Lowering the Bar
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.