if you want to be strong, you must be tough

By Mark Reifkind, Master SFG

I probably shouldn’t write this. It’s not the politically correct thing to say. Some people will be offended. But that’s okay, as well as the point. Getting strong is not for everyone.

That is not to say that everyone can’t be stronger, couldn’t get stronger.  They can, and they could.  But the truth is, they won’t.

Many will think about it, but few will do it. Even fewer will keep doing it. As I have been known to say “I don’t make the rules, I just know ‘em. And they apply to me, as well.” This is one of the cases.

I have seen this over and over in the 41 years I have been a student of strength, and by direct association, of willpower, creative intent and toughness, both mental and physical. And even more directly in the last 14 years I have been a full-time personal trainer.

Everyone loves the idea of strength, of being strong. In all its many forms. Of lifting more than they have before. Of running farther and faster than before. Of resisting that cookie or piece of cake they have decided they don’t want to eat. Of being able to make up their mind about something and stick with it. That kind of strength.

It ain’t easy or EVERYBODY would be. It’s really that simple. The bar isn’t going to lift itself. The kettlebell isn’t going to swing itself and no one but you can make you get out of bed early on a cold dark morning to make yourself do what you said you wanted to do.

You have to be tough. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay, it’s good. If it were too easy, everyone would have it and then it would mean less to have it. At least to me. When I saw Pavel’s first video of the ‘Russian Kettlebell Challenge’ these words spoke to me: “Comrades, I give you the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, for those who like it tough, and just a little bit dangerous.” I was a competitive powerlifter at the time and I knew just what he meant. Real training, where one is really utilizing the body to the fullest is never easy, never comfortable. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is the first step.

What is ‘tough’? One way to look at it is being able to endure that which is unpleasant in the process of getting what one really wants to get, or to be. It is the price of admission into the world of the strong. Of being able to set one’s mind to the task at hand and do that which is necessary to achieve it, or as close as possible. To be able to ignore the minor uncomfortable aspects of overcoming the inertia of laziness that seems to grow bigger every year.

James Allen, the author of ‘As a Man Thinketh’ has been paraphrased as saying, “Challenges don’t build character, they reveal it.”  And so does the world of strength training. It doesn’t matter if your weapon of choice is a barbell, a kettlebell or your bodyweight, the real weapon is your mind and your will. And the real obstacle is your weakness and lethargy. Even the act of challenging them will make you stronger.

To be able to confront one’s weaknesses head on and do something about it. To not be pushed back by the task. To be able to say no when that is the right thing to do or to say yes and push forward despite fear or uncertainty of the outcome.

It really doesn’t matter what the goal is, when one is at their limit and the next step is into the unknown, the feeling is always the same. When I could only squat 300lbs., 325 was the unknown and very scary. Confronting that bar, which could care less about my goals or dreams, was the task. Choosing to get under it and risk failure was the only real option to getting stronger. But I had to make the motion and take the risk.

Rif deadlifting 545 @ 181

But there is a great prize for those that can, and those that do. That is the feeling of being strong. Of living in the world strong. Of knowing that if they want to achieve something, they can put their all to it. That the ability to create force, which is strength, is in their capacity, in their toolbox. That gives one a confidence that literally cannot be bought, borrowed, stolen, faked, or obtained in any other manner. And few things feel as sweet. That is why strong people, when they meet, recognize and respect their peers, no matter if they are strong in very disparate disciplines, because they KNOW what that person had to do to get what they achieved. What they endured. What they sacrificed, what they chose.

Because Strength is a choice, it is an attitude. It is a belief in one’s power to move things in the direction one desires. By sheer force of will and imagination. And toughness.

# # #

Mark Reifkind, SFG Master Instructor, lives in Palo Alto, CA. You can learn more about him at his website or his blog: http://GiryaStrength.com, and http://Rifsblog.blogspot.com.

 

 

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20 Responses to if you want to be strong, you must be tough

  1. Bill Savage says:

    Well Said, Mark. There are a few of us still who appreciate and actually gravitate to the “politically incorrect” and what others consider “hard, tough, difficult”, whatever. Just yesterday I was trying to explain to my teen daughter (who incidentally just beat out over 100 adults in a very intense 8 week fitness challenge) that the willingness to do what others will not has rewards not only in fitness and physical strength, but also in business and life. Myself, I built a very successful business in the USA (have just moved to Oz) doing a physically tough business that intimidates most. I appreciate the fact you quoted “As A Man Thinketh”. Fantastic book and one I actually just unpacked and have been reading again.

  2. Cole Summers says:

    “Life is tough,and much tougher if you’re weak.”
    Well said, Mark!

  3. Cole Summers says:

    Outstanding!

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  5. MC

    yes it is the mission of StrongFirst to educate people on how to get strong and the importance of strength. As they say, though, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. We can put the information and methods out there, but it’s up to the individuals to drink it in. We can’t make them

    And yes, maybe, if this were la la land ALL would be strong and focused and disciplined but lets be honest; that’s never happened in the history of the world and most probably wont. And yes, that’s ok to me. A wise Chief Instructor once told me ” preach to the converted”. And he was right :) )

    All I can do and control is myself. Then I can tell others what I’ve done and my teachers have done, to accomplish their goals. It’s always up to the individual, which , as I wrote , is ok, and the point.

    Life it tough, and much tougher if you’re weak.
    Don’t know what else to say :)

  6. mc says:

    Mark,
    very much appreciate your sentiments that strength is a desired quantity and that it comes by doing the work, and that most of us do not put in the work to get there – the strength community is a minority. it’s hard to remember that hanging with strong people.

    but that’s sad isn’t it – that it’s small?

    so two questions:
    1) is the goal of Strength First as a school/business to change that – to bring strength to everyone
    as a mission for growth/success??
    i ask that sincerly – some schools are not interested in growth. they are happy to take x people a year and that’s bloody it. and that’s fine. the only thing that grows forever is cancer

    2) to be strong you say:
    “You have to be tough. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay, it’s good. If it were too easy, everyone would have it and then it would mean less to have it.”

    Mark – wouldn’t the world be a more wonderful place if everyone were strong – and by extension as disciplined as you suggest and that that were a habit that made it easy – easy strength? little joke there, but that gets back to q1, isn’t this the mission of strong first (or easy strength) ?

    needs you alone to hone on the stone to cut to the bone of this koan

    mc

  7. Tom Furman says:

    Enjoyable and clear. Thanks, Mark.

  8. Jason Herrmann, HKC says:

    Great article Rif! No better time of the year to repost this. With modern technology recreating false tenses of what used to be earned (superficial beauty, weight lose,etc), the one thing I have always loved and valued about fitness is that it can’t be bought. Sharing this with all my friends who are hoping to make changes in 2013.

  9. Thanks for another terrific blog, Mark. If your writing “might not be the politically correct thing to say”, it’s only because so many of us have gone soft, and that “toughness” is an exception. And what you say about strong people respecting other strong people, no matter their practice, is right on the money. At the risk of sounding like a glue advertisement; strength bonds.

  10. Alberto Pinton says:

    Thank you for this mr. Reifkind! I happen to be one of those older dudes who like to run long, besides lifting. At km. 36 of my last marathon on Nov. 3 my legs cramped, first one at a time then both together, off and on. I HAD to finish, so I banged with my fists on the cramped areas, walked, ran when I could, stretched the opposing muscles, aso up to the finish line. The term STRONG might not directly apply to marathon running per se, but in this particular case, TOUGH did. I finished in 3.24, not bad for a formerly overweight 50 yo. All the best, and keep’em coming!

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