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Wild It Right

The Animals
By Donny Shankle

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” - Charles Darwin

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” - Psalm 24:1

Did you know that naked mole rats are the longest lived rodents with a life span exceeding 30 years? Scientists are even trying to discover why they’re resistant to cancer. Chameleons to me are one of natures most amazing creatures. These lizards have 360 degree vision which enable them to look in two opposite directions at once. A useful skill when you’re trying to stay alive. There’s also a lizard which lives in Central and South America which is so light and fast he can run on water earning him the name Jesus lizard. Owls are another favorite animal of mine. Did you know their flight is virtually silent? The have special feathers which break up air turbulence making them a stealthy predator. Many other smaller birds are snatched away in the night not knowing what took them before being swallowed whole.

I love watching nature shows and the ones narrated by David Attenborough are my favorite. Just a few weekends ago I was captivated by the new Blue Planet 2 series from the BBC. In that one I learned about sneaky cuttlefish males who disguise themselves as females, to bypass the watchful eyes and tentacles of the larger males, to get the female cuttlefish to mate. The giant Pacific octopus mother will not eat for 6 months as she protects her eggs and literally goes to her death ensuring they have the safest start possible.

The detail cameras are able to capture these days baffles me. And how do these camera men get so close to what their filming? I mean there is no environment they can’t go it seems. From the deep abyss to the skies above. They capture squids fighting it out in the deep and falcons striking down sparrows in mid-flight. Adding to my excitement, I have the surround sound which if you don’t have it already and you like watching nature shows like me then I highly recommend you get it. I watched a wasp eating tadpoles and it felt like it was in the room with me. The vibrations its wings created sent a shiver down my spine.

Animals fascinate me and I’m pretty sure in a former life I must have been a naturalist. During one of my recent travels, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Galapagos. There are so many different types of wildlife there like the blue footed booby with feet colored blue (hence the name) for mating purposes. The bluer the feet the better chance you have with the ladies. The giant tortoises are such surreal and beautiful creatures with a rough history. The Galapagos used to be a way station for sailors who collected their meat during circumnavigation. Noisy and smelly sea lions are everywhere. It’s like they think they own the place. I saw one relaxing at the water taxi station taking up the entire bench for himself. Then there is the iguanas, the sally light foot crabs, the penguins and the cute finches. What a great trip it was so see all these animals up close and personal and in actual nature. I’ll never forget my little breakfast buddy. A small common house finch who ate a piece of biscuit straight from the palm of my hand. It took a few attempts at first of him eating from my fingertips but eventually he hopped his way right into the palm of my hand and had breakfast with me. It was my last day on the Islands and of course I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.

There are no second chances in the wild. Mother nature is cruel but her ways are necessary. The birds and the fish, the reptiles and the amphibians and the mammals all have to get it right the first time. There is no second chance for the gazelle who is running from the lion. She can either cut left or right and try and trip up her chaser or she can run straight and try to tire the lion enough that it’ll look elsewhere. The desire to live is strong in every creature. The baby penguins who jump into the sea for the first time need to swim with agility and speed from the onset. If not then their lives are short and they become food. That amazes me. The fact that in the wild you have no second chances. You gotta get it right. You have to get it right the first time. You have to get it right every time.

Eat, reproduce and don’t die. That’s the life of the animals and only the fittest survive. Not much different for a weightlifter who wants to be champion right? You gotta eat and you need to reproduce your best efforts in training on a consistent basis as much as your mental and physical capacity can endure. Lastly you need to not quit. Like the great white shark which a friend of mine once said so poetically to me, “You need to keep moving forward to survive.” Keep moving forward simply means be better than yesterday. Along the way you’ll stumble and feel pain but do the animals complain? Are they not taken care of by God if they remain strong and concentrate on always getting it right the first time? Men are no less and no more than all the rest of incredible creation. We too have to get it right if we want to survive. We too have to get it right if we want to keep moving forward. Else we keep making the same mistakes and remain stagnant and idle waiting for the night owl to snatch us away. We too have to show a love for the best in ourselves and a want to be part of the wild and the free.

Keep focusing on getting it right and use your individual strengths like all the rest of creation to live. Our idiosyncrasies in time end up cleverly (like the cuttlefish) adding to our identity and our spirit in the gym with time and energy remains as steadfast as the lion.



Avoidance Of The Hard
By Donny Shankle

When I was a little boy I had this toy made up of two horseshoes connected by a chain with a metal ring around the center. The idea behind it was getting the metal ring separated from the center. I would fiddle with it for hours in the beginning trying to get the ring free but for all my determination I couldn’t figure it out. Out of frustration I asked my father how to do it and he showed me. The problem was he did it so fast that I was still dumbfounded. Even after watching him, I still couldn’t figure it out. One night as I was twisting and turning the chain the ring came free but even then I didn’t know what I did to get it free. I thought I was cool though and showed it to my father and he told me to put the ring back on and do it again. He wanted to judge whether or not I really did learn or got lucky. I was cornered and had to confess I still didn’t know how to get the ring off. Eventually, with enough practice and thinking I could get the ring free with the same speed and understanding my father did. As hard as it was at first, I soon understood the toy’s simplicity.

To say a thing or task is simple is to say it’s simple because you have had the practice to uncover its mystery. In reality the simple is hard. In order to say you understand something requires great study and practice. Is a thing really simple? Even observing someone easily perform the toy's challenge, I still couldn’t see how simple it was to remove the ring. My eyes couldn’t keep up long enough for my brain to understand. It was not going to do me any good to practice with a different or simpler toy. Even if shown slowly how to remove the ring, I may or may not still understand. I do know once my hands figured out how to move the horseshoes in a certain way the ring always came free. It was my practice and single minded persistence which overcame my many failed attempts.

Before you begin to think you’re in waters which are to deep to tread ask yourself whether or not you have put in the practice. Have you trained a thing which is hard to make it look simple? Champions face head on what is hard and unravel its mystery through practice. To say a thing is simple is an immense ordeal especially when that thing will require many years of practice. A sport like weightlifting is approached no differently from how I went about playing with that toy. You can watch and have others show you what to do but will that really work? Will you understand how to snatch and clean and jerk unless you practice for yourself? No you will not and you will certainly never lift enough weight to call yourself a champion.

Do not avoid what is hard. Tackling tasks which are difficult is one way to strengthen your overall capability. Each new hard endeavor you commit yourself to and succeed at accomplishing will make you a stronger and wiser person. It’s OK to fail at the hard so long as you do not remain idle and commit to understanding why you did fail. Don’t avoid the hard. The Earth is full of plenty of destruction but its also full of even more abundance. The weightlifter who works to make what is hard look simple goes through years of abundance and destruction albeit of course on a much smaller scale compared to the planet. One of the great abundant moments for weightlifters is finding a solidarity amongst other weightlifters who are all pushing each other to new personal records and gold medals.

There are people who know how hard a task they set for themselves is going to be and they get on with it and there are those who are afraid of it. Those who are afraid either give up entirely or they distract themselves from even beginning the commitment necessary to doing it. Maybe they give it a try and get a taste of what’s needed and convince themselves they are not good enough. They avoid what is hard maybe because they have no belief in what they can do. Or they overly complicate things in order to find any excuse from facing the test head on. There lies another challenge which is way more important than being a champion weightlifter. The challenge of not being that person who unnecessarily over complicates things.

Perhaps that toy as a boy sparked an interest in accomplishing harder tasks later in life. I like to think so. Don’t be afraid of the difficulty that lies within pushing your body and mind in the gym. Along with the introspection necessary to improve you discover what willpower is and how powerful it can be. Imposing your will in practice is what makes you figure out the frustrating toy or climb the podium to the top in competition. I applaud those who face the hard challenges and it’s one of the reasons I love being around weightlifters. The stress is easy to see. The challenge is not disguised. It’s get up and try to lift the bar again or go find yourself and easier toy.


In The Fall

Do Your Chores 
Part 1
By Donny Shankle

This is mainly for the young weightlifter but if you're older you may also get some use out of it. I truly believe the person who can speak about their passion with an analogy seen in every aspect of life is a voice to be heard. Learn to see your discipline in every dimension and far reaching scale. Even when you are not training on the platform this does not mean you cease practicing becoming the champion.

Much of what you can learn to become a great weightlifter as a young boy or girl starts off the platform. It starts around the house listening to mom and dad when they give you chores to do. When I was a boy my father used to get on me whenever he thought I was being lazy or wasting time. Both my father and mother taught me to take pride in my chores and helping my family. Self-discipline is the most important value to have for any young athlete and attention to detail in your chores will help you in your training as you get older. When you become an adult this self-discipline will become self-reliance. What you gain from your chores will transpose not only into being a successful weightlifter but also establishes character traits you will take with you in life.

Below is a list of 10 chores you are  probably already familiar with but may have not found their benefits in regards to your performance as a developing weightlifter. Let me explain how certain chores can teach you everything from balance, ambidexterity, patience, etc. All attributes which will help you one day to become champion.

1 - Washing & Waxing the Car – Ambidexterity

As a weightlifter it is very good to have complete coordination on both sides of your body. Washing and waxing the car is great for teaching the young weightlifter how to use both of their hands and arms with precision and strength. Also, this chore is great for injury prevention because it washes away strength imbalances. Often times the dominant side of the body will apply the greater amount of force. This chore teaches the young weightlifter how to deliberately use both sides of their body evenly. A much needed attribute when lifting maximum weights overhead.

Without fail every Saturday morning my father would get me out of bed to wash and wax the cars. The chore took me about 4 hours to complete since we had 3 cars so I made sure to get up early. Washing alone teaches the weightlifter about attention to detail. To put your focus on hard to reach areas first (e.g. right under the tire well). This will come in handy in your training as it will teach you to always train your weak points first. For instance, if you tend to stand up with your cleans strong but struggle with the jerk, you may need to prioritize rack jerks.

When waxing, apply the wax with your dominant hand and after waiting for the wax to dry, buff it off with your opposite hand. When taking the wax off you are going to need to apply some elbow grease  and this will help develop the strength in your weaker arm. The temptation to switch arms will be there but resist it. Over time you will get faster and work with your weaker hand just as well as your dominant hand. 

When you are finished you should feel a since of accomplishment and pride as you look at the cars shining brightly in the sunlight. The same hard work you apply here will carry over in training but instead of looking upon brightly shining cars you will be standing in front the mirror looking at your brightly shining gold medals. 

2 - Cleaning the gutters – Balance

For the young weightlifter learning to use the stabilizer muscles in the legs and having to use your feet consciously will help you on the platform to hold on in order to save a lift. Bill Starr related this to imagining using your feet like eagles talons and gripping the platform.

Gutter cleaning is a great way to learn the athletic attribute of balance. Have someone initially look out for you in the beginning in case you fall but soon the muscles in your calves and ankles will develop the needed strength to stay on the ladder even when you are reaching into hard to get places. Soon you will be moving the ladder around and easily stepping up and down with no problems.

This chore is also a great way to get away and meditate on the great things you will do as a weightlifting champion one day. I love to do this even today and just get away from it all. After I clean out all the gutters, I will sometimes just sit up on top the ladder and wait for the sun to go down.

When I was a boy my yard had lots of trees in it which my brother and I used to climb all the time. Climbing is also the best way for a young person to develop upper body and grip strength. Those same trees we climbed, however, always made for much hard work to be done in the fall.

3 - Mowing the lawn – Grip/Pulling power

There is a special way I like to cut grass which I learned from cutting ditches growing up in the bayou state. There are not many ditches out here in California but you can use the same principle. Instead of pulling that lever which makes the mower move automatically, try cutting your lawn by pulling the mower along instead of pushing. Use a hook grip as you do this and practice relaxing your arms and relying on your hook grip to hold on.

Getting your entire yard cut this way will, over time, develop many muscles along your posterior chain and teach you how to pull on the bar keeping your arms relaxed. As a bonus, any shakes you may get on the platform, you can just tell yourself it isn't you shaking but instead it is that damn lawnmower cutting away.

I had huge ditches in front of my yard growing up. You had to start at the top and drop down with the mower bending at the waist holding on so you could then pull it back up and hit the next patch. My back used to ache in school the next day but I am convinced it made me stronger. Cutting ditches or low areas this way is a perfect beginning for leaning how to finish your pull especially when the grass is long and you have to pull that much harder.

4 - Making your bed - Sleep

It's  no secret that a well made bed is inviting to get into at night. As a weightlifter getting proper rest is essential for you to train hard and stay ahead of your competition. The young weightlifter who takes the time to make their bed in the morning will sleep easier at night and be stronger for it.

I started putting greater care in this detail when I was in the service. After a day of being in classes, shooting on the range, and learning close quarter take downs, it was always nice to get back to the rack and squeeze into the snug sheets even though it was only for a few minutes most times.

Making your bed tight will also help teach you to take pride in your appearance when you are on stage in your singlet. The crowd not only loves a champion but a good looking champion as well. The weightlifter who pays attention to smoothing out the folds in their bed will also pay attention to chiseling out the muscles of their body and wiping away chalk from their singlet.

Be the competitor who is in such fantastic shape that your enemies on competition day are already intimidated by you before you have even touched the bar. Be the professional whos appearance is always neat and clean.


Sub Ex # 86 & 87

By Donny Shankle

Carrying is a great exercise. It strengthens so many muscles at one time especially your upper back, legs, abs and grip. I’ve carried everything from tires, pallets, logs, hay bales, kegs, stones, huge sacks of rice, oxygen tanks, sandbags and pretty much anything I saw wondering if I could pick that up and walk with it. I still may hold the Camp Pendleton base record for the stone carry. While competing in an annual strongest warrior competition, I easily carried the 300 plus pound stone we were using three times as far as any other competitor. Many of the marines couldn’t even get the stone off the starting line. The muscles burn during carrying and the lungs have difficulty breathing because the heavy weight is sitting on your chest. You have to work so hard and there is no technique or cheating your way through it. To describe this exercise, I’ll use the sandbag. It’s safe to use and easy to adjust the weight. There are two ways to implement the carry in your training. The first is carrying for speed and the second is distance.

Carrying for speed is a great way to improve your conditioning and coordination. It is a very cardiovascularly demanding exercise. When you carry for speed, assign A and B points to bring your sandbags to and from. One sandbag can be used or turn the exercise into a loading race or relay by using multiple sandbags. Because you are moving fast with a heavy object, your concentration on coordination increases versus carrying for distance. Any improvement in the general physical prepared coordination of the weightlifter will improve his coordination on snatching and clean and jerking.

Carrying very heavy sandbags for distance is a great exercise to trigger a hormonal response. The body is under constant tension for longer periods compared to carrying for speed. The abdominals and diaphragm work harder. The very heavy sandbag must be carried out in front of the athlete because shouldering the sandbag is too difficult. If you can shoulder the sandbag during a distance carry then it it is not heavy enough. Add more weight. The muscles and connective tissues from the top of your spine down to your ankles work very hard to get through a heavy distance carry. The longer you hold on the more everything has to work. Not only will you trigger a hormonal response which will produce stronger muscles but your work capacity will tremendously improve. As a 105k class weightlifter, my conditioning and capacity to work in the gym was better than lighter weight classes. One of the reasons I attribute to this was probably due to all the carrying I did as an exercise in my youth which I continued later in life.

Reps: N/A
Sets: 5-10
Advanced Way: Try carrying for distance uphill but be sure the incline is not so steep to be dangerous. To increase the difficulty during speed carries go to the beach and carry in the sand.
Duration: 15-25 minutes is enough time to practice either for speed or distance.
Placement In Training: After you have practiced your lifts for the day or alone on active rest days.

Hammer Swinging
By Donny Shankle

Swinging the hammer is a great exercise to develop strength and dexterity primarily in your wrists. The entire arm however benefits from the exercise as well as your abdominals and in particular the intercostals and obliques. The shoulder rotation from swinging the hammer is very beneficial to the health and flexibility of the shoulders. Anyone who has ever worked with a sledge hammer can attest to the kind of hand and arm strength you develop.

The lift begins with your hands taking a grip on the bar, sending a signal through the rest of your body that it’s time to lift. You need to have strong hands and wrists. Wrist strength is often overlooked by many weightlifters. This is usually because weightlifters wrap their wrists and then pay no attention to them. If the wrists are weak however on any overhead exercise a chain reaction will take place leading to the elbow relaxing and then the shoulder. This chain reaction will cause you to miss the lift or give the judges a questionable lockout. Wrapping your wrists is good but so is having strong wrists.

There are three primary exercises I do with the hammer. There are also so many fun variations you can practice to not only improve your hand and arm strength but also your hand eye coordination. The three I practice are the pendulum swing, double and single handed behind the back swing, and bringing the hammer down on a tire like I’m chopping wood, or how I like to think of it, working on the railroad like big John Henry.

To perform the pendulum swing hold the hammer at its base and let it fall behind your back with your elbows up by your ears. Gradually begin swinging the hammer from side to side like an old grandfather clock and let your shoulders and back stretch. For the double handed behind the back swing start by holding the hammer at its base with your elbows tucked close to your sides. The hammer should be in front of you with your eyes looking at the top of the hammer. From here bring your elbows up while at the same time letting the hammer fall to either side and then let it swing behind you until its back to the starting position. The single handed swing behind the back is performed the exact same way but with one hand holding onto the hammer at its base. For bringing the hammer down find a tire and get angry. Bring the hammer down as hard as you can like you’re slamming down slam balls.

Reps: 3-10
Sets: 3-5
Advanced Way: N/A
Duration: 10-15 minutes
Placement In Training: As a warming exercise to stretch the back and shoulders before training. Bringing the hammer down should be done at the end of training as an abdominal exercise.



By Donny Shankle

“Man does not live by bread alone.” - Mathew 4:4

Man cannot live without an ego and weightlifters cannot win without it. How many times do you see weightlifters in competition walk out of the warm-up room onto the stage with fear in their eyes? Great weightlifters are the epitome of confidence as they approach the bar. The crowd loves the ego of champions. It’s not just entertaining but it also makes them feel like anything is possible.

It’s not just your muscles which grow in the gym. Each time you go after a record attempt your ego grows. This is good. It not only has a positive effect on your performance but on everyone else. Men are needed in the gym who can exhibit this everyday. Men are needed who display authority. These are the men who make the hard decisions no one else are willing to make. The dependable men who can execute when others can’t. These are the leaders who set the standard and show others how it’s done. In the gym, as in life, everyone aspires to be like them or greater. Usually these are the lifters with the greatest amount of experience but are certainly the lifters with the greatest totals. These are the weightlifters who create an ego effect in the gym which sends out waves that push everyone else’s capacity.

The champion’s ego surges as the pressure increases. Nevertheless he loves the pressure. The catalyst to bring his trained ego forward lies within loving a challenge. Without a good challenge ego turns into conceit. It’s boring to watch and dangerous. Love therefore is the prerequisite to ego. Love keeps the ego in check. It’s people who passionately love what they do we most admire.


Begins With You

Exception, Not The Norm
By Donny Shankle

Citius (faster), Altius (higher), Fortius (stronger). - Olympic motto

Athletes relish the chance to compete. They love getting together with other athletes to see who is the best. This is where the word “compete” comes from. Its Latin is con petire and means “to seek together”. The whole reason men and women come together to compete is to find out who is exceptional. Who stands alone at the top as the best? Who is not merely a passing dilettante but instead a champion?

People who are the exception and not the norm have drive which is kept fueled by self-discipline. These exceptional champions are like the special forces in the military. They stand apart in small groups because they do not need to be constantly told to get up and go train or go to bed on time. They don’t need to be told to go and achieve anything. Their self-discipline is greater than normal which pushes them over the normal boundary line into the exceptional zone. Not everyone understands this attitude or values it. To value one thing above everything else in order to be exceptional requires you to be greater than the norm. Thinking this way lies within the self.

To be the exception and not the norm begins within you. For the athlete, the medium to show you are exceptional is sport. To compete with other athletes. Sport with an agreed upon set of rules that are enforced by referees or judges. It is in competition where finding who is exceptional and not the norm ends.


Let Go

The Bridge
By Donny Shankle

Quite often the personal record you are going after is already within your reach. You are well trained. You are strong. You are ready to lift the weight in front of you. However, something in your mind is frightening you from making it real. Or maybe you are setting this new standard as a near impossibility. The reality ends up being you never cross the threshold and make the personal record and sometimes the negative connotations of this have very real consequences.

Weightlifting is a race against gravity. For all athletes regardless of their discipline, it is also a race against time. You will not always be as strong as you are today. Make the lift happen either in training or competition. If you keep setting it up in your head as too difficult, too heavy, or impossible then it always will be. You will miss your chance to become a champion.

If you ever get the chance to visit Maui, go to Iao Valley and have a swim in its waters. Relaxing in the cool streams and having the water run over your shoulders is great recovery especially in-between training sessions.

On one occasion as I was walking to the streams to go for a swim, I watched a few of the locals jumping off the bridge which gives you access into the interior of the valley. The bridge was about 25ft. high over a 7ft. deep pool. The pool was not very wide either and was surrounded by jagged volcanic rock. These guys didn’t care. They were doing an assortment of aerial tricks before hitting the water to impress the tourists and earn themselves a little beer money for the night.

My friend James who I went with dared me to jump off the bridge. Since I’m not a fan of high places, I told him he was nuts and kept walking. Then I heard a splash. I turned around and couldn’t see him! He jumped off! I peered over the edge and saw him climbing up the rocks. He made his way all the back to me and asked me what was the problem . Was I afraid? If so, why?

He explained to me how to enter the water at an angle to avoid hitting the bottom. This would keep me from landing flat on my back. I wanted to ask him to do it again but I knew this wouldn’t be fair. It was my turn. It was my turn to have brass balls. The toughest thing in front of me was simply letting go of the ledge. I had to let go and fall. After holding onto the barrier and getting close to letting go a few times, I finally said the hell with it and took my hand off.

I didn’t enter the water as planned. As a result, I hit the bottom pretty hard. I was OK though. I was actually more than OK. I wanted to do it again. My skin felt like leather from my terrible dive after hitting the water so hard. I didn’t care though. The rush I felt was invigorating. It was exciting to overcome something which in my mind I built up as scary but in fact was simple. On my next jump, I landed perfectly at an angle and didn’t touch the bottom at all.

Afterwards, James told me that was the first time he ever jumped off. It was cool to do that together with my friend and our training session later that day was full of personal records. Why? I know why for me at least. It’s because I learned in that moment to let go and not be afraid. I could do it. I could land right. Was it dangerous? Sure. But what did that mean? It meant do it right.

As you go after the personal record let go and do it right. Draw on an experience you’ve gone through to give you courage or make you aggressive. I’m not telling you to go jump off bridges. This was an experience which worked for me. After that day, anytime I pulled a weight I knew I could complete the lift. My mind was strong. My time in Iao on that day always stayed with me. I always went under the bar with a sense of purpose because I was OK when I let go of my barriers and fell from the bridge.

I created the bridge mentality with the help of a good friend. Only champions possess this attitude. This mentality finds a way across the barriers in the gym and that is weightlifting. It’s about doing what you need to do to find a way and never ever stopping. It’s about finding a way to keep moving forward.

Think about an experience you’ve lived to help you think this way. As you keep practicing this,  you become fearless on the platform, full of ego, pride and determination. You stop thinking so much and let go. All these thoughts and questions in your mind will only keep you from improving. You’re already capable of the personal record. You’re already stronger than you think you are. It’s the place between your ears which gets in the way.

Let go and do it right.