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Digging Out Of A Blizzard: 5 Lessons For Training And Life

Boris Bachmann

This is a guest post from Boris Bachmann. Boris is responsible for the awesome shirt I was wearing in yesterday’s video extravaganzorium, and is responsible for one of my favorite spots on the web: Squat RX. Recently, he battled a blizzard. Enjoy the post.

by Boris Bachmann

Earlier this month, I had to dig our home out of a blizzard. I don’t own a snow blower. Somehow, despite the many hours and achy joints, I can’t justify the $300 or so it would cost to buy one. So, with two shovels, an ice chipper, and 15 hours of labor invested, I managed to clear the walks and driveway.

Any feeling of accomplishment was short-lived as the plows moved through the side roads and blanketed the sidewalk and drive entrance again with two feet of ice and snow, starting the process anew. Nature can be an unforgiving teacher. It doesn’t care whether you’ve been good or bad, and it can just as easily melt all your efforts away the next day as toss another foot of snow your way just to see if you can keep up.

The experience provides a good analogy for training, and the lessons learned can be applied to a zen-like approach to strength goals and life.

Life Lesson #1: Define Goals & Boundaries Early In The Game

Setting boundaries and goals from the git-go is a smart move, especially if there’s too much to do all at once, and/or if the snow is still coming down. No, it’s not rocket science, but if you don’t have any kind of plan, you may end up creating a mountain of snow that you’ll end up needing to move later to make room for more – trust me, it could happen…

Having goals and realistic expectations keeps things in perspective. I enjoy training and I enjoy process, but the product is important too. It is important to have some kind of outline in place – without one, you will be one of those people that stand around the drinking fountain at the gym wondering what to do next. It’s NOT necessary to have every set and rep mapped out weeks in advance, but there should always be a clear rationale for every session, every exercise, every set, and every rep.


“…without purpose, we would not exist. …It is purpose that defines, it is purpose that binds us.” – Agent Smith (The Matrix Reloaded)

A larger purpose and sense of boundaries help us, as Dan John is fond of saying, “Keep the goal the goal”. Purpose and boundaries help us better deal with the distractions and obstacles that come along because we realize that we are not defined by the challenges we face – we are defined by how we face them.

Lesson #2: If You Get Sloppy, You’ve Overdone It

If you notice yourself rushing, and breathing starting to become labored; if you notice yourself heaving snow with heated desperation; if you notice yourself never really straightening up between bouts of snow flinging; if you notice yourself trying to load up bigger and bigger clumps on the end of your shovel, then you’ve probably already started to overdo it.

Your body and mind have switched to a kind of lost panic mode – it’s time to dial it down. Stand up straight, breathe right, and reassess your situation. In the gym, if technique starts to suffer, it’s time to rerack the weight. If you’re rushing through sets to get done, you’re asking for trouble. This was a hard lesson to learn personally – impromptu contests at the end of a training session when you’re in a hurry to get home is ALWAYS bad news for me… Not only over the couse of a single set, but also you can see this play itself out over the course of a meso/macro-cycle as well and it isn’t pretty.

We feel weak because we need rest, but because we feel weak we think we need to work harder. Be willing to listen to your body when it’s telling you to slow down. The first signs I need a break from my training are poor sleep, fatigue, achey muscles and joints that don’t seem to recover. General a-holishness is a clear sign for me, but usually once I get to that point, I’m in some kind of stupid bezerker mode that only ends with an argument, illness, or injury.

We’ve all experienced feeling hopelessly lost, physically and mentally, in a very metaphorical or literal way. In those times, it is common to dig deeper and drive faster, rather than retrace our steps or seek higher ground to get perspective. This phenomena, as Laurence Gonzales describes in his book “Deep Survival”, is called “bending the map”. Our wishful thinking can make us search for light at the end of a black hole leading to nowhere. Momentary breathers can help us gather our bearings and clear away some of the dirt we’ve kicked up on the journey to the present moment.

Lesson #3: Occasionally Pause To Marvel At The Beauty Surrounding You

While I was shoveling, my neighbor was doing the same… and looking absolutely miserable. He was a machine… for an hour. During that time, a gaggle of Canadian geese flew overhead and I stopped to admire their formation and calls. A little while later I called over to my neighbor and mentioned it to him, he replied “Oh, there were geese? I thought I heard something…”.

If you are doing something, anything long term, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and the sense of wonder and curiosity you had at the beginning. It pretty common to develop tunnel vision on the road immediately in front of us – your driver’s ed instructor had some good advice; establish a “visual lead” and keep your eyes moving so you don’t miss the beauty (and opportunities) all around you.

Never forget your “beginner’s mind.”

Lesson #4: Don’t Test The Limits of Your Equipment

Your snow shovel is not a spade. It is not an ice chipper. It is not a plow, nor a forklift. It is not made of 440 stainless steel. It doesn’t have a name or magical powers like Excalibur, Mjöllnir, or Billy Barule. Abuse your shovel and you could find yourself with a broken handle or badly bent blade and thousands of cubic feet left to go. No shovel and it’s pretty much game over.

The same thing applies to your barbell, collars, dumbbells, sandbag, and squat rack by the way; if things fall apart on you, you won’t be lifting long. Invest in good equipment and take care of it. I’ve never had a Jump Stretch band snap on me while training and (knock on wood) hopefully NEVER will. I’ll admit I’m a bit anal when it comes to keeping my stuff in good shape, but who wants something coming apart when it’s over your head or face, or when you are straining like hell to move it?

Respect the weights and the effort you bring to bear, or else. On the recycling bin I take to the curb every other week, there’s a label detailing all the items that may be recycled – in bold letters is the message “When in doubt, THROW IT OUT.” We live in a use and discard society.

In general, we don’t pay respect to inanimate objects and we curse them to high heaven when they don’t do our bidding. We believe that if we just have enough money we’ll be okay, but some things are truly irreplaceable. Your body and mind are your most essential pieces of equipment. Maintain them – they are the first and last things you’ll ever own.

We all want to leave our mark on the world, but here’s a harsh truth: if you keel over in your driveway, no one will write ballads about how you died with a shovel in your hand. If John Henry had died with a hammer in his hand driving a spike, rather than defeating a steam drill, there would be no songs about him either. If you injure yourself in the squat racks training, it’s not going to be impressive in the least either.

Lesson #5: The Key To Shoveling Is “Lazy Strength”

Shoveling thousands of pounds of snow is NOT a sprint. Persistence is an absolute prerequisite to success. “Slow and steady wins the race” really does apply here. If you fling every shovelful for all you’re worth, it’s going to be torture very quickly. There are circles that believe that limit strength is the wellspring from which all other strengths flow.

That may be so, but if you can’t sustain the effort needed to complete the job, it doesn’t matter how impressive your one rep max is. Compensatory acceleration is great, but not the best strategy for conserving energy. Efficiency and power are not a dichotomy, but it is true that as power output increases, efficiency tends to decrease. As power output approaches maximum, efficiency suffers greatly. “Lazy strength” is about exerting just the right amount needed to finish the job. “Lazy strength” is the key to long, marathon efforts where the challenge is to finish well, rather than compete against others.

Boris vs. the Blizzard

About The Author: Boris Bachmann, RKC is a high school teacher, swim coach, and strength and conditioning coach and consultant. He has taught and coached competitive swimming, Tae Kwon Do, powerlifting, and kettlebells. You can visit him at Squat RX.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gordie January 12, 2010, 3:15 am

    Wow! That’s a lot of lessons to learned just from shoveling snow. I haven’t heard the term lazy strength, but it seems to make sense to use it for tasks that don’t need to be rushed or are for competitive purposes.

    Thanks, Boris!

    • Josh Hanagarne January 12, 2010, 12:05 pm

      Yep, that’s Boris. I hadn’t heard that term either. I’m great at the lazy part.

  • paulandrewrussell January 12, 2010, 7:10 am

    I really enjoyed reading this, Boris. I loved how you used shovelling the snow to get your points across.

    I’m a Brit living in Canada, and when I first arrived here I attacked the snow like a maniac; it didn’t work lol. As with all things in life planning is paramount.

    Thanks for this inspirational post.

    • Josh Hanagarne January 12, 2010, 12:08 pm

      Paul, how long have you been living in the big C.?

      • paulandrewrussell January 12, 2010, 5:00 pm

        Hi Josh,

        Good to see you again. I’ve been here in Canada for the past six years and it’s damn cold! lol It could be worse though, it’s only around -6 at the moment here in Newfoundland. It’s way more severe in other parts.

  • Todd January 12, 2010, 7:24 am

    First, your time is worth money. That $300 dollars over 15 hours = $20/hr. There is something about shoveling a walk that is peaceful in a way though.
    I love the advice in this article. “Your body and mind are your most essential pieces of equipment. Maintain them – they are the first and last things you’ll ever own.” That pretty much sums it all up for me.

    • Josh Hanagarne January 12, 2010, 12:09 pm

      I don’t like shoveling, but I’ve yet to find a snow shovel for the tall man.

  • Boris Bachmann January 12, 2010, 7:36 am

    Josh,
    Thanks for having me here! Looks good!

    Thanks Gordie. I had A LOT of time to think as I was shoveling.

    Thanks Paul – I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two about shoveling snow!

  • Boris Bachmann January 12, 2010, 7:37 am

    Thanks Todd. Money and time are two things I’ve never claimed to have a good grasp on – probably never will.

  • Randy January 12, 2010, 10:53 am

    Nice Boris.
    The Matrix! (The Eyes of Oedipus, the Cave of Plato.) I like to think that Purpose with a capital P requires a conscious intentionality that “lives” as self expression.

  • Boris Bachmann January 12, 2010, 11:55 am

    Randy,
    Thanks. I agree with you. I think there’s a warning in The Matrix movies about being to obsessed and single-minded in your “purpose”.

    Not to be confused with your “special purpose” btw… 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne January 12, 2010, 12:09 pm

      Oh man. It’s been too long since I watched The Jerk.

  • Rob McMurren January 12, 2010, 12:55 pm

    There is nothing like digging out after a big snow. I do double duty, right after i finish the driveway i’m off to clean the rink in the yard, usually its the other way around. When it feels effortless is usually when the most snow gets moved.

    I m thinking of starting a gym called snowfit. People can pay me to teach them how to shovel to stay fit

  • Boris Bachmann January 12, 2010, 3:34 pm

    ‘Snowfit’ is pretty catchy!

  • Daisy January 12, 2010, 7:29 pm

    In a small way, it reminds me of weeding a garden.

    We caved and bought a snowblower when I was starting my teaching internship, my husband was working nights, and my kids were 6 and 1. We felt mildly guilty, but it was a necessary evil.

    • Boris Bachmann January 12, 2010, 10:56 pm

      Weeding a garden is pretty much the same – they can come in waves and it’s work that’s never completely done. Even if you go the chemical route, you need to reapply it.

      Student teaching… I hope I never have to experience that again. Kudos to you and your family for enduring.

      My wife has given me ‘permission’ to buy a snowblower btw – I’m just stubborn.