5 Songs to Hit PR’s To

mastodonI just got home from the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar where, for the first time as a member of the #cspfamily, I got to listen to presentations from all our amazing coaches. Aside from learning a ton, I got to make new friends, hang out with old friends and bid farewell to the legendary Travis English, our Australian intern (with the voice of an angel) who taught me tons about attitude and taking calculated risks in our few short weeks together.

Dinner inevitably led to topics other than training, such as music. While Miguel Aragoncillo and I speculated over what’s better for lifting huge weights – heavy metal or hip hop – I was brought back to a conversation I had with Jordan Syatt earlier in the day about training environment and its importance for continued success. This brought me back to the days when strength was simple, and having a great training session was all about cranking the tunes as loud as possible and attacking the weights with reckless abandon.

With more strength and more knowledge, training has become more strategic than barbaric, but it was fun to think back to the days when I was just figuring things out for myself, armed with nothing but an iPod and a belt. I had a handful of songs I’d go back to time and again when I needed a boost for a big PR. Each one has it’s own story. Check it out:

Gojira – Toxic Garbage Island

Gojira’s Way of All Flesh album came out in 2008 and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I remember popping it into the CD player of my Saab shortly after I’d transferred to St. Michael’s College, and this track just blew my mind. It coincided nicely with my discovery of the Westside Barbell Book of Methods, which was also unlike anything I’d ever heard of before and heavily influenced my training from there on out.

I quickly learned what it truly meant to strain under heavy weight and train like your life depended on it. This song filled my ears for almost every 1RM attempt and was there for my first 500-pound deadlift, 400-pound squat and dozens of other PRs. When that main riff drops at 0:25, I dare you to not lift massive amounts of weight.

Metallica – Don’t Tread On Me

I hit my first 350 pound bench with this song blaring, and it marked what I considered to be my jump from an average bench presser to a good bench presser. I’d only hit 315 at my last powerlifting meet, and jumped to 350 in about four months.

Metallica’s Black Album was the first heavy metal record I ever bought. I picked it up on a back-to-school shopping trip before starting sixth grade (WOW! I feel old.) and my dad was horrified when I arrived home with what was presumably a CD full of Satan-worshipping noise. But a few years later and many hours of listening to Metallica in the car together on the way to baseball games, my dad attended not one but TWO Metallica shows with me, cementing the importance of the band’s music in my young life.

Trivium – In Waves

Just like Jordan and I spoke about the importance of training environment, I recently spoke with my old roommate and training parter Cory, who I’ve highlighted before for his unbelievable courage and perseverance. We reminisced about our days at Adelphi where we’d head to the basement, put on the heaviest, ugliest music we could find and deadlift til our shins and noses were bloody.

Cory and I bonded over a mutual love of heavy metal, and it was rare that I could find great new music that he hadn’t heard yet. But one fateful drive back from the grocery store, I threw the new Trivium CD in the stereo and played him this song. I thought Cory was going to punch the windows out of the car when the intro segued to one of the most brutal riffs I’ve heard in years. To this day, when Cory and I get together and lift harder and heavier than we probably should, he throws on this song for an extra kick in the ass.

Metallica – St. Anger

It’s become “cool” to shit on Metallica, especially the often misunderstood St. Anger album. But in recent years, I’ve come to understand the values of Stoicism and treating every obstacle as an opportunity. This song is all about channeling anger into something productive, which was a necessity while fighting for my first 500 pound squat.

I missed my first attempt at a 500 pound squat after an incredibly strenuous training cycle where I’d seemingly done everything right. I was pissed and could have easily moaned and groaned my way through every excuse in the book. But I managed to bundle my anger and push it towards training smarter, which quickly led to a 500-pound competition squat and my first 9-for-9 meet.

Mastodon – Blood and Thunder

In the two years that Cory and I lived together in New York, we saw Mastodon in concert five times. We lived and breathed this band, cranking their music during every lifting session and trekking to Ohio twice to see them at the Rock on the Range music festival.

The main riff is so simple yet so heavy, and serves as a good reminder that the best training programs stick to the basics. Whenever I’d get caught up in some new, fancy method, Cory was always there to reel me in and remind me that simplicity is king when it comes to getting brutally strong.


Heavy metal and heavy lifting seem to go hand in hand, but what gets YOU fired up when you train? Let me know in the comments below!

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