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The Gintlemen, Ewan: The Intrinsic Value of Lifting

This week Ewan takes a look at why – if it’s not goal focused, we should do what we love anyway. 

I’m currently working my way through a book called Running With the Pack, by Mark Rowlands. It is a fantastic book and I recommend that anyone into any kind of fitness reads it.

Mark is a philosopher who has written 16 books and is currently Professor of Philosopher at The University of Miami. This book differs from most running books in that it is not a training manual, nor is it some self-hyped running guru talking about his thoughts like they mean something. No, this is a proper philosophical study into running that is well researched, studied and written.

Side note – this lead me to realise that people don’t tend to look this way at lifting. People do not tend to see the deeper values of strength training, the philosophies behind it and why people pursue maximal strength for fun. But that’s a different article entirely.

In one section of the book Mark looks at why he runs, and discusses the idea of intrinsic and instrumental value.

To massively simplify it, instrumental value is the idea that a pursuit only has value due to the things that you will gain from doing it. If I do A, it will enable me to do B, therefore it has value. The value itself is not derived from A, but in the knock-on effects of it. However, this sort of instrumental value can be quite hollow, and quickly turns ‘A’ into work.

To relate this to lifting: the value in training comes from the things it will enable you to do; the weights it will enable you to lift. For example, the value of a 3-month training plan comes from the 5kg PB you should hit at the end of it.

 

trail running, forest, trees, running, man, leggings, hat

 

But, this mental approach quickly becomes tiresome. It will quickly turn training into work. This is supposed to be a hobby (and to all the zealots out there, unless you are pro, which is unlikely, lifting is, ultimately, a hobby), and if it becomes work is it still fun? Will we still continue to train? A new PB squat of 220kg is not 225kg, is not 230kg, is not 235kg etc. therefore the value of training will always be instrumental. The point will never be the training itself, only what the training enables you to do.

This makes training a hard road to slog; an endeavour that we will never derive joy from. And by our very nature, if we do not derive some form of gratification from it, we are less likely to continue. So what do we do about this? How can install intrinsic value in training?

For me, I simply changed the way I trained. Instead of looking 3-6 months down the road and planning accordingly, I tailored my sessions to encompass all the things I enjoy, and I treat each training session as a stand-alone endeavour.

Since adopting this approach training has got a lot more regular, simply due to the enjoyment factor (and we all know consistency is king) and I train harder each session, as I’m not constantly worried about reserving energy etc for the next session.

This is not to say that I don’t think about the long term, ignore weak points or have stopped planning longer training cycles entirely. But in all honesty, long term planning has taken a back seat to pure enjoyment. And, so far, I’m reaping the rewards of it with more consistent training, a better mental and physical state and a couple of small PBs that will, ultimately, turn into big ones.  

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