What is strength? Physical strength to be specific. Who gets to decide what the definition of strong is? Is it simply who can lift the most? Maybe. I’d argue that strength is absolutely relative and that there are levels to strength. Now don’t get me wrong, numbers, volume, effort, and records matter; but what about personal records? If you’re a gym rat you already know what a “PR” or “PB” (Personal Best) is, but what about the person that doesn’t think of themselves as strong in any capacity as it stands? This is where I posit that it is in the interest of the trainer and client to redefine strength as the act of being strong, and not just the numbers themselves.
What is strength? Is it a 1RM on your deadlift? Is it a PR AMRAP set of pull-ups? Is it that L-sit to handstand that you finally achieved?
Perhaps strength is a number, a given volume, or even a specific effort. But, the problem with this is, most new trainees don’t even know what these words even mean.
And more importantly, when these vulnerable newbies see a trainer or an advanced trainee hit one of these personal records in the gym, whether it’s a max set of an exercise, or a very high level skill, they are not inspired, but rather discouraged.
In the past few years, trainers have come a long way in shifting the focus of training from aesthetics to strength. But just as we had set unrealistic physique goals in the minds of our potential clients, we now have managed to instill that same sense of unworthiness with abnormal strength benchmarks.
Every trainer has that client. That one client with low self-esteem or poor physical image of themselves. It’s up to us to change this mental atrocity that the world of strength training has allowed to be cast over these folks. What do I mean exactly?
Let’s start off with relativity. What’s heavy for me may not be heavy for someone else or what’s difficult for me may not be the same for my client. This becomes an immediate roadblock for many potential strength athletes to give up because in their mind the gap between where they are and we are is practically unattainable. They can’t fathom, (despite having hired us as a coach), the idea that they’ll ever be “strong.” This is where we step in to save the day.
It’s up to us to explain something to them, (and ourselves), and it’s this: There is no such thing as stronger or weaker, only where we are at and where we will end up. If ever you are doing something difficult, working harder than you’ve ever worked before, and striving to be better every day, then you are being strong. If you are stepping into the gym, putting your head down, and doing the work that will make you better, no matter how difficult, then you are being strong.
If this is the case, then being strong is no longer a goal, but an action. The client is literally acting strong every single time they step up and put in the work. Where they are now is not where they shall always reside and it’s up to us to show them that fact.
We as trainers have an obligation to build people up physically AND emotionally. It’s often simple to make that emotional connection, but it’s also easy in the wake of this to allow the client to continue the path of self-destruction they’ve been on until they met you. This is the metaphorical fork in the road, where you teach them that every time they do something more difficult than they’ve ever done, then they are already there. They are already strong. Their actions make it so.
Go out there and redefine strength. We tell people constantly that they are more than the number on the scale, let’s teach them that they are more than just the weight on the bar, because they were already strong when they decided to grab hold of the iron.