I wrote this in 2014 and it turns out the intervening years have not made the thesis any less relevant.
THE FUN NEVER STOPS
“I hear you’re into mountain biking now.”
“I ride a mountain bike. We should go sometime.”
“Because we aren’t doing the same thing.”
… uncomfortable pause …
“Seriously, I could point out the difference but neither of us will like that.”
I try to communicate clearly. To speak honestly. Without cruelty. That time we both got away unscathed. Sometimes though, it’s worth twisting the knife.
Apparently there is a gym nearby where most of the guys can Front Squat 225# for sets of 10 ... what is this magical place? It’s the land of partial reps. Of no reps. Of half-assed effort and self-congratulation. It’s a place where guys would rather full-on cheat just to say they can hit a particular number or standard instead of training for, and working toward achieving the actual standard.
I heard the story of a guy who works for a magazine that was running an article about the AirDyne. Michael prescribed a workout of 20 calories in 20 seconds for seven rounds with two minutes rest between each work interval. One of the magazine staff tried it, presumably so he would get the facts straight. He fell short, so instead of printing the workout prescription as given he modified it to “20 calories (shoot for under a minute). Rest for 2 minutes. That's 1 round. Do 7 rounds.” Because he couldn’t come close to the standard he felt it appropriate to change the standard, to lower the bar. Something endemic to our society.
Finally, there’s another gym nearby where a lot of members have done a sub 5-minute triathlon (500m Ski + 50 calories AirDyne + 500m Row). I know for a fact that sub-5 is a difficult standard to meet so when one guy said, “It was easy. I did it my first time,” I knew something was amiss.
I have to second-hand this as it was Burkey having the conversation. Any embellishment could be accidental or it could be my way of making a point.
“So what is your strategy for the triathlon?”
“I watched the Gym Jones video. I keep the Ski around 2:00/500m pace. Then I kill it on the AirDyne for 25 calories. And then I go as hard as I can on the Row to hang on.”
“You’re supposed to do 50 calories on the AirDyne …”
“Yeah, but that's at altitude. So we made the calculations and 25 is the same here at near-sea level.”
“Yes, air density makes it slightly different BUT NOT HALF!”
Let’s hypothesize a standard that is imposed by people or organizations you respect. You hold the standard in great esteem. The triathlon is an example. 300 F.Y. A sub 7-minute 2000m Row. Max Reps @ 225# (DL, Bench Press, Squat, etc). Events at the NFL Combine. Various WODs done in competition. Is that enough to get the point?
When you address the challenge and achieve the standard “easily” why is the first reaction in your head to believe you have done it correctly? For the same reason that, when you have a tailwind on your bike you convince yourself you’re “feeling strong today.” If everyone in your gym appears much stronger or more capable than most people are at the gym you hold in great esteem something isn’t right.
Standards are set to help raise people up. To inspire. To push. Standards aren’t lowered just so folks can brag about hitting them. If it could be done easily you wouldn’t bother trying. If everyone achieves it easily they must be doing it wrong. Or the standard must be changed. How do so many end up on the bad, self-defeating side of ego?
We so desperately want praise. Probably more than we want respect. We want to join a club where we can meet friends and hear kind words. To get in the door we mimic what the club members do, how they talk, and what they wear. We are social animals. But sometimes we mistake our copycatting for the result we seek, for the real thing.
There’s a wide gulf between paying the dues and doing the thing, a big difference between dressing the part and achieving the standard. Being in a place where others squat properly isn’t the same as fixing your squat but it's a start. Participating is far from actually racing. Many toe the line because they want to finish but for some a DNF with the right excuse is just as good.
In the old days we described it unkindly: one guy wants to be seen as a climber, the other wants to do the climb-ING.
I don’t judge these differences until one is mistaken for the other, until someone believes mimicking the thing is the real thing. Or excuses his misinterpretation with a mechanical issue, or a technical one, or with ignorance — What, you didn’t want to learn the right way, or to fix the issues? That you can’t do a full ass-to-grass Front Squat with the specified weight doesn’t absolve you of the standard of form.
Demand better form. Accept a lower weight if you have to. No one cares about the number on the bar. Except the voice in your own head that only wants to say and hear positive things. Get over it—shut its mouth—or be enslaved by it.