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Starting Strength in the Real World


A Savage’s Motive

by Cody Teer, SSC | March 29, 2018

sage savage deadlifting

Sage Savage is the picture of the “All American Boy.” At six feet and 240 pounds, Sage cuts an impressive figure – with a jawline that would make a young Clint Eastwood jealous – and as a Combat Search and Rescue Specialist, his job is essentially pumping out 50-caliber machine gun rounds from a helicopter and saving people in dire need. I have known Sage for about ten years. He's a stud, and he's successful at whatever he sets his mind to accomplish. But, like any of us, Sage sometimes struggles to find motivation in the gym.

There is a strong psychological aspect to coaching. Handling a client’s lack of motivation is one of the many challenges a Starting Strength Coach (SSC) deals with on a daily basis. Helping a lifter through difficult training periods is part of what makes you valuable in the long-term as a coach. Coaches should be knowledgeable in their craft, but they must also serve as psychologists on occasion. Building a relationship and learning what makes your lifter “tick” makes you better at that part of the job. I wanted to share Sage’s story to illustrate how he overcame motivational strife and set some massive personal records (PRs) at the United States Strengthlifting Federation (USSF) Nationals over a very short period of time.

Sage texted me on 28 October 2016 saying, “Dude, I just finished the SS Meet, 495 Squat, 231 Press, 539 Deadlift. I’m beat to hell. Can we chat about doing something different?”

I didn’t even know he had entered a Starting Strength meet, so I called him to discuss all I had missed, with zero intention of convincing him into, or out of, a specific training regimen. He was happy with his press but disappointed in his squat and deadlift performance. He had never hit a legal 500 squat and had just fallen short by five pounds. He was completely mentally and physically exhausted. I could tell that, in that moment, he wanted “easy.” He didn’t want to think about continuing the boring, day-in-day-out grind that had been his training, even though it had been insanely effective. So, I congratulated him on the PRs and postponed our programming discussion. He was not ready to think objectively about his next training cycle.

This is important. There comes a time when you have to remain focused on a lifter’s goals (their goals…not yours) to kick-start the lifter’s motivation. “Nose torque” and a slap on the ass will not always work.

I may have pissed Sage off a bit in our next conversation when I told him, “495 is NOT 500, dude.”

“It’s close,” he said.

“It’s five pounds short. You can hit 500.”

Men like Sage do not like being told that they came up short. Pretty soon, his attitude changed: “You know, I think I can probably hit 500 at Nationals, but it’s only two months away. You think we can do it?” We began building a shared mental image of him squatting 500 pounds, at Nationals, under the lights, with (ahem) pretty ladies watching. To do this, we set hard goals that he could visualize achieving. Sage was going to Squat 500, Press 235, and Deadlift 550.

With just two-and-a-half months until show time, we did not have time to use a complicated program to build training stress over a long period. He needed intensity, and lots of it. So we modified the “Old Man Texas Method” template, itself a modification of the traditional version of the program. This gave us targeted weekly increases to the actual weight lifted, focusing on intensity as the primary training stress. We started heavy and kept it that way for squat, press, and deadlift. Excluding the deadlift, I only programmed 2.5-pound jumps. We occasionally added five pounds to the bar when we agreed the last session looked fantastic and he felt ready. We backed off Sage’s bench press intensity to accommodate recovery, since he would be pressing at Nationals.

He lived up to his name and trained like a savage over the next two-and-a-half months. He ate well, slept a ton, did not miss a session, and did not miss a single rep! Here is the sample template:

Week 1
MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 3x5 heavySquat 3x5 @ 80% of MondaySquat 1x5 @ Monday + 15 lb
Press 3x5 heavyBench 3x5 deloadedPress 3x5 @ Monday + 2.5 lb
Deadlift 1x5 heavyBarbell Row 3x5 heavyDeadlift 1x5 @ Monday + 5 lb
Week 2
MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 3x5 @ last Monday + 2.5 lbSquat 3x5 @ 80% of MondaySquat 1x5 @ Monday + 15 lb
Bench Press 3x5 @ Wednesday + 2.5-5 lbPress 3x5 @ Friday + 2.5 lbBench Press 3x5 @ Monday + 2.5-5 lb
Barbell Row 3x5 heavyDeadlift 1x5 @ Friday + 5 lbBarbell Row 3x5 heavy

Two weeks before Nationals, he hit a smooth 500-pound squat in training, which let us know PRs were coming in a big way.

Sage showed up with the standard meet anxiety of a competitor. However, the “All-American Boy” did exactly what the Air Force has trained him to do under pressure: stay calm, compartmentalize, and get the job done.

Sage hit a 514.8 Squat, 239.8 Press, and 572.0 Deadlift that day. That is a 19.8-pound squat, 8.8-pound press, and 33-pound deadlift PR for a late intermediate/early advanced lifter in two-and-a-half MONTHS! Furthermore, we left 10–15 pounds on the platform from his deadlift because I called his numbers and had a hard time believing I was even calling 572!

There is nothing sexy or complicated about what we did. We kept things simple, set realistic goals, and were guided by both his performance in the gym and my coaching experience. Also, we knew how to proceed because I know (and Sage knows) what makes him tick. The program wasn’t just simple, hard, and effective, it also played to Sage’s motivation: There are few things that make you feel more like a loser than missing an attempt in front of a crowd in a singlet. This can be powerful motivation for anyone. Decide on a goal. Commit to it. Then, decide to accomplish that goal in front of a crowd.


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