What Bill Starr Taught Me About The Long Game

If you are a regular reader of this newsletter (really still having a hard time not calling it a “blog”) it will probably not surprise you to hear that I am a “quotes” guy.

I really love when someone can put, well, a newsletter’s worth of information, ideas, emotion or experience into just a few words.

I’ve written before about how motivation (and motivational things) can be both a blessing and a curse. But I can’t shake my love for a good quote.

My favorite in the realm of training comes from 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman.

Ronnie was one of the all-time great American bodybuilders. Known for his excitement and enthusiasm and lifting really big weights compared to his colleagues, Ronnie had a joy for working out and the bodybuilding lifestyle rarely seen by others competing in this grueling sport.

After one particularly heavy set, Coleman, still out of breath, off-handedly says, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift this heavy ass weight!”

Besides being fun, Coleman’s sentiment really gets to the heart of being a real achiever in athletics (or any other endeavor). It’s easy to say you want to do something. Relentlessly putting in the grueling and painful work in order to achieve it is another thing entirely.

My second favorite quote is one that is much less well known and comes from legendary strength coach, Bill Starr.

If you have ever engaged in a 5×5 (five sets of five reps at a given percentage in a particular exercise) you have, in some small way, been coached by Bill Starr.

Starr had a decades-long career that included writing “The Strong Shall Survive”, a classic on how to train American Football players in 1976 and, shortly after, “Defying Gravity” which became equally influential in the world of Olympic weightlifting. Even in the past decade, Starr was putting out thought-provoking and widely devoured articles for the CrossFit journal until his passing in 2015.

Starr once said, “I can teach you everything I know about training in 10 minutes, but it will take you 10 years to understand it.”

I just love how this acknowledges that the principles of great training are relatively simple, but having an intimate and intuitive understanding of them takes years of practice.

This flies in the face of 12 week challenges and trendy workouts (anyone else remember in the not-so-distant past when you could jump into a group fitness class in which you rode atop a mechanical surfboard for 50 minutes?!?) that have dominated the fitness culture going on decades now.

It’s also the reason that most fitness trends don’t persist. Certainly part of the blame can be placed on the modalities themselves (how long are you really expected to get on that cross-country ski machine that’s set up in your spare bedroom before you burn out?) but much of the responsibility must rest on the public who are interested in quick fix solutions.

I’ve talked about this before but the real tipping point in training is when it just becomes part of who you are and what you do rather than seen as a way to solve a problem that needs to be fixed.

The beautiful paradox is that when you experience it through that lens is when it actually starts to fix those problems.

While it is simple, it is not quick or easy. Like Starr said, it can take decades to engrain that identity into your body and soul.

But when it does finally seep in, you’ll be fired up like Ronnie to lift that heavy-ass weight.