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Dig Deeper

As I have mentioned in previous articles, my wife and I moved to North Carolina not too long after graduating from college. It was a formative time in our lives as we were on our own, newly married, and far away from the security of family and friends. We lived in the south for almost five years, and although we ultimately chose to raise our family in Pennsylvania, I remember those years fondly. I learned many lessons that stuck with me during that time in North Carolina, and many were quite impactful.

One such lesson came from my workout partner, Brett, whom I happened to meet by chance. Our initial introduction warrants mention by itself. I was a fan of a weekly television show called “Cellar Dwellers,” which was about serious strength training and aired on a public access channel. The host was a world-class Highland Games athlete who was a bit eccentric but also a wealth of training knowledge. Since I was in North Carolina, where one of the largest Highland games competitions, also known as the Scottish Games or Scottish Heavy Athletics, was held, I got the bug to train in the sport, which included the caber toss. (By the way, if you weren’t sure, a caber is a 16-22 foot tree trunk that athletes will flip or “turn.”) So, I simply tracked down the host of the tv show and asked if I could train with him. He was nice enough and invited me to a workout with a couple of other guys, including another pro athlete and a rising amateur. We met in the parking lot of a city park with an open field, and introductions were made. Keep in mind that these guys were world-class athletes, and I didn’t even measure up to their shoulders.

We walked across the field to a pile of what looked to be logs. They had holes drilled through them and were chained and padlocked to a tree. This seemed pretty ingenious because I certainly wouldn’t want to drag these back and forth from my home to train. This was also pretty smart because, although they would be hard to steal even if they weren’t locked up, you never knew what some people would try to take. Anyway, we pulled out the cabers, and Steve, our leader, gave a 30-second tutorial. He made it look incredibly easy to lift, balance, run with, and toss one of these massive logs end-over-end. Needless to say, I didn’t do very well. My future training partner, Brett, did slightly better. I found out later that the amateur, Brett, had been a Division 1 football lineman in college, a gunner on a helicopter crew in the Army. Not 10 minutes into the workout, Steve, complained about aggravating an injury for a moment, but we didn’t think much about it until he wordlessly walked to his car and drove away. As I said, he was a bit eccentric.

The training session wasn’t a total waste, however. Finding we had a mutual interest in strongman, highland games, and old-school strength training, Brett and I began to train together regularly. His skill with the caber increased exponentially over the next year, and he became one of the best Highland Games athletes in the world, specializing in the caber. Me, not so much. Powerlifters are usually short, which is great for squatting a barbell but not so great for throwing events where being tall is an asset. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Brett also had a sense of humor. During one of our training sessions, he mentioned that some young lifters had been following him around the gym that day. It seemed that everything Brett did, these two young men did as well. To the extent that it became a little annoying. So, Brett decided to see how far they would go and picked up a harness used for training the muscles in the neck. He added a little bit of weight, laid down on his side, and began to do shoulder exercises with it. It was actually quite silly. Sure enough, when Brett was finished, the two young men picked up the neck harness and began to exercise exactly as Brett did. Finally, Brett walked over to them and said, “What are you guys doing?” One of them replied, “You’re big and strong, and if we are going to be like you, we need to do what you are doing?” Brett explained that just because someone was finding the success that you sought didn’t mean that what they were doing was the reason for their success. Some of the greatest athletes in history ate poorly or had bad training habits. The lesson here is that if you want to emulate another person’s success, you need to dig deeper and understand why they are successful. You need to determine what they are doing that is truly leading to the attainment of their goals and then make sure that it can be adapted to you. So, before you, metaphorically, go using a neck harness to build bigger shoulders, remember to dig deeper and figure out if what you are doing will actually work. Do your research, create a plan, then work hard. There really are no shortcuts to achieving your goals.

Interestingly, Brett went on to work for NASCAR, where he pioneered the use of video and strength and conditioning as training tools. Ultimately, he became the high-performance director for several NASCAR teams and developed training plans for some of the most successful pit crews in the sport’s history. His teams repeatedly won NASCAR’s pit-crew challenge.

For more information on developing a fitness program or if you are interested in online training, feel free to message me on my Facebook page, Bellomo Online Training, or my website,