Taming the Beast

For people who don’t know this week was a pretty good one for me as Dragon Door have brought out my first book, called Beast Tamer.

What makes this kind of special is one big thing – I’m not a Beast Tamer. Personal training is kind of funny – people want you to have done the thing they’re trying to do. So if they’re training for a triathlon they’d look for a trainer who has triathlon experience. Or if they’re into martial arts they’ll look for an ex-fighter. But in the world of sport performance, no one really cares. Think about it – do you think for even half a second that Usain Bolt’s coach can run like him? As an example, Don Talbot, former head coach of the Australian swim team, couldn’t even swim! Didn’t seem to stop his athletes from winning.

And for me that has always been the thing. I am exceptional only in my athletic mediocrity. As much as I would like to have been an Olympian the closest I ever got was coming runner-up at the selection trials in 1988 for Taekwondo. Back then we sent three people for Taekwondo so coming second at the trials didn’t even get me a tracksuit. But because of my desire to become more than an also ran I dedicated myself to becoming a better athlete. Early on I had the same build as a stick figure. I think I was the last one out of my friends to bench 60kgs – kind of a mile stone weight because it was one big plate each side. And even then it was in my final year of high school.

When you’re cursed with ambition and lack of ability you look for ways to improve. I saw early on that aside from fixing my scrawny body that being stronger would help me get back on par with my competition. So I pushed and pulled, I squatted and lifted. Gradually I gained some strength and a little muscle. Along the way I went from being the guy who would get pushed around sparring to being the guy who could push others around. I became the guy who didn’t get tired. I can remember BJJ competition training years ago – I was out classed as a white belt in terms of skills, but during the conditioning period of the class I was king. If only I’d known that ten years later someone would make a sport out of fitness and offer hundreds of thousands of dollars of prize money I’d maybe have just gone after it then. But they didn’t and so I learnt along the way and found ways to fix my problems. Thanks to how useless I was physically I was forced to think my way through things.

And here we are today, after starting lifting weights at age thirteen in 1984 I’ve got almost thirty years of lifting experience. Thirty years of solving my lack of strength and finding out through trial and error what worked and what didn’t. And so when someone turns up in front of me now and says they’re having trouble with a certain thing, there’s a fair chance I’ve dealt with it myself. And if I haven’t experienced it personally, I’ve certainly trained someone who has.

One of the things about the Beast Challenge is that for most it is a solo pursuit. In my book you’ll find at the back interviews with people who have achieved the Beast/ Iron Maiden feat. What you’ll also see is the remarkable similarity between what they all brought to the equation before they started to train specifically for the Challenge. Namely they all had a significant background in strength. There was no one who was pressing a 32kg bell, could barely pistol and was doing a 28kg pull up. In one case Jeff Steinberg was actually warming up before his usual training with 100lb pull ups and pistols (the Beast weighs 107lbs) so even before he started training for it he was doing those weights cold for two of the three lifts. That’s a fairly strong platform to build from and meant he only had to nail down a single element.

In other cases, such as with Beth Andrews who has just completed the Iron Maiden (making her only the fifth female and also the second I’ve trained to do so), she had the pull up and press cold but was unable to find form on the pistol. Instead of following a plan of “do more pistols” I sat back, had a think about it based on what she described (because this was all of email I didn’t even have the luxury of training her in person) and objectively went through ways I thought we could get around her problems. And sure enough, six weeks later we did! I will say though, that my job is extremely easy – it’s not me who has to do the lifting or go through the stiffness the next day from heavy training. I get to sit back, look at the numbers coldly and make decisions based only on what they say. Sometimes, in fact< it can be easier to train people by remote like this because it takes out all the second guessing that you have when you have the person in front of you.

The book is already getting good reviews, as you can see on the product page for the Beast Tamer book. It’s also been well reviewed by Tom Furman, a man who has been around training and kettlebells for longer even than I have. The review is here for anyone who wants to read. I hope that anyone who buys it enjoys it thoroughly. I had a blast writing it, and have had an even bigger blast helping two women achieve this pretty rare strength feat. The big take away for trainers should be that when it comes to programming and fixing problems there;’s always a way around things and that if you look close enough, and read enough, you’ll usually find it. The book is filled with programs. Literally filled It’s got stuff I’ve adapted from Poliquin, Tsatsouline, King and many other sources. it’s got FMS based correctives as well as ways to improve movement from Convict Conditioning too. What makes it funny for me is that since sharing it with a few people between writing it and having it printed I’ve started to hear of other people claiming these ideas as theirs. They’re clearly not, as you can see from the book where I reference the individual creators of all these concepts. It’s always the right thing to do to credit references.

I hope you enjoy it.