Excuses, Excuses II: Pretenders Speak the Loudest
Any man who must say “I am the King” is no true king.”
The above quote was said by Tywin Lannister (excellently portrayed by Charles Dance) in the tenth episode of the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. It – or a version thereof – was probably originally in one of George R.R. Martin’s books, but having never read them, I wouldn’t know.
I was raised, taught, and trained to believe that actions speak louder than words. Our standards, our beliefs, and our abilities are made apparent by our accomplishments. The words we use to describe these must almost pale in comparison, lest we be taken for bags of bullshit and hot air.
This used to be irrelevant to me – not because I didn’t believe it, but because my absolute lack of motivation meant I couldn’t be bothered to achieve anything worth talking about.
Now that I actually have done things worth note, I have become far more critical of the people who talk the talk and the people who walk the walk, especially in my little part of the world of physical fitness and the instruction thereof.
I’ve met many people more than willing to discuss their “achievements”. These are played up until they seem the pinnacle of human ability, making the person behind them something to be admired and trusted.
I wonder, however, whether there is a correlation between the volume of the proclamations and the perception of the person regarding themselves. I am especially observant of trainers/coaches (although to be honest, many people who use the title are not, in my mind, true “coaches”) who are more willing to discuss their achievements in a way that downplays their weaknesses and makes their strengths seem all-important. Furthermore, I am particularly bothered when these people outright claim to be able to do things which they then completely fail to demonstrate.
Some time last year, a couple of us were working on bringing up pull-up numbers, if only because we found them lacking. I worked up to a max of 18, although I was better at multiple sets of relatively high volume (think 5-8 sets of 10-12). Someone we trained with claimed to be very good at pull-ups, which confused me because I’d never actually seen him working on them or any other strength exercise. When tested, the truth emerged: he barely managed 8 pull-ups before dropping from the bar. He shortly thereafter downplayed it by saying that since his focus lay on endurance runs and swimming, it wasn’t important for him to be able to do things like high volume pull-up sets. I am not arguing that logic; what I am against is that he made a claim that he proceeded to disprove before he attempted to make an excuse.
Another example would be a guy I met a couple of years ago who claimed to be a competitive powerlifter. At the time I was just getting into heavy lifting myself (the previous years had been spent in general conditioning and bodyweight strength training), so I was naturally interested in getting training tips. Imagine my dismay, then, when this supposed competitor could only claim a deadlift that barely scraped 150% of his body weight. Not only is this not a particularly impressive ratio (I have briefly written about this in the past), it was objectively a number I had already exceeded at that point – his 125kg versus my 140kg. I was genuinely surprised that the year or so of training he claimed to have already put in had not produced a result superior to what five or six months had done for me. Sure, you could say that his year was the only training he’d done so far, while I had technically already been training for about three years even if I hadn’t deadlifted that entire time. However, this sounds like a bullshit excuse – I don’t think I should ever enter a sport and shortly thereafter become better than someone who has been training for it for more than six months.
What bothered me was that no one had called this guy out on how little he could actually do. Instead, people congratulated him – and, I think, it was because he was quite good at making 150% seem like a great number. Hey, maybe it is – for a fifty-year-old man who has just started serious weight training. A twenty-year-old who has been strength-training for a year should have easily exceeded that.
It’s easy to make our pitiful “achievements” look good if we can talk fast enough. It’s about as easy to make our shortcomings look less significant. Personally, though, I think it would be a lot easier – and you’d look a lot less stupid in the long run – if you spent less time talking about how much you could do, and more time actually doing stuff worth noticing. The guy who claims he can do more than 10 pull-ups will always look stupid next to the guy who shows he can do 20. The person who claims to be successful will always look like a failure next to the one who by anyone’s standards, actually is.