In May of 2016, I made my maiden voyage to Sorinex Summer Strong. Several friends told me the experience would "change my life."
At the time, that sounded a bit extreme. And, though I didn't feel like I needed or even wanted my life to change, I went and left excited.
After all, I like barbecue and barbells.
But as is often the case, my friends knew better than I.
I returned inspired. Immediately following the event, I wrote this blog post. I also started training to compete for the first time in a decade. I was 30. Training for the US Bobsled Team, with two torn hips and a decade of rust encrusted between my fascia.
I had a supercharged V12 for a heart jammed inside the rickety chassis of a chewed up Pinto. I wasn't prepared to change, but change I did.
At Summer Strong, Sorinex brings together the iron born to swap wisdom over weights and best practices over brisket. It's an unclassifiable event that awakens the soul and taps the most primal nature of our being.
It started as one legendary old guy's birthday party. Instead of cake, friends lifted heavy weights and drank heavier beers. Today, it's part strength TED Talk, part Tony Robbins' extravaganza, and part Festivus. All attendees walk away fed heaping portions of Inspiration and Education.
And everywhere you look, there's meat. Meaty food and meaty people. In fact, there are so many big people in the room you're not sure if you're supposed to feel scared or safe.¹
The food is great, the lifts are big, and the company is better. But the most rewarding parts of the journey are the personal stories shared by Legends of strength.
Otto von Bismarck once said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” In this vein, these shared narratives are survival guides for the dream chaser. They tell us what to do, what to dodge, and what meaning we can extract from this twisted world before we all turn to dust.
This year, the Summer Strong stories presented by SEALs, Olympic Champions, and Hollywood Trainers were a lot like M&M's. Unique on the surface, but common at the core. While the outside may have looked different, the recipe for success at the center was the same:
1. Tune Out and Listen In
2. To Discover Our Best, We Must Do the Most
Tune Out and Listen In
We skip the first step of success more often than we bypass broccoli at supper time. In a world of 7-minute abs, 4-hour work weeks, and 10-minute Pulled Pork, we want success yesterday.
We yearn for it. Take pills for it. And set out to Lifehack our way to the end of the rainbow.
We're so damn desperate to have success now that we hardly care what it looks like when it arrives. We're indifferent to the definition as long as we have some.
But, here's the first secret: Success is singular. It's personal. Success starts and ends between the two ears on the sides of our heads. Its seeds and its fruit exist only in the chambers of our minds.
To master the first secret of success we must Tune OUT the world around us and Listen IN to our inner voice. As Robert Greene narrates in Mastery, "[we must] Become who we are by learning who we are."
So what do you want? How do you want to be remembered? It starts there.
For in the end, if we succeed in the minds of others but we do not succeed in our own, what have we achieved at all?
After "real life" woke him up from Olympic dreams at USC, Dave Spitz turned to compete on Wall Street. Not long after his arrival in the Big Apple, he found "success," making moves and making money in the banking world. By many standards, Dave had it all.
But as the 2004 Games blared in HD across his plasma screen, an unsettling truth hit pause on the life he was living. Though his bank account was full, his heart was empty. He missed the thrill of competition, the physicality, the lights of the stage. He missed being who he was. He had achieved, but not succeeded. There’s a difference.
With the support of his fiancé Kathryn, he turned in his Rolex for wrist wraps and his suit for a singlet. He shut out the world. He listened to himself. Inside, he found a calling to bring Weightlifting back to prominence in America.
We're all conditioned to be somebody else. But real success comes from being ourselves. It's the only field of competition we're guaranteed to dominate. As fitness superstar Jen Widerstrom says, "No one can do you better than you."
In America, we're particularly terrible at understanding the nuance of this principle. America gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. Standardization is our specialty. We like when things are alike. It's efficient. It's predictable. It's easy to understand. As Henry Ford stamped out Model T's, identical down to the ebony of their paint, we coerce people to fall in line.
Society puts reins on the horse that runs the fastest because it wants all the horses to run together.²
It wants us to stay in our lane and play it safe. Go to college. Be a doctor. Be a lawyer. Have 2.5 kids and buy a house with a fence. Dress the same, eat the same, be the same.
In American history, trailblazers pioneered the west and landed on the moon. Today, Instagrammers seduce us to chase filtered material dreams we might wish for, but don't really want.
Much in life is easier in this time of the on-demand economy. But, it's harder to know and be ourselves because evidence of everyone else is everywhere our eyes can see.
After a 79-minute lecture on butts, Brett Contreras offered up a truth that applies beyond the fitness world.
The most important scientific consideration for our fitness success is our individual nature.
The same goes for success in our personal lives. Templates only get us so far. Success is only guaranteed when we've individualized the plan to accommodate our unique nature.
Each of our DNA is 99.9% the same as the next person. It is the .1% difference that makes us who we are. Success starts by knowing what that .1% is. Everything that comes after that is committing whole-ass to making sure we become it.
In a world of excess where everyone tells us to chase everything, it takes guts to commit to one thing.²
And, to succeed in committing to one thing, heed the second lesson...
To Discover Our Best, We Must Do the Most
Anders Ericcson, the foremost expert on expertise says, “There is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.” Louie Simmons puts it more bluntly, "to master kung-fu, the training must be severe."³
The people who have done and seen it know this to be the case. The research suggests the same. Those who are able to perform the greatest volume of work over the longest period of time achieve the best results in a given domain.
There is no escaping it. If we want something, we commit to doing the damn work. We own the struggle and dictate the terms back to it.¹
But, our biological nature is to avoid pain and seek comfort. There’s a reason the self-improvement industry in America grosses over $10 billion a year. A promised "Lifehack" feels like a drug; a short, painless, side-effect-free way to race us to a desired state.
And whether this dope works or not, we're willing to pay someone to lie to us in a creative enough manner that we'll believe it. Anything to avoid the truth that being our best requires our best effort. But the truth is, those who succeed in the purest definition avoid quick fixes and shortcut solutions.
Richard Sorin waged a war on mediocrity so long that it required him to pass the torch to his son to see his vision realized. An original garage Start-up, Sorinex took more than 30 years to go from welding jungle gyms for local churches to palatial gyms for the top teams in the world.
Gunnar Peterson earned his multi-decade reputation as Hollywood’s go-to trainer by getting up 5-days a week at 3:45 AM. Thirty years in, not a single thing has changed and it won’t. Because success for Gunnar is the extraordinary level of service he provides, not the laundry list of A-listers pinned to his walls.
While fighting for a spot on the olympic team, eventual Gold Medalist Adam Nelson slept under the stairs of his Palo Alto competitive commune like an oversized Harry Potter. He’d later battle a torn pec and out-perform the performance enhanced en route to realizing his dream. Like Harry, it was only thru suffering and struggle that Adam would find his magical powers.
These individuals Listened in. They had visions for what they wanted. And they busted their asses ‘till they were blistered and raw.
While structuring goals and plans is important, having faith in a vision is what makes it work. A bad plan believed in is better than the best plan in the world.¹
And, we need that belief, because life ain't linear. It zigs. It zags. It ruptures our patellar tendon in our first NFL-start after millions of repetitions and 15-years of preparation.³ As veteran SEAL Jeff Nichols reminds us, "on the other side of guarantee is humanity." Things will go wrong.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.³ So we need to get good at Plan B. Show up with Plan A, but always be ready with Plan B.⁴
With a working knowledge of self and flexible plan in place, the only thing left to do is get after it.
There is no space for bashfulness and trepidation in our pursuit of greatness. John Welbourn insists, "Don't lift weights like old people have sex: slow and careful. Attack them." The same applies to achieving our goals. Whether we’re running Plan A or B, we need to fucking go.
We cut out anything that doesn’t directly contribute to our destiny. Extraordinary results are an accumulation of the ordinary things we do and don’t miss.²
Greatness is a fast moving train and it doesn't stop at the station.² The people that are able to board this train do not wait for it to slow down to get on. These people cling on like hell as the train rumbles by, blowing past those that mistake casual interest for genuine commitment.
And when we’re doing what we do, we have to keep a level head. When things are going well, take our hands off our backs and stop believing we're so good at what we do.⁶ Pride is an impediment to practice.
When things are bad, we seek acceptance and move on. Failure is a part of life, failure is a part of training, and failure makes us who we are.²
And lastly, to improve our odds as we embark on this journey, we need to surround ourselves with inspiration. Despite the myth of the American Hero, no one achieves success alone. So let’s open up, let others in, and invest ourselves in a community of Legendary people that unlocks that which lies within.
Thanks to Richard, Bert, and all those in the Bosco brotherhood for making Summer Strong 10 a symbol of success and providing a blueprint for Being our Best.
Until next year…
Stress to progress, strain to grain, and strive to be alive,
Founder + CEO, TrainHeroic
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¹ Adam Nelson - Probably the greatest manifestation Adam’s otherworldly strength is his ability to focus on doing the right thing when doing the wrong thing is easier. Every time I speak with him, I feel a need to pull out my notepad.
² Brandon Lilly - We all make errors. We all screw up. Brandon is an example that real strength is admitting those errors, correcting them in your life, and being a better version of yourself everyday.
⁴ Derek Woodske - Derek’s words show up more than a few times in this piece. That’s not a mistake. The man has traveled further and seen more than most do in five lifetimes. If you don’t know him, you should.
³ John Welbourn - I’ve been lucky enough to know John and call him a friend for several years. These quotes aren’t pulled from some fancy presentation, but from a late night conversation over beers and BBQ. The man is a learner. His study and experience allow him to spout wisdom whenever he speaks.
⁵ Trey Zepeda - Having coached world record setters and champions at University Texas, it says a lot that within Trey’s presentation, rather than tooting his own horn, he held up others. This quote came from Trey by way of Dan Pfaff.
⁶ Jud Logan - This was my first time hearing Jud speak and my only regret is that I didn’t get to spend more time with him. A man of principle who seeks simple and leads from the front.