Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


by Jim Steel | May 16, 2023

a lifter prepares himself to squat

Man, I just came downstairs to the basement where I write because I had an idea about an article and I was all excited. Before that, I was walking in the woods with my Labrador, Rebel, and the idea just came to me. And I came downstairs to the basement all pumped up because I was going to write an article about effort. And then I remembered that the last Starting Strength article had a whole lot to do with effort, and that I have written articles on my website and other websites about effort.

But here’s the thing: I can’t help it. I can’t get away from it. I think about it all the time. What makes one person push through hard, seemingly impossible reps and some others just quit when it gets tough? I think about that in sports also, but plenty of it comes from observations in weight rooms over the years. One of the crazy things is, effort and a lack of effort are evenly distributed across all demographics. I have coached rich kids that would pull deadlifts until their eyes bleed, and I have coached poor kids who were the same way. And rich kids that quit on reps, and poor kids, too.

It is something inside of a person that makes them give it their all. I can’t figure it out, but it fascinates me. Maybe you could call it “inner drive.” Or maybe that’s a precursor to the effort – the lifter with the highest inner drive gives the most effort. Whatever it is, it preoccupies my thinking.

And I am not talking about effort in all aspects of life. Hell, I am supremely lazy at times (grocery shopping) and barely try (folding clothes) at other times. I hate doing anything but hunting and lifting, really. All else is me forcing myself through the day.

But to me and to countless others, the weight room is a sanctuary, a special place where like-minded folk come together at a certain time of the day to work as hard as they can. Anything else is an insult to the weight room gods. I am serious about this, and I know that it is weird, but it is true: to give anything less than your greatest effort in the weight room is sinful.

What the hell are you there for, anyway? It is progressive resistance, so the resistance better progress over time, and progress consistently, or you are not trying hard enough. Right? Because if you can’t give a effort at that level, just don’t come. Like Kamala said, just don’t come. Stay home, go to sushi, go for a walk in the park. Anything but tainting the weight room with your piss-poor effort. Again, it’s a sin.

I have noticed, since I am now out of the collegiate setting and train at public gyms, that people talk during a set! How can you be pushing as hard as you can and talking about the latest TikTok something or other while you're moving the weight? And I have had people talk to me during my set! Never happened in my life before. I’m killing myself, all red-faced and serious and trying to concentrate, and they just start jabbering away. I just ignore them and keep going.

And of course the biggest distraction: the phone and texting. No way can you text in the sanctuary. Aren’t you glad to be away from that thing? I hate the phone and all that buzzing and chiming. We used to have answering machines. When you were out, you were out, and nobody kept track of you. It was freedom. The phone goes in the gym bag and doesn’t come out unless it’s an emergency.

I think that the lifters and athletes in my coaching career who were the most prepared tried the hardest. It just meant more to them. They put in so much time out of the gym preparing that they had to give their all. Why would they not with all the time invested?

And lifters that had a solid, written-out program gave great effort. I despise asking someone, “How many sets of squats are you doing?” and having him say, “I don’t know, I’m just going by feel.” He usually means that he is stopping when it gets hard. And the same guy looks the same the next year and lifts the same weights, of course.

Remember, take the place seriously. Have a plan when you enter, and never be the guy who says, “Ah, I don’t know, I may hit a little back, a little outer lat, some lower pec, something like that.” That answer is also a rule breaker in the gym. A well-thought-out program keeps the lifter on task with, once again, progression, whether it is with weight or sets or reps, it holds him accountable to completing a task, and if it is done right, a task that requires great effort to complete.

I know that I can't keep writing about effort all the time. I get that. But I am always wondering if something I write might make someone who has never tried real hard actually give an all-out effort just one time – the kind of exertion that makes you feel a little messed up at the end of the set, like you're somewhere else or something, a place that you have never been. And to just see the look on their face when they realize that they gave all that they had inside of them – and that they can do that again, next time. It will be a eureka-moment in their lives. I think that’s why I keep writing about it.  

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