“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
There is some question about if the origin of this saying was C.S. Lewis, a paraphrase, or a Charles Marshall book. Regardless, it is universally understood what the saying means, and it is universally recognized that we tend to behave or act or perform differently depending on who is or is not watching.
One might act a certain way at a concert Saturday night, but act entirely different at church Sunday morning. One might behave one way with a group of lifelong close friends but behave differently when meeting a significant other’s parents or family for the very first time.
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In each different setting and in each different circumstance, we act or behave or perform based largely on who is watching.
That said, what if no one was watching? And beyond that, what would that mean for one’s training?
Žydrūnas Savickas is not only a famed World’s Strongest Man competitor but is also the only modern-day competitor to win every one of the major strongman titles. Here is the shortlist of some of his competition titles:
- 4-time World's Strongest Man
- 2-time IFSA Strongman World Champion
- 8-time Arnold Strongman Classic winner
- 3-time Europe's Strongest Man
- 1-time IFSA Europe's Strongest Man
- 2-time Strongman Champion League winner
- 2-time Strongman Masters World Champion
- 5-time World Log Lifting Champion
- 15-time Lithuania's Strongest Man
When he was training for major strongman events, Žydrūnas was known for training alone and in an area beneath an arena where there are only the implements and Žydrūnas.
When interviewed in a recent documentary about strongman about why this given environment of solitude, his rationale was this: if he can lift the weight, move the object, hoist the implement without the external stimuli of an audience, without the boost from the fierce competition, without the rush of adrenaline that comes with the atmosphere of a world championship competition, then he can surely lift the weight, move the object, and hoist the implement with all those things happening around him at the competitions as he did repeatedly over and over again when no one was watching.
For the lifter who is not the most highly respected of all modern-day strength athletes like Žydrūnas, there is still that option to lift in isolation, but it is safe to say that today, even when training by oneself in their home garage gym or at their gym where the other members are doing their own thing completely, there is somebody watching. There is someone seeing part of a lifter’s every training session, their meet preparation, their current numbers, their training regiment. These many sets of eyes on the lifter are there all the time, but it is neither their training partner nor other gym members. That someone watching is a self-imposed audience. It is an intrusion into what at most should be, or at a minimum could be, serious training under the radar, in radio silence, and devoid of all distractions. Here is what we mean.
It is a familiar scene for those with years in the game. The gym is fairly empty, save for a few serious lifters with the vast majority on a piece of cardio equipment or the stray member who comes into the weight room for a quick moment. In the weight room area, the only two serious competitive lifters are training for their meet and going from set to set to set, hitting every rep with that combination of technical excellence and contained and focused aggression.
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Then there is that third lifter. They grab a bench board, that nice heavy three-board. But they do so not to work their shirted bench, but to stop their training in its tracks, spend time with perfect precision placing that board in just the right spot, just the right height, just the right angle. They then put their smartphone on that three-board, that former training tool but current camera stand. They set that smartphone on the board and get ready for the scene. Ready, lights, camera, filter... action!
The lifter approaches the bar, goes through the pomp and circumstance seldom seen when no one is actually watching, then completes their set, not for the training session but for the camera, all with their focus on the footage’s destination, not the weight’s function. Following that, the lifter goes back to the camera stand, picks up their smartphone, sits down at a bench, and watches the video of the lift. Then they stay seated, scrolling past filter after filter, trying to choose just the right one, adding just the right wording to complement this filter, and then they send it out for others to watch. In essence, bringing the audience into the gym.
One might act a certain way at a concert Saturday night but act entirely different at church Sunday morning. One might behave one way with a group of lifelong close friends but behave differently when meeting a significant other’s parents or family for the very first time. And for sure, one might lift a certain way for the sake of Instafamousness and socialookatmedia versus how they should lift and train for the pending meet or competition.
What if no one was watching? How different would their training be, not just for that rep or that set, but also for all of their training sessions during their preparation for a meet and those other times when they are hitting a hypertrophy phase or slowly crescendoing in weight as they approach their final 16 weeks?
Perhaps the larger more philosophical question is, why the posting of meet preparation in the first place? As lifters, athletes, and competitors are we lifting and training and competing for intrinsic affirmation or for the affirmation of others. Said differently, if there were no need or desire for the likes, why film and post in the first place? What if there was no socialookatmedia? Would a lifter email their friends every day about their training?
The deep dive is in the why, the compulsion, the need or desire or necessity to have others see one’s training. What is missing for that lifter that they need to display their training in the first place?
“But I am just checking my form.” Then why post? Perhaps the posts are because this is a lifter who is not a competitor, thus there is no title or win or record to train for, hunt down and attain, so the hunt is instead for followers. That could be the case as there have never been as many Instafamous-never-competed lifter’s booths at the big events than there are booths for the actual athletes who compete. When the expo booths for the Instafamous have lines longer than the top strength athletes, which was the case at many of the major expos this year, then something has shifted. Perhaps the every day, every workout posts are because something lacking or missing when it comes to their self-confidence or self-esteem.
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Regardless, what if no one was watching, how would their training be different? I submit that with no one watching, their efforts are for the lifting goal versus the social media goal. I am going to go out on a limb and say that you have seen the following at a meet as well. A competitor with phone in-hand, not just between events, but posting between attempts. What if no one was watching in their social media circle of friends? Would they be more dialed into the meet? Or do they not see that the lifters engaged fully in the meet are lifting for the here-and-now versus the look-at-me-here and look-at-me-now?
Those reading this who post versus train I have already lost. They stopped reading several paragraphs back, or they are busy preparing their “I post to get feedback on my form” retort, as this hits a little too close to home for them. Readers like yourself who are still reading know exactly of what I am describing, and you can see this in those others at the gym, whose phones are literally in-hand in-between every set, head down, eyes glazed, shoulders slumped, thumbs moving up over and over and over again as their body temperature cools, their natural hormones are being secreted less and less, and the steep crescendo in weight jumps turns into mere slight elevations in weight as the body’s fight or flight, so imperative for training, has been killed off due to that blue light from that handheld door that leads to the pseudo-world.
We live and train in a time where kids just discovering the gym have never trained a complete training session that is phone-free, that is fully engaged in that mini-battle that is leading to the epic battle weeks away on the platform. We live and train in a time where kids finding this great sport telegraph their every move to those they are going to compete with rather than train hard in radio silence, to then sneak up on their competition and figuratively slit the powerlifting throats of those they out trained and out totaled. Those they defeated were concentrating more on filters and angles than technique and intensity.
There is no evil to these lifters posting, and scrolling and shifting back and forth. There is no evil between having a barbell in their hand for a few seconds then phone in their hand for several minutes. What there is, is the compromise of what could have been authentic and impactful training. One needs to merely be honest with themselves and their purpose in the gym. Knowing the why, knowing the reason they feel compelled to film and post and film and post and film and post, do a set and scroll, do a set and scroll, do a set and scroll is the real question. If it is for leisure and likes, so be it.
But for those looking for more out of their training but have only trained during the timeframe of the smartphone, I submit to you for your consideration the following... if no one was watching, their training would be 110 percent for themselves, their goals and their aspirations, and without the need for any affirmation but rather self-accomplishment.
Once the competition destinations we stop at during this journey we are on called strength sports, powerlifting, and strongman are for our own self-improvement, our own self-interest, our own self-worth, those destinations and the journey itself is far more authentic and personally rewarding because at the end of the day, the competition is always between us and ourselves.
Wishing you the best in your training and competition.
I'm personally focusing on a corollary - "How would my sessions be if I wasn't watching anyone?". We've all had those sessions where there could literally be a fire raging in the gym and you wouldn't even notice because you're so locked in, but there are also times where I can't help watching the gym shark bro in tights and a lever belt quarter squat 135.