The Rudy Effect: How Fitness Goals are Really Reached

Posted on 30 Nov 2010 14:46

Sometimes I get myself so busy with writing about how to strength train, getting all down and dirty with the technical stuff, that I forget something very important. The same thing with dispensing advice.

You see, something that I sometimes forget but that is always in the back of my brain is a sad fact: The majority of people who find my articles or ask my advice will not be training a year from now. Or even a few months from now. In fact, it is quite likely that one of my articles is the first and last thing they will ever read about strength training or any other kind of "fitness pursuit". And the same is true of anyone who does what I do.

The number of people who will become loyal readers is a tiny fraction of those who actually read your articles or take your advice. And the same is true for those you train personally. I sometimes forget this. But not for very long. That is why I write more about motivation and flow than I do about the actual physical practice of strength training.

What good is "how to squat" for someone who can't stay motivated, doesn't know how to set realistic, achievable, and sustainable goals and who has no clear idea of why he or she even wants to try strength training? Staying motivated for the long haul is the hardest thing about training, period. It is harder than the physical work. BY FAR.

And yet when we do see people writing about "goal setting" and motivation it's usually just a bunch of shallow lip service. We see "10 Steps to Staying Motivated" or something like that. And these types of articles usually come out around New Years. Because just as so many wait for Christmas to be good to each other many wait for New Years to turn their life around and get in shape. Here's the problem. It ain't like making a Caesar salad and a 10 step article on goal setting and motivation is hardly useful to someone who has made a vague decision to "get strong" or "get in shape".

Now you may be thinking, that's fine, Eric, but I really would like some technical stuff. I don't need any help staying motivated.

Well let's take the GUS newsletter (no longer offered). Frankly, I KNOW that most people who have subscribed to the GUS newsletter because they are interested in strength training are probably fairly new to it. Not all of them of course but most of them. And I know that most will not be training a year from now. I don't mean that as an insult to their dedication. The basic truth is that it is very hard to stick to any kind of demanding physical training for the long haul short of a big old paycheck. And there are many reasons for this that go way beyond simple motivation. Like the reality of job, home, and family demands.

Could be many of you reading this now will still be getting these newsletters a year from now and not reading them. Eventually you may unsubscribe. Because you've genuinely lost interest and you've moved on to other things, which is fine and dandy. OR, because every time you see one you get a little ping reminding you that you haven't been to the gym for a year and you've lost all motivation. I become your guilty conscience. Some will stick with the newsletter thinking that, yes, they will get back to it. Others will not want to have to be bugged by something that reminds them they lost sight of something they were excited and motivated by. I don't want either of those scenarios to happen.

So I'm going to tell you something about reaching goals and staying motivated that you need to realize now. Because it will help you in the long run: There are no Rudy Moments

You know what a Rudy moment is? Well, there is a movie called "Rudy", with Sean Astin in the title role. A very well regarded film, it was voted as one of the top 25 sports films of all time in an ESPN poll. Everybody seems to love it and it just doesn't seem to matter that it is a typical Hollywood disregarding of reality. Recently even Joe Montana spoke up to call attention to the film's less than accurate portrayal of events.

The movie is about a guy named Daniel Eugene "Rudy" Ruettiger who dreams of playing football for Notre Dame but has neither the money, physical size, or grades to get in. Shoot, he even has dyslexia. To make a long story short, he works his butt off and finally manages to get into Notre Dame and get a chance to play as a walk on for the football team. Although this should have meant he had a snow ball's chance in hell of ever dressing for an actual game, he finally gets his big moment in the end.

The coach, according to the movie, has no intention of actually letting him play. But the other players are behind Rudy. They begin a chant of "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy" which is picked up by the entire stadium. So Coach Devine finally lets him in on the last play. Rudy gets a sack on the opposing quarterback and he's carried off the field on his teammate's shoulders.

It just so happens that the way things went down for Rudy in the movie is exactly the way many trainees think strength training works. Not only strength training but fat loss and any other physical goal. I call this the "Rudy Effect."

In the movie, all of Rudy's goals became channeled into simply dressing for a game and having his father and brother(s) attend the game. He didn't want fame and fortune. Just to play in one game. To prove to himself and his family he could do it. And in the end he had his "moment". Accompanied by a soaring orchestra in the background.

This is the vision that many people secretly harbor. They have a goal, they work hard, and finally the moment comes. There is great triumph and fanfare. Maybe even a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." If this is you…I must bring you down a few notches.

Strength training is not a "moment." There will be no personal horn or string section in the background when you get a big PR and your buddies will not carry you out of the gym on their shoulders. And if they do it will be a joke. Quite likely it was also a joke when the Notre Dame players carried Rudy Ruettiger off the field.

And yet, what he accomplished was so much more than a movie could ever do justice to. The movie hits on some of what he went through but the pure drudgery and indomitable spirit he had to show just to get into Notre Dame and maintain his grades was a fantastic accomplishment. He worked very hard and what really happened was a whole lot of little moments and small triumphs that nobody ever noticed but Rudy himself. The movie does wrong by implying that Rudy WORKED HARDER than everybody else and by so doing earns his big triumphant moment.

Hard work is actually the rule not the exception! The idea that the Rudys of the world barrel through by force of will and amazing work ethic while everybody else skates through on luck and talent (or genetics) is JUST the kind of thing that sets people up for failure in strength training. It is part of and innate tendency called the fundamental attribution error (correspondence bias) which makes us pay more attention to the individual than the situation. In this case, Rudy stands out as a person whose hard work and perseverance "won the day" and we tend to ignore the fact that athletic success of any kind is usually accompanied by hard work and perseverance (the situation). It also makes us think that strength training (and fat loss, don't forget) is a "moment in the sun" that we will get in reward for all that hard work. But the moment never comes. Because strength training is not an event. It is not a moment.

Think about some of the goals you hear or that you may have stated yourself. Here is a very nonspecific goal:

I want to be strong.

What does this mean? When does this happen? Where is the demarcation between "strong" and "not strong"? At what point will you consider this "goal" achieved? Most people who strength train want to be strong. Hardly an original idea. But most people have different ideas about what this means. And regardless of how you conceive it, you won't get anywhere with such broad goals. Because again, it is not an event. It is a process. There will not come a moment in the gym where you "become strong" in a way similar to Rudy getting in the big game and making that sack. Moments of triumph are great, but they are fleeting. In order to sustain we must be clear on why we do what we do. If that means that you decide that you just want to feel better and more confident, but you don't necessarily want to break any records, or even have any specific performance goals, that's great, but just be clear about it!

Let me come at this another way. There is a big old tree stump in my backyard. Well, it used to be a big old tree stump. Now it is a sad old rotten relic of what used to be a big old tree stump. It is situated in such a way that it cannot be easily removed by conventional means - that is by heavy machinery or by burning, etc. I hate that stump. I've waged a personal battle against that stump for a couple of years and it is was more like a piece of iron than wood. At first, my goal was to have the stump gone. At some point along the way it became something else. It became about the battle rather than the results!

If it had been an easy job with a clearly defined end-point than I could have focused on a step by step process and the end result of this short and simple process would have been no stump. But things didn't work out that way. There came a point where I really couldn't visualize the stump being completely removed. I could only see making a little headway on it. Now, of course, I've gone about it all wrong. I don't know what I'm doing and I freely admit that. When my go-to guy for all things home improvement said to me that he would take care of the rest of that stump for me and do the other work connected to it (for cheap) I hesitated, however. After all this time wanting that stump gone, I didn't JUMP at the chance to have it removed. Because it had become something more than just having the stump removed. It had become about seeing things through myself. It had become a personal battle and I kind of wanted to continue down the road I had committed to.

Truthfully I didn't hesitate that long and rationality won out over personal battles. Because it's just a stump, not a symbol. But what is irrational for yard work is completely rational for strength training! Those of us who sustain come at strength training very similar to how I came at that tree trunk. And if someone could come along and offer us up 200 instant pounds on our deadlift for "cheap" we wouldn't take it. Strength training is a house we build. A house of many rooms. I'll leave you to ponder that for yourself.

I write a great deal about goals and motivation and very few people read it. That tells me that very few of you recognize the importance of your mental approach. And yet, no matter how much technical information I or anyone else gives you…most of you will not be training a year from now. Or even five months from now. We hear "I'm trying to get back into it" more often than we hear "I've just begun strength training" and it is much easier to begin than it is to begin again! So check your head.

This page created 30 Nov 2010 14:46
Last updated 19 Mar 2018 19:20

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