Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

by Jen Smith | May 31, 2022

lifter at the bottom of a squat

Every squat presents a moment of decision. An inch above depth, the lifter has a split-second to decide between complete and incomplete. He can either do the whole rep, or he can let the bar drop on the safeties; he can do the hard thing or the easier thing. No judgment – we’ve all been there.

Because the position is so uncomfortable and the chance for relief so immediate, the decision to complete a squat must be made ahead of time. If the decision is delayed until mid-squat, instinct will rule and the lifter will fail. Why wouldn’t he? Our human nature drives us to avoid pain, and honestly, it’s not like your life is on the line here. “It’s just a squat,” you tell yourself. “I can be a good person without doing it.” Well, sure you can. You can be a good person without doing a lot of things. But you don’t lift weights to become a good person, you lift weights to become a strong person – and you can’t become a strong person without completing a heavy squat.

Decision Training

Anyone who’s gotten strong will tell you: the more often you decide to complete the squat, the easier it becomes to decide to complete a squat. The squat doesn’t become easier (because your coach keeps adding weight to it), but deciding to complete it does. Because after weeks and months of staring down that beast, session after session, you’ve grown more than just your glutes. You’ve developed an efficient decision-making muscle that allows your effort to be spent not on deciding whether to do something hard, but on doing the hard thing itself. Just like you’ve practiced your hip drive, you’ve practiced using your energy for physical action, not recurring internal debate.

Deciding to finish your squats – every rep, every time – trains you for the decision you must make when you’re exiled from the rosy childhood of NLP to the grim adulthood of actual training. You are no longer hitting PRs every week, you are no longer applauded just for showing up, and your perky personal cheerleader turns into a coach who expects things from you rather than suggests them. Worse yet, “heavy” takes on a whole new meaning. Oh, you realize during a Monday volume set, face red and head throbbing, this is what Rip meant when he said squatting feels like drowning. You begin to understand that the “heavy” lifting you boasted about during NLP was actually manageable lifting. Now you are lifting heavy, and your ballooned chest sags as your coach throws cold water on the party. Will you keep showing up for this slog every week, or will you quit? You better decide ahead of time or instinct will decide for you.

Interest or Commitment?

As a gym owner I’ve observed that every client faces this pivotal decision – should I stay or should I go? – about five or six months into their training, when NLP is over and interest doesn’t necessarily translate into commitment. When choosing to quit, clients tell themselves they’re “just not interested” in training anymore, but it is probably more accurate to say they’re just not committed to training anymore. They are not willing – maybe for good reason – to exert the effort that the results require. And that’s okay. A lack of commitment to training doesn’t mean you won’t be a good person. But it does mean you won’t be a strong one.

Everything we do in life, we do twice: once in our mind and again in our actions. Look closely at how you spend your days and you’ll find (jarring) proof of this. It’s no different with your squat, and it’s no different with your training. We decide mentally, now, what we will do physically, then. Every time.

So when you are in the middle of that heavy squat – or Wednesday’s workout, or a lifelong training program – you don’t have to wonder, “Will I stay or will I go?” Truth is, you’ve already decided.

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