I’ve been thinking a lot about standards lately. I noticed that a lot of fitness magazines publish some kind of “Are you fit enough?” article at least once a year. Being naturally inclined to doubt myself, I check these articles out in an attempt to satisfy my ego. I normally meet almost all the standards considered “elite” or some other variation, yet this fails to make me feel special because it seems to me that these standards are far too low to merit recognition of that sort.
Here’s an example: Men’s Health once wrote that a double bodyweight deadlift (i.e. 200% of what you weigh) is an excellent benchmark, and you are truly strong if you achieve it. On the other hand, noted strength coach Dan John (who has actually contributed to Men’s Health a couple of times) says that he considers a double bodyweight deadlift a starting point for serious training. Mark Twight says the same thing.
Now, my deadlift is currently just above double bodyweight (175kg at a bodyweight of 85kg). It took me about eight months of serious deadlifting to get there, which is not really that much time. I did not get enough sleep, my nutrition was hit-or-miss, and I missed at least a month of time, yet I still added almost 100kg in less than a year. Thus, while I do meet the “excellent” standards, I feel as though it wasn’t nearly difficult enough.
There are other magazines with other standards that I find far too easy to meet (ex. at least one rep of the back squat at bodyweight, while I have managed to do at least 20x at bodyweight), and it makes me wonder whether these are honest attempts to inspire people, or someone’s idea of making others feel good about their mediocrity. It’s almost the same as people who half-rep their work and claim to have shifted the full weight (ex. a quarter-ROM back squat used to claim a full 100kg back squat, which I find hilarious because the same weight is barely 80% of what I can do ass-to-grass); they just want to feel good about it, not to actually reap the benefits and prove their worth.
Do we look for standards that will challenge us, or standards that we can brag about? “Oh, Men’s Health says my deadlift is elite, so I must be elite too, disregarding the fact that most serious lifters will easily exceed my abilities.” When we find a task difficult, do we rise to its level, or do we simply assume failure? I find that far too often, people who find the bar too high would rather lower it to their level than find a way to improve themselves until they surpass what previously seemed impossible. The consequences of this mindset are usually negative: people simply decide to fail, and thus fail to accomplish anything. Nothing gets fixed. Nothing is learned. You might rationalize feeling better about yourself, but it’s a lie that is worthless at best and damaging at worst.
Achievement requires work. Don’t set lower standards to make yourself feel better. Set the bar high and put in the time and effort to reach it. Your 300lb squat is a 300lb squat when you hit parallel, not an inch before. Once you manage it, you’re set. You’re good. I congratulate you on your effort.
So I work with someone who causes mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I find her quite attractive, physically and otherwise. I actually think I’m the only person in our little training community that thinks she has fantastic legs. She’s also a driven individual who is ready to work hard for anything she wants – a surprisingly rare trait these days. I admire her greatly, and I enjoy spending time training and working with her.
On the other hand, she kind of has a strong vanity streak. In itself, I don’t find a huge problem here – I’m about as vain as she is, even if I’m not as obvious about it. However, it still bothers me when I hear her seeking out approval from anyone willing to give it to her. What bothers me more is that she always gets it.
There was an officer I hated back in ROTC. He was sloppy and weak and pathetic, but he strutted around trying to get people to tell him he was great. Anyone who similarly seeks attention reminds me of that schmuck.
I’m not saying this girl doesn’t deserve praise, though. She isn’t like that ass in that she has nothing to show. On the contrary, being a UAAP medalist sprinter means quite a bit, and – like I said – she works hard in the gym and produces results. I think it’s mostly that I feel envious of the attention she gets. She gets congratulated on every race time and every physical feat she shows off. By comparison, no one ever seems even remotely impressed when I manage something no one else can do. Someone told me that it was because everyone already expects me to do things that are physically impossible for just about everyone else, so it’s less impressive.
Still, I really do wish for that degree of attention once in a while. I won’t ask for it because it makes me feel stupid, but I do want it. I think one of the reasons it upsets me so much to see someone else get so much recognition is that it causes me to question whether the reason I don’t get as much recognition is that I simply haven’t earned it. I already feel insecure knowing that I’m one of the only non-athletes in the training staff, so being inadvertently reminded how little I seem to do next to others makes me feel less than good.
The thing is, it’s really just my fault that I feel so insecure about it. I can’t tell her to stop looking for attention without sounding bitter and unreasonable, and I can’t tell people to stop giving it to her without sounding like a huge jerk.
In the end, the only choice that makes sense to me is to accept the situation and work to prove that I deserve as much recognition. When we surround ourselves with people beneath our abilities, our victories are hollow. When we willingly test ourselves against equals – in spirit if not in outright physical ability – then success means so much more. I may not have the praise I want from everyone else, but if that one person – someone I admire and respect – admits that I can perform on a level well beyond her, it means more than when a rank beginner says the same thing. Earning the respect of a high-level athlete is much harder than earning the respect of someone who doesn’t know exactly how difficult it is to reach a certain level, which means I’ve got something very valuable, whatever side effects it may bring.
So thank you, MNM. Thank you for being one of the reasons I am able to continue doing what I do.