The Lie of Assistance
Originally posted on my Facebook account, 31 March 2014:
I think one of the most interesting essays Mark Twight has written is his stand on performance-enhancing drugs. Essentially, his main problem with people who won while using performance enhancers is that they are lying about human potential, forcing everyone to believe that they can only go so far before they absolutely must resort to unnatural means of improving their performance.
What Twight didn’t discuss – perhaps because he simply meant to leave the implication there for people to pick up on their own – is that this isn’t a lie limited to performance enhancers. The fitness world is full of things that people claim you need if you’re ever going to improve, from lifting belts to expensive footwear to hundred-thousand-peso machines. Everyone who refuses to work without any of these things can be lumped into Twight’s category of liars about human potential.
I had someone tell me recently that I should probably start using lifting belts and straps if I want my strength to improve. I quickly asked that person what his best stats were and why they qualified him to give me that advice, given that my major lifts all hilariously outstripped his.
The secret to achievement is not a secret. Everyone knows that it requires metric tons of hard work and sweat. It’s much easier to simply assume you couldn’t manage a new deadlift PR because you didn’t have the right grips, or because you should’ve had a belt on, or because you aren’t using the right combination of pre-workout supplements.
Bullshit. You failed because you didn’t put in the work, which means so much more than just showing up and doing the workout that someone handed you without a second thought. Did you figure out the logic behind the exercises? Have you taken the time to fix your form? Have you been recovering properly? Do you understand the programming used? Did you bother trying any of these things, or did you simply decide to hand off responsibility to someone else, knowing you could blame them when you failed?
Benedikt Magnusson holds the world deadlifting record at 1015lbs. He set this record wearing a weight belt and a singlet – no wraps, no grips, no specialized deadlifting suit (yes, those exist). His record trumps Andy Bolton’s 1009lbs, which was set using a belt and a specialized suit, although grips weren’t allowed either. There might be a dozen reasons Magnusson succeeded – one of them probably being that the deadlift doesn’t benefit from equipment as much as other lifts – but the main one is that he put in the time and effort.
Today, I set a front squat PR of 120kg, or 264.48lbs. That’s close to 150% of my body weight. That’s on tired legs and too little sleep – and no equipment save the clamps. No supplements but a shake of whey protein and coffee. This isn’t even considered a high level achievement, meeting rough international standards for “intermediate” lifters, or those who’ve been weight-training for about two years. It is, however, a 30kg increase since August, and it is the weight at which I began deadlifting about a year ago. It is also a weight I’d already failed to squat twice in the last month or so. If I had accepted from the start that I’d need to be ready to spend tens of thousands on belts and wrist straps and specialized P10000 lifting shoes to manage it, I probably would have never bothered trying to work towards that goal in the first place.
I won’t lie: it’s always going to be hard. You will sometimes fail. It will sometimes feel like you just don’t have what it takes. Those are the moments that tempt people to look for excuses like doping and equipment and a full staff to work with. You will probably never have those – does that mean you’ve accepted that you’re going to fail?
Don’t. Just try. Show up. Put in the work. Put in the time. Be honest. You cannot accidentally become strong, but you can surprise yourself from time to time with what you can achieve, so long as you made it a habit to push yourself to get better WITHOUT looking for a crutch.