Chris Cathcart is a teen powerlifting competitor, Virtual Coaching client, and member/contributor at Kabuki Strength Lab.
For every change you see in my body, my mind has gone through ten. When I began the journey that I am on in 2015, I was in one of the worst places I ever been. I was 330 pounds, thirteen years old and had just experienced loss for the first time. My first dog had died and I was trying to make sense of the world. I knew things and people died, I had seen things die, I had killed things before, I had never felt the ache of missing that comes with the loss of someone or something near to your heart.
The first time I experienced loss it came with a warning. This will be you, and if you change nothing, that will be sooner than you can imagine. My first dog died of disease related to obesity, something that my entire family, human and pet alike was all too familiar with. This comes to my first point. Set Grand Goals. I didn’t know it at the time but I was setting for myself the ultimate Grand Goal. Become better. I didn’t know where to go from that goal, but I had a why and a what, so the how would only follow naturally.
Starting out I tried walking once a day for a quarter mile, eating more fiber, and drinking water (like at all). This alone helped me lose 10 lbs due to the horrible condition my body was in. This brings me to my second point, which is that Grand Goals are important, but I think after you set them you should focus on One Degree of Change at a time. If I had set out for myself a workout regiment and diet plan to “lose 30 lbs in 30 days” as assholes will try to sell you, I would have quit on day two or three and would be 450 lbs right now. Due to the fact that I started out with just the walks at a quarter mile per day, I actually did them, every day. I started out by eating a Fiber One granola bar instead of whatever carb-y snack food I was eating every day. I started out by replacing a little bit of the soda that I was drinking all of the time with a little bit of water. This brings me to my third point which is; never be too proud for any victory. If you start out to lose weight and feel better and by the end of the first month you lose 3 pounds, chant victory from the rooftops, sing a happy song. If you are making progress it will beget more progress.
Let me explain more clearly what I mean by One Degree of Change. When you set out to climb the particular mountain of your choice, your “Grand Goal”, do you run at the mountain as fast and possible and try to jump to the top in a single bound? I hate to tell you, but you aren’t Superman, and neither is ANYONE else, no matter what they would tell you. When you go to climb a mountain you affix your gaze at the summit temporarily (this is setting your Grand Goal), then you look down at your feet and take one step at a time (One Degree of Change). This is the basic principle of One Degree of Change; every choice you make (or purposefully don’t make) has a very real outcome that may not be obvious for a very long time.
As I continued my regiment of walks, fiber, and water – I stopped seeing progress. I continued to do them anyways as they made me feel better, which goes back to: never be too proud for any victory. I eventually stumbled upon a weight training program that boasted that I could get stronger by training just 30 minutes, 3 times per week. I again said to myself, “that’s something that I would actually do” because I sure as hell wasn’t going to take the leap needed to get into more intense cardio, like running. I was fortunate because in the barn on our farm – among other “treasures” – we had an old 25lb barbell and a set of weights along with a useless universal gym that we later took for scrap metal recycling. I was actually displaying interest in a physical activity so my parents were happy to get me a cheap power rack to go with my tiny barbell.
I would like to back track yet to my very early school years. I have never been one to avoid embarrassing myself. I have countless stories of me being totally socially inept going back to when I was 4 years old. I was sent to a private school for most of grade school, this meant that my classmates were the same kids the entire time. When I first started I was already a little bit ahead of the other kids developmentally but not by a significant margin. I was enthusiastic to learn, and frequently, enthusiastically, gave totally wrong answers whenever the teacher would ask a question of the class. The teacher would explain to me why my answer was totally wrong and the entire class would frequently laugh. I learned more than everyone who was laughing because the teacher was showing me where my thought process was wrong, whereas everyone who was laughing was just being told the answer with no thought given to it. My enthusiastic answers kept coming just as frequently and they became less and less wrong, until they were very rarely wrong, then I started doing some subjects with a grade ahead of me, then I was near the top of the grade ahead of me. I learned my fourth point which is; if they’re laughing, you’re growing. If you never do anything that’s worth laughing at, you won’t do anything worth remembering. Actually, if you don’t frequently do things that deserve laughter, you need to reconsider what you’re doing.
As I progressed through my training I got bit. The iron bug, as I’m sure many of you have experienced, got me. I never missed a single day training for the first eight months of my lifting career. This was the first time that I ever felt physically, mentally, and emotionally in control. When I was under the bar everything was simple and made sense for a little bit. As I progressed I quickly got too strong to use the 25 lb bar that we had. My parents who at the time were well, well below the poverty line, scraped together what they could to get me a used olympic barbell and set of olympic plates. As I came to the end of the usefulness of the beginner program that I was using I had been training for about 11 months and I had progressed quite well for a beginner. Just as this happened my mother graduated from college my family was able to afford to get me coaching. I had showed potential for strength and even more importantly I had proven to myself that I was capable. I felt capable so I started looking around for the first time. At the time that I looked the most that I could find record of anyone deadlifting at my age (15) was 550 lbs so I decided I wanted to do better than that. I decided before my 15th year was over I was going to deadlift 585 lbs. (It’s worth noting here that people had done more than 585 lbs at the time I decided to do this, I just didn’t have the records available and frankly it doesn’t really matter because it was about pushing myself not record breaking). When I found that Kabuki Strength was a moderate drive from my house and that they offered virtual coaching I knew that was what I had to do.
When I signed up for virtual coaching with Kabuki my deadlift was 405 lbs with 11 months training experience and I had 11 months to make 585 lbs. This is where I make my fifth point which is; don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. If your goals won’t get you laughed out of the room by someone who knows what they’re talking about you probably can do better. I never once heard a negative thing about my goals from my coach but I can only imagine how much laughter was had when they saw my intake form. I continued my training under guidance which was new, but welcomed. I got my parents to make the trip to the gym a few times and I was a like a fish out of water. I was surrounded by monsters lifting incredible weight, and I was flopping around under a barbell trying not to die. I didn’t make progress as fast as I thought I needed to to achieve my goal, this was discouraging, however I still trained with the same passion I always had. I still had my ridicules dream.
I pulled 500 lbs roughly 3 months before the competition where I would attempt my goal. This is when I really started doubting I would make my goal because it was only 4 months to the deadline. Roughly 2 months out from the competition I decided to do it. It was a charity deadlift exhibition just one month out from the final deadline. After the 500 lb pull the month before, I couldn’t seem to get back to the same strength level. My last heavy pull before the exhibition was a hard 455 lbs, 130 lbs away from what I would need. The day of the competition arrived and everything felt horrible, I warmed up to 455 lbs again and I was opening at 500, 455 felt like it was at the far limits of my capability. I was still not afraid of being ridiculous. I stepped on the platform with 500 lbs loaded on the bar, cleared my mind and slipped into a state of just being. 500 lbs that day felt twice as heavy as 500 lbs 3 months ago, but I finished it, somehow. I walked up to the judge’s table and told them to give me 545 lbs for my second. This was 45 lbs more than I had ever loaded on a bar. Again my time came and again I stood up with the weight, this time it was the heaviest anything had ever felt and I thought that nothing could ever feel heavier. I walked up to the judge’s table and told them to load 585 lbs on the bar. I don’t have a great memory of what happened after this. I remember thinking right before I went onto the platform that my entire life so far had led to this moment. I remember grabbing onto the bar with the hall full of people screaming so loud mucus in my nose and chest was being shaken loose, then I ceased to exist. I woke up holding 585 lbs in my hands, I was given the down command, I put the bar down took one step, then it hit me. I legitimately thought in that moment that I might die, my head felt numb I was incredibly dizzy and my heart was beating so fast I couldn’t tell the difference of one beat to the next. In that moment I thought if this is how I die, there is no better way. I then went to one of the porta-potties outside the venue and freaked out for 5 minutes straight.
That’s just the beginning of my journey.
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