The first time I touched a barbell was only 3 1/2 years ago. I have been competing for the last two years and placed 8th out of 10 in my first open sanctioned competition. I am getting stronger but I have only recently become a mediocre strongman.
Despite my amateur status and low ranking, I've had multiple people ask me about how I gained weight, how I've gotten stronger, what program to follow, etc. I take these questions as a compliment because many of these people knew me before I started lifting and see a stark contrast from then to now. I think people expect an answer that sounds like a Men's Fitness headline where I tell them the Five Exercises That Increase Mass or The Superfood That Increases Muscle and Shreds Fat. The answer is not nearly as cool.
As a young skateboarder, it took me 2 years just to ollie up a curb. Night after night, I would practice and would get excited about every inch of progress. I've learned that even a basic skill can take years to become remotely proficient at and I took that lesson and applied it to lifting.
My focus from the start was to get big, strong, and become competitive in strongman. The only thing that takes a higher priority is my family. I have never missed a programmed training session. I've trained with a chest infection, acute tendonitis, with a boot on my leg, with multiple injuries, tired, hungover, in a blizzard, it doesn't matter. I've even called off from work for a doctor appointment so that I could train. Buying a house and a child being born threw my normal schedule off, but I still got the work in. Strongman may be a hobby, but I treat it like my job. I record many of my lifts and watch over and over to see what went right or wrong. I take in as much information as possible, attend seminars, talk to multiple coaches and lifters, and watch videos. While keeping the long term goals in sight, I have extremely short sighted focus and try to improve day by day and revel in small progressions.
Eating food has been the hardest part of gaining strength for me. With a history of anorexia, I often have long periods with zero appetite and disgust with food. The high amounts of food needed for weight gain only worsens those feelings. The skinny 160lb guy that says he can't gain weight no matter what he eats is full of shit or lying to himself. I've been maintaining weight for a while, but when I am looking to gain, I eat until I can't. When I am full I eat more. If I am comfortable, it means I can fit more food in. I do this consistently, not just for one giant meal a day. No secret superfood, no secret macro breakdown or app, just staying uncomfortably full and on the verge of puking, 24/7 for months.
About a month after I started lifting, I wanted to compete in strongman. I learned to get out of my comfort zone, to train with intimidatingly strong people and to listen to their advice and criticism. I was talking to people at a commercial gym to see if anyone knew of a strongman crew or gym and a friend told me about a powerlifting gym that was opening. Through that gym I found a strongman team to become part of. Elite Fitness and the strongman crew at Turnbull Training has become a family of support, encouragment, and knowledge. If I was still in a comfortable commercial gym, I'd be doing farmers with dumbbells and I'd be happy with a 4 plate deadlift.
Working with a coach has had huge impact as well. If I miss a set, I have to answer to a coach that will tell it like it is. Having a person other than myself to hold me accountable is necessary, especially when the going gets rough.
Perhaps the most important part of my training is my wife. When I am discouraged, my wife picks me up. When I am tired, my wife tells me to train. At competitions, my wife is my handler. When I am not hungry, my wife tells me to eat. She encourages me more than anyone and I am beyond lucky to have her in my corner.
These are the reasons that I am becoming a stronger athlete. I have learned that no supplement, no superfood, no secret program or exercise will do what consistent diet, training, being part of a team, and focus will do. Effort and focus with a touch of stubbornness has made me a mediocre athlete, and will eventually place me on a podium.