Written by Dave Thomas
Three years ago I published an article on our gym site that talked about our detrimental need to constantly compare ourselves to others’ benchmarks, rather than our own.
After seeing it re-circulate this week, I decided I’d like to “re-finish” it with some updates, as well as confess to violating some of the over comparison myself.
So, what is over comparison?
It’s a theme I have closely observed all too well in overseeing a healthy, dynamic group gym population train together over the last five years.
Just as quickly as pride enters us over an achievement, it is often shot down by self judgement that it’s not better.
It’s the insecurity of being a beginner, looking around the room and seeing everyone outperform you.
It’s the awkward combo of nervousness and pride in writing your name up on the board for a lift or timed MetCon, when you know damn well you’re in the middle to back of the pack.
It’s the ego hit of being a male gym owner and watching 20 year old Mattie Rogers instantly render your weightlifting game invalid.
We are in the era where ‘professional exercise’ is a thing and saying, “Nice snatch” to a female doesn’t get you kicked in the dick. Where fitness social media is everywhere and the information and opportunities to compare yourself to others is abundant like never before.
Comparison, by nature, is a good thing. Let’s be clear on that. Competition is healthy and having your shit kept in check is a vital part of the growth curve. It allows us to have perspective on where we are and it encourages us to further our results. I believe we should always have folks who motivate us to more, and if you’re living in some type of self protective bubble then you’re doing it wrong.
Where it gets dangerous is when that comparison goes too far and begins to diminish the results that we’ve achieved for ourselves.
It’s something I have seen all too often over the tenure of my running a gym for the last five years.
So, how do we toe the line and get the best of motivation without the depression of comparison?
There’s four things you can do.
Remember Your Own Baseline
First, it’s critical that you always remember where you started and that base level of benchmark. You were a pathetic sack of mush once. You know it. I know it. We all were.
A good drill is go back and write down all of your baselines from where you started so you can always see how far you’ve come. In everything. Like life.
It’s hard to have perspective on what you have accomplished in the past because your perceived lack of present abilities is an overpowering force.
Like becoming upset and frustrated because your jerk is stuck at 225#, even though it’s probably twice where you started.
Evaluate Against Populations Other Than Elite
Second, it’s having some perspective from outside of your fitness tribe. Think about your group of friends and what they do on a regular basis. Could any of them show up and do what you do day in and day out? Maybe one? Two? Spread that out across the entire population and realize that you are most likely kicking some serious ass.
Understand that most people don’t even deadlift or squat. Or sweat. Or try.
When you beat yourself up for performing in the middle of the pack in a workout, quickly check that with a population bigger than what’s currently surrounding you. A lot of people try gyms and programs and don’t last. They quit. They talk a big game and then throw in the towel with excuses like, “My schedule was too tough” or some other drivel that makes me want to cut my wrists. Vertically.
We make time for what we want to make time for, and if you make time to improve your health and abilities, you’re winning. Regardless of accomplishment.
Embracing Your Genetics
Third, and most important, it’s having an honest understanding of your natural predisposition to strengths and weaknesses. We love to use canned rhetoric about how all you need to do is put in the work and you can do anything!
I’m afraid that’s only kinda true.
While I believe anyone can get really good at anything, the scientific reality is that as an individual, there are dozens of reasons you are built to perform the way you are.
The length of your appendages. The size of your foot arch. The humerus to forearm size ratio. The diameter of your wrists. How your feet naturally fall when you walk. How your mom ate while you were in the womb. Your glenohumeral joint-to-joint measurement. Bow legged, pigeon toed or duck footed. If your grandfather played sports. Bow legged, pigeon toed or duck footed.
Many genetic dispositions you will never be able to change. It’s the hand you were dealt and you can’t get re-shuffle.
If you have longer arms you are naturally going to be good at deadlifts because the bar has to travel a shorter distance to lock out. However, you’ll struggle with presses jerks and snatches for the opposite reason.
If your humerus to forearm ratio is close you have a greater likelihood to jerk a heavier weight because of the speed and angle the bar leaves your torso.
If two people are of the exact same height, the one with the longer femurs is typically going to have much less range of motion on the back squat?
Ashley has very long legs, thus will never be an “ass to grass” squatter and will always have more forward lean than most are comfortable (this is why I hate when Fit Pros regurgitate ass to grass all the time. It’s not physically possible for some).
This build helps her have a very strong squat (225#) and deadlift (300#) at a body weight of just 119#, but limits her in movements like the jerk and snatch.
The point is not to make excuses and resign yourself to your genetics. I firmly believe that anyone can get good at anything, but the absolute reality exists that your body is likely built to favor some movements and be limited in others. Don’t beat yourself up.
Take Inventory of Your Strengths
Working on your weaknesses is cool, but so is owning the shit out of your strengths.
There are women at our gym who can pick up two hundred and fifty pounds, but can’t do a pull-up. There are women who can perform five perfect strict pull-ups who can’t lift half of that.
Yet both become internally frustrated and only focus on what they each cannot do.
Such is the human condition. We love to ignore our strengths.
Think of what you do in the gym on a weekly basis. You probably have an exercise in which you tend to excel. In fact, most of you are really good at something (or at least have the genetic potential for it) but your brain chooses to ignore it because of another area you might be lacking.
Wanting to be the best is as American as a tank top with Abraham Lincoln riding a grizzly bear, but you must also always appreciate your journey from your own baseline.
Constant success and satisfaction is matter of striking balance between motivation and comparison, and that gap is usually bridged through realism.
At first I saw Mattie Rogers as a T2000 sent back in time to destroy my
self worth as a man achievements. Now I see her as a bad ass role model inspiring myself, and hopefully women (and men) of the next generation to get under some heavy weight.
Let the accomplishments of your peers motivate you but not distract from your own strengths, minimize your own achievements or set unrealistic expectations for yourself that ultimately drown out your achievements and set you up to be perpetually underwhelmed.
To close, I’d like you to quickly take five minutes and write down what you have accomplished since you started training. Include ways your life has improved outside of the gym.
I’m willing to bet you check off at least eight to ten great things, some of which you likely achieved through peer motivation.
It’s all about balance and perspective.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think, and if you liked it, please hit the SHARE button below. Thanks for reading.