Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell fame coined the phrase “Weak Things Break”. It resonated with us so well we print it on our hoodies and hashtag our social posts with it. It’s become a mantra around Mass MVMNT. But what does it mean? In essence, if you apply enough stress to something it will break. Weaker things will break sooner than stronger things. To me it means resilience and it can apply to many areas of your health.
The most obvious area is your physical strength. The stronger you are, the more load you can handle, whether that’s on your back, from the ground, or from an impact. How strong do you need to be? You need to be at least strong enough to handle the demands of your life. This could be anything from carrying the groceries, your child, or an older loved one who fell and needs help getting up. I would say, at a bare minimum, you need to be stronger than what your lifestyle demands because you never know when something you unanticipated will come along that you need to deal with. You need to be strong enough to be useful in the real world.
If you’re an athlete, strength becomes even more important. It doesn’t matter if you’re a strength athlete, a field athlete, or a runner. The stronger you are, the more force you can apply to an opposing object which will make you more powerful or faster. Want to run faster? Develop stronger legs and core. Want to hit the golf ball farther, develop stronger hips, core, etc. It applies to all sports whether you’re a kid or an adult. One of the mistakes a lot of parents make is having their kids specialize in one sport, and put their focus on the skill aspects of the sport. Their kids can’t stand upright or bend over without their backs disintegrating, but they’re still putting all their effort into agility and shooting. Guess what, there’s a lot of weakness in that kid waiting to get exposed, leading to injury. There’s also some other kid who’s training to get strong who is going to run your kid over on the field or court. You can have all the skill in the world, but if someone else is running circles around you you’re a goner.
But what’s often overlooked is the importance of strength for everyday health. Low back issues? Accidents aside, it’s likely due to weak glutes and a weak core. Shoulder pain? Many times it’s the result of having a weak upper back. Strengthen those areas up and the pain goes away.
On a side note, one of the most frequent questions we get at the gym is “when are we going to test our one rep max?” Although testing your one rep max can be fun, it’s extremely taxing on your central nervous system and muscles. You need a lot of recovery after testing and it takes away from training time. It can also be risky especially in populations that are still ramping up their experience with strength training. But there’s certainly a time and a place for it. Aside from seeing how strong you’ve gotten, one of the key benefits from testing is to find your weak point. For example, let’s say you’re going for a new back squat PR and as you’re coming out of the hole, your chest starts to pitch forward as your hips are rising, enough so that the lift is compromised. This is an indication that your legs are strong enough for the lift but your core (back and abs) are not up for the challenge. You can use this data in your training to strengthen those areas. Bigger squats don’t just come from building stronger legs; they rely on you building strength throughout the entire chain. The weak link breaks first. Identify your weak link, strengthen it, and the entire chain is now stronger for your next lift.
Weak Things Break also applies to your mindset. How often do you mentally set yourself up for failure? What do you say to yourself before a heavy squat, giving a presentation, or having an uncomfortable conversation with someone? I like to say that every lift starts in your head. Your central nervous system controls everything, including muscle contraction. You can have the strongest muscles in the world, but if you can’t fire them they’re not worth much. It’s your CNS that fires them. You’re CNS is highly susceptible to the thoughts you carry in your mind. If you approach a barbell thinking “Oh my god this is heavy, there’s no way I can lift it!” you’re setting yourself up for failure. Like Henry Ford said “If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
You’re only as strong (physically or mentally) as you think you are. Want to improve in all areas, work on mental strength and resilience? Like your body, this can also be trained. Take stock in any small wins you’ve had in your life. Use those small wins to fuel you for bigger wins. Take chances. Get out of your comfort zone. The more times you get out of your comfort zone, the more comfortable you get being uncomfortable. Sign up for a challenging race or athletic event then train for it. Embark on a project that will really challenge you. Break it down into smaller doable components and make note of every milestone you complete along the way.
Fake it till you make it. This is a very important part of the journey, and it works! In times when you’re not feeling confident, pretend you are. Psych yourself up, approach it confidently, and commit. Chances are you’ll do much better than you thought you could and this will make it easier for you to do it again down the road.
From as early as the 1700s, maybe earlier, there were people trying to break the 4 minute mile. Years went by and no one was able to do it. Many experts, including scientists, believed it wasn’t possible for the human body to run a mile in 4 minutes. Finally Roger Banister broke it in 1954. Since then over 1400 people have run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Why? Because once someone finally did it, it proved it could be done. Others believed they could do it, and they did.
A weak mind can break a strong body. Train mental toughness by regularly challenging and believing in yourself. What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best?
Why is COVID such a problem? Because there are too many people at high risk for complications. These include those suffering from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more. Each of these conditions compromises your immune system. When your immune system is compromised, you are at high risk for COVID or any other communicable disease. Of course not everything is preventable, but there’s a lot you can do to improve your immune system and hence your ability to ward off illness. Reduce excess body fat, reduce alcohol consumption, eat nutrient dense minimally processed foods, avoid smoking, reduce stress, consistently get good quality sleep, drink lots of water, and more.
By and large, much of what ails us can be avoided or corrected with a healthy lifestyle. I’ve ruffled some feathers with that statement in the past. I’m not saying that everything can be avoided. One person called out genetic predispositions towards certain conditions. Yes, this is true. Some of us were dealt bad cards. There may be nothing you can do to avoid the inevitable. However, as is the case with some genetic disorders, although you may have a predisposition for a certain disorder, lifestyle factors will determine whether or not it manifests. At the very least, lifestyle decisions can determine the severity of it. If you haven’t dug into the world of epigenetics, you might find great hope there.
Strength has an uncanny way of solving many problems. Whether it’s a strong body, mind, or immune system. If something is failing, identify and strengthen the weakest link. You only have one body, and without that body you wouldn’t be able to experience anything in life. Love it for what it is, have a healthy relationship with it, and continue to maintain its health and it will pay back big dividends.
To me, Weak Things Break is a strong message about the power of resilience. If you want to get better, improve upon weaknesses.