In 1986 I had just competed in the Oklahoma State Open Powerlifting Championship and after a few days off I returned to the weight room. My coach Stephen Miller told me to get warmed up and prepare to back squat. I warmed up and stretched and he then said you’re working up to a single with a belt only. So I hit a 540lb single. I felt good with that lift and started to get ready to go home.
Then he said these words I’ll never forget: “Get your mind right. You’re hitting 50% of 540 for a set of 40 reps.”
At first I thought 270 won’t be that bad, it’s really light. I had no clue what I was in for. Coach pulled up a chair, looked at me and said, “Whenever you’re ready”. I cinched my belt up tight because I knew that would make the weight feel lighter but I also knew at the end it would restrict my breathing. I walked up to the rack, got under the bar, took a breath and backed out. As a power lifter and Olympic style weightlifter you only train for singles. In competition, you do one rep. You may train at different times with sets of 5, sets of 8 and maybe even 10 but not for long.
I did 10 without stopping, I stopped and took a few breaths and thought so far so good maybe this isn’t going to be too bad. No lactate yet. You see anaerobic glycolysis doesn’t generally occur until about 30 seconds. It took 30 seconds to do my first 10 reps. My next 8 were where the lactate started to accumulate and my body’s systems started to significantly change. I did 7 more and thought “OK, you’re at 25 so just focus and chip away”.
My legs and low back were on fire and it was difficult to take in a full breath of air. I squeezed out 5 more. I had 10 more to go. By then I had attracted most everyone in the gym as spectators and some as cheerleaders. I did 2 more reps and realized I couldn’t feel my arms. I did 2 more and almost couldn’t come back up. My quad muscles had no eccentric contraction strength. I could not slow down at the bottom. I did one more and then my legs started to buckle.
I’m now at 35. My glutes, legs and low back felt like they were being ripped apart and with every rep it felt like there was a flame-thrower pointed at my legs scorching every fiber down to the bone. I did one more and then another and at that point couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was about to explode. I did another rep and could not stand erect any longer. Everyone screamed “two more, you got two more, you can make it!”
I was on fumes, I had nothing left except knowing that quitting was not an option. I did one more and almost fell coming up. ONE MORE everyone screamed! I went down and with the most rounded my back has ever been, the weight slowly grinded up. As soon as I was upright my spotters grabbed the bar and carried me and the weight back to the rack. I had to be peeled out from under the bar and my belt loosened so I could breathe. My lungs burned to the point it hurt to take another breath. It took about 15 minutes before I could move or talk. My coach just patted me on the back, but I knew what that meant.
It was one of the most brutal things I’ve ever done, but it was all worth it. My life has never been the same. It’s now a rite of passage at Chalk. When we talk about a lifter and begin to discuss how tough they are, all we have to do is ask: “have they done 40’s?”