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How Strong is Strong Enough? Leave a comment

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Let me start by saying that I hate this fucking question. It’s a
question that I get asked at least once a week, and rather than
pulling my hair out little by little as the weeks go on as a result
of my visceral reaction to being asked this question, I decided to
address it here so I can conveniently say “I’ll send you a link,”
and move on with my day.

You’re asking
yourself this question for one of three reasons:

1). You’ve been doing
the Novice Linear Progression for a little while now, and it’s
starting to get hard. You’ve never done anything this hard before
in your life and you think that your 245-pound squat is impressive
enough (after all, it’s more weight than you’ve ever lifted
before), and you want to absolve yourself of doing the work that you
now realize it takes to actually get strong. You’re having anxiety
about having to add another 5 pounds to your 3 sets of 5 on Monday,
and it’s more stress than your little heart can bear. My tone
sounds condescending here, and it’s meant to be.

Suck. It. Up.

The reality is that you
haven’t been training long enough to even know what hard is
yet. You feel like the last rep of the 3rd set of 5 moved so slowly
that it was a miracle that you even stood up with it, but your coach
sees that it took less than 3 seconds to finish the rep. Keep in mind
that this is part of the reason you hired a coach: to be objective.
Your feelings about how hard the set was are irrelevant. If I observe
that you have the ability to add 5 pounds on Monday, then that’s
what we’re going to do. This is a perspective that only many years
under the bar can bring you, and even the experienced ones can’t be
entirely accurate with this.

Nobody ever got
anywhere meaningful in this life without putting in a lot of grueling
hard work. The physique that you want? The functionality that you
want? The confidence that you want? The ability to handle anything
life throws at you? The whole reason that you signed up for this deal
in the first place? All of those things are on the other side of
those big scary numbers on the bar. The numbers that take time, guts,
and commitment to achieve. The numbers that you see other guys in the
gym lifting with ease and think to yourself, “That will never be
me.” Well, with that attitude, you’re absolutely right.

And unlike them, you’ll
never reap the physical and mental benefits of getting to those
numbers. Don’t be the guy or girl that comes into the gym and
decides to assign yourself a new goal the moment your squat starts to
require some actual effort. You will rob yourself of everything that
getting strong can offer you, and becoming a more complete version of
yourself will once again become a pipe dream.

2). You’re comparing
yourself to other lifters based on arbitrary strength standards. This
usually goes one of two ways. You might have consulted the Google
machine with this question and found some study or some blog post
conducted by people who don’t actually train for strength, saying
that you’re strong enough if you can squat 1.25x times your
bodyweight for a one-rep max. And you use that as an excuse to
rejoice in the fact that your 160-pound self, who can squat 185 for
not one, but THREE whole reps, doesn’t need to get any stronger
than you are right now because the internet said that was good
enough. Refer back to Reason 1. If “good enough” is enough for
you, then I guess we’ve got nothing left to talk about.

Alternatively, you
might have seen some guy on social media who’s squatting 650 for
reps and decided that you won’t be strong enough until you can also
squat 650 for reps. For the record, I would much rather work with
this person than the person that is constantly looking for an exit
ramp. As much as I admire the balls on folks like this, they’re
asking themselves the wrong question. It’s not “How strong is
strong enough?” but rather “How can I best maximize my efficiency
through this process to reach my full potential?”

There are a lot of
variables that go into how strong a person is capable of getting.
Genetics, age, lifestyle, consistency, and several other things play
a huge part in this. Is a 405 squat strong enough? For the
48-year-old who’s been training for 4 or 5 years and busted his ass
to get there, it very well could be. Is it strong enough for a
22-year-old kid with a 32-inch Standing Vertical Jump who’s been
training for 6 months and didn’t really have to work that hard to
reach it? Absolutely not.

We care about your
ability to make the most out of this process for yourself, not about
some arbitrary number on the bar. And more than anything else, we
care about effort. We want to see you push beyond your limits to
achieve things you never thought you’d be capable of. Funnily
enough, the result of that effort very often delivers those big scary
numbers on the bar to you over a long enough timeline.

Regrettably, most of us
will never squat 650 for reps. Sorry, those are just the cards we
were dealt. Don’t get hung up on what the freak athletes are
lifting – that way lies madness. Show up to all your training
sessions, eat your food, get your sleep, work your ass off, and beat
your logbook. If you do those things over the course of several
years, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by where you end up.

3). You’ve been
training for a respectable period of time (8-10+ years), you’ve
hit some genuinely strong numbers, you’ve pushed yourself well
beyond the baseline of your mediocre genetics, and you’re just
tired. This is very likely not you. But in the event that it is, here
you go: once again, you’re asking yourself the wrong question. The
real question is, “Is the amount of work it takes to add another 5
pounds to my squat worth the benefits of going from 565 to 570?”
For older folks, this timeline is shorter. The same could be said of
a 65-year-old who’s been training for 3 or 4 years and has gotten
his squat to 285.

Keep in mind, this is a
lifter who needs to put in months of consistent, brutal, and
extremely demanding work just to move the needle a tiny bit. This
lifter might now have other commitments outside of the gym that he
didn’t have 8 or 10 years ago that demand more of his time and
attention. Injuries may be accumulating after nigh on a decade of
constant heavy training. At a certain point, it might just not be
practical in the context of someone’s life as a whole to continue
constantly beating the shit out of themselves for such small returns
on their investment. In this context – and in this context only
– I’ll say what you’ve been wanting to hear for this whole

Yeah man, you might be
strong enough.

Listen up, because this
is important. I have never once seen or heard of someone who has
truly reached this point use the above as an excuse to not train hard
from this point in their lifting career onward. These people train as
hard as is reasonable, and with a generally high level of effort
given their situation, and will never shirk the responsibility they
have to themselves to continue to put in some honest hard work in the
gym. And often they’ll find that they just need a bit of a mental
respite from having their foot on the gas all the time, and over time
find that they get the itch to start pushing for big numbers again. A
lot of them go on to hit more all-time PRs.

With all that said:

Are you strong enough?
Probably not.  

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