Effort over Outcome

 In philosophy, thoughts about stuff


Here was a fairly rare and wonderful statistic:

The American Powerlifting Association held the California Raw Powerlifting Championships last weekend. Out of 37 lifters, 17 were women. That’s 45%.

One more stat worth mentioning, out of the 17 women, 8 were from Bodytribe.

The team was also made up of three guys, and everyone met their demons head-on and conquered their obstacles with complete focus and will. As I’ve written in this blog many times before, the weight on the bar is secondary to the battle against it, and when that battle is 100% effort, then the journey is complete, and successful.

Although the battle itself yields truths and consequences, it is the journey where the real teachings are revealed. Don’t mistake this as license to follow the same path perpetually. A journey with no ending never releases all its secrets. So for these ten lifters, there quest cultivated into their small wars with gravity, and now with that over, we begin planning for the next journey. Who wants on the bus? Honk!


There were inquiries about the numbers of women that Bodytribe has suckered into lifting for our team. Although I could admit to the bribes and blackmailing we deal in to get folks to compete around here, I told the other story…

bridget deadlift1 bwThere are screaming gyms, and there are the gyms of a quieter intensity. Aggression, for that’s what we can call the semi-violence behind maximum effort lifting, has many faces of expression. For strength athletes, the best gyms are always the dens that allow these expressions, where it is understood that the war with gravity’s dogma requires strategies and warriors and weapons that might frighten the normal marshmallow gym member who prefers softer, gentler tools and techniques. And, on the other hand, any member of any strength army knows that being surrounded by folks who believe in the low output, low result tedium that most ‘health clubs’ perpetuate will invoke rage or insanity. Hence the need for a home for their ‘sweet chant of frantic power.’

scarlet final day 1But not all homes should be built the same. A lot of credit should be given to strength sports for being very approachable means of release. There is some truth to a romanticized notion that is expressed from many coaches and lifters I come across that anyone is welcome, and this goes for both genders. There is, of course, a caveat; an addendum to the invitation that is often more implied than directly stated: be prepared for battle or you will be eaten alive.

In other words, come on in, join the party, but bring everything ya got, because the iron accepts nothing less.

Come on up, yeah
bring your temper boy
we’ll see.
we’ll see.

– 16 Horsepower


So, yes, most strength sports are inclusive, as many testing grounds are. But don’t accept the invitation unless this journey suits you.

Aha… that’s where many turn away. They misinterpret the ritual. Around these parts, the ritual is the effort, not the outcome, but to the common eye attached to a common American brain, the ritual might be interpreted as simply a quest for big numbers. Not just big numbers, but bigger numbers than the next guy (or gal).


But where are the lessons there? No, our instructor is the iron and our lessons come from the mano-a-mano struggle against earth’s pull (and no, womano-a-womano would not be a gender bending version of this phrase, since mano a mano translates to hand-to-hand).

One of the biggest reasons for the misconception of outcome versus process – just big numbers versus total effort – is due to presentation. To be blunt, not everyone wants to be yelled at all the time, and there seems to be a trend in some strength sports, especially powerlifting (not so much in weightlifting), that the violence against the bar needs to be demonstrated in personality and action before the lift and by everyone involved. Shouts, screams, huffs and the loudest music available seem to be common staples, dare I say trends, amongst powerlifting gyms. Why? Because it works. It really does.

But not for everyone. I was asked how our team had such high numbers of women. Two reasons. We really emphasize the importance of the journey over the outcome, that training and movement, especially intense strengthening movements requiring all out effort, are very potent tools for personal empowerment.

clean michelle 5bwAnd we offer an environment that promotes a subtler, more reflective psyche up, and for many (especially women), this is more effective than the personified aggression. I talk about the two environments in Lift With Your Head, explaining that visualization for performance might be separated into these two different rituals.

The Psych. Every powerlifting competition, most collegiate wrestling tournaments and the occasional football locker room embraces The Psych as the pre-battle ritual, perhaps trying to invoke the inner-berzerker potentially found in all of us. In the above situations the ritual involves a lot of yelling, snorting to the brink of hyperventilation, and maybe some slapping (sounds like porn, don’t it?). Psyching Up is an attempt to stimulate the competitor through the excitement, and perhaps a little pain of the high-energy overload of sensations. Somehow this bombardment of extreme sensory overload is supposed to create more focus. Some swear by it, others will argue its contradictions, but it is an accepted ritual in many realms of competition.

Then there’s the Quiet. The Quiet is the ritual from the other side of the tracks, often a ritual of the truly scary opponent. It’s the dark side of the moon, where focus is found through complete concentration and utter control of the senses. Martial artists and Weightlifting competitors dwell here often. This is the uninterrupted landscape that the athlete can count on to calm the thoughts and extinguish external stimuli.

The Psych:

(yes, Scot Mendelson’s wife really does slap the crap out of him before he lifts)

The Quiet:

(listen to the utter calm right before he lifts)

So for anyone interested, you can be here if you want to be here, but you have to want to be here to be here.

And here’s the folks who want to be here:



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Showing 6 comments
  • Lisa

    I would love to talk about this at length, and hope we do someday. Just wanted to add a thought.

    As one of the women who competed last weekend, all I can tell you is that Bodytribe made a place for me without tripping for a second over my gender, without faltering for a moment once I showed interest in lifting. That is one of the many things that keeps me coming back.

    Gyms in our culture want to make a big deal out of a woman one way or another. The big commercial gyms piggyback on the American messages to women of “ugly” and “fat” and are all about selling you their junk-food-quality “fitness solutions.”

    Other more aggressive gyms seem to want to hold their women lifters up as some kind of trophy, some ticket to legit badass freakdom because they let a woman walk through the door and dare to be strong like Tarzan (“Thump thump. Look at us. Our girls can beat up your girls.”).

    Bodytribe’s approach is an engaging blend of “Yeah, so?” and “Hell yes.” I love it.

  • Gubernatrix

    Lisa, your point about aggressive gyms is well made. I’ve seen a few of these videos kicking around the internet lately, the ‘why doesn’t your girlfriend train like our girls’ type of nonsense. Women aren’t performing monkeys (and neither are men, and neither are monkeys) and have different approaches/motivations for lifting anyway. I like the way you’ve put it.

  • Paige

    As one of the other women who competed last weekend, I don’t think I could say it any better than Lisa did, so I don’t think I will try. I do want to say that I enjoyed spending the day with all of you and I am proud to be a part of the tribe!

  • Al in Vancouver

    Very thoughtful post.

    I was at the British Columbia Provincial Championships for powerlifting this year and there was a total of one woman in the competition.

    The relative strongest lifter amongst my clients is a woman and I am thrilled to help many women become introduced to strength training and the powerlifts.

  • Jd Webb

    Just wanted to say thanks for this

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  • […] overturn the current construct of movement-as-exercise. The embodied athlete knows that the journey trumps the outcome, that the big picture means learning from the small pictures. If we’re listening to the […]

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