The Strength Of Weakness

Usain Bolt would be a terrible marathon runner.

Bonnie Raitt doesn’t play guitar well with a pick.

LeBron James can’t squat for shit.

As nice as it would be, I’m not telling you these things to make you feel better about your endurance or your guitar playing or your squat technique.I bring them up because while everyone I mention is world-class in their respective disciplines (Bolt is the multiple time world record holder in the 100m and 200m sprint, Raitt is a multi-Grammy winning slide guitarist and LeBron James is generally considered one of the top 10 basketball players of all time) they clearly have weaknesses. And these aren’t just general weaknesses – it’s not like I’m saying LeBron James is terrible at grilling a steak or that Raitt speaks Spanish with the wrong accent – but weaknesses that are seemingly (at least tangentially) related to the very thing that they excel at.

Which leads me directly to this week’s query. We, as trainers, spend a lot of time preaching that our client’s should work on their weaknesses. That it’s a key to getting better in the gym both physically and mentally.

But at what point does working on your weaknesses offer diminishing returns? When do you stop putting in the long miles, put down the guitar pick or step out of the squat rack and start maximizing the things that you are naturally good at?

While I have no definitive answer or timeline, I think you have to consider two things before you walk away from working on your weaknesses.

The first is how much time you’ve actually put into developing the skill. If you can’t get into a deep squat position because you don’t know how to brace, your ankle mobility is shit and you have a fear of getting pinned at the bottom and you’ve put in a solid couple of weeks trying to overcome these issues, I’d say you haven’t given yourself enough time to determine if that weakness is even truly a weakness. Learning doesn’t happen in an instant. You have to give yourself a chance. And the more complex the skill you are trying to learn, the more time you have to give yourself to overcome your limitations.

I can squat very deep with decent torso posture and nice balance across my entire foot. It took me, a long-limbed lifter with relatively weak legs, about two years of solid work to get this correct. Sounds like a long time, right? Which leads me to the second point of consideration:

How important is improving that weakness to your livelihood, enjoyment or ego?

As someone who trained clients, wanted to own a gym and compete in Olympic Weightlifting (where a deep, upright squat is a very, very important quality to possess) mastering the squat was really important to me. I wanted it to look correct when I was demonstrating it to clients and in posts on Instagram. I wanted to be able to compete well. The juice was worth the squeeze to me. And while it was certainly frustrating at times and I had moments when I thought I just wouldn’t be able to get there, I also could see progress happening. It’s still not perfect. And I’m not a great squatter by any means. But I’ve gotten to the point where I can post a set of back squats without some random commenter telling me that my squats are shit and I should probably sell my gym.

Bonnie Raitt, on the other hand, is a great fingerstyle slide player. Did she spend time trying to work on other styles? Probably. Did she ultimately come to the conclusion that she’s legendary in her own style and spent all her time and energy developing those techniques instead of banging her head on the wall trying to learn others? I have no idea. But I do think that when you get to that level of expertise and you are accomplishing what you want there is probably no need to martyr yourself until your weaknesses are no longer glaring. I mean she’s an insanely good player and she married Danny Noonan from Caddyshack so what else could she really want?

For most of us reading this blog, working on our weaknesses is going to yield some positive benefits. But so would further developing your strengths and establishing your own style (whether that be with movement or instrument playing or giving new business presentations or whatever).

Cause there’s no shame in not being able to run a marathon, particularly when you’ve proven to be the fastest man on the planet.