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Speech of the Week: Comparisons are Complicated

Updated: May 4

The tendency to draw comparisons between yourself and someone else is inevitable.  In the course of your training you are almost certainly going to feel that you don’t measure up to that “someone”.  That feeling of not measuring up might even be one of the catalysts for starting training in the first place!

But if comparison is a catalyst to wanting to change your physique, it sure is an imperfect one.  Notice that I didn’t say a bad one or that it was necessarily wrong.  Heck, if no one anywhere had any sort of competitive drive then nobody would do anything. 

Hmmm….nobody going nowhere and not doing anything. 

Maybe that’s an episode of Seinfeld?

(Except that that golden, proverbial “show about nothing” was rife with comparisons, squabbles, and petty rivalries).

Comparisons that inspire, may be helpful or they may be harmful.  But they are almost always going to complicated. 

A few examples:

-Body type plays a significant role in which exercises favor whom.  Different proportions alter leverage points and efficiency.  

-Age can be a factor.  The very young have less experience and training and need to focus on learning coordination.  The elderly must stave off biological deterioration.  But age alone is not a great predictor.  “Youth is wasted on the young” is one of the most accurate folk proverbs.  Youth, 16-25 years old (or more) are often unfocused and do not take advantage of their best years of helpful hormones.  On the other hand, there are many athletes in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s that can outperform youth based on decades of consistent training and adapted ability to recover.  

-Life skills: the ability to tune out chaos, focus, tolerance for pain, among others, are learned behaviors and can be cultivated.  Some people have decades-long background in “building-block” skills that make some aspects of performance seemingly easy or natural.  

-Natural talent is real, but hard work is real-er: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”    

I think I’ve illustrated the complexity of comparison enough.  So here are my recommended action steps for you, in order of priority:

  1.  Compare and compete against yourself.  This is the only way to ensure objective progress.  Learn how to take notes, focus, and intentionally beat your previous performance.  

  2. Compare against your natural “peer” group: similar body-type, similar age and ability.  

  3. When looking at others outside of your ability level, get inspired!  They weren’t always that strong, lean, skilled, etc.  And you can certainly achieve more than you give yourself credit for.  (Very few people will reach their potential.  I think that’s both sad and comforting).  

  4. Remember, you don’t get to see every angle or every side to the story.  That shorty that always finished burpees faster than you?  She might need her reps audited.  That guy that seems to always have everything put together?  He might have had to overcome a LOT of obstacles to get there.   

The bottom line? 

If it’s inspirational, helps you peel back some layers and reverse engineer success, or lights your competitive fire, a little bit of comparison is probably good.  But if you easily get discouraged or find that it interferes with your actions steps, then stop worrying about what other people are doing!  Just go back to getting better at what you are doing. 

Take an objective measure, and then get out there and beat yourself.  On purpose.  

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