Creative Commons License photo credit: bionicteaching

Lately I’ve encountered a culture of exercise and training built around constant progress and achievement of personal records (PRs) in feats of strength such as deadlifting and bending steel. This culture holds the constant achievements of PRs as the single most important aim of their training. In fact they emphasized the PR over almost anything else.

Thinking about this has uncovered in my mind a realization that there are some fundamental differences between how different people approach training and exercise. That may be a “well duh” type statement but bear with me.

While I’m certainly big on setting measurable goals and achieving them, getting stronger, quicker, more agile, more explosive, leaner and all around more capable of handling the physical possibilities of life – for me I’ve always been active and I would continue to be active regardless of what my workout journal tells me.

Yesterday I did Zercher squats with 100kg (220lbs) for 6 sets of 6. Today I did 80 sets of 7 snatches with a 16kg kettlebell in a 15 seconds work / 15 seconds rest format. That’s almost 9,000kg or 20,000lbs moved from the ground to lockout overhead in 40 minutes. I also did a couple of Turkish Half-Ups with 37kg.

I did these things not because I was motivated by them being some sort of PR but because that’s what the program I’ve set myself called for, my body felt capable of achieving what I’d set myself and the Turkish Half-Up was a whim that I just felt like trying. If I wasn’t doing the program I was doing right now I would simply be doing something else and occasionally dreaming up something difficult to test myself with.

My point is I run trails because I want to, swim laps or catch waves because I enjoy it, spar and roll because it is pure competition, rock climb because it’s fun and challenging on many different levels, go out into the bush and cut down a tree and burn it all night to keep myself warm and the dingos away just because I’m alive and exist, do handstands, jump off stuff and do bear crawls, ape step and ground kong simply for the joy of moving.

Training is rarely “training” for me. It isn’t some chore to be dreaded and gotten over with as soon as possible so I can get on with some sort of leisure. I stuck with the same workout program which was 2 sets of 5 deadlifts 5 days a week for 10 months straight and got bored probably 3 or 4 times. Quite possibly because part of the challenge was to stick with it. I’ll do the Russian Squat Routine and the Smolov just because they’re there, they’re hard as hell and they’re a serious challenge. Out the other side I’ll happen to be stronger but it’s not the be-all-end-all-of-it-all.

I guess it’s just a difference in perspective, priorities and maybe culture. I don’t need a guru, an anti-guru-guru, a trainer or a coach. Ninety-nine percent of the time I train, climb, crawl, run, swim, jump and go walkabout alone. Existence is my motivation. I exist, the world exists, the things to do in the world exist, and the experiences the doing brings are there to be sampled and savored. It’s the very stuff of life. Being strong, fit and healthy opens up a wealth of possible experiences not open to someone who is weak, unfit and unhealthy. It is as simple as that.

“What Adam saw on the morning of his first creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.”

– Aldous Huxley

That said I realize that this is all n=1. Other people have different approaches. Some feel the need for the PR for the sense of achievement it brings in order to stay motivated. As long as this approach works for them or you it is, in my mind, of equal validity. In the end of the day results do count but my judgment call is that adding 10lbs to your deadlift pales in comparison to whether or not you enjoy a high quality of life.

This is what I feel my “workouts” and general movement activities bring to me, often in and of themselves. That is, the quality of my life is enriched while doing the activity. That is my focus. Not necessarily later when I pat myself on the back for having gotten stronger or more conditioned or simply having persevered and completed the workout. Though the latter I must say is rather fulfilling at times.

However, that sort of thing is fleeting. The next day I’ll be off after the next 10lbs on my deadlift. No. The experience of absolute concentration, physical control and the raw power of my own physicality as it trembles under a load that could crush me come one wrong move – that’s called being alive. That’s an experience and you don’t have to hit a PR to get it.

It is a matter of perspective. Power without perspective is useless and therefore of no real value. So give a long hard think about the real reason you exercise and move. Think about the bigger picture and check yourself to see whether or not you’ve gotten caught up on the miniature. We all tend to at times. Then with a refreshed perspective, whatever it may be for you, relaunch yourself back into action with renewed energy.

Share you’re thoughts in the comments section below. Why do you train?

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