Be Your Own Action Hero

Most people court change of some kind in their lives. Some of those people are action heroes in their own stories, seizing the day and building their own '90s-action-film training montages. Some others are wannabe superheroes, waiting for change to find them.

The Training Montage

One of the best parts of an action movie is the training montage. The hero has just tasted defeat, lost a loved one, or decided it’s time to make things happen. “It’s gonna be hell,” someone says. And the all-knowing master/coach/guide makes sure the hero knows that he does not have what it takes. Cue inspirational music. The hero’s trainer starts putting him through the wringer. Pain. Failure. But (perhaps because the montage is only a few minutes long), the hero never waivers, doesn’t question the madness, he just keeps moving forward. The music swells as the hero gets faster, stronger, and better; until, finally, he has leveled up and is now ready. The master nods with approval, and we, the audience, feel like we could accomplish anything if we just had “Eye of the Tiger” or “You’re The Best Around” playing on a loop and following us wherever we go.

The montage was a staple of ’80s and ’90s action movies. It spoke to the underdog who could not just show up and win. The hero had to change, and change came through hard work. The problem for the movie’s director is that hard work and change are boring. Catchy soundtracks and clever editing compress a bunch of monotonous hard work, endless reps, and long slogs into something bite-sized and powerfully inspiring. We all know that Van Damme didn’t kick the bamboo tree half a dozen times before knocking it down; he didn’t learn the splits after being strung up by the legs just once. Rocky didn’t jog up the steps once or twice or go for one tough jog in the snow in Soviet Russia. He had to “go through hell” and “build some hurtin’ bombs.” Those things take time. The montage compresses all the elements of hardship, motivation, and change into a highlight reel.

Change takes repetition and perseverance. Think of any meaningful change you’ve made in your life. Whether physical, mental, or otherwise, change rarely happens by force or spontaneously—if it does, the impetus is often unwanted, catastrophic, or life-altering. If you want to eat healthier, you have to undo old habits. If you’re going to get strong, you are going to have to show up to the gym consistently. And your training is going to take long enough that if you put Eye of the Tiger on a loop, you will eventually be sick of it. The human body is incredibly adaptable, but it is not disposed toward sudden change. 

Intentional physical change hijacks the body’s processes of survival. When you engage in intense physical training, you are not unlocking your latent genetic potential. You are taking a hammer, anvil, and fire and beating your body into shape. The stress of training makes you pliable, and smart practices shape your physical person into the desired outcome. You do not turn-on the process of change; you do something over and over again until change happens—repetition is what makes it work. Hence the appeal of the training montage. It acknowledges the hard work and motivation it takes to change but doesn’t bore us with the thousands of reps it actually takes. 

Compare the classic training montage to the wave of superhero movies right now. For the superhero, change is explosive, sudden and unexpected. The hero doesn’t want to be a hero but is set upon by gamma rays or a radioactive spider or space magic. Suddenly, the weakling finds out he or she is special and has the potential for great power. Instead of seeking change, the superhero struggles with choice. Do they accept their power and responsibility, or will they try to lead a normal life?

If popular entertainment is a window into the trends of society, we’d love to see a return of the action-hero training montage. The superhero version of change tends to shortcut hard work, and the hero’s relative unwillingness is a false reflection of the target audience; every kid (and most adults) watching wants to be a wizard or to fly and have super strength. Instead of being told that taking down the monster is the sum of hard training, they are teased with the idea that being super will find them. There is probably a sociology rabbit hole here that we will avoid, other than to say that, in our experience, most people court change of some kind in their lives. Some of those people are action heroes in their own stories, seizing the day and building their own montages. Some others are wannabe superheroes, waiting for change to find them.

Change and Intention

When someone asks why you train for strength, what do you tell them? We can talk about body parts, functionality, the mental benefits of training, aesthetics, longevity, health, and independence. We rarely say, “I am appealing to my body’s impressive resistance to disequilibrium to manipulate our physiology in beneficial ways.” That sounds unimpressive, and the process of change isn’t our end goal (typically). 

There is a tension between the repetitive process of training and our forward-looking bias. We are goal-oriented, and if all it took were a single training montage like the action hero movies or a vile of magic potion like the superhero movies, we would all be walking around as our ideal physical selves.

Intent fuels change, but your intent will not be realized in the first week or even in the first month of training. Unless your sights are set very low, the novelty of training will likely wear off before you realize your goals. This is the process of change: whether you are pursuing something through deliberate practice or mechanical rote, change requires effort, often repetitive, that becomes much less sexy the 100th time you drag your butt out of bed than it was the first time. 

The necessary monotony of change is in direct competition with our impulsive brains for the limited amount of attention, energy, and daylight we have to burn every day. So, everyone must answer a question: Do I embrace the transformative sameness and repetition of hard work, or do I settle for something lesser that satisfies my short-term impulses? The dilemmas lie somewhere in the middle

For example, look at nutritional change. Recently, in a BBL video, Nutrition Head Coach, Gillian Ward, laid out the differences between quantity and quality with the food we eat. For someone who wants to overhaul their nutrition—not just improve body composition but to use food to be healthier and improve their physical performance—they likely will need to manipulate both quantity and quality. If that person is starting out eating the Typical Western Diet, then change is going to require both habits and new food in the refrigerator. Being resistant to change on that level, many people settle for only one variable—quantity—because you can lose weight without radically changing the composition of your diet. Wholesale change is hard, but clinging sameness might only get you halfway to your goals. 

Motivating Factors

Some people are motivated to train by the value and habit of it. Many more are motivated by the desire for a particular end but will struggle with the means. The process will not become automatic for most people. You can only control your motivation to a point. After that, your choices become conscious decisions and the weighing of options.

While we don’t all get a highlight reel and theme music. There are things you can do to make the process more fun and to help make sure that training always carries weight in your decision-making. Below are some resources through Barbell Logic that can help:

Competition

“Your training career is a lifelong pursuit. And you will continue to improve for most of it, regardless of what age or state you were in when you started training. If you are always holding out to be farther along or meet some greater milestone before competing, you will never be ready. Here’s the thing about lifting: Every lifting goal you have will become just another starting point for your next goal. More than that, competitions are the perfect set pieces for you to train for, meet, and exceed your current goals.”

From “Is it Time to Compete?”

Goal Setting and Vigilance

We expanded the Barbell Logic Goal Setting Workbook this year, adding a Core Values section and a Three Good Things worksheet as you make progress toward your big, long-term goals.

Download the 2020 Barbell Logic Goal Setting Workbook Here.

Accountability and Feedback

“Get a competent coach who you can trust. If you can’t find one locally, consider online coaching to help provide you the accountability and expertise you can’t always offer yourself. The support structure is there if you have the humility and courage to accept it.”

From “New Year’s Resolve”

Education

Improve your confidence and self-efficacy through learning goals. For example, educating yourself on the process of strength training can boost your efforts. When you understand the process (and you believe that it works), you are more likely to value each training session as a necessary component of a bigger plan.

The Barbell Logic Coaching Development Programs offers online courses that cover everything from basic anatomy to programming theory. There is no better place for an education in barbell training that you can attend from the comfort of your home.

Community and Connection

“A strong argument can be made that the anthropological significance of play contributes to the notion that we are healthier when we have meaningful connections. If we start to see the costs of play as too high, perhaps we need to examine not the play itself, but the culture that has grown up to make play undesirable. In the meantime, get outside, play, and be human. It’s good for you, even if you get a few scrapes, bumps, and bruises.”

From “Why You Should Play More”

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