People use the word “genius” way too much. If a person is a good ball player, a good singer, a good guitarist, poet, novelist….”oh, they’re a genius.” No, no they are not. Genius is a rarity. When we see true genius, we ought to look at some of the qualities we see and emulate them to the best of our abilities.
The thing about genius is that they are rarely just very good at one thing. This is why, no matter how good a musician someone is when someone calls them a “genius” they are almost always wrong. That said, there are geniuses in the field of music and one of them made a contribution that highlights his genius in a way relevant to weightlifting. Ludwig Van Beethoven was not a genius composer. Rather, I would say, he is a genius who is most famous for his compositions. It is Luddy B that I want to speak about in today’s post.
Beethoven began to lose his hearing in 1796 and it worsened over the years until 1816 when, at the age of 46, he went completely deaf. Being completely deaf makes composing music understandably difficult.
However, this didn’t stop ole Luddy. Beethoven went on to compose quite a bit of music after 1816 including his famous
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1822-24). Now composing pretty much any music when you are deaf has to be a superhuman feat, but composing Beethoven’s 9th, goes above and beyond. Just listen to the famous finale in the fourth movement, the Ode to Joy, and think about writing that after being completely deaf for 5 years. How did he compose such a superb symphony without being able to hear anything? The simple answer was, he didn’t. He found a way around. That way around is where we see the true genius and the habit we want to incorporate into our lifting mindset.
What Beethoven realized was that the eardrum was not the only path by which sound can be transmitted to the cochlea (the inner ear). The eardrum converts sound waves to vibrations and then transmits them to the cochlea, but in some cases the eardrum is bypassed and the vibrations are received through the bones. This is how one hears their own voice or how earbuds pick up your voice when you are on the phone. Having figured out he can bypass his crappy eardrums and get directly to his inner ear through vibrations, Beethoven then attached a metal rod to his piano and bit down on it so that the vibrations would work through his jawbone into his inner ear and he was able to hear.
Let me repeat this. A deaf man in the very early 1800’s attached a metal rod to his piano, bit down on the other side allowing himself to transmit sound to his inner ear well enough for him to write the 9th Symphony. Really let that digest a bit and then remind me why you can’t squat because of that time you hurt your knee.
Bone conduction, the name given to what Beethoven did, has become the norm now. Many headphones and microphones available for commercial use rely on vibrations in the bones rather than traditional audio pickups or outputs. Cochlear implants are given to some deaf people as well which do pretty much the same thing Beethoven did with his metal rod. All of this because Luddy B refused to take being deaf as a reason to stop writing some of the greatest symphonic music in the history of man.
We should all take a page from Beethoven’s book here. Is there a lift you can’t do because of an old injury? Are you just going to let it go? Have you tried doing it for dramatically less weight and far higher reps? Have you tried alternate methods of doing the lift? Have you tried different lifts that target the same muscles? Until you have tried everything, cf., biting down on a metal rod attached to your piano?
A common lift that is problematic for people after an injury is the squat. Back and knee injuries can quickly put you out of the squat game and once healed people are often skittish to get back to it. However, this is no time to give up! There are many things we can do to mix up the squat to change the focus and stress and many ways to target muscles with different lifts. Giving up simply isn’t a valid option. First, have you tried front squats instead of back squats? Front squats put a lot less stress on the body and, because the weight is on the front, the form will tend to stay better because if you lean too far forward you will drop to the bar. What about goblet squats?
Also, while we are all about ass to grass here, if you are coming back from an injury maybe stick to parallel. If you are worried
about parallel maybe you should try to do box squats. Another thing you might want to do is to pay extra close attention to the eccentric movement. People often have a tendency to lift off from the bottom position. But if you move slowly with it you have less of a chance to stress your back. True, this means you might have to put less weight on the bar, but less weight is better than no squats. Speaking of weight, why not try to drop the weight all the way down. Do those squats with just the bar. Maybe some ten-pound plates. If you jack up your number of reps in the 20-25 zone you will hit those muscles without having the worry of the weight on your back.
Another thing you might try is to widen your stance. Open your stance all the way, get your butt back and keep your shins vertical. This takes the weight off the knees if you have bad knees. It does put a little more weight on the lower back and reduces how much your quads get out of the lift, but you can supplement with dumbbell goblet squats for that.
If your knees are fine and your back is the issue you might consider doing the exact opposite and doing a very close stance squat. This will totally burn out your quads and take the stress off the lower back, but will focus more on the knees. With either the wide or close stance squat, remember to adjust your weight down appropriately.
Another thing I believe might help is something I spoke about earlier in the week: chains. The chains helped clean up the form and took weight off the knees and lower back in the bottom position. So, if you normally would squat 225 for 12 reps try lowering that to 135 and adding 2 45 pound chains. The weight is reduced as you hit the bottom position because the chain piles up on the floor. When you are all the way at the bottom, the place you are most likely to stress knees and lower back, you have it a little lighter and as you push up and through the weight returns in order to focus on your quads and glutes.
Now I am in no way suggesting that a person who has had major injuries drop a ton of weight on the squat (or any other lift for that matter), but don’t just give up. If you are back in the gym after your injury but avoiding a lift, play around with it with light weight. Try to re-track it, be creative and remember, if Beethoven can write a symphony while deaf by biting a metal rod attached to his piano effectively inventing the technology that, some 200 years later would be used by apple and google to make fancy headsets, you can figure out a way to do these lifts.
The idea of simply giving up should not exist in the mind of anyone who is serious about moving weight. Here at WB Fitness we talk frequently about the mind muscle connection. Truly having a connection from your mind to your muscles is the only way to get them to truly grow and strengthen. This focus is the same one required for everything in and out of the gym. If you cannot bench, squat, deadlift, curl or whatever then you need to look at the muscles that are suffering and find alternate ways to get at them. You also need to try various types of medical ways around from doctors to surgeons to chiropractors and acupuncturists. People are far too quick to give up on themselves and that isn’t what we are looking to do. That isn’t why we put iron in our hands every day. We want to face our weaknesses and demolish them, not avoid or ignore them.
What you need to do when you run up against a roadblock is to ask yourself some serious questions. What is the cause of this roadblock? Can I remove it from my path? Can I get around it? Have I tried everything? A famous phrase amongst boxers when talking about other sports is “you don’t PLAY boxing.” This goes for lifting either. Yes, this is a sport, but you don’t “play” weightlifting. Get out there and give everything. As we say at WB Fitness, make yourself either into a god or a corpse. Accept nothing in between.