Lessons From A Lifting Mentor

I have been lucky enough to have listened to a few mentors in my life. One of them is my friend Adam who I meet when I worked for GoodLife Fitness Clubs in Milton before I moved to Chatham. He was an unlikely mentor because he’s about 10 years younger than I am but when I met him there was a stillness to his demeanor that struck me as significant. Here are some of the most important lessons that I have learned from him:

Almost everything is right, at least for someone on the planet. Adam doesn’t say that stuff is wrong (other than some of the moral things like murder, theft and dishonesty) because there is someone on the planet that it applies to. I once asked him which were better front squats or rear squats. He looked at me blankly and said both. When I asked him what he meant he answered with the question “which is better oranges or a car?” I laughed and saw his point. Oranges are better for make juice out of but a car is better for driving somewhere. Front squats are better for some and back squats are better for others.

Question the origin of common knowledge. Just because it is common doesn’t mean that it is accurate. One of the first common notions he got me to question had to do with squats. In the fitness industry there is a prevailing thought that one should never squat below 90 degrees because it will destroy the knees. I held onto this belief too until Adam asked me where it came from. He was unsatisfied with my answer “it’s just what everyone tells me” because it lacked any scientific evidence. So I went looking for a study that explained why squatting below 90 degrees is bad for the knees. I haven’t found one. In fact, I found a lot of them that said that it is better for someone who has good flexibility and no connective tissue damage in their knees to squat right down. There is significant evidence indicating that the vastus lateralis is more fully engaged when squatting below 90 degrees.

It’s okay to be the only person in the gym who does Olympic lifts. Adam used to do some weird stuff in the gym. It stopped being weird when I realized that he was packing on the muscle and getting really strong while everyone else remained more or less the same. Olympic lifts (the clean and jerk, and the snatch) are Olympic lifts because of the amount of muscle recruitment they facilitate – both lifts require massive neural coordination and motor firing to complete successfully. It is not surprising that most world class throwers and sprinters incorporate these lifts into their training cycles. It is also not surprising that most ego lifters don’t go near them as it is humbling to struggle with a sub 100 pound clean and press when you’re able to rep 225 on front squats.

You keep the journey alive when you continue to learn. I’m not sure Adam will ever be complete because I’m not sure he knows where he is going. He knows that he wants to learn as much as he can and grow his knowledge so he can be an expert in many areas but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any intention of ever saying “I have arrived”. His quest for wisdom is inspiring because it is about the journey and not about the destination. Every lift is special, every paragraph or lecture is an opportunity to grow, every conversation is another chance to learn. He doesn’t waste a moment.