What Are Your Weaknesses?

Superman --> Krytponite Wolverine --> Magnetic Powers

Batman --> Age

Achilles --> His Heel

The King Cobra Snake --> Honey Badger**

Men --> Attention to Detail

Weaknesses. No matter who you are, you've got at least one. The problem is, we rarely leverage these to help us improve.

I received an email the other day from John, a fellow strength coach, that got me REALLY fired up. He had trained at SAPT for a while in preparation for a military physical fitness test, and, in the course of exchanging emails with him post-training, he sent me this:

"In conjunction with our conversations about priorities and focus, I have a question for you. Based on your work with me as a client, what area(s) and/or weaknesses do you think I need to address in my own personal programming? I know that can be a difficult question, but I'd appreciate any feedback or insight you have."

AWESOME!!!! (John: If you're reading, I send you an internet high five). Man, if only more people, athletes and non-athletes alike, approached training this way.

The email got me thinking: in any facet of life, very very few us honestly want someone to bring our weaknesses to light, as it's obviously a blow to our ego. And the sphere of physical fitness is no different. However, recognizing, and then improving upon, our weaknesses is one of the largest steps we can take to reach our goal.

John "gets it." As soon as I received the email from him, I knew he was going to continue to make incredible progress because of his mindset. After all, the large majority of us gravitates toward partaking in the activities which amplify our strengths exclusively, but this ends up holding us back. If we fail to eliminate (or at least work on) our Achilles heel, we can only go so far. We're only as strong as our weakest link.

Let me use a quick example of something that happened to me in college....

I'm in the weight room one day and this guy approaches me. He was wearing an orange T-shirt, so we'll call him DIOTS (Dude In Orange T-Shirt). Here's how it goes down:

DIOTS: So, it seems like you kinda know what you're doing. Do you think you could help me with my bench press?

Me: Sure...what's up?

DIOTS: Well, you see, I haven't improved in the last few months. I've plateaued big time, and my shoulder really bothers me.

Me: Ok. Well, how do you typically train on a weekly basis?

DIOTS: I'll usually do bench press every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then I'll follow it up with some dumbbell work....maybe some lat pulldowns and curls, too. It kinda depends.

Me: Hmmm...I see. When do you train lower body?

DIOTS: ................what?

Me: You know, like your legs.

DIOTS: Oh. No, I don't really do that.

Me: Squats or deadlifts? Single-leg work?

DIOTS: Well, I used to have to do them with my team in high school. But I don't do them anymore. They're just so hard, ya know?

Me: I know, I know...

DIOTS: Ok, well, anyway, what does lower body have to do with increasing my bench press?

Me: We'll get to that later. How about rowing variations...you doing any of those? Or taken any measures to work on that cranky shoulder?

DIOTS: No, not really.

Me: Ok, no biggie, we can do this....Take your benching down to one day per week, and begin to incorporate a lot more rowing variations and prehab work for your shoulders. Get in a squat or deadlift variation in each week, too. If you really want to, feel free to add in some curls but it won't make or break your routine.

DIOTS: Benching only once per week?! How is that going to help me?

Me: Just trust me. You sure you want to continue with this?

DIOTS: No, yeah, I mean I trust you man. I'll definitely take your word for it. It just seems so crazy and counterintuitive ya know?

Me: Yup, I know.

I then proceeded to instruct DIOTS on proper bench form (his bench technique, or lack thereof, was an enormous culprit for his shoulder pain), as well as show him the basics of squatting/deadlifting, and gave him a few drills he could utilize for shoulder health. To his credit, he soaked it all in like a sponge and did exactly what I said.

I ran into him about eight weeks later and this is how the conversation went:

ME: Hey man, haven't seen you in a little while. How's it all be going?

DIOTS: I can't believe it! My bench press has gone up twenty pounds since we talked. Better yet, my shoulder pain has gone away.

Me: Wow, that's really awesome. Did you make those adjustments in your program?

DIOTS: Yeah, it was tough to make the change but man, it worked. I added in that shoulder stuff you gave me, and also did those rows each week. I also did that warm-up you suggested to me. The squats and deads were cool too, I actually began to enjoy them a bit. It doesn't make sense to me but I'm feeling way better and just seem to keep improving.

That last paragraph may sound a bit corny, but that's literally what he said (trust me, I'll never forget it as it was a ridiculous contrast from my first conversation with him).

The point of all that is this: DIOTS wasn't too arrogant to trust someone else with analyzing his weaknesses and making suggestions. As a result, he improved dramatically and blew away his expectations.

Weaknesses - which we can turn into strengths if we're smart about it - can come in many shapes and sizes:

  • It could be a physical limitation with regards to glute function, scapular stability, hip flexor length, the upper back, ankle mobility, etc. (the list could go on and on...). A deficiency in any of these areas can (and most likely will) result in sub-par athletic performance, injury, and/or stalled progress in the big lifts.
  • Your circle of influence can be holding you back. I see it time and time again: one's immediate support structure will, more times than not, make or break their progress in the gym.
  • Nutrition. It never ceases to surprise people that you can do all you want in the gym, but will rarely see the desired result in the fat loss or muscle gain realm if you're all over the place in the kitchen.
  • Poor mobility. Our sedentary lifestyle, along with the increased use of computers, time spent sitting, driving, etc. has left many of us with Tin Man-like mobility. If you're a runner, you can say goodbye to running economy (and faster times). If you're a lifter, you can bid farewell that oh-so-helpful positioning that enhances your mechanical advantage in the set-up and execution of the lift.
  • Refusal to take time off. Yep, this can be a weakness, too. "Exercise-aholics" often reach the point where their progress stalls - or worse, they become injured - because they never give their bodies a break. Remember that you build muscle and/or lose fat as a result of recovering from training, not during the actual training session itself. And no, going on a five mile run is not an off day.

I've made plenty of mistakes along the way in this realm, which is why I'm so urgent about it now. For example, I've known for quite a while that I possess atrocious shoulder mobility and thoracic spine ROM, and that it is the worst on my left side. Is it any wonder that, after rarely addressing this issue, I developed persistent shoulder pain in my left shoulder? Had I only attacked this sooner (and perhaps held myself accountable to someone), I'd be in a much different situation.

How about you? Are you willing to have someone give you some honest feedback (as ego-shattering as it may be), and then take action, so you can succeed over the long-haul?

**Bet you didn't know that one! (look it up on Youtube, it's crazy).