The following is an article by my friend Phil Stevens. Phil has competed in powerlifting and strongman, and is pretty damn strong. He works with Charles Staley and is a contributor on the Staley Training Systems website.
Real vs. Relative
I often find myself thinking on the subject of strength, and of course the whole relative strength concept, or more so fallacy (fallacy in My Opinion, and remember my opinion is one that’s has seen me as heavy as 320 and light as 165 at 6’1” so it’s pretty damn diverse where I have been) comes to mind. In reality, reality meaning the real world, there is NO such thing as relative strength,. There is ONLY strength. Relative only comes into play in a contrived situation such as a weight classed sport such as power or Olympic weight lifting. In the real world, the one that 99.9% of the population lives in, aside from us athletes, there is NO relative factor to strength. (HMM so why is the relative fad such a highly sought and contrived pinnacle when most people are not in a competitive situation that demands it)
In the real world if there is a task to be done, the task does not care one iota how much the person doing it weighs. The one and only factor is that the job must be done. In such a case, a case that is a many and very much so the majority, strength is the most residing factor to your ability to compete such a task. A factor that by far and large most lack including those that seek and triumph there supposed superior relative strength.
So lets bring the relative world in to the real world. Of course the situation is going to still be contrived, it’s a story, and any story will be, But we’ll make the tasks these two have to complete as real world as we can.
So we have Carl. Carl is a self proclaimed stud. He is a jack of all trades and pretty damn good at pretty much any sport he trains. He’s 6 foot 190. He can run a 6 and a half minute mile, run a 4.3 40, has completed a half marathon, can do 20 dead hang chins, can press 225 (1.18 x bodyweight), bench 275 (1.44 x bodyweight) , squat 475 (2.13 x bodyweight) , deadlift 570 ( 3 x bodyweight)and is Ripped at 8% body fat with HOT Abzz. Those are damn good numbers in relative terms, and dude is Hot and mean he has Abzzz.
Now we have his polar opposite Abbot. Abbot is the same 6 foot but he is 280. He hasn’t ran a mile in ? god knows how long, can still run a 5 second 40, gets sick thinking about running a half marathon hell even walking a half marathon, can do 8 dead hang chins, can press 275 (.98 x bodyweight), bench 345 (1.25 x bodyweight) , squat 490 ( just 1.75 x bodyweight) , deadlift 600 ( just 2.15 x bodyweight) Abbot is over fat with a 23% body fat with not a hint of abs and some killer love handle. He’s strong but his numbers aren’t great. He’s no elite athlete by any means he dabbles in strength training pretty good at making it 2-3 times a week and just trying to get Strong when he does make it. He thinks about some day maybe getting serious and being a power lifter or Olympic lifter but who knows.
Again polar opposite one jacked ripped pretty down strong stud and one guy that’s again has a good level of strength but in relative terms not that great and his capacity for distance is likely crap as he hasn’t done any. What happens when we put these two in a simple real world situation? Meaning a situation that like life doesn’t care what you weigh just that a task MUST be completed?
Abbot and Carl are dropped on an island ( told you contrived but stay with me here remember the definition of real world) They are told you each have 24 hours to do two things or you will face death on this island which has no food and no escape. You have to first cross the island. It is 30miles then you must lift a 580 lb lead weight off of a trigger that will then send the alarm to have the chopper come save you.
OK GO. Carl smokes it he paces himself and to conserve energy and still makes the 30 miles in 6 hours. Abbot on the other hand, he is over fat and not “fit” he slugs along at 30 minutes a mile, takes the time to take in the scenery etc. and makes the trip in a piss pour 15 hours.
What does Abbot find? He find Carl laying on the ground next to his weight to move crying his eyes out knowing he faces certain death even thought he kicked the hell out of Abbots travel time, even though he has HOT abuzz and is a superior physical specimen. Despite the fact his relative strength in as high as three times body weight a HUGE feat in any sports realm he just can’t move the weight, it is 10 lbs more then his best ever effort.
Abbot smiles then waddles his fat as over to his lead weight. He takes a big breath expanding his bowl full of jelly, grunts turns 16 different shades of red as his blood pressure shy rockets due to his over stressed heart but he moves the weight and he lives, While his relatively stronger competitor is destined to die.
What’s the moral of the story? Abbot was relatively less “fit” ( an abused and over used term) but when the rubber hit the road he could do everything his counterpart could and more. It may take him longer at some things that required endurance but he could do them. While Carl even though he was a human freak and had great relative strength when face with one task vs. a seemingly lesser opponent in all ways except one (maximal strength) LOST.
In the real world, on the field of life. What matters most is your ability to DO the job, not so much how long it takes. If you cant do it, it will by default, take you forever. More times then not in life the reason someone cant do something, be it a chin up, to carry an injured soldier or co worker off the field. The ability to push your car off the street. To beat down an oncoming attacker. Or simply be a useful man and have the ability to move your old washing machine out of its basement home, and move a new one in its place is limited by your lack of maximal strength. All of the other strength qualities, as Mark Rippetoe has a very unique and entertaining way of explaining and I urge you to hear in person by attending one of his seminars, relies first on maximal strength. For example before you can have strength endurance you better damn well simply have the strength. You cant endure without the base level of strength to do one.
This is not me proposing you to become an over fat, un-conditioned but fairly strong slob. It me telling you to wake the hell up and realize you live in a real world, and the real world doesn’t care how much you weigh. If you care about real world ability one of the main things on your mind should not be your Abzz and if you can fit in your skinny jeans and still knock out 25 chins, but that you have the ability to DO the tasks that are asked of you, with no regard to how you look doing it. More times than not that will mean getting bigger, and adding a bit of healthy body fat to get stronger. A healthy focus on performance instead of aesthetics and you’ll find out an amazing fact that if you do so, your form will follow your function.
I’ve had visible abzz myself and I’ve still never seen an ab do a damn thing in this life in the real world. Now go ponder these words and ask yourself really how useful are you, in real, not relative terms.
You can find the link to this article here. And here is some training footage from Phil: