Why Strength Goals > Physique Goals

But how does he shave in there!? I know the answer..

But how does he shave in there!? I know the answer..

Fact: the only thing that comes close to my insatiable appetite for heavy deadlifts, is my similar appetite for great 80's music.

And, my love for the 80's was on full display this past Saturday night as Lindsay and I were surrounded in an 80's cover band haze - Billy Joel, The Go Go's, The Bangles, and my personal favorite, Huey Lewis and the News.  I'd go so far to say that ol' Huey and I have an uncanny resemblance with our butt chins....the appeal of which cannot be denied.

Safe to say, I danced, wore my sunglasses at night, and quoted Back to the Future lines like they were the only English phrases I knew. (Roads?  Where we're going, we don't need.....roads.)

Now, what does this have to do with what I'm about to say?  Almost nothing.  But, I do wish I could pull a Michael J. Fox, hop in my DeLorean, and go back in time to trump some popular fitness notions/ideas.  In particular, how personal strength goals will trump your physique goals...every....damn........time.

Rank this as purchase #1 when I have all the money in the world.

Rank this as purchase #1 when I have all the money in the world.

In all truth, I started writing this post a few weeks ago after I had been speaking with a client about their goals.  Now, the client deserves all the credit in the world as they reached the body weight goal they had set for themselves and trimmed their body fat by a whopping 6%!!!!  Excellent results for sure, especially for the amount of time we had spent together. 

Unfortunately, I got the sense that they weren't truly satisfied with their results.  Much like the feeling I had after watching this past Monday's premiere of "The Bachelor" (judge me if you wish..), there was a "what's next" type of feeling that governed our ensuing conversation.

While I suggested that one route would be to continue to try and lower their body fat, I placed a much bigger emphasis on steering away from physique goals, and making strength goals their primary focus.  Such as squatting heavier weights, performing a solid pullup, pushups, etc.  I have to admit I was a bit surprised at their response: 

"Those are goals for you, not me."

Immediately, I thought of Cool Hand Luke:

Yes, what we had here was a failure to communicate.  I've always stressed the importance of strength goals with my clients, but I've never explained WHY they are so important.  In a sense, I failed.  So, here goes..

Strength goals can be more indicative of overall health than scale weight or bodyfat.  I think you'd agree that there are some pretty thin people out there, and while they might be relatively light on the scale, I wouldn't classify them as healthy.  But, I have yet to see a guy that can do 10 pullups, or a female that can do 1, and look unhealthyWhy?  Not only do you need to be thin enough to do a pullup, you need to develop some serious strength and abzz.  Of course, that's not to suggest that pullups are the metric to grade everyone, but that strength goals can give you much more information than a simple number.

The Beast Tamer and Iron Maiden Challenges - not for the faint of heart, but great goals to be best badass you can be.

The Beast Tamer and Iron Maiden Challenges - not for the faint of heart, but great goals to be best badass you can be.

There's also what I like to call the "satisfaction" quotient of strength goals over physique goals.  When losing weight or trimming bodyfat is your only goal, there's essentially a day when you wake up and you've hit your goal. There's not much fanfare, and while standing on the scale in your underwear, there's usually no one there that can give you a viciously hard, quality high five.  

Speaking from experience, it's much more satisfying when you finally get that long-awaited pullup, overhead press 1/2 of your bodyweight, or deadlift 2X your bodyweight and are able to tell your friends and post it on YouTube (all three are great goals if you'd like to lose weight, hint hint wink wink).  Remembering all the times you went to the gym and busted your butt is a hell of a lot more memorable than thinking back to all of the ways you've made kale over the past 3 months (not that you shouldn't be doing both!!!).

While I've inferred my last point in the two paragraphs above, I'm going to come out and say it - the best part about making your goals strength-oriented, is that you can often hit your physique goals simply as a side effect. After all, goals themselves can be pretty arbitrary. "I want to be at 15% bodyfat!" is just as arbitrary as "I want to deadlift 2x my bodyweight!"  The difference, however, is that the latter can make the former much easier to attain for a litany of reasons - increasing your metabolic rate; placing more emphasis on your diet and recovery; eating as well as you can outside the gym to lower that deadlifting goal.

Anecdotally, I've seen this come true with clients of mine but also with myself.  A few years ago, I knew that if I set my two goals as 1) deadlifting 400 pounds and 2) overhead pressing 200 pounds, I'd start to resemble the way I wanted to look.  But a funny thing happened along the way - I realized that the better I ate, the better I felt in the gym.  And the better I felt, the more I was able to chase (and hit) my strength goals.  The bonus?  I've lost 10 pounds since I set my original goals, making my current numbers that much more impressive.

The notion that you have to gain weight if you want to get stronger is complete hogwash.  If you keep the right strength goals and focus on eating as well as you can outside of the gym, you'll be amazed at the results.

And you'll be quite happier too.