to work in microcycles (single week plans) or back-off weeks (rest microcyles) that can optimize and sometimes supercharge your results and performance. 

For example, last month one of my online personal coaching clients had two “disruptions” coming up in his schedule. He had been working very hard for about three months uninterrupted and was disappointed and very worried that these events would set him back. This posed a real threat to his progress, as well as a psychological threat to his motivation.

The first event was a 4 day conference that involved travel and a hotel stay. This, of course, basically knocked out a week of his time. The second event was the physically and psychologically stressful task of moving out of his apartment and into a new space. These events were spaced with only one week in between them. 

Where he saw worry and disruption, I saw an opportunity. We programmed a very light week for him during the travel utilizing the hotel gym just two nights, reverting back to some hypertrophy and maintenance intensity and volume levels.

This allowed him to focus on his conference, network with associates, and have a much needed rest from what had been an unbroken eight week mesocycle of moderate intensity and volume work. It also served the purpose of preventing the emotional stress of feeling like he was sliding backwards (this is very important). 

We used that time to prepare him for a maximum effort week that would fit perfectly in between two weeks of being off program.   

The following week, we set a maximum effort goal for a microcycle (one week) of high intensity/high volume. It was perfect timing for a test of strength, work capacity and will power, and an awesome way to kickstart his mind back into feeling motivated about his progress, even though he had “missed” a week of regular programming. 

That week he produced the highest numbers of his life. He was well rested, he felt good about his work, and lifted an astounding 42,600lbs of tonnage for the week. His usual tonnage prior to the trip was just under 30,000lbs.

This obviously took a lot out of him, which created the perfect time to take a week off and get that functional movement and cardio work of moving his household items to his new place. He still managed to get to the gym that week once as well, making up a great active rest week. 

Upon returning to the mesocycle phase, he is putting up numbers that are 15% higher than before the three weeks of back-off/max effort/rest, and doing it at the same perceived exertion.

This is success. He feels great. Not only did we not lose momentum, but we were able to write his life events into his programming in a way that actually maximized his results during that time period.

This produced great results emotionally and psychologically as well, turning what would have been a negative situation into a very positive one. This will work for functional training or sports specific training cycles just as well as it worked for his strength training cycle. 

Thus we see, under good coaching, “disruptions” don’t have to exist as much as you may think. They are merely back-off weeks or focused microcycles that need to be written into the program to extract maximum value from what is available. Any good programs will have back-off weeks written into them. A little bit of adjustment in a program goes a long way toward creating a positive out of a negative. 

The trick is to plan ahead as much as possible using naturally occurring life events to implement them. Sometimes this has to be done on the fly and can’t always follow the pre-planned schedule. Use it in your program and it will push progress forward rather than slow it down or stop it.  

You may even be able to work a little harder when you realize how often life forces in rest days and back-off weeks where you did plan them. More rest can allow for higher intensities and volume in your program. 

Instead of fighting the realities of life to fit a “cookie cutter” program, we can use our real schedule and results data to optimize our program to come out even better in the end. Just a few things to think about. 

Olympic Weightlifting Seminar with Greg Everett, Catalyst Athletics

Course: Catalyst Athletics Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar/Coaching Certification
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Date: August 24-25

This past weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train with Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics at his Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar in Salt Lake City, UT. This is a two-day course covering the performance and coaching of the two lifts that make up Olympic weightlifting competition: the snatch and the clean and jerk. The course was a great experience and I learned enough information to keep me busy for a few years practicing these very technical lifts.

Background

I have been teaching myself the “proper” Olympic lifts for about 2 years (more seriously for the past 8 months). Prior to that I had only really performed the clean in my lifting routines, so the snatch and jerk are both very new to me. I am definitely a “novice” Olympic lifter.

In all honesty, it takes several years of dedicated practice to be an accomplished and efficient Olympic lifter in it’s pure form, and by “dedicated” I mean it is the emphasis in your fitness goals for that entire time. This is differentiated from forms of the snatch and the clean and jerk that you may find in other sports, like Crossfit. (Many of those sports perform the lifts for time while sacrificing form, which is different.) Traditionally, the lifts are extremely technical, and the form is critical for maximum, safe performance.

Despite being a novice at the Olympic lifts, it did help that I have a background in fitness training, sports training, lifting weights and coaching spanning nearly 25 years.

I was coming off of a 4-week cycle that was preceded by 4 weeks off due to re-injuring my lower back. I made the mistake of attending a group Olympic lifting class where we did a bunch of good mornings prior to doing muscle snatches. Even though I knew better, the pre-fatiguing of the lower back proved to be a critical mistake. It was my responsibility to coach myself and I failed at that. 

After not being able to lift for 4 weeks, I had 4 weeks leading up to the seminar to get back to being strong enough to handle to two, 6-7 hour days of bent over and overhead lifting. I peaked that cycle 1 week before the class with a 4 hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That preparation went a long way to make the 7 hour days with Greg and the barbell not only doable but also enjoyable. Keep this in mind if you plan to attend the seminar.

Greg Everett

I became aware of Greg several years ago as my interest in the traditional sport of Olympic lifting began to grow. Having come from the “old school” of weightlifting the clean had taught me that explosively lifting heavy weights was not only beneficial for my body, it improved my athletic performance, and my ability to fight and grapple, immensely. It was quite natural to gravitate toward Greg because he simply has provided the largest library of intense knowledge ever offered to the public on the subject of Olympic lifting.  

Greg has several sources of information out: his book, Olympic Weightlifting, his website library of articles at catalystathletics.com, his YouTube channel with his Library of Movements, and much more.

I had his book and older DVD, and I had planned to attend one of his seminars for a few years now. One day, Catalyst Athletics sent me a message on Instagram. To my surprise, it was Greg telling me how much of a fan he was of my own book, Violence of MInd. A coach and author I admired and followed for years was also a fan of my work. What a great experience that was. We struck up some good conversations and I was eventually invited out to his seminar in Utah. I booked my flight and hotel, thrilled I was finally getting to attend.

Goals

My goals for the course are two-fold: First, I obviously want to improve my capabilities in the performance of the snatch, clean and jerk. I don’t have any desires to compete formally, but I do have goals to reach a moderate level of performance with a high level of form and execution, just because I want to.

The lifts have become meditative to me. I have my platform outside on my farm in Florida, and the pursuit of the challenging and elusive execution of the movements, by myself and outside in nature, takes my mind away from everything else. It creates a place that only I go to. Just me and the lift. I want to always have that in my life for as long as I can, and longevity in this type of activity comes from doing it well and doing it safely.  

My second goal is professional: I am working on segueing back into the fitness training business more in the coming year or so. I have been building my self-defense and weapons training business for several years and I really miss being a fitness and conditioning trainer, which I did full-time for several years. Getting Greg’s instruction and (eventually) his certification, while also reaching a demonstrable competence level as a lifter myself, will allow me to integrate Olympic lifting into my own programming in a safe and effective way.

With all of my gym equipment quietly stored away in a warehouse in Florida, I plan to re-open my gym eventually. When I do, Olympic lifting will be a component of the programming there, programming which will center around general physical preparedness and self-defense conditioning and capability.

I have no desire, nor do I have the background, to be a competitive Olympic weightlifting sport coach. I do, however, fully believe in the benefits of Olympic lifting in GPP fitness and self-defense/fight conditioning, hence my desire to integrate the lifts into my coaching and programming.

I want that integrated method to be in the purest form I am capable of delivering, without sacrificing form or execution for any reasons. Greg’s course is a definite source of that pure form.

Equipment and Facility

The facility used for the seminar was Proven Strength Training in American Fork, Utah, owned by USAW Coach and IWF National Referee Jenny Shumacher. Jenny was super hospitable as a host, and was available both days for any questions or help concerning the facility.

There were approximately 7 nice, but well used, standard 2-layer plywood and rubber platforms in the lifting area. There were more than enough pvc pipe lengths and regular bars of different weights and lengths for everyone to participate in the lifts.

The overall space was huge, with a Crossfit gym sharing space in the building which was also opened up to us for warmups, stretching, rowing and whatever else we needed to use or do.

The main equipment used for the seminar was pvc pipe, barbells and bumper plates. Brands ranged from American Barbell, to Eleiko and others. The equipment was well maintained and in good working order. The bars all had great spin and seemed to flex very well. It was easy to see that Jenny’s facility was a serious level weightlifting location.

The Seminar: Day One

We started at 10AM on Saturday. Greg was very personable and had a great demeanor right from the start. There were about 20 attendees with a fairly even distribution of men and women. The backgrounds were mixed, with most coming from Crossfit gyms and just a few being pure Olympic lifters and serious competitors. In terms of experience, most attendees had several years of qualified experience, while a few seemed to be novice/beginners.

Greg started by having everyone introduce themselves around the room. When I very briefly introduced myself, Greg took a minute to tell everyone how great my book is, suggesting they should buy it, which was a kind gesture.

He also humbly emphasized that what he would teach us was not necessarily new and he didn’t invent it, he just found what works and developed a unique way to teach it.

The atmosphere was not intimidating at all, everyone was very nice and positive, and the facility was extremely hospitable and welcoming. This made for a great class environment. The space was a little tight for 20 lifters, but we made it work with cooperation and courtesy. Other than wishing I was capable of lifting more comparable weights with my fellow attendees, I have no complaints.

Day one curriculum consisted of the Snatch Progression as Greg teaches it. (I won’t get into specifics here, you’ll have to take the course for that.) The snatch is a very technical lift where you start with a barbell on the floor and explosively lift it up and receive it over your head in a deep squat position and with locked elbows in a wide grip. You complete the lift by standing up with the barbell elevated over your head with locked elbows.

The basic progression we followed is:

  • Foundations, fundamentals and terminology
    • Trunk stabilization
    • Breath control
    • Foot position
    • Double knee bend
    • Hook grip
  • Snatch Receiving position
    • Overhead Position
    • Overhead Squat
    • Pressing Snatch Balance
    • Drop Snatch
    • Heaving Snatch Balance
    • Snatch Balance
  • Snatch from the hang
    • Mid-Hang Snatch Pull
    • Tall Muscle Snatch
    • Scarecrow Snatch
    • Tall Snatch
    • Mid-Hang Snatch
  • Snatch from the floor
    • Snatch Segment Deadlift
    • Halting Snatch Deadlift
    • Segment Snatch + Deadlift
    • Snatch

We began work with pvc pipes to assist in understanding the movements and positions. Greg’s breakdown of the movement into components is phenomenal and easy to understand. His choice of beginning with the receiving position is very intuitive and quite similar to how I teach firearms movements in my courses. As Greg says, you have to know where you are going to build a good path to get there.

His choice of nomenclature seems to be the most sensible I have heard of so far. He was very clear about the explanation of the use of words like catch and drop and explaining them with meaningful words and phrases like receive, and forcefully move ourselves under the bar (push or pull), among others.

This is an important distinction especially for new lifters that may not know how the lift really works. For example, if we simply call it a “drop” movement it implies that we are simply dropping into a position by relaxing and letting gravity carry us downward. This would be an incorrect mental image for a new lifter.

We know this isn’t the case because we must employ speed when getting under the bar, specifically a much greater speed than gravity itself can produce. We should be aggressively pushing ourselves down under the bar against the mass of weight going over our heads, (or in some other lifts pulling ourselves under the bar for position.) Therefore, creating accurate mental images for the lifter is easier to achieve with better explanations to accompany old terminology.

I’m definitely paraphrasing here (maybe poorly) but I think I am conveying the idea well. Greg’s use of speech and nomenclature made the learning process much more productive for sure, for both students and coaches.

Greg also emphasized aggression as an important part of weightlifting. As we moved into work with the bars and eventually with weights, that aggression would play a big part in our success in the lifts. This led to talks about the importance of mindset and focus throughout the weekend.

By the end of the day my understanding of the snatch had increased immensely. I was able to execute a few of the nicest snatches I’ve ever done, and I have gained enough knowledge of my own technical issues to go forward and begin fixing them through training and practice.

The last hour or so of the day Greg sets the class loose to snatch as you see fit using your own judgement on weight and variation choices while he walked around and coached. This was no easy task since we had been doing pulls and snatching in the different variations for approximately 5-6 hours already. Some of those hours were spent repeatedly holding isometric positions bent over in mid hang or low hang, which is extremely taxing on the back.

Despite having lifted for 5 hours prior, many of the attendees were hitting impressive lift numbers, with snatches climbing into the mid 100 kilo range (mid to high 200lbs range). There were definitely some seriously competitive lifters there and it was awesome to be in the room with them.

We ended class around 5PM and I headed for the hotel pool and hot tub to enjoy the 97 degree Utah weather and reflect on the day.

Day Two

Day two was clean and jerk day. We began the day with a quick review of the snatch progression, which included doing a few movements with pvc pipes to refresh our memories.

The progression we followed for day 2 was:

  • Receiving Position
    • Split Position
  • Jerk Progression
    • Press behind the neck
    • Press
    • Push press
    • Tall Power Jerk
    • Power Jerk
    • Split jerk behind the neck
    • Jerk balance
    • Split jerk
  • Receiving Position 
    • Clean Rack position
    • Front Squat
  • Clean from Hang
    • Mid-hang clean pull
    • Rack delivery
    • Tall muscle clean
    • Tall clean 
    • Mid-hang clean
  • Clean from Floor
    • Clean segment deadlift 
    • Halting clean deadlift
    • Segment clean + clean
    • Clean

We moved on to the jerk first, which I found to be more challenging than the snatch, personally. I simply suck at the split jerk right now. I was able to improve that quite a bit during the class, but I certainly have a long way to go.

Again, Greg’s progression is phenomenal and very intuitive towards how someone could best learn the complex series of movements within the clean and jerk. It is easy to see his years of experience and success as a coach shine through here.

I have been in front of a few local coaches here and there and never have I experienced the level of explanation or clarity that came from just a few hours with him.

The clean portion of the instruction was very fluid since it mimicked the a very similar progression as the snatch from the previous day. Most lifters understood the squat and the floor pull very well, so there wasn’t much need for remedial work. 

Just like day one, we ended the day with a blast session of cleaning and jerking at our own pace. I chose to stay very light to work on that jerk technique, while some of the others went on to clean and jerk well over 300lbs successfully. It was truly a marvel to see in person.

Conclusions

Olympic weightlifting is an amazing activity. It requires a mixture of mobility, explosiveness, strength, precision, speed and a kinesthetic awareness that few other sports require. There are few movements you can do that can provide so much benefit. They are safe, when done correctly. They are difficult to master, which can be excellent if you are looking for something to really focus on.

If you are looking for an edge in combat sports or fighting, Olympic lifting will provide it. If you want to be stronger and fitter in your daily life, well, it will help you do that, too.

The course was phenomenal and well worth the time and money. If you are serious about doing the Olympic lifts correctly, this course is a must attend event. I learned enough about Olympic lifting to keep me busy practicing and correcting my issues for the next two years.

I know there are lots of “methods” out there and some like to say that some particular method or country of origin is better than another, and so on.

I personally don’t prescribe to that philosophy as I’ve trained enough skills in my life (gun fighting, combatives, powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.) to know that all good methods center around the same concepts, and that variations on those skills are not only good to learn, they are necessary to achieve a deeper understanding and development in the discipline.

It doesn’t matter if it’s weightlifting or gun fighting. I will listen to all of the successful methods and pick the ones that work for me the best. Greg Everett seems to understand this as well and is very humble in paying homage to his coach own Mike Burgener and acknowledging other sources when talking about concepts specific to the lifts. The Catalyst Athletics method really resonates with me.

Another one of my favorite aspects of Greg’s teaching style is that he quite intentionally avoids using big scientific words or making the class into an “anatomy and physiology” course. That was not what I was there for. That was not what anyone was there for. We wanted to learn how to better snatch, clean and jerk, and how to better help other people snatch, clean and jerk.

I’m not saying A&P knowledge is dumb or useless. But I do loathe trainers and instructors who constantly have to let everyone know how smart they are by using the scientific names of body parts every chance they get. Even when they aren’t showing off, using that hyper scientific language is annoying for most clients or trainees.

If you can’t have a normal conversation using language everyone can understand, how do you connect with your clients? Unless we need to address a specific issue with a specific part of the body, let’s just talk about movement and how to achieve it. Greg does a slamming awesome job of just that.

Being a long-time instructor myself (personal training, firearms, self-defense) I am very impressed by Greg’s teaching progressions. Teaching people complex movements that require slight, personalized variations in technique and application is difficult because, well, people are all different. Everyone has their own issues. Developing progressions that are scalable and modular to a large extent is really the Holy Grail of teaching capabilities, and Greg has that in spades.

He offered insights and instruction on the proper assessment of both athlete and movement throughout the entire course. He expertly weaved this into instruction on customizing the programming of an athlete (or yourself) around the issues that manifest in the performance of the lifts, and how to use the progression with addition and omission of variations and supporting exercises to correct the issues. 

Personally, I was lifting among the lowest weight in the gym, which I was perfectly fine with since I wanted to train strict technique while I had such a great coach around, as well as not wanting re-injure my back again by trying to impress anyone. It may have stung the ego a tiny bit, but it’s good for you to get out and see where you really are in comparison to others. It helps to prevent Dunning-Krueger from setting in.

It was great to be in a room where people are lifting more than me BUT they were doing it with correct form. This is not usually my experience when doing Olympic lifts in many gyms. These were lifters who had both had proper instruction and had also exhibited the dedication to performing the lifts correctly over years of hard work, and it showed.  

While I was among the least strong attendees there, I was not the least conditioned. I held up just fine and flying back on Monday the only complaints I had were those damn cramped economy seats. I recommend if you are going to a weightlifting seminar that you train your work capacity up to a high level. The weekend before the seminar I had reached a peak with a 4-hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That prepared me well for the low/moderate intensity 6-hour days of the seminar. Be in shape, I do recommend it.

You should also have a basic understanding of the lifts. There is no reason to walk in to a seminar of this magnitude and not know anything relevant to the material. Buy Greg’s text book, watch the videos on YouTube, try to learn the movements or at least understand them. Know the basics about how to stabilize your trunk under load, how to breath, how to back squat, etc. There wasn’t anyone in the room that didn’t have a clear understanding of these things and that was notable.

To be fair, I’ve gotten to know Greg and had the opportunity to spend a few hours one-on-one with him after the course. We did not talk much weightlifting, or gun training. We talked about life, and coaching, and family and business. He is an outstanding guy, very down to earth and humble, which makes it even that much better that he is one of the best Olympic lifting coaches alive today.  

The most valuable thing that I walked away from the seminar with is the ability to be a better coach to myself. I learned how to spot my own issues, assess ways to fix it, use the progressions in a modular, customizable way to address those issues, and simply just get better at the lifts. That’s money in the bank.

Bottom line:

Without any doubts, I will attend more seminars and training with Greg in the future, and I recommend anyone who is interested in learning about the snatch and the clean and jerk should do the same.

Get off your high horse

I try not to be self-absorbed when I am engaged with people. I also try to learn, to not have “expert’s paradigm” when I am talking to people in casual or business conversations, even if it’s a topic that I have a lot of experience in.

This amounts to being interested in the other person enough to learn about them and learn about what they know. It requires not assuming that I know more than them. It also involves a lack of talking about myself and what I know, until it’s truly appropriate.

This doesn’t work as well in today’s world. Perhaps people’s real world views are morphing into the “social media paradigm” where you have a very short time span to sell a persona or a knowledge set to someone. I swear 8 out of 10 people I meet consider themselves pros, or awesome in some other way, and if you don’t literally fight for attention you get demoted to a learner who knows less, has less or has done less. I watch people do this to each other all the time.

Thus is the way of our social hierarchy in the social media era world. What you look like, talk like, drive and have are somehow proportionate to your capabilities and experience. “If he was as good as he says he is, he wouldn’t be driving that.” “He doesn’t “look” like he knows that much.” And so on.

Sometimes, competitiveness is the tone, “You started working in this field in 2002? Oh, well I started working in it in 2001 so I’ve been around for ALL of it…” Instead of being cooperative, “Oh, what have you learned in that time?” and then they in turn try to learn what you’ve learned in that time. Sharing knowledge and ideas. What a concept.

Most often, I would say, people are just self-absorbed. They think they know a bunch of shit, probably more than you, and so they don’t even really listen when you talk. They are here to disseminate information because they know things.

It’s not that they even thought about competing with you, they just automatically consider themselves and their knowledge more important and there’s nothing you could say that would be that interesting to them, so you are tuned out. Their own voice is in their head rehearsing for their turn to talk.

Are you a student, or a know-it-all?

Sometimes just simply asking a question will cause the other person to automatically assume that they know more than you, and they will assume authority in the conversation. This is a tragedy. For example, you see someone doing a workout and posting about it on social media. Now, imagine you yourself have been working out a long time and you know quite a bit about the topic, but you are always curious and looking for new information so you ask them, “Hey, I see you are doing this workout. Where did you get the programming for that, and how is it working for you?” Instead of actually answering the question, they reply, “If you want to understand programming you have to start with [insert arbitrary favorite program here] and research the subject.” Often, they’ll even go on to instruct you or offer suggestions for what you should be doing, even though they have no idea what you know or what you want to accomplish. They are full of themselves. They lack listening skills. The question goes unanswered and another chance to assert social dominance has been exploited. End result, no one learns anything. 

What happened to the concepts of beginner’s mind and always being the student? Sad.

Even worse is the feeling that if you are paid to do a job, like being an instructor or trainer, then you can’t ask any “average” person questions because you are afraid it will make you look like you don’t already know what they know. You somehow think you’re supposed to know everything, so you can’t be seen being “weak” or taking “instruction” from an average person.

It’s a legitimate feeling because people judge you for the surface presentation you put out. Hell, that’s what this post is about. It’s a vicious cycle.

What is even more sad is that you are vulnerable to concealment even when you think you are protected. You can’t even give people a chance to learn who they are and what they’ve done when they are open about it. The one who wants to hide those facts from you? You’ll never see him or her coming. (If you are in the self-defense, tactical, or cool guy badass world and you act this way, your mindset is truly out of touch with your stated goals.)

Listen to people. Ask questions.

People are interesting, and there are a lot of people out there you could learn from. Many of them, though they may not look like it, have done way more shit than you will in 3 lifetimes.

My best conditioning coach–by far–was a fat, silver haired guy that always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. By today’s standards, no one would even have a training conversation with that guy. The truth is he helped produce several world champions in his younger years (as a trainer for a U.S. Olympic team) and he knew how to pull the best out of every athlete he worked with.

The most capable class attendee I have ever had in terms of self-defense, and who I would put my money on in a street fight, was a skinny, gray haired Nicaraguan guy well into his 60’s that didn’t look like he could do shit. The guy was legitimately dangerous, and though he was small, he was strong as an ox. He grew up in the Revolution Era of a country at civil war. He knew a lot of things about violence and about survival.

Sometimes people are retired, or injured, or have changed careers or family situations and they don’t “appear” to be anything special, but they are. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, this is true in every profession.

And guess what? You aren’t that fucking special, and you probably don’t even know as much shit as you think you do. Putting on a good presentation doesn’t make you a special expert, nor does having popularity on social media, or making a bunch of money (especially if you flaunt it).

Many of the people who maintain these “perfect” images are deeply flawed, and if you look hard enough you will see it. Marital problems, financial problems, regrets, and some are just plain out miserable people seething with envy, jealousy, resentment, fear, cowardice. People can present however they choose to, if they are disciplined enough. Still doesn’t make it real.

Don’t mistake this post as me being upset about someone doing this to me. That shit has been happening and will continue to happen my whole life. I like to keep quality people in my circle, and if you are self-absorbed and full of yourself then you are self-selected out of my circle. If you have anything valuable to say, I’ll listen from a distance. But it’s like everyone does it to everyone, anymore.

What does upset me is how much society suffers and how much our communities suffer because we can’t be real with each other, because everyone has to be damn “expert” or a “pro”.

It upsets me that innovative, creative people are afraid to be vocal or do things because they will be judged harshly. If the old guys that have experience aren’t respected because they don’t look cool, then how can a new guy with no experience survive that social thrashing? (And I’m not even touching on the bullies and trolls, that’s a whole different topic.) They are forced to play the persona game, where substance doesn’t matter as much as your IG game and your wittiness on FB and Twitter.

We all lose

This is my encouragement to you to take the time to actually learn from one another. If someone is trying to learn a new skill, don’t assume they don’t have ANY developed skills. Don’t be afraid to learn a new skill or to ask questions about other people’s views, even if it is what you are an “expert” in. And don’t demote someone’s social rank because they asked a question. Maybe they have a bunch of answers and experience and just want to hear your perspective. Maybe they know more than you because they aren’t afraid to ask questions.

If you are engaging with someone and they don’t ask one follow up question about any of your statements, or about you, they just talk at you, then that person has little interest in you or what you are saying. They are too busy thinking about themselves. It’s not hard to tell.

Take the time to actually listen to someone talk. Ask questions about what they are saying about themselves, ENGAGE with them. You just might start learning things again.

Being self-absorbed is a failure, and it’s one from which we all experience the resultant net loss.

Blog Entry: What Do We Really Want?

In March of 2017, I was in a lot of pain and uncertainty. I was moving into a little apartment in Ohio, going through a painful divorce, quitting my corporate job, and just tired of hating everything about my life.

In March of 2018, I just self-published my first book and made enough off of the first week sales to move to a personal retreat in Central Florida.

How did this happen? It happened because I made it happen. I decided to change my life, because no one was going to change it for me. It’s not like I wasn’t working hard before. No, I’ve been doing this “change my life with hard work” thing for over 20 years, one failed hustle, after failed job, after failed marriage, after failed business, after another. But, this run through, something was different. When I sat down to make a plan this time, I was cutting everyone out, burning down everything that obligated me, and starting with me first. As James Altucher likes to say, I chose myself. It’s not that it was selfish, rather it was empirically the best decision to make. Time and again it was proven to me that I had made bad choices in relationships, partners, jobs and associations, and all for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we need to get to the root of what we really want.

In pursuit of what we want (or think we want) we will entangle ourselves into all manners of messes that will take us sometimes years to painfully extract from: lifestyles, business partnerships, marriages, job obligations…the list goes on. We often find ourselves in these situations because the answers to our happiness were believed to be found outside of ourselves, rather than from within.

Please, allow me to explain why this is not the standard spiel about “finding happiness inside of you,” because frankly that is bullshit. It takes a mix of being self-aware about what you really want, and then doing the work to see progress towards it happening outside of you. Happiness is not only progress and reward, it’s those things moving towards what our soul really wants while in an atmosphere that is nurturing to that progress. And guess what? You have to create that atmosphere to find it in the balanced way that we seek. So, you inherently have the problem of starting out without that nurturing atmosphere, without the progress and reward. That space describes my life from the middle of 2016 through 2017.

It’s simply that our life needs to be grounded in what we truly want, NOT in a means to that end. This is the difference between finding fulfillment in something outside of yourself vs finding fulfillment by manifesting yourself through the world around you. This applies specifically if you consider yourself a purpose driven entrepreneur or creator in any way, but also in a general sense to anyone trying to live a valued life.

For me, I wanted to live a life inspired to create, with the all important freedom of time to do the creating. In order to achieve that, I had to start where I was at, not where I wished I was. I downsized my life, gave away thousands of dollars worth of “stuff” and moved into a small apartment. I made way less money, at first, and used my time to develop myself and my idea of a valued life. I stayed away from relationships and defeated the notion that I “needed” a girlfriend/wife to be happy. I set goals: write and publish my first book, grow my business to a national level, and facilitate a move to a place that inspired my life. I reached those goals. All of them, including the move. For me, right now, that place is Florida. I made it a mandatory change that I would eat well, exercise very seriously for my health and well being, and spend more time in a relaxed state rather than a stressed, worried and unhappy state no matter what I had to give up.

And it was hard. Some  days, it was incredibly hard. At times, you can’t see the goal, you can’t see progress, you feel like you’re being stupid about unrealistic goals, and there is no one there to support you. You have to support yourself with sheer discipline. When the goal gets blurry, discipline is the only thing you have on that day. Discipline, and a desire to leave the unhappiness of a life that is not value driven. I did it. I am seeing progress and change. The world around me is brightening up. My life is starting to inspire me. Now, incrementally I will move towards the goal while living the valued life along the way. I won’t sacrifice anymore by lying to myself like “I will live this life that I absolutely hate to get to the other side.” Too much damage is accumulated that way. Too much time lost in unentangling ourselves from such messes.

Make the hard decisions to go through the brutal tasks of removing those entanglements today, and you will sooner be on your way to a better, value added life. Find the things you really want to do, what would make you most happy, and start working towards building it from the ground up. Your life should be rewarding, fulfilling, and provide a great marketing backdrop for your personal brand. Your home base should fuel you, recharge you, and most of all it should not consume you away from your dreams. I would be better served living my own life on my terms, and showing the world who I am from the backdrop of my inspiring life where I am not enslaved to things I do not like but rather am able to create and serve others at my leisure.

But, you have to know what you really want, and you have to believe in yourself to keep going and make it happen.

Varg Freeborn

Blog Entry: The Right Path

At some point, probably in my second marriage, I figured out that if you constantly feel like you are swimming upstream, and logs and debris are slamming into your face, knocking you back and threatening to drown you, you most likely are not on the right path for your life. This isn’t always an easy distinction to make. It is true that sometimes things are meant to be fought for, and the struggle is the precise experience we need for growth. But there are times when your plans just aren’t the plans that will bring you peace and prosperity (or whatever it is that you value most and are not getting.)

When I was running the nightmare otherwise known as my music store business some years ago, it was quite literally like swimming upstream against a fast moving river full of huge logs smashing me in the face. All day long. Every day. This went on for 3 years, but it felt like a lifetime. At times, it threatened to consume me, including landing me in the hospital for 4 days, only to get a diagnosis of anxiety and likely depression.  It was terrible. But I had a dream, a big dream. I wanted to be the best, and build great custom guitars, and make a lot of money, and prove all of my detractors wrong. The worse it got, the more people talked shit, the more angrily I pushed forward to prove the world wrong. But I also honestly believed in myself and truly believed that this was the avenue I could use to change the quality of life for those that I loved. That was way more important than vengeance.

It was, in many ways, a great triumph. I had started a business literally from nothing. I rented a storefront with no money down in exchange for fixing the place up, and basically had a month to earn the first month’s rent. I turned that into a store with tens of thousands of dollars of inventory in just a year or two. That is not an easy feat and I am damn fucking proud of that. But, it just wasn’t to be. After 3 years of a little triumph and a lot more defeat, I made a decision to abandon ship and close it down. In the end, my heart truly was not in it. I didn’t really see myself getting a truly valued life out of it. The potential earning ceiling was low, and the effort would always be critically high.

Furthermore, it wasn’t a great contribution to the world that enriched my soul. I was simply performing service work for increasingly entitled, whiney musicians and other people with more money than musical drive. It was terribly unfulfilling work with often shitty customers and even shittier people as competition, which made the frustrations and hardships outweigh any real reason to pursue it. So, I changed gears, let it go down as pretty much an unenjoyable experience and I moved on. I sold part of the business to my tech and I was done.

Learn to drop it, let go, and put even more love into the next project

In order for me to grow, I stood right back up the very next day and filed the paperwork for the next business, which happens to be the one that I still successfully run several years later. I had done this a few times before, from my custom car shop to the fitness training business, for example. You just have to keep moving. You just can not quit.

The work that I do now is very fulfilling. Even with that, I know that the current configuration is not the ultimate goal. Hell, that’s why you are reading this blog, as I begin to experiment with new directions here. My current business (at the time of this writing) was founded upon teaching violence and educating people on the darker capabilities of humans. While that is a noble cause, it’s not what I want to spend the rest of my life thinking about. But it has been the best work experience of my life to date, and it is clearly opening more doors for me to pursue helping people in other ways outside of just fighting.

You will notice the difference immediately

Literally, it was an immediately noticeable difference when I changed streams. I went from constant struggle and turmoil, to no turmoil, by just changing business plans and verticals. I’m not saying it’s been “easy”. Of course, it’s a business and it has taken the unending hard work and sacrifice that any business takes to be successful. What’s missing are the logs smashing me in the face: the ungrateful customers, the nasty low-level competition, the constant financial deficit, and so on.

When you are on the right path, not only are you not getting smashed in the face everyday, but opportunities will open up and branch off of the path you are on. This can help in determining whether you are in that flow, or not.

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer and a speaker. I never quite understood how someone can make a living at that, until I had enough experiences to begin having interesting things to write and speak about. My training business morphed from teaching people how to fight, into speaking at seminars, and to writing a book, and now is transitioning into writing, teaching and speaking on more positive life subjects. The doors are opening as a direct result of the platform that I built for myself in the violence education vertical, which I built with the help of the experience I gained in the custom car business, the fitness training business, and the countless jobs I was an employee at.

I’m not trying to drive home a precise point with this article, just throwing a thought or two into my blog encouraging you to examine the turmoil you are experiencing and to follow your heart. Our plans don’t always end up looking like what we thought they would, but if you follow your heart, life can be good. Sometimes, it ends up way better than your best “plan” could ever be.

The days when the light isn’t there

When you pursue long-term objectives in life, there are inevitably grueling days when it just does not seem like you are going to make it. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. No one supports you. The goal is not tangible, and you don’t feel you have the energy, or money or drive to even make it.

The worst part is, you may still be years away from the objective.

I’m not even talking about failure. No. Failure is in some ways an easier thing to deal with. Why wouldn’t it be? You have no choice, because it’s over. You failed. You’ve burned it to the ground and now you get to start over. You learned some valuable things and now you are stronger and smarter for the next round. Start over, or start something new. It’s that simple.

But, what I am talking about here is not that easy. It’s about that day when you really just start to question all of your decisions to even be pursuing this goal in the first place.

You haven’t really failed, but you can’t tell if you are even moving forward. You are doubting yourself. And guess what? Every fucking person around you is doubting you, too!

It’s also not like you can just look to a long list of people who have done what you want to do, from the position you’re in, either. You just flat-out do not have any support, not even from yourself.

The self-talk goes on the attack, “I am crazy for even thinking I could do this.” “It is going to be so humiliating when I fail in front of everyone on social media.” “What makes me think I can accomplish such things?”

When these days come, how do you deal with it? How do you push through and come out on the other side with your drive and your confidence intact, ready to take on the next few years, to get to where you want to be?

I am interested in what others do in these moments. I have those days, for sure. I have climbed some pretty big mountains: legal wins against the State, achieving rare restorations of my rights, working and excelling in fields that I literally was not allowed to be in under any other circumstances. I’ve even owned and operated multiple businesses, some of which I literally touched the top of the industries in…

So, I’ve taken a few hills. But no matter how many impossible things you pull off, the black cloud of self-doubt will have it’s way with you for a full day (or week, or month) every now and then.

Honestly, the best cure I have developed is to just not care. Now, before you jump to conclusions, this is more intricate than it sounds. There are a lot of things tied to my success that I care about very deeply.

How my success or failure affects my children and what my patrons and consumers get from our relationship being among the top of those concerns. I’m speaking more about the things that cause negative feelings and negative stress in your own mind.

Here are my top 3 reasons for not caring enough to fear failure:

1. The Opinions of Others

I ask myself, “If I lay dying tomorrow, which would I care more about: what someone thought about my failures, or what great things accomplished with my one shot at this short life?” Ultimately, anything someone says will be forgotten, at some point.

Most things are forgotten pretty quickly, especially in the age of social media because, quite frankly, you’re just not that damn important! Unless you’re caught red-handed burning down the proverbial church full of orphans, everyone (the haters) will quickly move on to the next tainted thing to mock.

So, I just don’t care what people think, or what failure makes me look like to the world. What I do care about is the quality of my own life and knowing that I am doing the things that enrich my soul. I care about my customers, my students, my patrons and supporters.

I exist to bring value to them, it is what I do. The critics? I won’t even remember most of them in a month or two. And in a few years, they slip into oblivion due to the lack of significance that they really have in my life.

So, for those pursuing a public persona as part of your personal brand:
Bless the haters, because they always come bearing gifts.

This applies if you are ambitious and are constantly working hard to be at the top of your game. If you are doing it, the haters will come. Understand, they are essential in the process of bettering yourself and hardening a bulletproof presentation and reputation. 

The hater is driven, by who knows what, to attack whatever they can find to attack. They will seek out your percieved vulnerabilities attack them. Like a lower-order predator, they only attack what they percieve as weakness.

Like the vile coyote, they wait for the wounded, or swarm the less aggressive prey with numbers.

For the strong, haters are like small dogs nipping at your calves. It may sting, but the information they offer is more than worth thier shallow teeth marks. They point out small vulnerabilities you may have missed.

Even when their perception is erronious, you learn enough to strengthen your presence and further eliminate any indication of vulnerabilities, whether real or imagined, that your foes would want to use to take you down. That lack of intelligence we despise, often gives us the gift of greater intelligence.

So, as you work hard to push yourself up and be the best you can be, be thankful every time the little hater shows up to remind you of some exposed skin you’ve left uncovered.

Simply kneel down, cover the vulnerability, and give the little hater a nice pat on the head in thanks for making you now that much harder to attack.

2. Losses are Training and Practice

I also don’t care about losing, I have already suffered some pretty catastrophic losses: being sent to prison as a teenage kid for 5 years, two divorces, two business failures with one pretty much destroying my life at the time…just to name a few.

If I am doing good work, failures are powerful training and practice for the continued education and improvement to make that good work even better. When self-doubt is pouring in on you, ask yourself, “what is the worst that could happen?” Your next question should be, “how tough am I, really, compared to that worst case scenario?” I’ve probably been through worse.

In my case, I’m damn sure I’ve been through worse than going bankrupt and failing at a business like, I don’t know, an abusively violent childhood and a young adulthood in prison maybe? And I obviously survived those with my soul intact.  

But what each loss or failure did was to teach me things of great value that I would not have learned anywhere else. It’s kind of like sparring or competing, if you never get out and validate your ideas, skills and strategies, you never will know if they actually work or not.

When life exploits your weaknesses or slip-ups, you learn to build those into strengths, avoid putting them first, and better cover your ass the next time. Life and business and fighting are no different. Take your knocks, and you become stronger, faster and smarter at your craft.

3. It’s Never THE BIG ONE

I gave up on thinking my next big move was THE BIG ONE! upon which all of my future success depended. It just isn’t true. You will always have new ideas, new opportunities, new ways to approach your dreams.

Hell, your dreams and visions will change, and so will your strategies, as you get out and validate which one’s work and which ones don’t. James Altucher, a wildly successful businessman and best-selling author, has started 20 businesses 17 of which failed miserably. Walt Disney went bankrupt and had several failures. It’s just a fact of life in the pursuit of virtuous accomplishments!

I have owned a personal fitness training business, a custom car shop, a music store and custom guitar shop, and a self-defense training company. For those first three, each time I thought I was going to get rich, accomplish “success” and be done.

How wrong I was! And how absolutely happy I am about being wrong. The truth is, they weren’t fully aligned with my purpose. However, they did teach me immense lessons about business, and dealing with people both as customers and in interpersonal relationships in my life.

All of this knowledge is still a part of my current business model and future plans. It’s never a true loss. Looked at appropriately, it’s always a net gain in lasting value, albeit sometimes an expensive one.

My fourth and current business, the training company, was one I approached very differently after a while. I began to realize that it is all just training for the next step. It’s really not “the one”, it’s just another part of the path to this self-actualization that people like me seek.

Once we are able to detach our project or business from that all-inclusive, life-or-death notion of importance, we can step back and relax about our decisions and our losses a little more. Which then, in turn, let’s us have less days of self-doubt and fear.

It also allows me to feel free to expand in other directions (which is partially why this blog exists) and take advantage of opportunities outside of my singular business vision. This is all beneficial.

Choose Fear, or Choose Relaxation

The opposite of fear is not courage, at least not in my mind. The opposite of fear, for me, is the ability to relax and have confidence in my course and decisions. It’s not even having the need to muster courage because I am relaxed and confident.

I used to live under such an immense amount of stress. Unbelievable amounts of it. In fact, I’ve landed myself in the hospital over it when I fought desperately to hold on to some singular idea that just wasn’t working out in the real world.

I failed to adapt, to take advantage of different opportunities, and I paid the price. It’s not worth that. It’s not worth your quality of life, and it’s definitely not worth your health. The truth is, once you have your vision, your flexibility and you have removed negative or unsupportive people from your immediate circle, your mind can begin to relax and you will honestly make better decisions.

You might even find out that you have already “made it”, if you just take the time to enjoy today and stop worrying exclusively about tomorrow.