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The Usefulness of Being Strong

One of my favorite quotes by Mark Rippetoe is, “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and generally more useful.” For me, being fit isn’t about looking good or even feeling good, it’s about being hard to kill.  It is also very important to be fit enough to help when somebody else is in trouble.

It’s funny, I’ve had multiple people say things like, “well, when am I ever going to have to run a mile?”  Or “when am I ever going to need to pull somebody out of a burning car?”  Well, you never know.  Wouldn’t it be better to train for it and be able to do something like that if the situation arose?

Case in point:

The bottom line is that the world is a chaotic and dangerous place, despite our best attempts to convince ourselves otherwise.  The more fit you are, the better you’re going to be able to deal with that chaos and danger.

See you in the gym.

12 Responses to “The Usefulness of Being Strong”

  1. Blair Lowe says:

    Another useful thing about strength is the less than likely prevalency to get hurt doing mundane or arduous tasks and the ability to get through a day of moving or working as a laborer for extra cash or if you are a trade apprentice (guess what being a tile and mason apprentice consists of).

  2. Rich says:

    Harder to kill has always been abstract to me, but i really understood it when i read about a CF’er who was able to battle cancer better because he was in strong shape and had learned to fight.

    The point being is that whether it’s literal or figurative, CF’ers are harder to kill.

  3. Martin says:

    I agree, “harder to kill” does not resonate with me. I am not a first responder, law enforcement or military. I am a parent. I have a desk job. Being strong is a quality of life improvement: easier to play with the kids, grab the groceries, unload the luggage, move the spare bed, clear the yard, surf, etc.

    Of course, there is the side benefit of being able to do a heavy deadlift to possibly save myself or someone else, but honestly this seems like a very, very unlikely event for most people.

    Of course, I may be proven wrong when the zombies come.

  4. Nick Wise says:

    Martin and Rich,

    It’s not necessarily meant as in it’s difficult for another person to kill you. You could be killed by a car accident, a heart attack, or an infection. Being strong reduces your chances of being killed by any of those things– fitness makes you more resilient.

    Also, it’s easy for us to live in our bubble and define ourselves as a person who is safe from violence and catastrophe. But our relative security isn’t a feature of who we are, it’s just a lucky and temporary situation. Enjoy it while it lasts, but never fool yourself into thinking that you’re immune to chaos and disaster.

    Hope for and enjoy the best. Plan and train for the worst.

  5. Patricia says:

    @ Nick, It’s not about feeling better? Seriously i find that hard to believe. In many ways you are saying it’s about being “healthier” .. although it’s more “macho” to say “harder to kill.”

    I believe we each create what we focus on…and I completely disagree with you that people who don’t choose to focus on potential negative occurances, are living in a bubble.

    Martin and Rich are two very intelligent and aware people who have some years on you (and their fitness shows very positively in that respect!) so I think it would be nice to acknowledge that they do speak also from experience, and respect that as something more than simply “luck”.

    State what you believe, but I don’t feel telling people they are wrong, i.e. “living in a bubble” when they state what they believe is part of an “open minded” discussion.

  6. Nick says:

    Patricia:
    I had a very long reply, but it disappeared into the ether.
    Suffice it to say that I wasn’t discounting anybody’s experience or abilities, and I’m not saying that Martin and Rich are wrong. I’m simply saying that we’re all lucky to a certain extent and it’s easy to forget that bad things happen to everybody, including the good people who come to our gym.
    I consider it my duty, as a person who has professionally dealt with chaos, catastrophe, and violence, to remind people that such things are real and are often kept at bay only due to good luck.
    Lucky people are harder to kill, too. It’s just that luck isn’t as reliable as strength.

    Also, about focus, I feel that there is enough evidence in my favor to say that you’re wrong. If you focus on something, you don’t create it in your life, you just ignore everything else, even if everything else is very dangerous.
    For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
    In addition, next time I’m in the gym, I’d like you to focus on a big, juicy steak for me. If you can create it out of just your focus, I’ll eat my words (and also the steak).

    It’s worth saying one more time: “Hope for and enjoy the best. Plan and train for the worst.”

  7. Connellan says:

    Nick, do you strive to be controversial or it just comes out that way? Not sure why I am responding, except that I do not think that the extreme macho ness of your statement reflects well on Crossfit Marin.

    As a society I would say that we need some strong people and others who are fast, agile, analytical, creative and more.

    As individuals in individual situations… Who knows what is going to help… But I know that I could put my endurance and logic to pretty good use.

  8. Nick Wise says:

    Connellan,
    I didn’t justify Patricia’s accusation of me being “macho” with a response, but since it’s come up twice now, I have to say something. It has nothing to do with sexism or manliness or whatever– strong women are harder to kill, too. Women are killed or injured in just as many unpredictable and often violent ways as men. Imagine if grandma was strong enough to deadlift 200lbs (which is not unreasonable for a person who did strength training for her whole life). She would be much less likely to break her hip in a ground-level fall and die months later of an infection in a nursing home, a fate far more common than it should be to elderly people of both genders.

    Again, as a person who has dealt professionally with chaos, catastrophe, and violence, I consider it my duty to remind people that such things are real and can come upon us with little to no warning. It’s not about being macho, nor is it about insulting people who aren’t strong. It’s about helping people to be prepared for the thing that would otherwise kill them.

    This post wasn’t an attack against you, or anybody else, regardless of their strength. If you’re coming into the gym on a regular basis, you’re probably going to be a lot stronger than many people and that strength is going to serve you well in many areas of your life, not the least of which is helping you survive things that could kill a weaker person. As for endurance, it’s a highly over-rated ability. If I’m ever in a disaster, a fight, pinned under a car, or even just needing help moving a couch, I’m not going to call the endurance runner to help me, I’d rather take the power lifter, and I suspect most people would agree with me. Hence, “strong people are… more useful in general.” But there’s nothing that says that you can’t be have good endurance AND be strong. Isn’t that what CrossFit is all about?

    As for logic, creativity and analytical ability, I’m not discounting them. But I work at a gym. I teach people to increase their work capacities across broad time and modal domains; to become fit and competent in the ten general physical skills: strength, stamina, power, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, accuracy, speed, agility, coordination and balance. Since I’m not a math, science or philosophy teacher, I’ll just write about the importance of physical fitness on this blog.

  9. Matt Mihaly says:

    Like anything we put effort into in life, working out to get strong is a risk vs. reward ratio, and I’ll tell you what: If the primary reward for all the time and money I spend on Crossfit was “being harder to kill”, I’d have quit a long time ago. “Harder to kill” is too subjective and impossible to measure. Harder to kill by whom or what, in what situations, and how much harder to kill?

    More importantly, are there other things that cost me less (time/money/effort) than Crossfit does that would have a DRASTICALLY higher, and measurable, effect on my survivability?

    If you really want to be harder to kill, stop driving or riding in cars. That’ll do more for your survivability than all the Crossfit in the world will.

    Of course, that comes with a cost too - cars are convenient. So I, like most people, put our lives at risk on a regular basis for the sake of convenience. Clearly, pure survivability is not chief among our (or your, Nick) goals in life.

    I recall a funny point Penn & Teller made on their “Bullshit!” tv show, where they skewer various popular conceptions. One time they attacked martial arts (which were near and dear to me for much of my adult life). They engaged with a bunch of logical errors during the show, but one salient point they made was this: If you’re doing martial arts in order to better survive a hostile encounter, you’re likely wasting a huge amount of time and money. The risk vs. reward is way way off when you spend hundreds of hours a year training for something that will probably never happen to you, and even if said hostile encounter did happen, you’d be most likely to end up only slightly injured and/or missing your wallet.

    Anyway, as you’re training to be a cop Nick, it’s natural you’d see the world around you as filled with threats. When you have a hammer, all problems start to look like a nail. For me, I live somewhere so safe I don’t even lock my front door. I haven’t been in a fight since college and I’ve never been in a fight that I couldn’t have avoided by just walking away if I had so chose to. I believe that Crossfit might make me harder to kill, but suspect the difference is marginal at best in all the things that are actually likely to kill me (ie not a person, but cancer or heart disease or a car accident).

    In no way would it be worth spending $2400/year plus 1 hour and 40 minutes/class in order to -maybe- (and this is a big maybe in absence of any kind of real, consistent evidence) be harder to kill by the things that are actually going to kill you.

    Like most people, I continue to go to Crossfit for a couple reasons: 1) I like looking better. 2) I’ve become addicted to the feeling of completing hard workouts.

  10. Martin says:

    Not to mention that marketing Crossfit Marin in such a way would probably not be very successful.

    Imagine it, a big old sign in front of the gym with the words “HARDER TO KILL” splashed across a post-apocalyptic background. Add the Crossfit Marin name and logo and a “BRING YOUR KIDS” tagline and it would be perfect.

  11. Nick Wise says:

    Matt,
    You, along with everybody else who posted here, seems to have missed the point. I posted a video of a motorcyclist, who had been run over by a car, being rescued by a group of bystanders.
    The motorcyclist probably isn’t a super CrossFit games competitor, but he sure isn’t Patty McFatty, either. And the bystanders save him by performing a difficult physical task: lifting a car.
    Here are the main points:
    1) Being strong allows you to survive things that you otherwise wouldn’t, thus “harder to kill.”
    2) Being strong allows you to help other people, thus “more useful in general.”
    3) Crazy things actually do happen in real life and ordinary people are actually called upon to do crazy things like move a burning car to save some poor sap.

    Martin,
    It might not sound appealing in Marin County, but the majority of the CrossFit community would love it. CrossFit is pretty popular with law enforcement, fire and military because it actually does make you harder to kill– a quality that they need, but that doesn’t hurt the rest of us one bit.

  12. Patricia says:

    Okay now, firstly, i just watched the video and the motorcyclist would have been a LOT harder to kill if he had on a helmet and a protective suit! just saying!! lol

    Nick, these long debates on the blog I think can be unfortunate, in that they don’t accurately represent who you really are in person. You are such a considerate, patient, attentive, knowledgeable, dedicated and inspiring trainer, and actually enjoyable to have discussions with “in person”, and people who haven’t had this in-person experience with you, get a whole other not so positive impression.

    I think in the written forum people (myself included!) are more apt to write things they not only would “say” in person , but also would not “feel” when interacting in person. For some reason, this forum can tend to promote a sense of conflict, that just doesn’t necessarily exist when conversing face to face.

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