The Fallacy of Linear Progress

By: Brian Carroll

Photo credit: Ken Richardson and Trey Vollmer

The entitlement of younger and newer lifters in the strength game is at an all-time high and I’ve had enough. The internet now allows you to see what every single lifter is doing and lifting as far as numbers go, but it also creates an illusion of progress that people think will magically happen sure as clockwork.

Here is a news flash, in all probability you are not, nor will you ever be, Steve Goggins, Ed Coan, Dave Hoff, Dan Green or the Lilliebridges. You probably don’t even remotely have close to their level of their dedication, genetics, determination, or effort. Most of all: you haven’t put in the motherfucking time nor have you paid your dues like those lifters have.

I’ve had a lot of training partners over the years. But the core of Team Samson has been the same over the last 12 years or so. Many have come and gone, some came back. Some have quit and never came back. The ones who’ve stuck around through the peaks and valleys, the good and the bad have really put together some of the best decades of powerlifting in the history of the sport. Did you catch that? 12 years, bitch. It takes decades; not days, months or years. Put in your time and shut the hell up.

Let me spell this out for you a little more clearly. If you made progress your whole lifting career as you did the first couple of years, everyone would have a 2600 total and it would be extremely boring to powerlift because anyone could do 2600 and be great at it. But here’s the problem with that, if everyone else is doing 2600, how is that great or even good? See, you’re just middle of the road again like the majority of people who compete. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is the truth!

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There has to be close to 110+ years of lifting experience in this pic and I’m probably cussing you out!

Why in the hell would you want this to be easy and why should it be? If you want something easy, go join the local kickball club or Dodgeball team and train hard for a year and dominate your circuit and revel in your greatness. You could go ahead and be a legend in your own mind and unrealistic about your actual ability. I never will tell anyone not to dream, or think big, but in today’s society, not only are people more out of touch than reality than ever due to social networking but I think they are more narcissistic and entitled. Yes, that is true. You post a video of a 500 pound squat, it may be a great number for you, you may be incredibly happy about that and you should be. That number is a long way off from the top lifters in the sport and you will need to train harder and smarter to get more out of it as you continue. Your “fans” liking the video, showering you with praise shouldn’t go to your head, but it does for many people.

If you are powerlifting, or even strength training, to try to be famous and you are not already a brutally strong lifter and a genetic freak you need a wake up call. If you are doing this only to have others look up to you and or to be a rock star and expect the process to be an easy and smooth one, you are delusional. This is not a sport that will give you much reward at all. In all but .0001% of cases, it will break you emotionally, physically and financially, it will mess with and strain your relationships and will be a difficult process at best to be great.

Nothing in life worth a shit works this way, so why would you expect powerlifting, which is one of the most brutal and difficult things to do consistently well at on the planet at a world class level, to be any different? We have injuries, set-backs, health risks all while trying to keep getting stronger and pay our bills. Keep in mind a lot of us have lives outside of powerliting with real jobs, mortgages, children, wives, other hobbies and actually contribute to society. I actually want to have a retirement, a nice home, hot lady, spending money and to be able to enjoy my life. It’s not easy to do all the above, so some choose to work shitty jobs, live in studio apartment at 35years old and drag their family through the mud while putting their health in danger just to pursue their pipe dream. I get why the genetic freaks do this, or those with incredible potential and promise do this, but chances are this article isn’t for you.

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Put your time in!

I am not an idiot, I understand sacrifice more than some, and have been through my share of detours, but I also see the big picture better than ever. It’s taken many self-created issues in my own life to see this, and I’m still working on it. I don’t have it all together, but I feel as though I’ve been around the block once or twice.

That guy or girl that I’m talking about here does not understand how this works and I highly doubt reading this will convince them. Unfortunately most people learn the hard way, or learn it when it is too late to fix what you have already fucked up.

I remember vividly some years ago (separate occasions) we had a few guys who trained with us. Strong guys for sure. They had very good meets where they went 9 for 9, all in their first meets. The worst thing to ever happen to anyone and I’ll explain why; their next meets sucked. All of them. There were no exceptions and guess what, they realized it was hard to make progress because they lifted out of their shoes on meet day (in all reality better than their ability) and actually have to put in hard work now. One guy was commenting about coming after me soon, after his 1700@220,while I was comfortably at a 2376 I the same class. The other was talking about “if he doesn’t pull 800 in a couple years he would quit”. By the way he was pulling 500 at the time and didn’t last long. Needless to say, they are both done and have been done lifting for a long time.

The other is still training but has had growing pains, but is not afraid to train hard and has accepted that progress will be slow for a bit. He’s showing grit though and that is what separates the men from the boys when shit gets hard. He has come back with very good meets and is now moving toward some good numbers in his weight class.

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Filipe now understands that after the initial gains, it tends to get hard

Strength training, and in this case powerlifting, is a very unique sport in the fact that there are so many variables that are not limited to: mindset, mental toughness, physical ability, determination, genetics, leverages and flat out lucky. Some things you just cannot control. If you don’t think that luck plays a factor you’re not thinking outside the box. I’m not talking otherworldly lucky rabbit’s foot bullshit, but shit happens kind of luck. You can go from a perfect day to a shit day with just one thing that you have zero control over. It could be a misloaded bar, a bad platform or spotter, you name it.

You could train hard for a full year and something as stupid as someone dropping a weight on your foot in the warm-up room, crushing your foot and ends your day before you even start. Is that something you can prep for, focus more on, avoid or dial in? No you cannot, that is the luck of the draw, son. Just understand that this is powerlfiting; execution, preparation, focus, drive, solid programming and nutrition will help put you in a good position to do well, but it’s simply not enough. You need some luck and things to shake out on your side to be remotely successful for longer than a handful of years.

Here are a few things to consider on your path

Be patient.
Get a good coach, and be patient. Be happy with the gains that you make. You are not promised any numbers, meets to compete in and any certain time in the sport so enjoy it.
Control what you can control which are; your supplements, diet, your training and rest/recovery.
Don’t change too much at once. One variable at a time. Give it time, and then move on.
Keep plugging away when things get hard. Don’t be a bitch and quit.
Don’t be a delusional fuck. You bench 300 and instead of focusing on benching 325 next you’re blabbing about benching 500 because that’s what so and so lifter currently lifts and you should be to, because you “want it really bad”. The weight doesn’t give a shit what you want!

Any progress is good; don’t expect big things after your original boost of progress when you are new to this. Big jumps may happen here and there, but it’s usually not the norm.

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Beth Thomas has consistently been in the top of her class for years and continues to improve

Some lifters will put 100-300lb on their totals in the first 2-3 years and expect this to be the norm. Not at all, now it gets hard. Now you have to get stronger and attack your weak points, have a longer offseason and be more concise with every move you make, stay away from injuries and hope for the best. Still, nothing is owed to you or promised. You have to hope for the best, hope your preparation pays off and show it on the platform, not in some random training video.

I could name examples all day of people who had to chip away at PR’s for years just to find ten pounds here and ten pounds there. I’m a pretty good example of that. It get’s hard, but I understand this and know that the gains will come once I’m injury free, locked in and have a little bit of luck and it all comes together.

I remember vividly after the first few years of lifting, my numbers progressed like this:

I made 100-300lb pain jumps in a matter of years, just as I articulate above; this is NOT the normal deal!

1999 320 bench, then 360 by year’s end
2001 squat 405×6, bench 425, pull 405
2002 squat 405×10, bench 425, pull 500

220 class
2003 squat 705, bench 430, pull 622 1755 total
2004 squat 810, bench 500, pull 661 2000 total
2005 squat 925, bench 600, pull 733 2221 total
2006 squat 1030, bench 633, pull 755 2376 total

242 class
2007 squat 1040, bench 705, pull 733 – 2443 total
2008 squat 1050, bench 785, pull 771 – 2570 total

275 class
2009 squat 1100, bench 785, pull 800 – 2660 total
2010 squat 1145, bench 785, pull 775 – 2700 total
2011 squat 1185, bench 780, pull 775 – 2730 total
2012 squat 1140, bench 815, pull 750 – 2600 total
2013 squat 1147, bench 821, pull 733 – 2700 total
2014 squat 1070, bench 825, no deadlift yet!

Do you see the trend? Progress comes in tides. Sometimes it comes easy; sometimes it takes years to really push a number up. Here is the thing; do you really think that injury will not catch up with you at some point? It will happen, and it will set you back. What will you do when it comes knocking? It’s so much a part of the game that you should expect numbers to go back at times.

I have only hit bench PR’s for the last 3 years. Does that mean I won’t ever PR again? No, it means I’ve hit a wall that makes hard training less important but smart and concise training even more important.

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Enjoy the perfect days when they happen!

Staying injury free and being able to train so it can show up on meet day is critical.

When I see a newer lifter complaining about their progress or lack of it, I don’t really have time to listen to it as they have not been pounding the pavement enough to bitch yet.

They haven’t been through enough ups and downs yet or put their time in to have a voice of bitching in this sport.

You could train as hard as possible for the next 10 years and potentially not get any stronger. Is this likely? No, but depending on the variables not limited to the above, it is possible. This is why you have to understand that it could be months and even years at a time where you feel stagnant, aren’t making good progress and want to quit. Injuries tend to be more of a possibility the stronger you get, so you’re always paddling upstream once you establish a solid base and hit some decent numbers.

I know you don’t want to hear that, but this is the truth.

Understand that strength is a process, and not a direct linear progression.

Did you think I was playing with the title of my book 10/20/Life? 10 and 20 weeks, at a time, for a lifetime of positive momentum. I’m talking years. It’s all about longevity and time in the game. It is not about these next couple of months or even years, but the next 10/20 years of your life that you make real progress. Consistency and working hard, evolving and not giving up is what it’s all about.

The next time you think you should be hitting certain numbers, the next time you talk shit about your average lifting and think you are king of the gym just remember that there are people who have put time in, people who are stronger and people who are still weaker than you who will put you to shame where it really matters; on the platform. Maybe then you will learn that your numbers are only as good as the effort you take to maintain them over a lifetime, not just one or two meets!

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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