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Building Virtue and a 500lb Deadlift.

Building Virtue and a 500lb Deadlift.

“Everybody Wants to go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die” – Albert King

If you’re reading this, the above quote probably applies to you. If there’s a heaven (there is) everyone wants to go there. No one wants to die for it though. Everyone wants to live forever. We sometimes forget “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14.

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-a#% weights.”- Ronnie Coleman.

People also want to be strong and healthy, maybe to look more like the Ah-nold in his heyday and less of a dad-bod. People often don’t want to put in the work to get there, favoring the appearance over the process. I’ll admit I’ve struggled with days like this.

It takes a virtuous life to stay on the narrow path that leads to eternal life and yet the same struggle can apply here too. Heaven sounds great, but the process drains me some days that it doesn’t FEEL worth it. Gotta love FEELINGS getting in the way of what we truly NEED.

So, a big dream of mine was to get a 500lb deadlift. For the uninitiated, a deadlift is simply bending over, grabbing the barbell, and standing up straight and as basic as it sounds, it is the king of all power lifts. To me, it’s due to its ultimate honesty and humility check. I approach my adversary and one of two things will happen- the weight is going to go up or I have more work to do.

Pictured- dramatic reenactment of my deadlift. Please imagine more facial hair.^

To build a 500lb deadlift, you will need a few things:

  1. Volume = the total amount you lift in a workout (example: 5 sets of 5 reps of 100 lbs equals 2500 lbs of total volume.)
  2. Intensity = the difficulty of the lift, usually related to the weight lifted. (405lb is more intense a stress on your body then 225lb)
  3. Frequency = how many reps and sets in a workout, and how often you work out. Lifting twice a year is better than nothing but not by much.

My journey to a 500lb deadlift

My journey to a 500lb deadlift started my junior year of high school. I had been playing football since grade school and needed the muscle training lifting could offer. Like every beginning weight-lifter, I lifted very meagerly, looking like the objective weakling I was for longer than my pride was comfortable with. By the grace of Carpenter-Strong Jesus, I had some good friends who wouldn’t let me quit. A month later, I saw the growth, the increase in strength and somewhere in there, I was hooked for life.

And by hooked, here is what I mean- talking once a day, home-gym in my basement because the drive to the gym is too far, feel foggy-brained and restless until I re-enter the repetition, the humble, methodical rhythm of warm up, racking, weight I can lift, weight I have yet to lift, up down, re-rack, somewhere in there breathing (ok, there’s actually very strict, specific times to breathe through all this- different post for different day. Meantime, enjoy the joke). As any married/married man with children knows, there is an ebb and flow to the essential extracurriculars in life, but the fact of the matter is weightlifting is prioritized that I do not stay away from it for too long.

Building and living virtue

Building and living virtue must be the same as the quest for a 500-pound deadlift. The daily task when it is not second nature, sticking to it, and the eventual integration into your life, all are important aspects to be successful in a healthy spiritual life.

Virtue building is something that needs to be practiced, reinforced, and instilled in order to be fully integrated into your person. An early experience of this was my youth group. I had a great youth minister who hounded me to get involved and after doing so I found a community that strove for spiritual greatness. It was here that my regular small group time at youth group gave me the needed reality checks to look at how I was living my life and where I needed to improve.

The weekly youth groups encouraged and inspired me to build a habit of prayer, never miss mass, and regular confession. It also exposed me to what is possible with regards to faith. A 1000 pound deadlift was thought impossible until Andy Bolton did it in 2010. Andy did it with equipment. Now Hafthor Bjornsson aka the Mountain from Game of Thrones holds the world record with 1041 lbs and he did it unequipped. My high school self couldn’t imagine people waiting till marriage and going to daily mass until I started to hang out with them.

The youth ministry program gave me the frequency I needed to build some virtue. At times it lacked the right volume and intensity. That I needed to figure out on my own. The same could be said of chasing the big deadlift.

Chasing that deadlift took years and consistency. It didn’t happen overnight and I had many pitfalls and setbacks. Sometimes I would lose focus of the dream and focus on other things. Sometimes I wouldn’t use the right amount of intensity and I was undertrained. Sometimes I only deadlift once every other week. It wasn’t until I got all these factors under control and stayed focused that I was able to achieve my goal.

Each of these pitfalls chasing my deadlift can be found in the faith life as well. The trick is to find or create a community that will keep you honest. Small groups, men’s groups, bible studies, Knight of Columbus, or a few good friends can be this if you intentionally make it so. Create real achievable goals and get to work on it. It is worth it. For me, it took years to reach my deadlift goal. We may have a long time or a short one to build virtue so we need to get focused and work hard on being the men God calls us to be.


Neal is a husband, father of 2 and 1 on the way, Middle School religion teacher, Youth Minister, Faith Formation Coordinator, nerd, weightlifter, and sports enthusiast.

Instagram: @YourYouthMinister

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