What Andre Agassi Taught Me About Powerlifting
Recently I read the autobiography 'Open' after seeing it recommended on the Facebook page of a powerlifter called Sumi Singh.
A side note; I talked about her training in a Lord of the Rings length podcast with her coach Lyle McDonald. You can find the episode HERE.
It was a brilliant read if you are cool with someone whining about the rigors of life in top-level tennis for a few hundred pages. It's highly regarded as one of the best sporting memoirs out there and I can see why.
Here are the main lessons:
Powerlifting, like tennis, is extremely lonely
"No athletes talk to themselves like tennis players. Pitchers, golfers, goalkeepers, they mutter to themselves, of course, but tennis players talk to themselves — and answer. In the heat of a match, tennis players look like lunatics in a public square, ranting and swearing and conducting Lincoln-Douglas debates with their alter egos. Why? Because tennis is so damned lonely. Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players — and yet boxers have their corner men and managers."
Powerlifting is as lonely. You train for a number of hours multiple times a week doing the same thing over and over again. There no-one to hit back and forth with. Just you. Unrelenting you.
You need to be ok with spending time with YOU if powerlifting is going to work for you.
Unless you are lucky enough to be able to train with partners, me, or my powerlifting group. ;)
No-one is going to rescue you mid-way through a 3 hour squat, deadlift, and assistance exercise session in an empty gym where the easiest thing in the world is to leave the session and go do something you enjoy.
You have to talk to yourself to keep yourself on point, focussed and to stop yourself from throwing in the towel due to the monotony. Or to embrace the monotony.
To achieve this, I often keep this Brian Eno quote in mind:
"Repetition doesn’t really exist.
As far as your mind is concerned, nothing happens the same twice, even if in every technical sense, the thing is identical. Your perception is constantly shifting. It doesn’t stay in one place."
I spoke about this quote in a recent Instagram post:
Like any relationship, most powerlifters face a crisis 3-5 years into training for the sport. In order to carry on, you need to find the beauty in the repetition or find a reason beyond doing the sport because you love it.
Because you don't love it anymore.
But you still have things you want to achieve.
Or you feel you still have game left.
Stop Chasing Perfection
when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing? You’re chasing something that doesn’t exist. You’re making everyone around you miserable. You’re making yourself miserable. Perfection? There’s about five times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player. Or a human being, for that matter. It’s the other times. It’s all about your head, man. -Brad Gilbert
Andre Agassi, Open
Perfection doesn't exist.
Ok, the last 15 minutes of the film Last of the Mohicans is but that's another story...
I know, dear reader, that you may think "challenge accepted, I CAN BE PERFECT!"
I counter your challenge with another one:
Find me one session from anyone in the world in the history of time using heavy weights for a couple of hours where every rep is perfect.
Find me a week where everything in your life is perfectly in line with your goals and nothing disrupts your recovery in any way.
It's never happened.
Many powerlifters obsess about the perfect rep, the perfect set up, the optimal training plan, and about whether they can do something better.
They stress about it to the point where nothing is optimal anymore because they are losing sleep worrying about optimization.
Which isn't optimal, which is stressful. And the cycle repeats.
If you relate to this then you need to stop chasing perfection and 100% optimization.
Rather than optimal, the focus should be about getting everything to a place that's "good enough" to allow progress.
Quit worrying about perfection and start putting things in place that are "good enough."
If You Train for a Sport, You'll Probably Hate It Sometimes
"I hate tennis."
Andre Agassi, Open
Sometimes I hate powerlifting. Sometimes I hate my kids. Sometimes I hate myself. I love powerlifting, my kids, and myself too.
Going through the full gamut of emotions is fully expected in a lifelong relationship.
Why would it be any different when that relationship is with a sport rather than a person? At least in personal relationships, the other person talks back.
Weights are indifferent to you. In fact, they are horrible and should learn some manners.
Weights are the worst kind of people
For me, the negative emotions I associate with powerlifting are part of the challenge. Hate is one of the reasons why I want to carry on. Because I will overcome my hate and turn it into love. I will find the beauty and comfort in the repetition.
Others cannot and the relationship comes to an end. Don't feel bad about that. Train in a way that creates a sustainable relationship with the iron because lifting it is great for your health.
I'd like to thank Andre Agassi for teaching me these lessons about powerlifting through the medium of tennis.
By Chris Kershaw
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach