Arbitrary Wednesdays: You’re Stronger Than You Think

You may be weak and spoiled, but don't sell yourself short in the gym.

1381357800_2313Someone’s gotta say it – so I will.

People are Weak.

I’m not trying to put that out there in any sort of condescending way. It’s just the cold, hard facts.  Forget the whole “you should be squatting 1.5 times your bodyweight to be strong” thing. I’m not talking about that kind of weak. I’m talking about just basic functionality weak.

People in this part of the world have it way too easy. I mean really – we’d rather be chauffeured anything more than a block away if we could help it. Technology has improved our lives just as much as it’s ruined our health, and we’ve got the musculoskeletal conditioning to show for it. It’s actually become something I don’t bat an eye at anymore when a new, grown adult, not sick, medically cleared, weighing-a-normal-figure-for-their-age client struggles to perform a given movement with the empty unloaded bar, or a pair of 15 pound dumbbells.  Is it okay that I’m venting about this?

I’m by no means a meathead. I don’t push that mentality on my clients, nor do I try to be one myself. I understand that it’s a training effect that needs to be accrued in order to see results. Technique also dominates training above all, in my books. But clients everywhere need to learn that self-limitation is the poisonous key to not seeing results, and a whole bunch of other not fun things where training is concerned.

I get it – you may be one of those people who are brand spanking new to the lifting game. It’s a different environment that you’re not accustomed to, and have no real concept of what you’re capable of. A little leeway is necessary. But only a little.

When you take a step back to look at that fifteen pound dumbbell you’re afraid of, you likely only associate it with the thought of you crumpling under that weight thanks to the misjudgements of your deluded trainer. Injured, you’ll hobble back to the change room after your prematurely finished workout session, pick up your twenty pound duffle bag with one arm, and put it over your shoulder, then leave the gym.

What I’m saying is, it really comes down to psychology, most of the time. Because you’ve placed yourself in a controlled environment, and largely because of the fact that you can confirm the weight of the implement in pounds, you may choose numbers that “sound” like they’re outside of your comfort zone – or numbers that you associate with people much more capable than you as a trainee – or numbers that you may link to specific results that you aren’t going for.

It’s all psychology.

The misinformed will make a habit of self-limitation in the weight room, and will also believe that bodies will change in composition without any strenuous effort. As a result, the phenomenon of exertion becomes more and more foreign to these people, since they’re being so far removed from it on a regular basis, via full workouts with 5, 8 and 10 pound dumbbells, and maybe an elliptical.

Getting the mental edge over lifting what you’re capable of is half the battle to reaching anything near your potential. Remember, I’m not talking about 400 pounds here. I’m talking about numbers that are far, far below bodyweight. Usually, breaking this barrier is the key to unlocking confidence that lasts the rest of your training career. Let’s break it today.

You’re stronger than you think.

If you’ve gotten yourself into a hole of deconditioning, a la chauffer like I mentioned above, along with other catalysts to laziness, then you may indeed be as weak as you think. The key is to make sure that you’re training smart, but hard (not that this doesn’t go for everyone anyway). Realize that your goals should have no ultimate ceiling, and you’ll see results faster. It’s difficult going from a world devoid of any athleticism and then asking yourself to exert physically, and to psychologically train yourself to be more aggressive – it often may counter every element of your being. But your results depend on this,  because this is part of doing the right thing.

And remember, above all:


This is the most important point of my entire piece. If you take anything away from this, let the above be it. Whether you’re a newbie or a vet, if you’re lifting weight that may be intimidating or daunting, know that proper technique means you’re going to have physics on your side. When you think about that from a mechanical perspective, you have nothing to worry about, because you’ll know what angles you need to create to get out of the sticking point, and you’ll know how to safely bail if need be.  If you don’t, a good trainer can always show you.


I don’t like making too many rules about how strong one should be – but if you’re struggling with some of the dumbbells furthest to the left of the rack at your gym, or incapable of deadlifting numbers even remotely close to your body’s weight in pounds, it may be a good time to revise your strategy. Everyone needs basic strength, and you shouldn’t be afraid of training for it. We’ve all got potential – we just have to tap into it.

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