Goals 103: Nobody Cares

by Carl Raghavan, SSC | January 13, 2021

goals - making the next squat rep

Let me tell you a little secret about your training: nobody cares. Your wife or girlfriend may pretend to care, but she definitely doesn’t. Your friends don’t, your mom, dad, and siblings don’t. Even your dog doesn’t care. So why train? I’ll tell you why: because you care.

And you should care, because of all the different aspects of fitness, it is strength that yields the highest return when it comes to physical development. If we cloned you at this very moment and made you pick a single attribute out of the Big 10 – cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, co-ordination, agility, balance, accuracy and strength – to work on in order to create the biggest positive change in your body compared to your clone, then yeah, you guessed it: your best bet would be strength. That’s important, and worth giving a fuck about. You should take a minute to think about how badly you want to reach your goal. Do you want it as badly as you want to breathe? Are you doing everything in your power to achieve success? Are you:

  • Eating enough 
  • Being consistent 
  • Not missing reps 
  • Listening to your coach 
  • Managing life stress 
  • Staying injury free 
  • Sleeping enough 
  • Reading the Blue Book 
  • Maintaining good relationships 
  • Not wasting your life on social media? 

All of these things are huge factors when it comes to your training success. This is where the motivational speech from Any Given Sunday drops. Cue Al Pacino. 

“I’ll tell you this, in any fight it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch. And I know if I’m gonna have any life anymore it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that’s what living is, the six inches in front of your face. Now, I can’t make you do it … Now, what are you gonna do?” 

If you decide to watch this scene right now on YouTube (go ahead, you can come back to the article afterwards), do me a favor and think about your goals as you watch. If this scene doesn’t get you pumped up or give you a tingly feeling on the back of your neck, then maybe your goals don’t matter enough to you. Maybe you should make them bigger, more spectacular goals. I’m talking about your lifetime lifting goals here, so obviously these are going to take you a few years or more to achieve, but if the numbers scare you a little then that’s a good sign you picked the right ones.

 I’ve written two previous articles about the importance of setting goals, so clearly I think it’s a good idea. Yet while it’s crucial for you to be motivated, worrying excessively about what other people think is going to have the opposite effect. It paralyzes lifters, especially newbies. I see it all the time. A new favorite coaching catchphrase of mine, particularly for the power clean, is “Nobody cares.” The situation arises every day. The lifter screws up one rep then glances around the gym, embarrassed, to see if anyone else is watching. I say, “Hey! Nobody fucking cares. What are you looking around for? Everyone in this room is here for themselves. They don’t care if you did a shit rep. Now just focus on getting the next one.” There’s a surprising flipside to realizing that nobody else gives a shit: once you truly accept that nobody besides you cares about your training, it will streamline your focus and make you a better lifter. 

Of course, when I say nobody cares, I’m exaggerating. I tell my clients that nobody cares for dramatic effect; I do, in fact, care. Of course I do – but knowing that doesn’t help you. It will simply add extra pressure and stress you out. You don’t need to focus on being perfect for every single rep, especially when you’re a novice first learning how to power clean. It’s actually counterproductive, and it gets in the way of my job. Training a lifter who’s easily frustrated and harbors a lot of negativity – in other words, a perfectionist – is unnecessarily challenging. As a coach, you have to nip these habits in the bud so that overreactions and negativity don’t become ingrained. I mainly deal with novice and intermediate lifters, and at this point I’m looking to see the mental aspects of their training make progress along with their physical adaptations. 

That said, nothing makes me more proud than when a client hits a big milestone. It really does make my week, my month – okay, my year. I know, I know, it’s a sad life I lead when someone’s deadlift PR can keep a smile on my face for that long. But it’s because I know that making my clients stronger is a great investment in their bodies, minds, and futures. While your journey towards your milestone goals is unlikely to be truly linear all the way (otherwise we would all be struggling to find bars that can fit 75,000lbs), you’ll be surprised how far you can go if you really try. That’s why we push LP till the wheels fall off. It will tell you things about yourself you didn’t know. You squat the first set of 5, sit down, and say, “I can’t possibly do another two sets, let alone another three on Wednesday and Friday. You must be fucking mad!” But guess what? – you do it. And it surprises you every time. Your potential is greater than you might imagine. 

This consistency, this process of chipping away at your goals, is where caring really comes into it. And it’s definitely not the same thing as perfectionism. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. John Welborn said it best (I’m paraphrasing a bit): “Think of training like a big heap of dirt you have to move. Some days you have a shovel and some days you have a spoon, but if you pick up a little bit of dirt every day you will reach your goals.” Getting into the weight room to squat, press, and pull Monday, Wednesday and Friday is the shovel. And the eating, sleeping, avoidance of excessive cardio, using bodyweight gain and the Blue Book all are spoons. So start digging! 

I remember back in 2014 I was at a seminar at CrossFit South Brooklyn, and I heard Rip scream at a skinny kid to put more weight on the bar. When the kid unracked it, Rip yelled, “Be Somebody!” It was probably the coolest cue I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t about technique, it was about something beyond that. Being strong is a statement, and to train the way we do you have to go against the grain. You have to deliberately not do what the rest of the gym rats are doing, scurrying around doing curls and half-reps on the bench. You have to push yourself to be somebody – somebody who stands out from the general gym population. This kid wanted to play it safe and do a tame set. Not surprising, given that he was being watched by more than 30 attendees and 6 coaches, including Rip. The pressure was on, and he wanted to do a perfect set and not lose face. But that wasn’t what Rip wanted. This is strength training, not figure skating. There are no judges grading your technique on a scale of 1 to 10. No one scoring you on style. Strength is about lifting heavy weights and challenging yourself. 

Training should be something you want to do. Yes, some days are hard, and you don’t really feel like it – I have those too. You drag your heels, leave the comfort of your couch, drive to the gym, and grab your balls from the glove box, as Kirk Karwoski would say. And you train. The fact that nobody else cares is actually a good thing: it relieves some of the stress, and this will improve your training. Personally, I don’t want other people projecting their expectations onto me. It’s even less helpful when you’re a novice. It’s stupid and unfair, and will lead to disappointment. 

I really don’t care about being in the spotlight. I would train regardless of what people thought – I want to squat and deadlift 600lbs, no matter what anybody else thinks. You shouldn’t need a thousand likes or a million followers watching the PRs you post on social media in order to validate your efforts. Because it doesn’t, anyway. 

Training only has to matter to you. For example, I recently benched 170 kilos/374lbs for the first time, and that was an awesome moment (my lifetime goal has always been to bench 400lbs). I finally hit 170kg after two years of little to no progress. It was almost enough to make me lose hope, but I still went in and trained – and here we are.

It doesn’t matter that many other people have reached that goal before me. Chase Lindley can overhead press 184 kilos/405lbs. So should I crawl into the shower with all my clothes on and curl up into a tearful ball, saying my life sucks and my training is meaningless? Fuck no! It has been a two-year struggle to achieve a 10kg improvement, and it meant the world to me in that moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for that blond ponytailed mutant, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t overjoyed to get one step nearer to my own personal goals. I was on an emotional high for at least the next two to three hours after that PR: I couldn’t even focus on my deadlifts afterwards. 

I have experienced this kind of PR-related euphoria several times – including in Rip’s gym at a meet a few years ago, when I squatted 250kg for the first time. The relief of hitting that number was very emotional. It almost made me cry – almost. It was extremely difficult to re-center and focus on the other lifts. That’s not just me, right? Anyway, this is the kind of emotional impact hitting a meaningful PR has on me, especially at a meet, and especially at Rip’s meet: #dreamPR. I could come dead last and still be the happiest guy at the bar that night if I made a PR that day. These days PRs are so rare that it doesn’t even have to be all three lifts. That used to happen all the time when I first did meets, but now I’m on top of the world if I only get one PR and just do my second attempts for the rest. It’s funny how your yardstick evolves over time.

The secret to training well and hitting big goals is genuinely caring about your training. But you need to genuinely care – not because other people do, or because you want approval from someone else, but because you find intrinsic satisfaction and joy in lifting. I have certainly found this to be true of my own training. I have always been a lifter first and coach second, but in a funny way I think that has made me a better coach. It creates this weird ripple effect of positive energy. I take the lessons I have learned from my own training and bring them to my clients. I think it helps me see things from their perspective and better understand what they’re going through. A lot of the time, the faults I see in my lifters are ones I have committed myself – maybe even worse than they have.

So embrace the fact that nobody cares. It’s okay, because the only person who needs to care is you.

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