Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Well, it has been exactly one year since I got to train at "The World's Most Hardcore Gym" which is also known as Kachalka. Just over a year ago I had never heard of the place, but as I was sitting in a hotel room in Poland, I saw a buzz-feed article with the title of "World's Most Hardcore Gym". There were pictures of a massive outdoor gym with heavy weights, chains everywhere and lots of strong dudes. Within 24 hours I had changed the plans of my trip, and was headed to Kyiv, Ukraine to find this heaven on earth.
The first day it took me over an hour to walk there, but eventually I found out that I could pay a whopping 25 cents Canadian for a tram-ride to the gym. The gym was located on an island in the middle of the Dnieper River. When I got off the train I still wasn't too sure where I was, and there was an empty bar with a smoking grill out front, two Lada's and strange techno music playing. It felt like the twilight zone. Luckily, I wandered in the right direction because the gym wasn't on google maps. It was fated however, because as I got close, I could literally hear the sound weights clanging.
I walked over a small bridge, and could finally see it. Man was I pleased. It was huge, full of things to lift, and full of some serious lifters. I was so thankful that I was going to be able to lift here for two weeks.
It was the middle of winter, but that didn't mean the place was empty. Guys were wearing ski suits on the colder days, or big tweed jackets. The pictures will give you a better impression of the vibe here, but it was gritty. After you look at the pictures check out the top 5 things I learned training here for two weeks.
#1- "Don't have 100 Dollar Shoes and a 10 Cent Squat"- Louie Simmons
There were a lot of fantastic movers and lifters at this gym, but I didn't see one pair of Nanos, Metcons, or No Bulls. I also didn't see any fancy name brand lifting shorts (ok it was winter...), but no Lululemon, Virus, or whatever the quack else is being peddled on instagram by your local amateur athlete claiming it makes a difference. Most of these people were on their way home from work, lifting in jeans and leather shoes. Seriously, I saw a 50 year old man squat over 315# wearing dress-shoes and a tweed jacket. Now, I agree, there is something to the "look good, feel good, play good (lift-well?)" motto, but seriously I wonder sometimes what is more important in North American/Norwegian gyms... the exercise, the lifting, or the damn outfit. If you want to lift well, you can do it wearing wal-mart sweats and flip-flops. Your clothing, shoes, and essential oils won't make you a good lifter. Lifting for years will make you a good lifter.
#2- I was the only weirdo, in the course of two-weeks, filming myself.
I am being critical of myself here, and western gym culture in general. This is a struggle for me to, hence all the selfies and lifting videos I took at Kachalka. But, not one of the ladies or guys at this gym filmed a single lift the whole time I was there. Not one. These were people choosing to put on their winter clothes to go outside and workout, so they clearly love lifting and exercise as much as you and I do. Somehow, they didn't feel the urge to film it. It is easy to think in today's fitness that all the top lifters exist on instagram and that its part of working out. This is false. There are thousands of world-class lifters out there who don't even own a smart-phone or have an instagram account. Filming themselves lifting is the last thing on their mind in the gym. Also getting more likes doesn't change how much you can actually lift, or what you can actually do. Sometimes I catch myself in the gym and it seems that I have forgotten whether I am in the gym to lift, or film myself lifting. Which comes first? I like to ask the question that if you weren't allowed to tell anyone, post any of your lifts, or share any of your videos, would you still be motivated to go to the gym? For this reason, I make sure that for at-least half of my workouts in a week, I leave my phone in the locker, or the car. Try the same and see if you feel/notice a difference in your lifting that day and the experience you have.
*If you are self-coached, you may need to film lifts to learn, this is valid use of a phone in the gym. Or if you have a coach like me, you'll be asked to film lots as well.
#3- Your Body Isn't Obsessed With Numbers, Your Mind Is
Now this one is a bit outside of the box. At Kachalka half of the racks didn't even tell you how much weight was there. Or, it had been written so many years ago that there was only one number left so you had to guess. Sometimes you'd go to the next bar that was supposed to be heavier, but it was definitely felt lighter. The plates were made out of wrought iron, so there is no way they were exact. For two weeks I really had no idea how much weight I was actually lifting. Did this influence my training at all? Did it change the adaptation occurring in my body? I highly doubt that my body's response to the stimulus I provided it by lifting, was compromised because it didn't know if I was lifting 150 or 140. Light was light, medium was medium, heavy was heavy, and stupid-heavy was stupid-heavy. It is so easy to get caught up in the numbers, and letting a 2.5kg decrease from one week to the next ruin your days's training. Let me tell you, none of the lifters at Kachalka's strength was suffering because of using estimable weights. Your body isn't as obsessed with numbers as you are. Don't let the minutiae of numbers be a stressor in your life.
#4- Equipment Doesn't Matter, Weight and Gravity Matter
There were no Eleiko bars here, or Rogue bumpers, Chris Spealler Version Rigs, or Hammer Strength Dumbbells. None of that here. The weights there were all literally made from scrap-metal that was left on the island after the communist era ended in Ukraine. Despite the equipment, which by western standards would be too dangerous to use, the people here were still getting really strong, and you could still get a fantastic workout in. I love a good barbell as much as anyone else, and for olympic lifters its a big deal, however the physiques and strength of the people at Kachalka made it very clear that you do not need fancy equipment to be really strong or build a great physique. You just need things that you can pick up and put back down again. Over and over and over.
#5- Consistency is #1 If you want to be strong!
I also didn't see anyone record on paper or track a single lift when I was there. This probably means the bulk of these guys weren't following a specific program, Hybrid Method, or the latest popular blog, but somehow they were still really strong.
Now as a remote coach, I believe strongly in individualized programming and believe it can make building strength far more efficient, but I will be the first person to tell you that the program you follow is not nearly as important as your adherence to the program or just committing to lifting in general. The clients I have who experience the best results are the ones with the best compliance rates. Of course having a program built for you will be more efficient than doing whatever, but if you want to be strong, put in the time; that matters before all else. If you want to get strong, here is the formula (no numbers needed): Consistent lifting over an extended period of time (5-10 years).
Before I started Crossfit, I didn't follow a program, I just lifted weights for five years and mostly did 5x5's. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I had put in a lot of time, so when I joined a box, I was strong by Crossfit standards. I witnessed much the same thing at Kachalka. It appeared that the bulk people working out at Kachalka didn't really have a plan, and things were kind of all over the place, but you could tell they had been coming there for years, every week, doing the same things over and over and over, and now they were seriously strong. Strong at ages of 18, 25, 45, and 65+.
Tying all of that together, it boils down to the fact that we are too spoiled in the western world and think everything needs to be perfect for us to get results. We want to be given results, or thinking purchasing a membership will work in and of itself. Instead we should fighting for our goals, and not waiting for them to happen. We say we want to get stronger or more fit, but we put half our useable energy into things that don't matter. We focus on how we look when we are at the gym, what the latest shoes are, how clean the bathrooms are, if the bars are rusty at one gym, which program so and so is following, what Dr. Oz said not to eat this week, or what so and so posted on instagram. Sorry, none of this matters. None of this is why you aren't where you want to be.
All of this is secondary to what actually makes a difference; Doing The Work. There are layers to this, because you have to work intelligently, but that's not the point here. The most important thing you can do if you want to reach a goal, is show up everyday, chip away at that goal, and be willing to put in whatever amount of time it is going to take to get there. And lastly, start thinking on a scale of years, not weeks or months. There is no quick fix with strength. If you are serious about achieving something, cut the fat, work with the meat, or in the case of Kachalka....The Iron.
Building strength is like planting a tree. Time is needed to see fruition.