Workout of the Day

What If There Were No Numbers

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Imagine, for a moment, that on the first day you walked into the gym, you found that none of the gym implements had any indication of their weight. No numbers on the dumbbells, the barbells, the weight plates, the kettlebells, the sandbags, the stones, and so on. Let’s also imagine, for the sake of making a point, that you had no idea what size gym implements of certain weights generally were -- you didn’t know how wide a 45lb bumper plate usually was or the common dimensions of a 53lb kettlebell -- and that all of the gym implements were roughly the same size (regardless of weight). On top of this, imagine that there was no timer or clock available, no time, distance, or calorie readout on the screens of air bikes or ergometers, and no way to measure distances or heights for runs, jumps, shuttles, carries, etc.

In this imaginary, numberless world, you would be left only to your senses to determine how much something weighed, how fast you moved, how much work you completed, how far you traveled. You could likely determine, with relative ease, which objects weighed roughly the same or more or less than another on the same day, and make some approximate guesses at variance in speed or time or distance.
But what about between one day and another? From one week to the next? I know I have had Wednesdays where the 45lb bar feels considerably heavier than it did on Monday, and other days where it feels rather light. And how would you determine your progress? Sure, you could probably have a general idea of whether you’re lifting more weight or moving faster in the beginning stages of your athletic journey, where the progress comes quickly and readily. But what about after a year or two? After all, the idea with increased strength is that you are able to move a heavier weight with the same relative effort, and in our numberless world, this certainly doesn’t lend itself to measurable progress.
What about when you feel like you’re not improving? Do you have any way of knowing whether you’re moving forwards or backwards? Can you really optimize your training?

I won’t deny that you can certainly get stronger and faster and more enduring in a numberless gym, or by going out into the woods and running up and down various hills, chopping some wood, and picking up, pressing, squatting, and carrying various heavy rocks or other objects. This is some good old-fashioned, no frills, au naturale fitness, and I love it. But this type of fitness is devoid of one of our primary tools for continued progress: measurability. And as such, it’s less likely to offer the sustainability or optimization available to us in our conveniently numbered and measurable world.

The reality is that how you feel is sometimes a lie. You may feel rather weak on a day that you set a PR, or may feel quite energized and strong on a day where your performance falls flat. This is where measurability comes to our aid. You don’t know whether you’re getting better or worse if you can’t measure and repeat your effort, and how you feel just isn’t an accurate enough measurement.

As with all other simple, readily-accessible, and effective tools that we have at our disposal, my recommendation is to use it. Give yourself the tools to determine where you’re improving, where you’re not, and by how much. This is how we get better, how we continue with what works, and how we cast aside whatever doesn’t work. And it doesn’t have to be complicated: a simple pocket-size notebook, a mobile app, or an excel spreadsheet make for excellent measurement tools. I’m not saying you need to start comparing the ambient humidity or stages of the lunar cycle on days that you perform well or poorly, but what if you just started writing down how much you lifted or how fast you moved? Give it a try.

- PS


4/10/17

  • Dbl overhand axle bar deadlift - 5,5,5,5,5

  • 5 min AMRAP

    • 10 dbl KB swing (70/52)

    • 10 dbl KB thruster (70/52)