3 Strategies for Pulling 385 for Reps (and for Generally Getting Jacked)

By December 16, 2016Blog

Last week, I posted the following on my personal Facebook page and it did better than most of my other recent posts combined.

Naturally, I decided I should tell you how I got there and why it brings me incredible joy to pick up ridiculous amounts of weight and put them down.

It wasn’t always this way.

I grew up the tall, skinny kid. I was called every name in the book, from ‘bag of bones’ to ‘tall drink of water’. I could clearly see my ribcage in the mirror well into my teens.

The worst part was that I didn’t really make up for it with anything else.

Because my limbs were so long, my legs and arms were incredibly skinny and naturally very weak. My core was like a wet noodle every time I tried to do anything requiring some semblance of core stabilization.

This led to lots of issues; most notably chronic lower back pain that simply would not go away.

This didn’t help matters in my chosen sport of hockey; in particular, my preferred position as a goaltender.  Being a goalie requires muscular endurance to stay low in a ready position for minutes on end and even more core stability to create and resist rotation in the blink of an eye, sometimes simultaneously.

Regardless of the negative effects of my chosen sport and the fact that my lack of overall strength would most certainly hold me back from getting to the pros, I hated being the skinny kid. I absolutely despised it.

I mean, come on… the girls didn’t like it.

Furthermore, I had a mental block in the gym. I wasn’t very interested in strength training for 2 reasons:

1.     I wasn’t good at it… at all; and had no idea what I was doing

2.     I was being told to do it, and I really didn’t know why

Fast forward several years; I had just finished my “serious” playing days and was working in a high-performance gym, training hockey players to do the same thing I despised while I was chasing the dream.

Weird, eh?

The gym was going through a period of transition at the exact time I was soaking up as much as I could about my new career path and our new manager decided to simplify our programming across the board. We were going to focus all programs on Dan John’s 5 basic human movements:

– Push

– Pull

– Squat

– Hinge

– Loaded Carry

It clicked. I finally had some direction.

I could manage that. I could get better at those 5 movement patterns.

Not only that, but I was now in this phase of my life where I had to figure out why I was even going to workout. I knew I had to be fit in order to do my job- a job I was falling in love with- but I no longer had to work out as I wasn’t playing hockey anymore.

I decided I wanted to get as strong as I possibly could and finally banish all my injury and skinny demons. I was going to crush the 5 basic human movements.

I didn’t care about being faster.

I didn’t care about stopping more pucks.

I didn’t even care about my overall health at the time.

I just wanted to lift weights.

I started diving head first into everything I could read on pure strength.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to get to the gym and knew what I was going to do when I got there.

More specifically, I found Jim Wendler and his 5/3/1 program on T-Nation and have since completed that program at least once a year.

In fact, that’s the program the got me to 385 x 8. But you can click the link above to find that program; that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m here to outline the principles that allowed this massive shift from the skinny kid who hated working out to the gym rat that couldn’t wait to get to the gym.

1)   Ridiculous Consistency

We all saw that guy back in the day.

He was a good enough athlete and got the job done when the game started, but he was a hot mess when it came to sticking to anything else. While some of the guys went into the gym with a hard plan, knew their weights and knew their body, he’d go in just making it up as he went along.

He floated around the gym floor like Ovechkin sitting at the blue line. No real plan in place and no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. Just waiting for something to happen.

That was Gav back in the day. I actually distinctly remember our shitty gym in our practice rink in Seattle (which was a former Safeway, by the way) and how I’d follow the vets in; do part of their workout; discover it was too hard and either shut ‘er down or go hit biceps and bench.

The lesson here is that you don’t always have to have had consistency. You just need to start building it in now.

First, I have a clear ‘WHY’.

I hate being the skinny guy and I want to get as strong as I possibly can before things start going downhill around 35 to 40. This is also a major way I protect my lower back from further injury.

Just think about how much core stability is needed to pull 385 pounds off the floor without letting your lower back crumble into oblivion…

Second, I prioritize my workouts over other things in my life. I’m an entrepreneur who loves what I do so it would be easy for me to work myself into the ground 24/7 and never leave the hobbit hole that is my home office.

But, just like any other appointment in my day, my workout takes priority.

I know that if I don’t get my workouts in, I will feel weak and skinny. Lifting is as much a mental workout for me as it is physical, and I love feeling strong.

2)   Self Awareness

You know those guys who wheel around the ice and have no idea that they’re absolute dust?

You probably see it more now in beer league than you did back in the day, but those guys lack something called self-awareness. They lack any sort of understanding as to their sheer lack of skills, which often makes situations much worse.

Don’t be that guy.

For me, it was important to take a hard look at my schedule and figure out how many times a week worked for me to workout.

I tried 2.

I tried 6.

I tried everything in between and eventually landed on 3 being the ideal number for me.

This works because I like a day off in between workouts to let some of the muscle soreness subside and because I am often moving heavy weights around, I need to give my joints a break (I’m on my feet all day at the gym, too).

I also found I liked to workout late morning, and enjoyed doing it after work; not before. So, this wouldn’t work on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I usually start around 230PM. I can slide one in if I need to, but it’s not ideal and I wouldn’t stick to it long term.

This all came from taking a look at what I do, how well it’s working and if I can make it work any better. A little self-awareness goes a long way.

3)   Focus

Contrary to what you may believe about a well-established fitness professional; I cannot go to the gym and get a decent workout without some sort of a program to follow.

As I touched on in the first lesson of this article; I am inherently a floater. If I don’t have a plan, my brain will go haywire on new exercises and rep schemes I want to try, things I know I need to work on and general meatheadery. This leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished everything and nothing at the end of the session and I usually leave the gym displeased.

When I workout, I need focus.

Focused Programming

Like I said; if there’s no program, I generally suck at working out.

Just like my client programs, I create my program 1 to 2 months at a time and usually cycle between strength and hypertrophy (getting massive) focus. Depending on upcoming events or seasons (you know, like beach season), I will sprinkle in some circuits and the like after the badass lifting is done.

The most important thing – there has to be a program for me to get the most out of my training.

Focused Mindset

This goes part-and-parcel with the programming piece, but my mindset is always the same. It falls in line with my WHY and is never far from my thoughts.

I want to be as strong as possible.

That means that I need to be focused on that goal from the second I begin my workout.

Mobility work, activation, ramp-up sets… they all lead up to the most important thing, getting strong. Even my accessory work after my main lift is finished for the day is geared towards assisting my main lifts.

Beyond that, I need to be fully focused on the task at hand; especially when there’s a loaded barbell staring me back in the face. I’ll be the first to make jokes and have a good time in the gym, but when it’s time to lift, it’s time to LIFT.

Focused Time Management

My time is precious. When you’re self-employed, time is literally money.

If I lose valuable time, then I may have to make a choice between finishing a blog post and seeing my girlfriend. Or a choice between going out for a couple pops with the guys or getting up early to write programs.

So, when I’m in the gym, my time is managed. I time my rest periods and I don’t mess around getting my warm-up done.

Get in, get ready, get your work done, get out.

So what’s my point in all this?

I often have people in the gym ask me how I lift all that weight. I definitely don’t look like the type that would want to do that. In fact; I look more like a long-distance runner of sorts (I would rather die than run a marathon).

My point is that anyone can do it with the right principles in place. If you want to lift 500 pounds (my next benchmark) or have 22 inch pythons; then you better be consistent, create some systems that work based on a little self awareness and make sure every single thing you do is focused on that goal.

It’s pretty simple… but don’t confuse simple with easy.

To your gainzzz,


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Gavin McHale

Author Gavin McHale

Online training and nutrition coach, retired semi-pro hockey goalie, and ex-skinny kid. Currently a beer league superstar, and lover of lifting heavy things, Gavin will help you reclaim that athletic, dead sexy body, and shrink your clothing budget. Because tarps are always optional.

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