Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


by Lucas Diggle | October 19, 2021

lucas diggle holding his son

Yesterday, my wife Jessica and I returned from the hospital with our new baby boy. Since this was our third child, we went into the process with more perspective and experience than before. The territory of the birthing center was familiar, the intermittent monitoring of our baby’s heart rate and the gathering of Jessica’s vitals were nearly as routine to us as they were to the midwives tending the delivery. About six hours later, our son Arthur was born. I can’t say whether or not he’s happy, but he’s healthy and so is his mother. In the two subsequent days we spent at the hospital Jessica and I were confronted with a rare thing: quiet time for conversation, reflection, and a little peace.

As with the birth of our other children, we did a sort of play-by-play analysis of the experience. I recounted the familiar scene of watching her rock around the room in a trance, deep rhythmic moans reverberating with each step. She recalled the familiar process of resisting the pangs of her early contractions and the inevitable realization that the pain is the process and so she had better go with it. I should mention that all of our children have been born without medical intervention of any kind. That’s not a rebuke of medical science or the professionals who save lives when the need to intervene truly presents itself, but it is a testament to Jessica’s tenacity and unwillingness to simply hand over a powerful experience to others in order to avoid pain and adversity.

Through the course of this play-by-play, Jessica said something that surprised me. Namely, that toward the end of her labor, as she was bearing down and pushing our 8 lb 9 oz son out into the world, she thought about me. She thought about the fact that I choose to do hard things and that she has, over a period of years, witnessed the ways in which those hard things have made me better and improved my life. She thought about hard things that were thrust on me, tough spots I was stupid enough to get myself into, and hard things I do like lifting weights. Who would have thought that the Starting Strength ethos would make its way into our delivery room?

Not to be too philosophical, but Starting Strength is more than the sum of its parts. On the one hand, the Starting Strength method is fairly simple. It’s a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to getting strong. There are complex biological, physiological, anatomical, and technical realities that underpin the pleasing simplicity of Starting Strength, but because it applies these complex disciplines in a uniform and cohesive way, the whole, once one has spent substantial time digesting and applying it, feels rather natural. On the other hand, Starting Strength is also an apt metaphor for life. As any career tradesman who’s accomplished a level of real proficiency in their craft can attest, certain skill sets and disciplines begin as problem-solving technologies and end up being ways of life. Prima Facia, that sounds a little too “Zen,” but it’s the truth.

Consider my own experience: when I began the NLP I was underweight, frequently sick, tired, and irritable. Over a year later, well into a four-day-split routine, I had gained 50 lb of mostly lean mass, felt good in my body and enjoyed applying my newfound strength at work, around the house, and when playing with my kids. In short, I chose to do something hard and it made me better. Life became more focused, more enjoyable, and ultimately, more meaningful.

Given all of that, I shouldn’t be surprised that Jessica said that I inspired her in those last hard minutes of labor. Why shouldn’t this be the case? We increasingly seem to inhabit a culture averse to difficulty. Whatever injustice some on the fringe may believe they are attempting to correct, the advocacy of the equality of outcome seems, in the most general sense, to be the ultimate abdication of the ability of the individual to actually accomplish anything. The more I think about what Jessica said, the more it resonates. Having delivered three children without mitigating the pain and difficulty of the process in any way, she has become an infinitely stronger person. She is more self-assured and less afraid of things that may be damn hard. She’s comfortable in her body and knows what she’s capable of. How could anyone with her experience not be confident? And why shouldn’t she see an analogue in strength training?

When I began Starting Strength, the idea of ever pulling 315 made me laugh out loud. I never thought that would be a warm up set, and I never thought that taking up strength training in a serious and focused way would inspire my wife to get through her third labor at 40 years old the same way she got through her first at 32. That’s the thing about labor of any kind; if you stick with what begins as work, it eventually works its way into you, transforms a bit of your being, and pushes that bit back out into the world and into those around you. That’s real positive change.

After a few days of down time to talk and think about our busy lives, I take stock in the fact that our children too watch us and are learning about what it means to do hard things. Whatever mistakes Jessica and I make, we aren’t raising them to be afraid of doing difficult work or to look to others to resolves life’s inherent and inequitable hardships. Maybe that’s real power, and maybe the ability to generate physical force against an external resistance is the leanest metaphor for individual agency there is.

When my time comes, if I leave knowing that my children see hardship not as something under which to wilt but as an opportunity by which to become greater than they were, maybe I’ll feel a little consolation about not having hit whatever PR I left on the horizon. So, little Arthur, should you ever read this, know that it’s not the weight of the world on your shoulders; it’s the weight of your life. One way or another, you had better lift it.

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