What Others Are Saying...

  • " Not only is Sean a great nutritionist, but he's an excellent strength coach. I've coached athletes with him on multiple occasions. The most impressive attributes I've seen in him is his integrity, work ethic, ability to work with athletes and desire to be the best coach possible...."

-Luke Richesson. Head NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach for Denver Broncos


Separate is NOT Equal - Creating A Positive Training Atmosphere

Intensity – The Bottom Line in all Training Pursuits

Figure 1 Are you bringing your ultimate intensity to the gym every day?1

Do you give the same intensity that I do? In my training arena, and world view in general, intensity is the only thing that separates us from one another. I don’t care how many plates are on the bar, it’s the relative training intensity and the pursuit of a goal that matters. For instance, if I’m pulling a 800 lb deadlift and there is a young lad next to me trying for his/her first 135, as long as he/she is giving the same intensity, focus, drive and passion as me, he/she has my respect.

There are simply too many variables to measure things any other way. Trying to compare one’s training accomplishments by any method other than intensity/drive/passion is similar to comparing apples to oranges. Jill may be into marathon running, Jack into highland games, Tommy a bodybuilder, Cheryl is into Olympic weightlifting, Billy is a powerlifter and Joanne is a fitness model. Furthermore, even amongst people training within the same discipline each individual is at a different stage in the development of their respective goals. On top of that, we all have our own hurdles that we’re overcoming. For example, let’s say Jill had this injury; Jack was born with this defect, etc. etc. In the end, regardless of their background, they are all equal if they pursue their passion each and every day with the same intensity as one another.

(Just so it is said, to purposely pursue rest and recovery is also part of the game. If you don’t include planned rest in your training regime, you are missing the boat. Resting does not mean slacking. Billy the powerlifter, or Jill the marathon runner may be actively sitting on their butts, eating, and getting massage for a week. Despite not logging hard weeks of training, they are making advances to their goals. Billy may have just completed an intense cycle of training that saw him hit his first 500lb deadlift. On a similar breath, Jill may have just completed her first marathon or ultra-marathon. Both of their bodies demand rest and recovery in order to pursue even greater accomplishments. Check out my article Training Peaks and Valleys for more on this topic.)

The Sorry Shape of Today’s Fitness World

Unfortunately, the acceptance of relative training intensity, as a means of comparing individuals, is not widely accepted in the fitness industry. Not from the trainees, athletes, and SADLY not from all coaches and facilities. Rather, one is likely to encounter segregation amongst different training disciplines (ie – power lifters looking down on bodybuilders or vice-versa, Olympic lifters vs. “crossfitters”, etc).

Segregation is not seen just amongst various training modes (ie. Bodybuilder, powerlifter, thrower, crossfitter, runner etc.). Segregation is often within a group by skill or strength level. We’ve all seen it before; novices and advanced athletes lifting in different corners of the gym or at different time periods. There is no direct interaction between these groups except maybe a quick pass by in the hallway or locker room. However, this characteristic, segregation, is hard to find in the gyms which routinely produce the greatest number of elite level athletes. In contrast, there is collectiveness, not segregation amongst the trainees at these facilities. The physically strong are side by side with the weak; the bodybuilder with the runner, the ying with the yang.

What happens when you throw Daniel in the lion’s den? He steps up and becomes stronger than ever. The same happens to Sally's 95lb deadlift when she is thrown in, accepted as an equal, and trains side by side Jimmy, the 800lb deadlifter, and Mark, the 700 lb squater. He/she gets stronger, more confident, and does so in leaps and bounds. When there is a collective nature everyone benefits. When I see an endurance athlete push themselves to their limit in search of their goal it pushes me, it pushes me as a strength athlete to keep doing the same toward my own passion even though it is far different.

Learn From Other Disciplines

All training disciplines can learn, grow, and feed off one other. In my eyes, the perfect training facility is similar to the ones I trained in during my time in Thailand as well as others I have chosen to call my home since. A facility should not be of sheeple where everyone is trying to fit a singular mold, or a facility of segregation and separatism. Rather, it should be more akin to an ant colony (ie- worker, drone, gatherer, soldier, caregiver, all different but all equal). In an ideal facility, everyone is held in the same respect, regardless of their training discipline, as long as they are striving passionately toward their own goal of bettering themselves. Every trainee should be seen as someone who can be looked up to, respected, and serve as a source of knowledge.

These environments breed a positive atmosphere that has everyone excelling. Each individual is providing and accepting constructive criticism to/from others in order to further their own growth. A setting like this weeds itself; those who lack the drive and will power to pursue their goals with an intensity equal to that of others quickly fall by the wayside. Same thing goes for those who are full of themselves to the point of it being harmful.

Over my years I have lived and learned from all walks of the physical trade. I have been mentored and taught by those physically weaker and stronger than me. I have trained and excelled in facilities that work as a collective whole, and seen the passion, education, growth, and community it bleeds across the spectrum; All members of the community are strong and thriving in their respective training discipline. On the other flip side of the coin, I have trained in facilities that shun and segregate those weaker or of different sects, closing their windows and doors to further growth. At the end of the day, the results produced by their trainees, including their internal elite, are rather average.

Lose the Chip on Your Shoulder and Accept

Those who grow and excel don’t dismiss; they accept others with differing training backgrounds and goals. They learn what they can from them, drawing knowledge and/or motivation that can be applied to their own training program. They breed a positive and proactive demeanor to all they come in contact with, surrounding themselves with like minded individuals. Some of the best and strongest athletes can also the most humble, kind and giving. They’re willing to take the time to help pull others up to their level of training.

Lose the separatism; lose the chip on your shoulder. Realize that no matter how damn good you are, there is someone better. Likewise, no matter how different someone is or how much stronger you are vs, them, they may have faced something that’s gives them the ability to help you learn and grow.

Remember, in the end we have much more in common with than we have apart. Be an ant, not a sheep and promote a training environment that fosters a burning desire amongst all trainees.


1 Image created by Tambako the Jaguar and was accessed under the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license on January 14, 2011 from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/494118044/

Click Here to find out "Why we do, what we do."

Written on January 14, 2011 by Phil Stevens
Last Updated: June 21, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Coach Phil Stevens is an accomplished strength athlete with considerable experience in Powerlifting, strongman competition, and highland games. Phil is the 2007 APA World Champion in the 242-pound class (total). He has held the APF 275-pound class raw National bench, squat, deadlift, and total records. Phil’s marquis lift was his 725-pound raw beltless deadlift, performed on February, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. He has been ranked in the “Top 10” in the deadlift across all national powerlifting federations. In addition, Phil has in a few short months moved to the A class in highland games with the goal of going Pro. His coaching services are avalable by clicking on the Strength Sport Consultation tab.
Professional Commitments:In addition to his coaching duties, he also serves as the California State Chair for the North American Highlander Association, as well as the founder of Lift For Hope an annual strength competition with proceeds donated to charity. He also runs his own printing business (business cards to t-shirts with everything in between) that can be found at www.bingcolorprint.com.