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

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 it to anyone with an interest in fitness of any kind.

Mark is a philosopher who has written 16 books to date, 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 led me to realise that people don’t tend to look this way at lifting weights. 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.


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


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 A has value. The value itself is not derived from A, but in the knock-on effects from doing it. However, this sort of instrumental value can be quite hollow and ‘A’ quickly turns into work.

Intrinsic value on the other hand, is something that has value for its own sake. We derive joy and meaning simply from the doing of something, not from the perceived outcome. It is said that the only way to truly enjoy life is to find the intrinsic value in it.

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.

But, this mental approach quickly becomes tiresome. It will turn training sessions 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 doing it. 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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