The Tortoise and the Hare


One of my favorite fables is the one about the Tortoise and the Hare. You know the story. One day a gym owner gets two inquiries from prospective clients. He meets with them and explains his program. After hearing what he has to say they both agree to give it a try. One of them was a Tortoise and the other was a Hare.

So on the first day the gym owner teaches them both how to squat, press, bench, and deadlift. He tells them they will learn how to power clean in a few weeks. After teaching them both how to perform each lift the gym owner explains to them that it is important that they save a few reps in the tank early on in the process. This is to ensure that the training stress they experience during each session is appropriate for their level of development. The Hare laughs at this and suggests that he should probably just go to failure. The gym owner just simply repeats his previous statement. The Tortoise quietly listened and paid close attention.

The program that the gym owner taught his new clients was basic and rather straightforward. On day one they did the squat, press, and deadlift, and on day two they did the squat, bench, and deadlift. Right away the Hare objects to this and asks why they are only doing three lifts. The gym owner calmly told him not to worry and that it would be plenty enough work to get them both stronger. He went on to say that if they wanted to do more than they could add in a few sets of chin ups. The Tortoise was again listening carefully. He even wrote a few things into his notebook this time. The Hare asked why chin ups were suggested instead of wide-grip pull ups. The gym owner just walked away without responding.

On the first day the Hare did 145 pounds on the squat with mediocre form, pressed 85 pounds, and deadlifted 175 pounds with a rounded back. The gym owner tried to help the Hare work on his form, but he didn't want to listen. He was more worried about the weight on the bar. The gym owner was not impressed and was quickly losing patience.

The Tortoise had a slower start. He was focused on learning how to do each lift correctly, so he took advantage of the opportunity of having a professional coach look at his mechanics. He could have done more the first day, but he was not in a hurry. The Tortoise did not pretend to know it all. He did a modest 115 pounds on the squat with good low-bar mechanics and sufficient hip drive. He also started figuring out the timing on the Press movement and did a respectable 75 pounds. The Tortoise deadlifted a little less than the Hare, but he did it with a flat back. And the bar stayed on his shins because he listened to the five steps of deadlifting success the gym owner told him about.

Everyone knows how the rest of the story goes. The Hare kept adding plates to the bar without really worrying too much about his technique and was rather cocky about it. He never listened to the gym owner when he was offered advice about his lifting technique. Instead of reading the articles that were suggested to help address the issues he was having he would instead go home to watch you tube videos of his favorite internet fitness celebrities. When he asked the gym owner why they were not using chains yet he was told that he needed to be able to pull 225 with a flat back first.

The Hare was hell bent on moving all the big weights like all of his heroes did on the internet. Most of them were genetically-gifted superhumans who had been training for years with plenty of assistance, but overlooking this fact he still felt that his programming needed to more closely resemble what they were doing. He knew from reading on the internet that the key would be to do more accessory work. And more volume. And mobility warm-ups. And whatever the latest video he watched was about. But he still wasn't any closer to pulling 225 with a flat back.

Eventually, the Hare decided that he needed to start training in an environment that is more conducive to gains, so he joined one of the meathead gyms across town. The truth is he was tired of hearing the gym owner talk about sticking to the basics. He made a few new lifting buddies who had access to gear and they started doing more accessory work. Next thing you know he too was posting videos on the internet showing off how strong he was. Of course the squats were all high. It is as if he never even paid attention to anything the gym owner told him about squatting. His deadlift videos were even worse. His technique was straight up neanderthal status. Every single rep was done with a terribly rounded back and was hitched all way to the top.

Eventually the Hare gets stuck and stalls. We know because he posted about it on the internet. Regardless of his excuses the fact of the matter is the gear eventually stops working. Missing many of the most important steps of training always comes back to haunt you in the end.

But to the Hare it was merely a minor set back. One day he listened to a podcast from his heroes talking about the need to mentally overcome whatever obstacles stand in your way, so he decided to go to the gym that night to try to pull a big PR.

After guzzling an absurd amount of pre-workout the Hare went into the gym focused completely on smashing all mental barriers. He loaded up a weight that he had never before attempted and hit the smelling salt hard. One of his bros punched him in the face for good measure. After sufficiently psyching himself up for this epic pull he started to rip on the weight with the aggression of an angry teenager, but the bar barely moved. The Hare is a stubborn sucker though, so he started pulling even harder. He was never going to give up. At least that is what it said on his shirt.

After fighting violently to get the loaded barbell halfway up his leg something tore in his back. He had to drop the bar. He played it off by claiming that he didn't get enough protein for lunch and quietly headed home. The next day he could barely walk. There was definitely some nerve damage and his back hurt badly. If only he would have listened. But it was too late. No more gains for awhile.

The poor Hare. He didn't even get to finish half of the race because he was in too much of a hurry.

The Tortoise on the other hand is still plugging along. He took his time and applied everything slowly. When the gym owner told him that results would take time, he listened. Last I heard he was pulling somewhere in the mid-500's, squatting in the mid-400's, and pressing almost bodyweight. Definitely not the weights of any internet fitness heroes, but the Tortoise never really got into the whole hero-worship thing. He just wanted to be a little stronger and now he is.

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