During my first years at Strength Camp one of the most fascinating phenomenon I’d experience on a regular basis was the rapid and almost complete transformation of little boys into respectable men.
Below is a pic of the “young and tender” Chris Barnard (before Strength Camp), followed by the “jacked and manly” Chris Barnard (after Strength Camp). Of course Chris has stepped up to the plate and taken on the role of Strength Camp’s new head coach, but his results are not unique.
I’ve watched dozens of young men, just like Chris, evolve right before my very eyes.
Another example is Mark Miklos who was once the youngest athletes I trained at the gym. He spent a few years training with me as he prepared for baseball. Once he hit high school I didn’t see very much of him, until he decided to show up at one of my Open Gym workouts this summer. His growth was so astonishing that I almost didn’t recognize him.
This is a video from Mark’s first days at Strength Camp:
Here is Mark pushing The Prowler a few short years later during one of our Open Gym sessions:
Finally, if you’ve been a fan of my YouTube videos long enough then you know who Abe is.
Here is a new video of our once shy and unassuming friend, who earned the hearts of Open Gym viewers due his dedication and almost flawless workout attendance record, hitting a personal best of 325 pounds in the deadlift at a bodyweight of only 140 lbs.
I would be totally bullshitting you (and myself) if I attempted to somehow prove that “Strength Camp Magic” alone caused these boys, and dozens of other boys that I’ve worked with, to spontaneously become large, physically powerful men.
The plain truth is that biology and physiology have their alarm clocks set to go off at specific times during the life path of every human being. Ready or not, come the ages of 14 – 21, a boy will grow hair on his balls, gain some bass in his voice, and given the right opportunity – build muscle.
The difference between boys that have come through Strength Camp (or another program of equal quality) and those who don’t, is best explained though the concept of Initiation.
According to Robert Moore in “The Archetype Of Initiation”, our ancestors understood and respected the principle of initiation; specifically the tools of Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Elder Support. All traditional cultures and religions understood that we need to honor and facilitate personal growth, specifically during times of transition; like the phase between being a boy and becoming a man. Unfortunately, modern life rarely respects, creates sacred space, or offers the support of elders to facilitate initiation.
Without the sacred space (containment), ritual (process) and support (mentorship) from truly representative elders, many young men either get trapped in the transitional phase only to remain a “boy” for the rest of their lives, or they intuitively try to facilitate their own initiation though gangs, drugs, sex, violence or self mutilation.
We become “lost boys” who out of despair seek to initiate ourselves. Usually this doesn’t work out very well; and those of us who make it to the other side are often scarred by the ungrounded and immature choices we’ve made during this phase. And almost always we carry a deep seeded level of resentment towards the world, particularly towards other men.
But this wasn’t always the case.
According to Joseph Campbell in his seminal book “The Power Of Myth”, he observed within a particular African tribe that when young men began to display behaviors synonymous with journeying into adulthood both the adult males and females bonded together to support the boy in his attempts to grow.
For example, if they boy began showing sexual interest towards young women, the adults would take notice and then plot to initiate him into his new role as a contributing adult-member of their society. Until he experiences and fulfills his initiatory obligations, he will continue to be regarded as a boy and may not enter back into the society as an adult.
As it would happen, the boy would be in the home with his mother, suddenly the door would burst open and several men in big masks would enter the home and seize the boy. All while the mother and other women would act as if they were surprised and terrified as the boy was being stripped away and taken deep into the jungle by the masked men. As you could imagine, the boy is terrified and has no clue what is going on.
In the jungle he finds himself surrounded by the masked men who frighten and challenge the boy. The boy fights back until the masked men relent. Finally, he is offered one last challenge to be overcome before he is allowed back into the tribe, he must kill a lion! The boy is left in the jungle with a single mission that must be accomplished before he will be accepted back. If he can not accomplish the mission he is not a man, and he is forbidden from participating in the activities of a mature male, such as hunting or sex.
Inevitably the boy succeeds and returns to the tribe where all of his loved ones are engaged in a celebration for his success and safe return. The masked men remove their masks to reveal their smiling faces, and hand the boy a mask of his own. He has physically and metaphysically crossed the threshold from childhood, into a highly demanding sacred experience facilitated by the tribal elders, and returns to his tribe to be celebrated as a man. Campbell calls this “the Hero’s Journey” and we all go though it, weather it is acknowledged and facilitated – or not.
Much of my personal experience in middle school, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, might be described as an “uncontained liminal phase”. This means that although my physiology and psychology was thrown into the dizzying phase of adolescence, there was no containment for this evolution through my submission to a process and competent elder. That is not to say that my parents weren’t involved or that there were no adults who cared about me, but like most young men during this phase my libidinal energy was growing faster than my psychology could mature, and it seemed like adults just couldn’t understand what was happening.
Fortunately, I was “saved by the barbell and my Uncle Elroy” (as explained in the video below).
I deeply and truly believe in the last statement of this video, “You teach a young man (or woman) their value, by teaching them how to Grow Stronger“.
This doesn’t just apply to young people.
Initiation, Growing Stronger and Becoming The Strongest Version of Yourself is a life long process of cycling between mental, emotional and physical deconstruction (death) and consolidation (resurrection).
Perhaps it is only when we pass into the next world that the processes of Growing Stronger ends.
If you’ve been studying my videos, blogs and products for long enough you are familiar with my conviction that “Your Body Is Your Mind”. Matters of the mind are rooted in our anatomy and physiology; and matters of the body flower (or grow weeds) into our thoughts and character.
Modern science is doing an incredible job of bringing a materialistic explanation to what our ancestors intuitively understood. I’d like to specifically acknowledge the research done by men such as Bruce Lipton PhD and Gabor Mate MD, as well as the clinical evidence offered us in the volumes of work by Alexander Lowen MD.
Given my conviction and the research that supports it, I now understand why it seems that once a boy begins to grow stronger with a barbell, while ALSO given proper containment and mentorship, he simultaneously seems to grow stronger in mind and character.
As his physiology moves into the transitional phase between boyhood and manhood, strength training with the support of a coach may prove to be one of the most powerful means for containment (sacred space), process (ritual) and mentorship (elder support) to empower and facilitate his growth. Basically, I believe that strength training initiates boys into manhood!
This has been happening at Strength Camp for many years, it is only now that I have a the language to explain it. It is from this new perspective that Strength Camp will move into the future as not only a place for lifting barbells and stones, but we’ll be conscious of how it has become a sacred space with a ritual process, facilitated by elders (AKA mentors / coaches).
Make no mistake, I am not simply intending Strength Camp to become this, nor are my words here a ploy to position Strength Camp in the marketplace – this IS what Strength Camp IS!
There is no need for me to convince you, there is only the proof given by the hundreds of young men and women who make a pilgrimage to Strength Camp every Monday between 4-6 PM for one thing – to feel the power of this sacred space, participate in the strength training ritual, and meet their mentors.
Although I have taken a break from filming videos (a part of my own initiation process), I have still kept our doors ajar for Open Gym almost every week for over a year. Every single week people come from all over the world (most recently Brazil, Sweden, Norway, England, Germany, South Africa, Haiti, and Texas to participate in a process.
After walking though the door, inhaling the sweet smell of hard work in the air, shaking my hand (or giving me a hug), we immediately begin our ritual process that always seems to culminate with a single defining moment: Lifting The Stone.
Stone lifting has no doubt become the final “initiatory event”, like that of killing a lion for the African boy, which offers a form of closure (or death) to one version of ourselves and the rebirth of a Stronger Version Of Ourselves. Again, I don’t say this because my fragile ego might need validation, I say this because it is what it is! (and of course, lifting a stone is not the same as killing a fucking lion lol)
Watch the powerful display of emotion in this short “stone loading” compilation video our buddy Danny Magic made today:
Upon celebrating with each initiate, I literally feel the power radiating out of their pores! Many people have even explained to me that lifting the stone was perhaps the most powerful moment in their lives. I know that if nothing else, lifting this stone or hitting that personal record in the dead lift may give our friend the courage to take action in difficult situations and trust that with enough effort he will succeed.
Today I share these ideas with you as a way to bring awareness to the concept and critical need for Initiation into the various stages of life. For too long we have been without the respect, containment and support needed for conscious and deliberate transformation; specifically from childhood into adulthood.
All too often young people are left alone to “grow up” and “get over it” because parents and adults are either ignorant of the fact, or lack the time and immense energy needed to foster this growth. Heck, most of us have never been properly initiated, so how are we to ever be in a position to initiate?
I also share this with you today in order to set an intention, which I will pronounce in the following way:
May you find the inner strength on your journey to persevere during the moments of your greatest adversity. For it is during theses times that The Creator has set for your personal initiation into a Stronger Version Of Yourself.
May you be so blessed as to find a sacred space and mentor to help facilitate and support you during this very natural, but also very turbulent growing process. And may you be wiling to submit to the process and allow your old and outdated character to die so that you may be reborn as a Stronger You.
May the ideas in this article plant a seed in the hearts and minds of those would-be ritual elders who have the time, interest and resources to invest in our future generations by giving them the opportunity for graceful movement through life’s transitional phases.
I offer my gratitude to all those who have found Strength Camp to be a sacred space for their growth, strength training as a sacred process, and have trusted me enough to hold me in their hearts to be a sort of strong and loving elder to facilitate and support your growth.
Finally, I am grateful for The Creator for laying a path for Strength Camp to move into a role that fosters not only strength of the body, but strength of the mind and heart.
With Eternal Strength and Blessing,