I’ve grown tired of posting about fitness. What started as an exciting journey of exploration and sharing has become one battle after another. The debates never end. The name calling. My guru is better than your guru. This study showed this and that study showed that. Make it stop.
Why is there so much disagreement when it comes to strength training? If there is one fitness truth, then over a long enough time frame a consensus should develop. I took a step back and reassessed the problem. My feeling is this all comes down to values.
We all have our own fitness values and we establish goals and strategies that align with our values. When we view or hear information that conflicts with our views, the fitness debates commence. We rush to find evidence to support our view that we are right. But we rarely step back and ask if our values are the same. It is assumed that they are. But they often are not.
Photo by the rik pics
Building strength can mean different things to different people. It could be gaining mass, increasing a personal record in a lift or applying that strength to a skill outside the gym. Numbers are important to some and meaningless to others. A technical lift performed to perfection might be the driving force for one lifter and scorned as a risky way to demonstrate strength to another. What a scrawny kid values will be different than an in-season athlete or an older adult looking to prevent a health decline as they age.
My values in fitness have changed in the 20+ years I’ve been lifting weights. It all started with the desire to gain muscle. Size was the prize. After my beginner gains, numbers helped define my fitness values. I needed to lift so many times per week and I wanted to lift progressively more pounds. Just as the quest for size kept me in the gym, so did the numbers. As I got older I began to view my health with a longer time horizon and I made safety my primary fitness value.
One of the most popular posts on this site is I No Longer Give a Squat About the Squat. After three years I eventually shut the comments off on that post. I was arguing that the squat should be avoided and replaced with safer exercises. This lines up perfectly with my fitness values, but not the majority of lifters. Many value seeing the progress they make week by week as they push up more and more pounds. It is their driving force.
My home gym white board from about 10 years ago. Back then numbers kept me motivated.
The squat post is just one of many on this site where the real debate is not about methodology, but our different fitness values. I can mock the brotards, because I see them taking unnecessary risks, but those risks might be their sole motivation for going to the gym. Who is right? Who is wrong? The way I’ve answered this question personally is that it really doesn’t matter who is right. What is important is the consequences if we are wrong.
The problem with me blogging about fitness is that unless the reader is somewhat regular, they won’t understand my values and project their own onto what I’m sharing. They will visit a blog post that has a somewhat contrarian view that is rooted in values they do not have. And they won’t like what they have read or skimmed. At that point they can attack me in my comments or from another site. I can respond and try to explain myself better, which I have done now for years. But it gets old.
We just have different fitness values. And that is OK.
Jun 16, 2015 — 3:29 pm
This is superb. Some of the best, most self-aware writing you’ve done. This should be mandatory reading before reading any fitness post anywhere on the Internet. Thank you!
Jun 16, 2015 — 4:06 pm
Probably not what you’re looking for but here goes. I loved the article about squatting. I started with weights, like you, about 20 years ago and I could never get comfortable with the squat primarily because the bar against my neck hurt like hell. I’m glad I didn’t push through it. Have you ever seen this plastic apparatus called the “manta ray?” It addresses the discomfort of using a bar by letting you snap it on the bar itself; the underside has a neck/back contour. I tried it a couple time and it helped, but even using one, squats just didn’t feel right to me.
Jun 16, 2015 — 6:31 pm
@Geoff- Thank you!
@Brian – I’ve seen the Manta Ray, but never bought one. I moved to the front squat, but found that awkward. Eventually, I landed on the goblet squat. Much safer and no spinal loading. You can also do static holds with the goblet.
Jun 16, 2015 — 10:24 pm
I found your site recently and think it’s pretty darn awesome! Your points about risk really resonate (I’m an MBA). I hope you will keep writing about fitness, as your perspective is unique and valuable. Peace, my friend!
Jun 16, 2015 — 11:10 pm
MAS, I share your values, and hope you keep your content up, and also write new articles from time to time.
I apologize I didn’t send you my review of the “Cool Diet”. The book was AWESOME. I took so many notes, I realized, it would be better if I just scanned in the book and OCR’d it. I haven’t had time to do that yet. If you were able to do that and send me back the OCR text and the scans, I’ll send you the book for free. I think I paid $100 or so for it. But, it is completely awesome, and prefigures Wim Hoff and Jack Kruse in many ways, but much more clear and no-nonsense, no woo.
Did you know you can get a shower temperature regulator for less than $100? So it is possible to set the shower temperature to 25C as he recommends. Also, there is a metabolism boosting drug he recommends, you can still get it today, it comes from the same source as LSD.
Brock in HK
Jun 17, 2015 — 1:38 am
You have grown tired of posting about fitness, but you have yet to tire of posting about how you’ve grown tired of posting about fitness. This is what? the fifth post on the topic in the past couple months?
I’m waiting for the post about how you’ve grown tired of posting about how tired you are of posting about how you’ve grown tired of posting about fitness. Then the fitness related posts will no longer crowd out your enjoyable posts about Seattle, or coffee, or driving, or hiking, or other things that bring you happiness.
Jun 17, 2015 — 6:52 am
@Matt – Thank you.
@Mycroft – Instead of OCRing the entire book, how about sending me an email with 5-10 take away points from the book? I can post that. [email protected]
@Brock in HK – With this post I was trying to find the reason and I think I did.
Jun 17, 2015 — 11:47 am
Very good post! I agree; size was the prize in my twenties and thirties. Now, in my silver chapter, it’s about looking good and fighting gravity. There are plenty of guys out there that can outlift me but I want to stay injury free, keep the ass and chest from sagging and just look great for my age.
Also, in the end, eating well and at the right times helps tremendously.
Jun 25, 2015 — 7:51 am
I just discovered you yesterday and I spent last night reading a bunch of your blog. I really enjoy it. I’m a 28 year old 5’4 Asian lady who just began exercising regularly last month, so I am probably not your target demographic. However, I have found many of your ideas intriguing (especially the ones about suvivorship bias, gyms and the need to take do some kind of a risk/reward assessment for different lifestyle interventions). I would be chagrined if you stopped posting now!
Jun 26, 2015 — 1:00 pm
@Baroness – Thank you. I will still be posting on fitness, but I needed to have this post up as something I could link back to when the debate on methods is really a debate on values.
Aug 10, 2015 — 1:52 pm
I’ve been lifting for 40 years. I’m 48. Never drugs. Do as a habit. Main lifts have been Flat bench, low-bar squats, military press, pullovers, and barbell curls. For many years I’ve trained just to stay strong–not to get bigger or stronger. Here is what I think is a problem with the lift, get stronger, add weight, lift, get stronger, etc. The idea is, pick a weight that you can do, say, between 8-10 reps, 4 sets. Once you get to all four sets of 10 reps you can increase the weight. But, the problem is, one can never give “100%” on a workout, so you never really know if that extra “strength” is simple due to, for example, more rest, more anger, more whatever. Attitude can “increase” your strength from workout to workout and it’s impossible to maintain or to regularly lift at your peek. If you could lift at you peak, then, maybe it would work. But, it is a mental pain in the ass to worry about it all the time. So, I pick a weight that is difficult and don’t try to improve–just try to maintain. When young or new, it is a different story.