Disclaimer, I did not break a rib, it just kind of felt like it. Through a confluence of happy factors on February 1st, 2017, almost exactly two years ago, I was given the opportunity to participate in an official Guinness World Record Breaking event. The event was hosted by Reebok to promote their new shoe, the Nano 7, which I found very comfortable for my giant chimp feet, and despite the pair I got being some of the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen, I loved them for many training sessions to come. After all, I did something cool in them: I carried an insanely heavy PR farmer’s walk, two and a half times, and exercised a life principle near and dear to my heart: if you want something badly enough, logical or not, you can get pretty damn close to it by WILLING IT SO. The power of intent and belief can reap incredible things if you’re crazy enough to try.
First, the set up: the record-to-be-beaten was established for the farmers walk off of a YouTube video of Lidia Hunko (I’m not sure if this is THE video, but it’s a damn good one; Lidia is a remarkable athlete), and they decided to make the new record parameters 100 kg per hand for 50 meters (164 feet). The event was hosted in a giant warehouse space in DUMBO, Brooklyn, so they had a straight path set up for the walk.
Second, Annie Thorisdottir was there (and for her part, created a new record for snatch tonnage in a minute, and by snatch I mean basically did a really fast reverse curl and then squatted it. Weightlifters will cringe, but damn was it impressive). Thorisdottir was one of the first chicks I even SAW (on the internet) who lifted weights, had an impressive muscular physique, and did things I didn’t even know could be done. She was one of my earliest strength icons, and to get to meet her and participate in an event with her made me starstruck beyond belief. This becomes important.
The farmers walk weight was supposed to be 100 kg a hand, and when we weighed the handles, it turned out they were 22 lbs, not 20 lbs, so it was actually 101 kg, or 222 lbs per hand. I’m nit-picking because every lb counts when your previous best walk was 190 lbs, or 64 lbs less TOTAL weight carried, and you’d never picked more than 205 lbs hand (which I had done a week previous to the event, just to hold something over 200 lbs to try to give myself some confidence).
Let me put it this way: I was too weak to attempt this record. I knew it. I knew I had no business being there, but I’m a stubborn asshole and when presented with a chance at doing something utterly baller, I could not say no. I leaped at it, even though I knew there was a good chance it wouldn’t happen. I was incredibly nervous.
My friends who don’t participate in strength sports think I am very strong, but let me be clear about something: from my perspective, for a strength athlete, I am not that strong, and I especially was not at the time (admittedly, my standards for myself are, well, high). Not by international standards, not by historical standards. Compared to the average person, yes, I am a bit of a freak, but the average American is physically softer than wet doody, so that’s not saying much. Sorry guys, but it’s true. Our cultural ceiling on what “strong” is, in my limited perspective, WAY too low. Our standards for everyone need to be higher, but that’s its own topic. Anyhow.
At the time, my body-weight was probably around 165 lbs, my max deadlift was around 345 lbs, my squat max was like 285, and as I said, the most I’d ever carried in my hands was 190 lbs, and that for only 60 ft. I am a semi-decent strength athlete. This was, to put it nicely, a REACH.
My event was one of the last to happen. We’d been standing around all day watching elite Crossfitters break world records and make it look like they were playing touch-butt in the park. They were embarrassingly good. I was shitting my pants terrified. They set up the farmer handles for me. The moment arrived… and I couldn’t budge it. It was a low pick height, and like I said, I was too weak. But what no one, not even I counted on, was how much of a stubborn idiot I am. I told them to roll over eight of the extra bumper plates and make me a platform. That’s right, I made them stack 4 sets of 2 plates to raise my pick height a few inches. There was nothing in the record about pick height, and like all true strongmen, I will cheat whenever possible. I figured if I can rack pull it, I can walk it.
Annie Thorisdottir was watching. Everyone was. I remember telling myself something along the lines of “I’m not leaving this building until I move those handles.” They allowed me my extra set up. This time I wasn’t going to give up. I got ready. I chalked my hands, belted up, took a breath and went for it. It felt fucking awful, but it moved, slowly. Suddenly I was upright and everyone was yelling. I started stepping, but I couldn’t stabilize the weight. I made it about 3 or 4 feet, and then dropped. The plates had barely hit the floor before I was screaming “let me try again, I can do it!”
The Reebok team (who, by the way, were incredibly friendly and helpful the whole time) set my handles back up for me. I took a few minutes rest. Now I knew what it would feel like: Like my ribs were going to pop out of their attachment sites and my arms were going to leave my body permanently. Cool. I was flush with adrenaline. I knew I needed to rest, but I didn’t take very long. I got ready.
It moved, better. I got upright, I took it a little slower. I started moving, and then I kept moving. Several people were walking along side me, yelling encouragement. I was shuffling and looked close to death, but I was moving; I got underway, but felt like a drunk; I couldn’t quite control the weight – it was walking me. Then I dropped.
“ONE MORE TIME!” I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I keeled over. It’s a good thing I had neither coach nor training partner there by that point, because they likely would have stopped me. Fuck that. The Reebok team obliged my request to set up again, somewhat horrified, or impressed, I couldn’t tell.
They set it up a third time. I took a little longer rest. Then I went for it. This time I knew would be the last attempt as I picked it, my upper back was at its absolute limit, and at that point, I think it was pure adrenaline and willpower holding me together. I walked. And I walked.
I knew I was doing something stupid and crazy, and I didn’t care. I felt like a god. I was commanding my body to do something that should have been impossible for me at that point. I was too small, too untrained, too green. I’d only been lifting for three-plus years at that point.
When I dropped, I was finally satisfied. No one measured the exact distance I got on either the second or third walk, because I wasn’t anywhere near the 165 ft finish line. Eyeballing it, I would generously say about 35-40 ft on one run and maybe 45ish ft on the other. I don’t remember which one I got father with, likely the earlier one. I wish I had video of this, because I’m sure it looks insane, but that one photo will have to do.
So what is the point of this story other than bragging about a weird PR? Well, it’s because this was a definitive mind-over-matter scenario. Our brains are incredibly good at getting us to avoid things that are likely dangerous or injurious, and this is the block we are constantly fighting in lifting. Literally, our brains shut down parts of our capabilities and limit how much muscle and energy we can use, so we don’t pull every muscle in our bodies doing nutty shit like this. But, fortunately, we can learn to overcome that inhibitor when we want something bad enough.
For me, it took the idea of being completely embarrassed in front of an athlete I once hero-worshipped as well as about two dozen strangers who were expecting me to do something epic, to break past that barrier. I had to. It stopped being a choice, it was a matter of total spiritual survival and proving something to myself about myself: That if I want something badly enough, the laws of reality will bend to my will. I had to move that weight.
I paid the price (a little) for my endeavor and had some really weird posterior rib pain near my mid-T-spine for months. I never got it looked at, and it went away eventually; it also didn’t stop me from competing three times in a week a few months later. My point is, I got beat up sure, and I’m certainly grateful it wasn’t worse. It could have been. I could have been injured more severely, and if that’s what your main concern is, extreme strength sports is not for you. That is fine. But the following still applies:
The limits you think you have are absolute nonsense.
The cap on your physical and mental potential is so high you couldn’t find it if Elon Musk personally designed a space shuttle for you.
I am so tired of hearing people talk about their limitations, an assertion that is actually hubristic when you break it down: do you think you actually understand the astounding and complex processes of our biology? You likely don’t.
There are so many tiny interactive factors happening inside our bodies that we cannot possibly wrap our brains around, that it astonishes me how quick people are to diagnose themselves with “imbalances,” “bad leverages,” and the like. Come on, you weren’t that good at biology or geometry, suddenly you’re an expert? Stop.
Training and competition, at their best, are opportunities to look for the limit, that day. You don’t have to go careening into 30 lb PRs with a death wish, but you should be actively hunting the limit’s punk ass down. Because the limit is always a moving target, and very, very often, in your head. And every time you prove to yourself that you can do what was once thought impossible, you increase the ceiling on your mental capacity; your capacity to envision and accomplish what you want.
Move. That. Weight.