I have a personal rule that I hold myself to everyday. If anything requires that I “don’t think, just do”. Or that I should leave “my (analytical) brain at the door”; I will not and cannot accept that. Period. Everything I do in my life requires that I assess logically the situation in front of me, before acting accordingly.
One of my favourite quotations is, “Think like a person of action, act like a person of thought” Henri Berguson.
Please see Part I of this series where I present the importance of this attitude towards strength training. Why the best lifters around the world are thinking athletes, and training hard and smart are NOT mutually exclusive.
In Part II I will address the fallacies I’m seeing in the online strength community that in my opinion do nothing but hold back progress. I’ll also outline the credentials I look for when assessing who and what to take knowledge and information from on the internet. I should have done this earlier, after all this blog is about promoting those voices in the strength community that need to be heard over the white noise that can be such a hindrance to so many new and experienced lifters alike.
“You have to earn the right to question”
Firstly I’d like to address this idea that if you’re anything but an experienced lifter who has been lifting for 10 years plus, you must shut your mouth. You have nothing to say, nothing to contribute, and you must earn your chance to question and challenge. This is an illogical, unimaginative way of thinking. If an undergraduate student can display evidence in a logical debate which disproves his Professor’s theory, that undergraduate’s findings would be taken as seriously as that of his Professor’s if he/she had made that discovery. That is a fantastic thing, and the subject is only advanced because of it. In certain circles of the strength community this idea is rejected, and that is a travesty.
Leading on from above, how important is “Time under the bar”. The answer is very; It’s very important but that alone does not override a person’s point who does not have the same or more “Time under the bar” than the person they are challenging. All that should matter is the quality of the argument and the evidence for that given view point presented. The amount that person can lift in comparison to someone else especially has no bearing. As Mike Tuchscherer states in the rules of the RTS forum, “1) No criticizing a person’s opinion based on how much they lift. The thought of, “You can’t criticize X because you only lift Y” is not accepted here. Please stick to logical arguments.” Here here Mike.
Remember some of the very best strength coaches in the world couldn’t come close to anywhere near the weights their athletes could lift. Want an example, here’s Vladimir Zatsiorsky author of Science and Practice of Strength Training. Widely accepted as one of the most knowledgeable people to grace the Strength and Conditioning discipline.
If you immediately set aside any persons’ points on the premise that “I only take into account the ideas of those stronger or better than me”, your thinking is flawed, and I’ve no issue with predicting that you will not reach the heights of a top level lifter. How can I comment on this since I’m not a top level lifter myself? Because my argument is backed up by logic, observation and evidence. The strongest lifters in the world are themselves, or have a team of highly intelligent people behind them that are characterised by high levels of knowledge, experience and yes, “Time under the bar”. They think about their training, they analyse and test their theories and in turn adapt their training to their findings, in order that it be as effective and efficient as possible for them. You’ll notice a common trend with these champions – their thirst for knowledge, they never stop learning and most importantly never stop looking to learn from anyone that can present evidence for their ideas.
“Everything else is just overcomplicating things. Pick heavy stuff up and put it down”
If you ever see a statement similar to this, whoever it may be from, question it – “Barbell- Pick it up, put it down. Get some rest. Eat a shit ton”. The process of getting stronger by definition is the progressive adaptation of the body to deal with continued levels of stress demanded of it. For anyone that trains they’ll also know that progressive adaptation is just as much a mental requirement as physical. This is important, don’t forget this.
One of the best beginner programs is Stronglifts 5×5 in which all that is required is that you lift 5×5 and try and increase the weight each session by 2.5kg. Then go home eat big, and rest lots. There’s a reason it’s one of the best programs for beginners, it’s simple and effective. It is however a beginner program, and as such requires the lifter to build on it’s fundamental principles. No lifter above beginner level now trains as they did when they first started. This is obvious though isn’t it? So why do people believe this bear bones, beginner idea of just lifting a weight and putting it down is as far as ‘thinking’ in the gym should go? It isn’t good enough to “leave your brain at the door”. How are you any better than the bicep boys who just come in and lift without a plan, without logical thought?
Working hard and training smart are NOT mutually exclusive.
Read that again, no seriously read it again.
“Why don’t you get up from behind your keyboard and go lift some weights”
I hear this more and more taken out of context from I believe Jim Wendler (?). The person who says this has nothing to offer. This is the ultimate cop out in my opinion. It means I don’t want to, or can’t be bothered to think. Engaging the brain is a long drawn out process like an old car that struggles to start. There’s lots of noise, and spluttering and they blow out on the side of the road when things get tough before getting anywhere near the destination.
“There’s too many people worrying about the angle of the pinkie during Tricep kick-backs”
Who? Who asks this? I never see this being asked from anybody other than people taking the piss, or people stating the above sentence. However, an important point should be mentioned here. Asking questions like that above isn’t a problem of the community “majoring in the minors” as I often hear people saying. If anybody actually spends 30 minutes of their training session working out pinkie position, that’s an issue with them. This does not advocate a position of scrapping all micromanagement of training, because some people simply don’t understand how to train. Those people are outliers and all micromanagement suddenly does not become a negative. Micromanagement is about making small tweaks that do not detract from your training and instead make your training more efficient. If all those little micromanaged changes add up over the course of the year to an extra 5kg (heck even 0.5kg) on my squat, why wouldn’t you do it? I know I would.
“Everyone is experiencing Paralysis by analysis”
Paralysis by analysis is the most over-exaggerated phenomenon in the strength community. Those that experience it, are not “overloaded with knowledge”, far from it, they are paralysed by their lack of applicable knowledge. They seek out ideas and protocols they essentially don’t understand. Most importantly though the problem doesn’t lie with the amount of knowledge an individual possesses; they don’t understand where these ideas fit into their program and this is what causes paralysis. The answer to the problem you’ll hear is they need to get rid of all the ‘complicated stuff’. The result sees the dumbing down of the strength community with the move towards what people claim is “old school lifting”.
We’re very lucky in the age we live, because “old school lifting” has provided us with many fundamental principles which have stood the test of time with regards to making people strong. They did that only through ensuring they still engaged their brains whilst in the gym. They questioned, analysed, tested and tested again to find the answers to their questions. Perhaps what we really need is to understand how to analyse and think logically in order to assess the information we have been given, just as the old school lifters did. Nobody has too much knowledge, they simply lack the ability to apply it to practical circumstances. The fault does not lie with the volume of knowledge, only the ability of the individual to process that knowledge. The responsibility lies with us, and the answer is not to dumb down the individual and therefore the community. The answer is the opposite – it lies in the education of individuals, and education never involves learning and understanding less.
Learn your craft, we’re looking at this idea of paralysis by analysis backwards.
So who and what do I look out for when assessing the quality of knowledge presented to me?
(Numbered in order of importance in my opinion)
Years in the Powerlifting scene or Time under the Bar of the person presenting the idea (6)
Positive personal experience of the idea (or similarities to it) being presented to me (2)
The status of the lifter (elite, intermediate or beginner) (3)
Empirical evidence supporting the claim presented (Taking care to ensure the quality of the empirical testing is good) (1)
Observed evidence supporting the claim presented (1 to 2 because what we observe, or what we think we observe to be more precise, doesn’t always ring true)
Credentials of the coach presenting the claim presented (1)
Received good quality information that has worked for me from this source before (4)
Consensus on the issue presented (5)
The dumbing down of the strength community
The strength community is seeing a dumbing down of it’s membership in my opinion. I’m seeing more and more the use of “Just shut up and squat, you’re overthinking”, even from big names in the strength world. In my humble opinion, they have it wrong, big time. As I said above, nobody has too much knowledge, only the lack of ability to apply their acquired knowledge to a given situation. The answer to this problem is education, not to strip away that knowledge as some people claim is now the answer with “not overthinking”. You’re essentially asking that person to leave their brain at the door. Again, education never involves learning or understanding less.
Succeeding at strength training as with everything in life requires more than simply a one-dimensional, shallow thought process. To become a master at anything takes dedication towards learning your craft; only through in-depth and tireless knowledge acquisition, and logical application of that knowledge can someone hope to reach their true potential.
Working hard and training smart are NOT mutually exclusive.
Strong Body. Strong Mind.