Strength and Liberty
Today we’re talking about strength and liberty, two seemingly disparate topics at first glance, that actually have a lot of interesting connections upon closer examination.
What is liberty?
The word liberty comes from old french and latin words that refer to freedom, and absence of restraint. How does this relate to training? There are two clear ways.
Increasing strength increases your physical liberty. As we explain in detail at the Starting Strength Seminar, strength is an extremely important physical attribute that has the most positive, trickle-down effects on almost all other physical traits. Increasing your strength through training, leads to fewer restraints on your ability to do what you want to do.
We see this most profoundly when we work with our older, masters athletes and help them regain or maintain their ability to live and function independently, or with our middle aged folk whose back pain is gone after a few sessions. But it equally applies to everyone who can now do things they previously weren’t capable of, because of their newfound strength.
The process of increasing strength increases mental liberty, too. At Barbell Logic, we talk a lot about voluntary hardship. While there are many ways to go about this, strength training is a salutary one that also has obvious physical benefits. But the mental barriers broken when new heavier-than-ever-before weights are lifted successfully again and again, despite the fear of failure, is a Big Deal. It opens doors for lots of people who have never done anything physically difficult, or haven’t in a long time, to take on new challenges in life with confidence and gusto, whether those challenges be physical, emotional, or mental.
But there’s lots of other connections between strength training and liberty, too.
Freedom From Restraint
Liberty implies freedom from restraint, not freedom to be given things that other people worked for. There’s a lot of discussion today about rights. The rights implied by liberty are those which we can all share simultaneously without infringing on anyone else’s rights. When it comes to lifting, you can take the driver’s seat and profoundly improve the way you perform, look, and feel without making anyone else one iota poorer, weaker, or worse off. But nobody owes these things to you, and no one can give them to you.
Unlike the political process where people can vote to appropriate other people’s money for their own ends, strength and fitness remain among the very few things in 2019 that you cannot buy, outsource, or even steal. You have to work for every bit of them yourself.
Self Ownership and Personal Responsibility
The ideas of Classical liberalism helped Western civilization flourish by seeing the individual as inherently important with inalienable rights, instead of a cog in someone else’s machine. Slavery, one of humanity’s longest standing shameful practices, is today widely recognized as a terrible human rights violation in large part because it denies people self-ownership over their own bodies.
Likewise, strength training is a very profound way to take active ownership over your own body. To do something with it that renders it more capable, more durable, and more resilient. To change it in a way that is uniquely yours, because the changes in appearance and improvements in performance that result are based on the work you put in and your genetic code, not a label or limitation that some outsider placed on you.
Personal Responsibility and Strength Training
At Starting Strength, we often get asked some seemingly simple questions: “At what weight should I move on from the Novice Linear Progression?” Or, “I got up to 315×5 on my squat, am I ready for Intermediate programming yet?” The answer to this question is a profoundly insightful connection between strength and liberty.
There is no predetermined weight at which your linear progression should end, or at which you should switch to more complex programming. You should train properly, appropriately for your level of training advancement, and move on only when you can no longer make progress at the appropriate rate.
We have seen this be as low as 185 lbs and high as 500 lbs; every case is so individual and unique that there is absolutely no way, indeed no point, in trying to predict beforehand what that weight will be. In other words: YOU ARE AN INDIVIDUAL FIRST, and your strength potential and linear progression outcome cannot be predetermined based on your group identity.
We mentioned earlier the concept of inalienable individual rights as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: that no one should have the right to take away your life or liberty without your consent, barring you infringing on someone else’s inalienable rights.
The implied ethos here is that you are an important individual first, before you are a member of any kind of larger group based on age or sex or race. You are not merely a lemming, a part of the Borg collective, who is only identified by your group characteristics and automatically follows the averages based on those characteristics. It’s wrong to prejudge people based on those group averages or characteristics, just as it’s wrong to pre-judge where your own numbers should be when you finish your linear progression, switch to Intermediate programming, or consider yourself “advanced.” And we have numerous examples of why this is so important in training.
We’ve found that a lot of men who take up training below the age of 40 finish their linear progression squatting between 250 and 300 pounds for 3 sets of 5. But it’s so important to realize that this doesn’t mean that YOU will finish your linear progression at 275 lbs. Or even anywhere close. We see this mistake over and over again.
Imagine if our lifter Rich, who recently took his LP up to 500 pounds with Starting Strength Online Coaching, had stopped at 275 because it felt like it was getting hard and that’s about where the average is, so he just assumed that’s where he should stop and change his programming to a weekly or bi-weekly progression. It would have taken him over a year to achieve what he accomplished in only a few more months with a program that was tailored to him as an individual instead of automatically assuming an average!
Lifting often gets hard in that 275 weight range and you might think, “Well, this is about where it should end anyway,” and so you don’t push through. You’re new to lifting. You’ve been at it for 6 or 8 weeks, and don’t yet know what ‘hard’ really feels like. You might very well have the potential to get to 365, 400, or more, but because you limit and define yourself based on group average instead of your own individual potential, you lose the chance to add more pounds to your squat, quickly.
And on the flipside, our friend who did a perfectly proper LP and finished at 185. If he’d have been comparing himself to the group average, he’d assume he did numerous things wrong not related to programming, and would simply have gone tried to go through the LP over and over again, making little progress and not understanding why. Thankfully we were coaching him and knew he did it right, so moved him to more appropriate programming, and today he squats well into the 300s and appreciates the increased liberty in his life that training has given him.
You are an Individual First
But the overarching point here is that you are an individual first, not limited or or defined by the averages of the demographic group you happen to be a part of. We can have one lifter properly finish his LP at 185, and the other make it to 500 – they are both individuals with different potentials and capabilities even though they’re a part of the same demographic group. There is so much within-group difference in all kinds of traits and characteristics that assuming each person in that group is simply an average representative a fools’ errand.
Despite these seemingly self-evident truths, we have seen a proliferation of identity politics peddlers who seek to divide and judge people by their group identity instead of as individuals. As strength coaches, we see examples every day of the futility of pre-judging people based solely on their membership in a group demographic and not on their individual characteristics, traits, and responses to training. We can speak in generalities about groups and averages, but when interacting with an actual lifter, need to pay attention to the individual in front of us and not just assume the person has all the average traits we’d expect to see in a member of her demographic. This is an important lesson that carries over into life, too. We are individuals first. Not just a cog in the machine. We have traits, talents, characteristics, life experiences, and desires that make us unique. Our ideas and arguments should be judged on their merits, not based on the demographic group we happen to belong to, just as the weights on the bar at which we’ll finish our LP and move on to Intermediate programming are based on our unique traits, not a predetermined average based on the group we belong to.
Whether as coaches or as humans, we need to remember to see the unique individual in front of us, not just a representative of a particular demographic.