No Doubt

by Jim Steel | March 29, 2023

boy at the bottom of a squat inside a rack

I was done with my deadlift training for the day and was at hanging around the gym watching my buddy Troy train one of his clients. I train Troy myself and enjoy watching him torture his clients with some of the stuff I have taught him.

A teenage kid approached me.

“Hey Coach, do you have a minute?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“My name is Christian,” he said, sticking out his hand for me to shake.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Jim. How old are you?”

“I’m 16,” he said.

“You have a good frame. You could be huge. How tall are you and how much do you weigh?”

“I’m 6’2, and 175 pounds. I know, too skinny. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I’ve seen you training some folks and I like how hard your clients work and the gains they make. I want to get big and strong like that guy,” he said, pointing to Troy, who was a muscular 225 pounds at 5'8" with a 550 squat. “I think that I need some help. I have been training for a year and haven’t gained much strength and only put on 5 pounds,” he said.

“Damn, that’s not good,” I said. “What type of program are you doing now?”

“It’s something that I got from the internet. Here it is,” he said, handing me a printout of his program.

It wasn’t bad at all. He was squatting, benching, and pressing twice a week, and deadlifting once a week. He had some bodybuilding exercises in there, but it was just some curls and triceps and a few lateral raises. I could deal with that stuff in there. His sets and reps on the big lifts were good, usually 5 sets of 3-5 reps. He did some higher reps on the assistance work for 2-3 sets. Now I needed to figure out why he had stayed so spindly over the year.

“The program is fine. Not the greatest, but you damn well should have gained more than 5 pounds doing that template. What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, that’s why I’m coming to you. I think maybe that it is a form issue. Can you check my form out and tell me if I'm doing anything glaringly wrong?”

“Yep, no problem,” I said. “What are you working on today?”

“I have squats and bench presses,” he said.

“Nice,” I said. “Squats are my favorite.”

“I have to do a top set of 5 with 175 pounds today, which is up 10 pounds from last week’s heavy day,” he said.

“Let’s check out that form,” I said, walking him over to a power rack. “Go ahead and set your rack height and show me how you squat. Just use the empty bar to begin.”

“I'm stronger than that,” he said.

“I know, I just want to see your form before you try to impress me.”

He set up the bar, stood with it, and walked back with measured steps. He set up and then did a set of 5 reps. His form was pretty solid. I made a few adjustments with chin position and stance width, but overall, there were no glaring weaknesses. He began warming up: 95 pounds for 5 reps, 115 pounds for 5 reps, 135 for 5 reps, and then a single rep with 160 pounds. He handled all of the sets with ease and with no discernible break in form.

“Are you ready for 175 for 5?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” he answered, “165 last week was really hard though, so I'm not sure how it will go.”

“You can always not try,” I said. “You can quit right now.”

“Huh?” he asked.

“I'm just saying, either fucking do this or don’t. Your choice.”

“Oh, I’m gonna do it,” he said. “I was just saying that I may not get it.”

“If you think that way, you won’t get it. How about being positive and getting fired up and crushing that damn weight?” I said, my voice rising. I was getting fired up myself. “You can’t get under that weight with any doubt. You got to tell yourself that you will get that weight and nothing will stop you from getting it!”

He looked at me and was nodding his head up and down quickly. He approached the bar and kept saying under his breath, “No doubt, no doubt.” I liked that.

175 pounds was a joke, He crushed the 5 reps with ease. “And 165 was hard for you?” I asked after he was done with the set. “I thought it was,” he said. “I barely got all my reps, I really struggled.”

“Hmm,” I said, sliding a 10-pound plate on the side of the bar. “Put a 10 on your side.” He looked at me in disbelief but didn’t say anything.

What?” I asked, staring at him.

“Nothing,” he said. “No doubt, right?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“Walk slowly over to the water fountain and get a drink,” I told him. “Take the long way. And while you're walking, see yourself crushing this set over and over again. Then when you get back over here, I want you to get so fired up that you are in a blind rage when you get under that bar!”

“Yessir, yessir,” he said, again nodding his head quickly. I had him right where I wanted him now. After that 175 set that was so easy, I knew that he would kill 195 pounds. He was going to be happy.

He walked back over to me after a few minutes.

“You ready?” I said, almost yelling but definitely talking with a slight growl, “Man the hell up here!

Again, he was nodding quickly and he was breathing heavily and loudly. “Nice,” I thought, “He’s getting it.”

195 for 5 reps was easy and I told Christian that he could have done 10 reps with that weight if he'd had to. “Slide another 10 on your side,” I said. “Alright!” he said, which was quite a change from his attitude before. He was gaining confidence.

Again, I had him take a slow walk to the water fountain and had him repeat the ritual as before, seeing himself crush the weight and then get in a blind rage before he approaches the bar.

Ready?” I asked as he arrived back at the power rack. I was shaking a little now, my adrenaline was going strong. I slapped him on the upper back, hard. He wasn’t expecting that, I could tell, by the way he jumped in surprise, but he didn’t say a word to me, just kept muttering “no doubt, no doubt” as he approached the bar.

This was 215 pounds now, and I could tell he had some doubts because his descent on the first rep of the set was much slower than his previous sets. He was “feeling out the weight,” seeing how heavy it felt. And because of him creeping down so slowly the ascent was darn tough for him.

“Hit it!” I said, when he got to the top of the first rep. “Stop creeping down!”

The second rep was better, but relatively hard. That first rep had taken a lot out of him. The third rep was tough also, but he seemed to find his groove some. The fourth rep was a real ball-buster, but he kept his form and didn't quit.

The fifth rep was one of the toughest reps that I have ever witnessed in my 40 years of lifting weights. Christian fought hard for every inch of the rep. I was yelling, “Don't quit! Don't quit!!” as the bar slowly begin to move it’s way up. His face was beet red, and he was shaking at the top of each rep, but he didn't quit – this kid had some determination. He completed the fifth rep just barely, his knees finally locking out the weight. I helped him put the weight in the rack and he stepped out from under the bar, draped his arms over the bar, and put his forehead on the center knurl. His chest was heaving and his t-shirt was colored with sweat. After a few minutes, he slid off of the bar and onto the floor where he lay flat on his back.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yessir. I’m OK. I’ve never done anything so hard in my whole life.”

“I think that we found your problem,” I said, smirking while standing over him. “It’s not your form. You simply haven’t been working hard enough.”

“The right program is important,” I continued, “but it’ll never work unless you have intensity. People don’t get really strong by half-assing it. You have to push like that all of the time to get strong. Now, some sets are going to be harder than others. Not all of your sets will be like the last one was today, but all the heavy workouts will be hard. And that’s good – you want them to be because it means that you're getting better.”

“I don’t think I can bench press,” he said, sitting up wearily.

“You can always not try,” I said. “You can quit right now.”

He stuck his hand out for me to help him to his feet.

“Let’s go bench,” he said.

“No doubt,” I said.

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