“Captain Picard of the USS Jacked,” Iron Culture Podcast Ep. 139- Why Try Harder Fails

Spinning your wheels in the gym? Maybe you just need to try harder.

Or not. It’s not my thing to assume folks simply need to put in more effort in order to realize their lifting dreams. I’m much more interested in finding sustainable solutions that address the barriers that prevent us from being as consistent as we want to be or to work with as much intensity as we would like to. I’m also interested in the factors that are bigger than ourselves that influence what we are able to do and how consistently we are able to do it–things like our physical environments, social and cultural factors, and systemic challenges like racism, sexism and ableism.

And in their roundabout way, I think Eric and Omar sort of touch on most of the above elements and are directly speaking to your classic bro who maybe hasn’t considered the deeper contexts of their assumptions. In this episode, they are trying to help the Iron Cult see that for most of us, if we aren’t “trying hard enough,” there are meaningful challenges that need to be overcome to support our continued progress. For fitness professionals and training partners, if we want to help someone “try harder,” we need to dig deeper into the challenges that they face and troubleshoot unique solutions to address those challenges.

I really like Omar’s suggestion that we need to periodize or progress “mental grit and fortitude,” just like we periodize our lifting. We don’t all start in a place where we believe we can push through and do more; we have to build on previous successes and learn to trust in ourselves that we can overcome challenges. I see this with my students who will sometimes learn about a task and immediately assume that it will be too challenging for them to do successfully. However, over the course of a year, if I build the tasks in class up over time, they learn to trust me, the activities and themselves, and that they aren’t going to be set up for failure. I’m not sure how this would look for a lifter other than programming bouts of more intense training or maybe increased frequencies of training from time to time to build the skills of adapting to those stressors. If you’ve done this sort of intentional work yourself or with an athlete, I’d love to hear about it!

The guys also touch on the fact that the folks saying other people need to just try harder likely would benefit from the other side of the message; maybe they would benefit from chilling the eff out. I have written about my own efforts to find out how I can continue progressing while doing less (like here and here), to find the balance between training, work and managing my various health challenges. Based on my experiences, I would guess there are plenty of folks on the other side of the spectrum doing more than necessary and potentially “trying too hard,” increasing their risk of burnout or injury. Eric and Omar touch on this point, and I would like to hear more of their thoughts on the matter. After all, built into the philosophy of “try harder” is the assumption that harder work is what inevitably garners better results. And sometimes the answer is actually doing less, resting more, diversifying our training or other strategies to improve balance in our lives or fitness pursuits.

There’s a lot more here and a lot more that gets referenced and could have gone deeper, but I hope that this message reaches the folks who need to hear it. If you’re hard on yourself and tell yourself you just need to try harder, I hope you can learn to contextualize your own challenges and begin to approach them in a less judgmental way. And if you think that way about other folks, I encourage you to learn strategies to help folks build their capacities to work harder, to overcome barriers, and to get involved in the larger issues that are often out of individual control that can keep us all from devoting the same level of time and intensity to training as might be desirable.

Did you listen to the episode? Have something to say about folks needing (or not) to try harder? I’d love to hear about it! Make my day, and leave a comment below, or you can find Progressive Strength on Facebook and join the conversation over there!

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