Effort | Jim Steel

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by Jim Steel | May 16, 2023

Man, I just came downstairs to the
basement where I write because I had an idea about an article and I
was all excited. Before that, I was walking in the woods with my
Labrador, Rebel, and the idea just came to me. And I came downstairs
to the basement all pumped up because I was going to write an article
about effort. And then I remembered that the last Starting Strength
article had a whole lot to do with effort, and that I have written
articles on my website and other websites about effort.

But here’s the thing: I can’t help
it. I can’t get away from it. I think about it all the time. What
makes one person push through hard, seemingly impossible reps and
some others just quit when it gets tough? I think about that in
sports also, but plenty of it comes from observations in weight rooms
over the years. One of the crazy things is, effort and a lack of
effort are evenly distributed across all demographics. I have coached
rich kids that would pull deadlifts until their eyes bleed, and I
have coached poor kids who were the same way. And rich kids that quit
on reps, and poor kids, too.

It is something inside of a person that
makes them give it their all. I can’t figure it out, but it
fascinates me. Maybe you could call it “inner drive.” Or maybe
that’s a precursor to the effort – the lifter with the highest
inner drive gives the most effort. Whatever it is, it preoccupies my

And I am not talking about effort in
all aspects of life. Hell, I am supremely lazy at times (grocery
shopping) and barely try (folding clothes) at other times. I hate
doing anything but hunting and lifting, really. All else is me
forcing myself through the day.

But to me and to countless others, the
weight room is a sanctuary, a special place where like-minded folk
come together at a certain time of the day to work as hard as they
can. Anything else is an insult to the weight room gods. I am serious
about this, and I know that it is weird, but it is true: to give
anything less than your greatest effort in the weight room is sinful.

What the hell are you there for,
anyway? It is progressive resistance, so the resistance better
progress over time, and progress consistently, or you are not trying
hard enough. Right? Because if you can’t give a effort at that
level, just don’t come. Like Kamala said, just don’t come.
Stay home, go to sushi, go for a walk in the park. Anything but
tainting the weight room with your piss-poor effort. Again, it’s a

I have noticed, since I am now out of
the collegiate setting and train at public gyms, that people talk
during a set! How can you be pushing as hard as you can and
talking about the latest TikTok something or other while you’re
moving the weight?
And I have had people talk to me during my
set! Never happened in my life before. I’m killing myself, all
red-faced and serious and trying to concentrate, and they just start
jabbering away. I just ignore them and keep going.

And of course the biggest distraction:
the phone and texting. No way can you text in the sanctuary. Aren’t
you glad to be away from that thing? I hate the phone and all that
buzzing and chiming. We used to have answering machines. When you
were out, you were out, and nobody kept track of you. It was freedom.
The phone goes in the gym bag and doesn’t come out unless it’s
an emergency.

I think that the lifters and athletes
in my coaching career who were the most prepared tried the hardest.
It just meant more to them. They put in so much time out of the gym
preparing that they had to give their all. Why would they not with
all the time invested?

And lifters that had a solid,
written-out program gave great effort. I despise asking someone, “How
many sets of squats are you doing?” and having him say, “I don’t
know, I’m just going by feel.” He usually means that he is
stopping when it gets hard. And the same guy looks the same the next
year and lifts the same weights, of course.

Remember, take the place seriously.
Have a plan when you enter, and never be the guy who says, “Ah, I
don’t know, I may hit a little back, a little outer lat, some lower
pec, something like that.” That answer is also a rule breaker in
the gym. A well-thought-out program keeps the lifter on task with,
once again, progression, whether it is with weight or sets or
reps, it holds him accountable to completing a task, and if it is
done right, a task that requires great effort to complete.

I know that I can’t keep writing about
effort all the time. I get that. But I am always wondering if
something I write might make someone who has never tried real hard
actually give an all-out effort just one time – the kind of
exertion that makes you feel a little messed up at the end of the
set, like you’re somewhere else or something, a place that you have
never been. And to just see the look on their face when they realize
that they gave all that they had inside of them – and that they
can do that again, next time.
It will be a eureka-moment in their
lives. I think that’s why I keep writing about it.  

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