The way to get the strongest is to lift what is optimal and not what is maximal

MARK BELL is the founder of Super Training Gym in Sacramento, which is often referred to as “the strongest gym in the West.” Prior to opening his own gym, he studied and trained under the legendary Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. Mark’s best “geared lifts” in competition include a 1,025-pound (465 kg) squat, an 832-pound (377 kg) bench press, and a 738-pound (335 kg) deadlift. Mark is also a multimillion-dollar entrepreneur and the inventor of the patented Sling Shot, a device used to assist with proper bench press form while also increasing weight and reps.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk: Gary V. had the forethought to recognize the importance of Twitter and technologies that hadn’t come yet to maturity. He talked about how all the then-current forms of advertising would be left in the dust. He also predicted that there was going to be a marketing shift from professional athletes and celebrities to social media influencers. This book made me recognize that I have enough access to make a very large company, even from my house, since everyone has the same access to the Internet.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: It taught me better ways to manage my time and the value of not making myself too busy.

5/3/1 by Jim Wendler: Getting stronger can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Jim Wendler did a great job of presenting a condensed, simplified, but effective method for getting stronger.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
“Either you’re in, or you’re in the way.” Often, we chase after people who aren’t “in,” who, for whatever reason, don’t fit into our lives or our business. We waste time with these people when our focus should be on the people who are in.

“Part of knowing who you are is knowing who you’re not.” This gem comes from my pops, Mike Bell. In the sport of powerlifting, like many competitive sports or fields, it is extremely difficult to be number one. I was so entrenched in powerlifting that I would do anything to be as strong as Ed Coan. My dad said this to me at just the right time in my life. He made me realize that maybe my impact on powerlifting would be quite different than that of the greatest lifter of all time.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
A few torn pecs. I’m an inventor who has earned the right to say that I have torn muscles for my patents. If it were not for my torn pecs, I would not have thought to invent the Sling Shot, which has sold more than 500,000 units to date. The Sling Shot is a supportive upper body device that allows you to train through and around injuries. It also allows you to safely overload your body with more weight. By being able to handle more weight in the Sling Shot, you will be able to handle more weight without it. It also promotes lifting with better form, which, in the long run, will ingrain this movement pattern into your bench press and push-ups permanently.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

I spent $1,200 on learning how to be a professional wrestler. The way that you entertain is through your wrestling promos that are done in front of a camera or live audience. This form of public speaking was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Since you’re talking in front of a peer group, as well as a live audience, it forces you to think on your feet and improv. To make matters even worse, you are given direction on how many seconds you can talk, and you’re fed things to say that you have to remember for the duration of your promo. Professional wrestling also taught me to cut down on nervous tension by going up to people, introducing myself, and shaking their hands.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
A pair of Groucho Marx glasses I bought in Japan for 200 yen [about $2 U.S.]. It moved everyone’s focus from my fellow wrestlers to me. It’s all in the way you market yourself.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I like feeling sore. I like beating the sh*t out of myself with workouts. I don’t necessarily love the pain, but I love the results I get out of it over a long period of time.

I write down my goals on my bathroom mirror. I’ve done it with my target body weight, to how much I want to bench, etc. By writing it down every single day, it turns those dreams into obtainable goals.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The name of the game in what I do is lifting the most weight. However, the way to get the strongest is to lift what is optimal and not what is maximal. In general, lifters and coaches tend to lift too heavy, too often. I think it’s human nature in some ways to try to take on more than we can handle. But to make progress, you need to lift and do things that are more realistic. Any time you overreach, you are putting yourself in a compromised position.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
I would tell them to invest time in themselves, to make sure they have some sort of physical activity in their life, and adhere to some form of nutrition that keeps them healthy. When that stuff falls apart, it can make other things more difficult.

Things to ignore: what other people or businesses are doing. When you’re not

looking at what’s in front of you, you could have a very tragic misstep. That’s why racehorses have blinders on. If they look to the left or right, not only will they end up hurt, but everyone else will, too.

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