We’re going to switch gears a bit this week. As I’m sure almost all of you are aware, the Ontario Senior Championships were last weekend. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t train a whole lot last week, so there’s not a lot to comment on (although I did have an excellent Snatch workout!). The standard of competition in this province has increased dramatically. As a consequence, the team and I were surrounded by high-level competitors, many being national-level competitors. We saw some great feats of strength, both from our own team, and from other competitors. I think we can all agree that we’d like to be good at what we do, that we’d like to be the best that we can be. But, what does “the best that we can be” actually mean? How do we know how good we can be? The truth is, we really don’t. That’s just a padded aphorism that says: “strive to achieve personal greatness, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make it to where you want to be.” Even so, I still believe it’s a central tenet that we all need to keep in follow. What we’ll be discussing today is how we can each develop our own sense of what “the best we can be” is, and what it ought to be.

Being the best you can be is a nebulous concept. You probably have an idea of just how bad you can be because it’s easy. If you’ve done this long enough, you know what happens when you train inconsistently, when you miss a meal, party too much, or don’t sleep enough. It’s hard to imagine, though, what happens when you dial everything in, and push. As far as I know, no one can actually predict, with any real accuracy, just how good they can be. There’s no identifiable gene cluster (yet, anyway) that indicates what your max possible Snatch can ever be. Just because you added 20kg to your total in your second year of training doesn’t mean you’ll do the same in your third. Yes, there actually is research that has identified a general tendency for athletic growth in Weightlifting, but does it account for confounds like injury? What if your dog gets sick? You get dumped by the love of your life? To put it eloquently, shit happens. More realistically, shit will happen. You want to know the awful truth, though? None of that matters, and is irrelevant to being your best.

The universe is callous, and, as far as I can tell, has no regard for what’s fair, what’s right, or what you think you deserve (your belief system may say otherwise, however, and I’m cool with that). The point I’m getting at has to do with the mindset of a competitor. When you go on Youtube and see a world record get thrown over their head by an elite lifter, you think: “wow, she’s amazing!” You may even get your imagination going a bit and think: “gee, I wish I could do that.” What actually separates you two, however? The immediate answer that I think tends to go off in peoples’ minds is: “she’s super talented!” This, then, turns into: “she’s genetically gifted!” and following that, unfortunately: “she’s on drugs!” The above may actually all be true, but we all tend to miss something. We saw them perform, at their best, for what? Six attempts? We saw maybe ten minutes of their lives unfold. If you dug around the web, maybe you saw clips from their competitive preparation. That’s cool. Did you see her getting yelled at by her coach? Did you experience the disappointment both she and her friends felt for skipping the 400th invitation to a Friday night out? Did you see that nagging shoulder injury of her’s pain her throughout the entirety of her 16 week training cycle? Did you see how she handled any of the otherwise normal life struggles that we all share? Didn’t think so. If you’re giving into any of the above, then, you’re not working towards being the best you can be as a Weightlifter (this is a crucial distinction; more on this shortly).

As I sit here writing this, I’m currently wearing six strips of Kinesio Tape between my right shoulder and adductor. I’m still going to train today. It’s not going to be pleasant.. Don’t care. I need to be just as tough as the athletes I coach. I might be reckless, perhaps even a little crazy, but I’m not an idiot; I’ve also blocked off time and money for a few weeks, maybe even months, to receive treatment for these issues.

I could radically restructure my program to work around this and not only train productively, but comfortably. But would I be training optimally for the goals I have? Probably not. Certainly not if we ignore the injuries. Let’s switch gears, though.

Thus far I’ve made it seem like to be the best you can be at Weightlifting you ought to eschew everything else in your life for the bar. No, I just illustrated the length at which an elite competitor goes to be the best they know they can be. The fact of the matter is that the “best you can be” has a lot more to do with simply trying to be the best at something. Don’t get me wrong, as a competitive coach, I think it’s both an amazing and honorable endeavor to commit to something like that, and I have nothing but admiration for those individuals. The best you or I can be, however, might be something different, and it might involve more than just Weightlifting.

Greg Nuckol’s, world-class Powerlifter and strength coach, has recently begun injecting one of my favorite phenomena of social science into training theory (check out his site, Strengththeory.com; it’s amazing). You may have heard of it, the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule, by the Italian sociologist/economist/engineer Vilfredo Pareto. While his work originally found that 80% of the land in Italy (at the time) was owned by 20% of the population, this ratio has been extended into virtually any endeavor that involves production, and thus far, seems to be a tenable model in that respect. For our purposes, let’s assume 80% of our training results come form 20% of the actual work we do. How are we defining work? Training, recovery, lifestyle, essentially, anything you do with the intention of reaching your training goals. That’s a pretty damn good return I’d say. But, what about that last 20%? That’s where it gets tough, and that’s what will define whether or not you’re actually attempting to become the “best you can be.” For me, that last 20% means finding ways around my injuries, sacrificing time and money to both train and recover because I expect myself to get that last 20%. That 20% I’m talking about, however, doesn’t refer to the absolute 20% I could get if I dedicated myself completely to becoming a Weightlifter. That 20% just refers to the last slice of my life I’m willing to give up in my quest to be the best Weightlifter I can be given everything else I’m responsible for.

I want to be the best I can be as a coach and a weightlifter. If you just do this for fun and fitness, though, don’t let me alienate you. Yes, we are a competitive club, and I am a competition coach, but fundamentally, I got into this because I saw the potential for a community to share in something I love. An opportunity for people to better their lives through the passion that I and a handful of others shared. It’s been a hard life at times, but whose isn’t? What I’m getting at is that, regardless of whatever you want to be the best you can be at, it’s going to require sacrifice. It’s going to require you to embrace discomfort, to delay gratification, and to be courageous enough to weather the storm of doubt, disappointment, and the unexpected. The best way to do this?

Have a solid foundation. The 80/20 rule stated above to me implies that if we can achieve 80% of our desired result from 20% of the effort, then, we better get that foundational 20% down pat. This is easier than you think. So, if you train as a Weightlifter, but still have a job and family, yet want to maximize your return in Weightlifting? Let’s order the fundamentals first. 1) Show up to training consistently three times per week. 2) Pay attention to what your coaches are telling you, and focus on what you’re doing with your time during your workouts. 3) Eat well, and consistently get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. That’s it. You’ve already laid the foundation for achieving 80% of your potential (obviously this is a scientific formula for gains). Then you’ve got plenty of time and resources to organize that 20% effort for whatever else it is you want to be the best you can be at. It’s after this point that you can start deciding just how far you want to go to try and achieve that notion of being your best.

The final part of this statement we need to discuss should be obvious: what is your best? Perhaps we should rephrase that. What is the quantifiable and qualifiable point at which you think could demarcate your best? For instance, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to Clean and Jerk 270kg. Don’t come at me with that disingenuous and saccharine “if you dream it you can become it!” cliche, either. For one, no one before me has done it, I wasn’t raised on an athletes’ compound in some secret training lab in Kazakhstan, and I’m definitely at least 15 years too old to even conceive of doing this. An Olympic Gold Medal? Probably not in the cards. In fact, I’d rather put the work it would take to attain that into one of my athletes instead. Snatching of 140kg while simultaneously growing a business and competitive team? That might actually be in the cards if I work both hard and smart enough. I’m far from lifting that at the moment, but that’s only 20kg away from the most I’ve ever been able to Snatch. Over a timeline of three or four years? That’s not impossible, and I’m willing to put in the work, and experience all the discomfort that can come with that.

As men and women trying to hoist the heaviest weights we can over our heads, we should always strive to be better versions of ourselves as time goes on. What better actually means is up to each of us in relation to whatever else it is we want or need to be good at. All I’ve endeavored to do is give you an idea of how to think about what that might be. Bottom-line, however, excellence in anything necessarily requires sacrifice. The questions that need answering are what to sacrifice, and how much. Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to do this all at once. All of the athletes at our club who brought home medals with them this past weekend started training three times a week with the ambiguous intention of just getting better at Weightlifting. Their goals, and thus, what they we’re willing to give up for them, changed over time. This was reflected in their performances. Perhaps, then, the best you can be has nothing to do with the weight on the bar.

The truth is, the further I get into writing, and reflecting on this article, the more I realize that I don’t have more than a few guidelines as to figuring out what our aphorism of being the best you can be means. I’m still figuring that out for myself. I’ll tell you this, however. I saw some stunning performances this past weekend, with athletes pushing their capabilities to the max. I’m certain many of the people I saw, athletes and coaches alike, were living in a way that reflects the ethic expressed above. Maybe, then, being the best you can be simply has to do with whether or not you’ve followed through on what you know the best you could be. You’ll never know until you try!