You’re Not Too Strong

Mike and Bobby.  I remember them well.  We went to elementary school together, and had some classes together.  They were bright, and funny.  And fast.  Faster than me.  Those bastards.

We grew up when the Presidents Physical Fitness Test was all the rage in Physical Education, and that’s where the stage was set.  From 1st grade on, we began learning about performance bench marks.  We broke the 8 minute mile, then the 7 minute mile, and we were worth what our mile time was.

You broke the 6 minute mark? Legen- wait for it – dary.

You didn’t break 10 minutes?  Oh, the horror.

From a young age, as we learned to tied performance to award, it seemed that our everyone-gets-a-trophy generation (Sorry, Millennials) decided to buck the trend.  Now, you can participate at any level and there’s somebody handing you an award.

This is great for your local fundraising 5k, or for those mud runs where you’re handed a banana and beer when you cross the finish line.  Hell, I have two Warrior Dash medals hanging next to my desk.  They’re right next to the Strong(er) wrist band.  Together, they remind me that having fun and performing well are both important.  We have tons of participation, but not enough competition.  This isn’t necessarily about competition with the person next to you, it’s about competition with yourself.


The (er) stands for “Extraordinary Resolve”, and I think that’s the missing link for most of us, myself included.  My generation seems to be the first that always had bench marks to compare to, we’re the generation of  norm-referenced testing, of criterion-referenced testing.  We’ll ping back and forth between the two until we find the sweet spot.  Not cool.

Criterion-referenced assessment is a measure compared to a standard task, while norm-referenced assessment is in comparison to a certain population.  In a gym setting, a criterion referenced test assessment would be tracking your deadlift 1RM by poundage, while norm-referenced would be deciding “strong” as who has the heaviest deadlift.

When Mike and Bobby passed me at the end of those mile runs and ran there 7:something minute miles, they were faster than me.  Where they fast?  No.

If somebody deadlifts 50lbs more than their friend, they’re stronger than them.  If they’re deadlifting 225lbs, they are not strong.  Let’s not get it twisted.

Over the weekend I visited CrossFit Strong Island for the RPS Heatwave powerlifting meet.  I had a few friends competing that I wanted to see in action, and I wanted to see some solid lifting for my own kick in the ass.  You know what gets me fired up?  Watching a friend smoke a PR:

Mission accomplished.

Elyse hit a ~5-10 PR.  She was excited, but she wasn’t I’m-the-greatest-ever-bow-in-the-presence-of-greatness excited.  In fact, 10 minutes after her lift, we were talking about how she’d like to train harder and feels like she could be stronger.  Or, should I say strong(er).

The conversation has sat with me because I feel the same way.  I could be stronger.  So could you.

My big three and total are pretty abysmal for powerlifting standards (400/290/455/1145@198), but they’re strong for me.  When referencing my past PR’s, I’m in first place.  When I reference records, I have a long way to go.  My personal preference is comparing to the greater leader board, where I see 600lb squats and 800lb deadlifts.  It reminds me that I have hundreds of pounds for improvement.  I’d much rather focus on where I can go with my training than say, “Welp, I’m stronger than ____”, because there’s always somebody who’s stronger than you.

My goal isn’t to be the strongest.  It’s to keep getting stronger.  This is done with a combination of training smart, training hard, and reflecting on the quality of training.  I’ve loved training with Tony Bonvechio because he can give brutally honest appraisals of training intensity.  Maybe he has to work on his poker face, but I can tell within a few seconds of racking the bar if a set was ‘good’ or not, based on his reaction.  Most of us aren’t as honest with ourselves about our training quality or intensity as we need to be, and need a benchmark, from ourselves or from others, to help us determine exactly how we’re doing.

If you’re not training smart, we can fix that.  If you’re not training hard, we can fix that.  If you’re not reflecting on the quality of your training, we can fix that.  If you think you have all of the answers, or don’t want to identify and improve points of physical or mental weakness, then it’s going to be much harder to fix.

Let’s get stronger.

2 Replies to “You’re Not Too Strong”

  1. Love this post, Harold! I went to my first powerlifting meet on the weekend (just to watch!) and it was so inspirational and just the kick in the butt I needed. Sure enough, last night I hit a deadlift PR. I’ve temporarily stopped back squatting and benching while I’m training for competition, but I know I could probably hit PRs there too. It’s so easy to become complacent and not push yourself truly as hard as you can. Even when I thought I was busting a gut trying to hit a PR at 100kg, I managed to get 110kg up, with barely any struggle at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had 115 in me already. I don’t think you can ever truly be happy with your total, but I think that’s a good thing.

    1. Thanks Tara! It was motivated by a high school student who came into the gym and told me that he was too strong for the gym. He has a 185lb squat and a 345lb deadlift. I was pretty pissed off about it, but it made me reflect on my own times when I’ve thought, “I need a better gym to train at, I’m too strong for here.” There’s certainly a huge impact that training around strong people has on your performance, but we should always be capable of giving yourself a kick in the ass.

      I completely agree with you; you should never be complacent in your performance, but never take one performance measure so serious that it negatively effects other parts of your life. I think we take training seriously, but not that seriously.

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