Olympia 2014: North American Strongman: Just The Beginning

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Springfield College Elite Strongman Athletes

Eighteen weeks ago I decided to follow a program created by an Elite level strongman Andrew Triana, little did I know I would be competing with him, side by side in Reno, Nevada at Nationals. Throughout, this journey I will receive my first win as a Lightweight 140, qualify for Nationals 2014, and watch my body change drastically, adding over 10 lbs. of muscle, allowing my lifts to get stronger and body to lean out.

Strongman is a sport that will never allow an athlete to fail; through my journey I have met some athletes (strongmen and women) that have left me in utter amazement from the support and love they give to each other and the sport itself. This 18-week journey has brought many laughs, smiles and tears but most importantly it brought a team together, one that will never be defeated.

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Interview with Strong(wo)man, journalist, and artist, Summer Barnes

What sports did you play before you got serious about lifting?

When I was a little kid, I played soccer and basketball. Basketball kind of took over. In high school, I started to play for an AAU team, then by sophomore year I began to get recruited by colleges.

Were you recruited by Division I teams?

I was mainly looked at by Division II and Division III teams. I was pretty young to be getting looked at by colleges.

How did you get into the type of elite-level competitions and such that you do?

I started at a CrossFit gym a few years ago. I didn’t really do CrossFit, but I was there with my mom. She was the one who introduced me to it in the first place. When my mom was younger, she was a personal trainer; she considered doing bodybuilding, she knows her stuff. That’s when I really realized…

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Remember: Practice DOESN’T Make Perfect. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

It was my second day at the new gym. I usually do my warm ups in a secluded space, and keep to myself. And being in a new gym and training alone has been a big challenge for me, especially when training for my first powerlifting meet. I have a million questions and don’t know who to go to. So I usually just do the research online, follow up with some reading, and hope for the best.

It was squat day and I had just finished up a few warm up sets, when an older women approached me. She introduced her self as Kathy, the owner of the gym.

She immediately said, “I heard you are doing a powerlifting meet.”And I was nervous to answer, but replied, “yes, it will be my first one.”

She than began to tell me how she has been competing for five years now in the masters division and her next meet will be in october, so her main focus is just getting stronger.Kathie_Deadlift

A few minutes after talking about lifting, she said how she noticed I was having trouble hitting depth on my squats. And naturally, I was a little embarrassed, because it was true. But she was quick to offer for me to meet with her and her coach (Mike) on Sunday to train and that maybe he could help.

**Flash Forward**

Leading up to this day (Sunday) I wasn’t nervous, until I was 30 minutes early, warming up alone, wondering what I got myself into.

I met Kathy and Mike at the squat rack and was warmed up.

Mike is older, and has been doing this for over 30 years, but to little of my knowledge he was a tough coach, and was not afraid to be straight forward.

With no introduction he asked me to step under a bar loaded with only 5’s on the side. So without hesitation I did so.

The second I set up under the bar and stood up, all I heard was “RACK IT.” My adrenaline was rushing, and now I was nervous.

I did something wrong.

Mike walked over to the bar and explained to me how my set up was wrong, I was arcing the bar v.s standing up with it.

This took a few sets of watching and doing, to really process what this meant.

Once I understood the set up, it was on to the actual squat. Like many people, when squatting I tend to find a “comfortable” position. And for me this meant my knees fall forward way over my toes. Allowing my chest to fall forward, pushing the weight with it, where I would find myself on my toes v.s my heals.

So step by step, Mike began to teach me how to hit parallel, making the squat shorter by keeping my knees from falling forward, and remaining in control.

He noticed I have a lot of power out of the hole so staying in control on the way down was going to be my main focus. I needed to learn that its okay to go slow and not dive bomb and bounce out of my squat.

I actually had a really hard time with this. Mike had to give me squat commands between every rep, because my brain was telling me “go faster.” But Mike was saying, “ Slow on the way down, Fast on the way up.”

But I didn’t just learn this by doing, I learned by watching. He recorded every rep I did, in which he showed me immediately after the set was finished, slowing and breaking down every set.

“You can’t watch a video and fix it tomorrow, you need to watch right then and there, see what you are doing wrong and correct it for your next set.”

And to my amazement I was quick to learn. I kept my mouth shut and my ears open.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” –Vince Lombardi

As the squatting continued, the weight jumped up, and again the nerves kicked in.

“Do everything the same.”

I nodded, did my 4 reps, racked the bar and looked at him.

“Weight doesn’t matter, I will never set you up to fail. I have two jobs, and that is one to make sure you do not bomb out and two to make sure you know everything about a meet you are going into.”

Once again I kept quiet. He continued.

“Have you ever seen the movie Hoosiers?”

I smirked and nodded, (of course I have, I played basketball for how many years?)

Mike begins to quote:

“When the team arrives to the championship game, the first thing Coach Dale does is take them into the gym, and pull out a measuring tape, he measures the foul line to the baseline and says, 15 ft, he then measures the rim to floor, 10 ft. …… 10 ft, hmm, I think you’ll find these exact measurements in our home gym back at Hickory.”

This resonated with me.

Mike continued,

“His point was that everything is the same, so regardless of the weight change you must do everything the same.”

It clicked.

My squat completely transformed that day, I began feel comfortable, confident. I was quiet, I took in every word he said, I let it sit with me, I learned.

I mean I must have done something right, I got asked to come back and train with him and Kathie every Saturday.

Or my squat just needed that much more work.

Maybe both?

While One Sport Burnt Me Out Another One Saved Me: My Journey to Strongman

Flashback to a year ago:

I was sitting on the floor in my room, in confusion, tears rolling down my face, I was stuck, I didn’t know where to turn. In front of me was a piece a paper from years ago, written in bold black letters across the top; GOALS. Spread out underneath was a list of them: Start varsity basketball at High school, prove myself on the AAU team, go D1. (Trust me the list went on).

Within seconds, that list was shredded and in the garbage … I was angry, 5 years later and none of these were accomplished.

One Love.I have a unique work ethic, I am not a quitter and I will finish anything I start with 100%, no matter how much it may suck. But here was the sad truth, I may not of accomplished any of these goals, but I was damn close. I was being recruited by colleges for basketball, I was playing high school ball, I made the high school AAU team as an 8th grader but the sad truth was,  I didn’t give myself time and these weren’t really “MY” goals, I just thought that they were. I let the sport I loved take control and that was when it hit me, hard.

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a new one.”

I burnt myself out, I was injured over 50% of my basketball career, and I wasn’t happy anymore. I was also too terrified to admit it, so I blamed my injuries as a way to get me out. But why should I be ashamed for not being happy playing the sport I “loved”?

Ever heard of the term mental toughness? ….. “I have trained my mind and my body will follow.”

This is what many people believe mental toughness to be, and it is.

The problem was, that’s not what I learned it to be. I thought it was pushing through pain, I thought it was putting happiness aside; I thought it was putting my life on hold so I could put myself and my “dream” first. I was wrong, and because of that I crashed and burned by my sophomore year in High school.

I fell into a deep depression; I got foot surgery, which made it very hard for me to come back to basketball, if that was even what I wanted (It wasn’t but everyone knew me as a basketball player, so I “had” too.)

That quote I mentioned before,

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a new one.”

Well in the mist of falling into depression, I came to the realization that I had found something else, something that was going to make me stronger, something that I could use to my advantage, something that would allow me to focus on myself, and my happiness, Strongman

Five Springfield College Students off to Reno

I started my first lifting program June of last year, I was very nervous and intimidated by it but the cool thing about lifting and it being so new, was that confidence was something I was going to build on, especially with the help of a kick ass team.

Its been a year since, I started my journey into strongman. It has been an amazing and an emotional one, but it has opened my eyes to different concepts, and has allowed me to fall in love with a sport again.

So when I was on the floor shredding that list of old goals, I was encouraged to write a new one, one I knew I would conquer.

A year ago, I wrote that by the end of that Summer I was going to “dominate Hudson valley, pull 300 and front squat 185.” With some motivation by a coach, some close friends, and myself, I did it. And trust me, I made it my goal to prove to all those people who told me I couldn’t do it, that I could.

End of Summer goalAlways remember that happiness comes first and if there is ever a point where that is put on the back burner, re-evaluate what you are doing.

There is a plan for you in this life, just have fun and give yourself time to find it, it may change.

Don’t put your life aside for a “dream”, instead use your life to help push it further.

Don’t be afraid to push your self past your limits, but there is a difference between pushing yourself and actually hurting yourself.

Have fun, life goes fast, set goals, conquer them, and if life stops you from that, set new ones.

Most Importantly, don’t let people label you!  I was known as a basketball player, and when I couldn’t play basketball anymore, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I AM NOT a basketball player, a weight lifter or an artist, I am a girl who loves to lift, loves to play basketball, loves to draw, loves to talk about the Cowboys and the Mets, and who loves to goof around, laugh and smile and all of these make up who I am, Summer Barnes.

Use your smile to change the world

Use your smile to change the world

So thank you to all of you who told me I couldn’t do it, to those of you who made fun of me, to those who tell me I look bulky and thank you to those of you who have continued to push me forward, to motivate me, to encourage me and thank you to strongman for saving me.

Mindfulness: Control Your Thoughts Without Judgment

Your mind wanders about 50% of the time. Your emotions and thoughts are fleeting, at this time, maybe without recognizing, you let those thoughts and emotions define you. Now, your mind is still wandering but you are beginning to allow your emotions to control the way you think, thus believing that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in that moment.

This is called “Emotion Mind.” It’s a very easy concept to grasp, when you feel an emotion, anger, depression, sad, happy, joyful, etc., you without recognition, let it control you. This emotion takes over your body mentally and physically. For example, you become angry, urges from this emotion begin to surface, you punch the wall, cry, and start getting more and more angry. You have lost control of your body, physically and mentally. Secondary emotions begin to rise, and in this moment “Anger” is in control of you. Although it may be an easy concept to understand, it is not an easy mindset to change.

Moving Forward

I catch myself in Emotion Mind all the time. I’ll be laying in bed relaxing, my mind begins to wander, I let it and next thing I know I’m crying, don’t have a reason why, and I can’t stop. Within minutes my mind is in the state of “Emotion Mind” and it’s to late to stop it. This is just one mindset; there is a second one with the complete opposite affect.

Instead of letting these thoughts and emotions control you, you ignore them not allowing yourself to identify them. This means being “neutral” and being “standard.” This is called “Reasonable Mind.” You wake everyday, you follow a routine, you don’t allow change, and if an emotion tries to surface, you find an easy way to ignore it. When someone is in this state of mind, they are able to plan their behavior, focus on facts, common sense and problem solve without any emotional approach. The problem with “Reasonable Mind” is that you become so accustom to facts and logic, that you neutralize your feeling and thoughts, and eventually can’t identify them at all.

Once again, I have caught myself in this mindset and personally it is the one that scares me the most. To me, not feeling, means not being able to identify who I am in that moment. I have had days where I neutralize everything, because I know it will get me through the day faster. Although my most prominent mindset is Emotion Mind, I do struggle with Reasonable Mind.

I am not alone though. Everyone at some point in his or her lives has struggled with one or the other. And some are currently in one of these mindsets and have no idea. Before, I learned these two mindsets; I didn’t even pay attention to what my emotions could actually do and how they affected me emotionally, mentally and physically.

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Once you become aware of what these emotions are, through practice you can begin to identify them and control them. This is called “Wise Mind.”

On a Venn diagram “Wise Mind” would be in the middle, it’s a mix of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind. Wise Mind is when you can allow your self to identify an emotion, feel it, accept it, and control it. The most important thing is to know that it is okay to feel these emotions whether it be, sadness, anger, love, etc. because when you allow yourself to accept and feel them, controlling them becomes much easier.

“To keep our body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Mindfulness. This is what will bring you to Wise Mind. By definition mindfulness means, “maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. “ But it also means acceptance. Finding mindfulness is different for everyone, and some can focus on certain parts better than others, it all comes with practice but you must give yourself the chance to find what works best for YOU.

Some easy ways to practice mindfulness is to pay attention to your breathing especially when your emotions are high, try to really notice what you are feeling in a given moment, sounds, smells, and what you see, things you wouldn’t normally recognize, remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings are constantly going but they are not defining you and you can free them from negative patterns or find a way to focus on your body and become aware of your physical sensations.

For me, body awareness is very important. As a child I was diagnosed with S.I.D (sensory integration disorder), this means my brain had trouble processing the five senses, so I had a hard time feeling myself in space (body awareness) . As I got older, I began to become very aware of my body, mostly because of how active I was.

I began to become most aware of my body while I was at the gym. I learned that proprioception activities such as pushing and pulling were what helped activate this body awareness, which I lacked as a child.   However, because I was becoming so aware of my surroundings all the time, I would have sensory overloads while in the gym, the noise of the plates dropping was too loud, I couldn’t focus, and I would actually have to step out and re-gather.

Recently mindfulness has helped me identify my surrounds when I get sensory over load. I learned that in the gym, when I begin to notice myself becoming too aware of myself. I lie down, I rest my palms up or on my stomach, I focus on my breath, and slowly I allow myself to feel each body part and where it is in space, what it is touching, how it feels, then I allow myself to listen to the noises around me, the music, people yelling, the plates dropping, I find peace in it, then I bring my attention back to my breath, and when it is at a calm and peaceful rate, I visualize what I must do before my next lift. Once I get up and allow myself to collect everything, I go into my next set, I feel how my feet dig into the mat, how my hands grip the bar, I choose and learn how to control my thoughts, my body in space and my attention.

This is mindfulness, and I learned how to bring myself into “wise mind,” just by breathing and allowing myself to feel while being in control.

Most importantly remember that Mindfulness is “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” -Buddha

My Transformation: “I Have Trained My Mind and My Body Will Follow”

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The right picture is last year around May, the picture on the right is in November this year.

I didn’t start lifting because I wanted to change my body, I honestly started lifting because I thought it would be fun. But while I began to lift I slowly noticed my body changing. Now a lot of people lift because they want to see there body change, for me it was just a benefit. But the more progress I made, the more I wanted to see my body grow.

A lot of people thought I was just a strong person, but truthfully I worked my ass off everyday, I wanted to be strong and I wanted my body to change.

Its important to know that you CAN do anything you want. I learned how to take the word CAN’T out of my vocabulary and because of this I was able to accomplish anything I desired.

I started my first program in June 2014 and it

ended in September 2014, In those four months I put 100 pounds on my front squat. In june I could barley squat 85 pounds, by August I smoked a 185lb front squat. I also added about 90lbs on my Deadlift as well, only able to max my  pull at 225 and by September I maxed at 315.

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I was PR’ing constantly and kept pushing myself. From this I learned that my body can do anything all I had to do was shut my mind off, and I was pretty good at it. As an athlete you need to believe in yourself and what your body can do, because I promise you, It can do anything you tell it too.

Through this my body completely changed as well. I noticed my weight go up, as I was losing fat but gaining muscle.My natural weight was around 120 but I leaned out and put on 15 pounds of muscle weighing 135.

Screenshot_2014-12-12-12-17-02 I love having muscle, looking good AND being strong, because yes you can do both.

I am someone who will work my ass off, I’m not a quitter, and I can promise, I have more determination then most people. I didn’t change like this magically, I wanted it and I got it.

Top 10: Athletes who didn’t let an injury define them

Earlier this week I discussed how to over come an injury by not letting it define you.
Here is the Top 10 list of people who did not let an injury define them. They got up, pushed passed and keep moving!

1. Tommy JohnTommy John

2. Kevin Pearce-

3. Bethany Hamilton

4. Kevin Ware

5. Joe Theismann

6.Clint Malarchuck

7. Paul George

8. Eric Lindros

9. Willis McGahee

10. Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke, lost her life 9 days after her injury. But she didn’t give up.