You Are Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link

It is time to change my story.  It is not easy for me to admit this, but I have weaknesses.  Quite a few of them.  Maybe you haven’t noticed, since I do a pretty good job upholding an image of “Strength.”  But it is only a facade. I keep it in place to protect myself from deeper feelings of fear and insecurity. Feelings that make me feel weak and vulnerable. Instead of exposing my vulnerability, I put on an imaginary suit of armor and carry myself as though I were Superman, when in fact I may be feeling as awkward and clumsy as Clark Kent. 

The external facade is only the cover story. I believe in it.  It makes me feel comfortable and invulnerable.  With this image I feel like I am in control. But this facade is not my truth.  It is not the story that I want to live.  In truth I am vulnerable… I am not in control… I don’t always have it together. In fact, at times I feel like I am falling apart, emotionally and physically.  This is my true story. And in this truth, my weaknesses are where I find my greatest strengths.  Following this old story – that I am, and that I have to be, strong – keeps me weak and is ultimately one of the primary sources of much of the chronic pain and injury I have. I am not alone in this. This is something we all do.

How does this translate?
I love to workout intensely. When I workout, I go hard. I want to feel my heart pump out of my chest and my muscles burn. Lately when I make time to work out, this is the workout that I choose. It feels good, I am in my comfort zone and I feel “strong.” I am in control. I also work hard. I spend 50+ hours each week either working on people or on my business, fulfilling my “role” as father and provider for my family, while devoting very little time to taking care of myself. All of these things reinforce my cover story at a great price. The problem is that, right now, I need to commit time to taking care of myself, body and all. Hard and intense is not the type of work or workout out my body needs.  The type of work that I do is intense and repetitious.  Add that to my injury history, and you will know that I have structural weaknesses and that I am in pain. What my body needs is for me to focus on the weaknesses: some serious time doing foam roller therpy, deep tissue massage, full body flexibility, corrective exercises and functional training. But these aren’t very glamorous, they’re not sexy, and they do not fall in line with the image of “Strong” that my story prefers.

You see, most of us spend the majority of our training time on our strengths, whether in the gym, at work, or in our personal life. We spend so much time focusing on these things because we are good at them. Doing them gives us comfort and makes us feel capable. And it maintains the cover story that we have control in our lives. The trouble is that by placing so much time and energy into training our strengths we are not getting stronger.  In most cases we are actually making ourselves weaker. When we work on the things that we’re already good at, there is only a small amount of room for improvement or growth.  We expend tremendous amounts of energy on our strengths, doing the same things over and over again.  All too often this leads to an injury affecting our ability to do the very things in which we feel strongest. The key to developing a physically and emotionally strong body is not to focus on your strengths, but on your weaknesses. It is in your weaknesses that you have the greatest room for growth.

You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Weakness makes you less stable, emotionally and physically. When you work or train too hard, without much focus on your weaknesses, you simply reinforce instability. Eventually this will lead to pain and injury. It is like running head first towards a wall. Eventually you will hit it and the wall always wins.  In the end, if you blindly follow a story of “strength” you will end up weak.

To be strong and fulfill your maximum potential takes a determined focus on your weaknesses. You will have to move beyond your comfort zone and be willing to face failure, over and over again. It is not always fun. In fact, at times it will be the hardest thing you will ever do. But with hard work, you will improve, you will get better and before you know it… that weakness becomes your strength. You will no longer be living a story of “strong.” Strong will become your truth. It begins by recognizing the cover story, owning your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and taking responsibility.

I have weaknesses. I am willing to address them. Instead of maintaining my cover story, I am ready to face my weak links and turn them into my strengths. I will take the extra time and focus on correcting dysfunction and allow myself to heal. As I heal I will become more stable which will allow me to do the things I love. I will be able to workout heavier and harder without fear of hitting the wall.

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20 Replies to “You Are Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link”

  1. When you wrote this, you were seemingly speaking to me.
    Thanks, again. 🙂 For being real. Honest. And showing “that when you are weak, God is strong.”

    Blessings, Tris

  2. No…he was speaking to me LOL!!!!!

    This is so right on, definitely my story. I have recently been working on
    my weaknesses.

    Thanks for this timely piece.

  3. Thanks Jesse. You know, I have been taking a few sessions with a personal trainer due to never making the time to look after myself as I should and last week the guy was away and I had 2 replacements, one worked me so hard that I have in pain since (and I have not been for a long, long time). I have been trying to continue retrain and correct dysfunction through my Pilates practice and my maintenance series, so I can stay injury free and I find that most personal trainers they just focus on the intense and forget all about the weak links ( I wish I was training with you ;-). Just today I made a decision I will probably just continue doing cardio and work on my own pace on my weaknesses until I feel balanced enough to push myself out of my comfort zone safely.
    I appreciate your insightful post and will remind myself I am looking for a balanced workout, rather than a very intense one until I overcome my issues.

    1. Hi Marcia,

      Thank you for your comments. I have been a personal trainer for over 13 years now. For the first 5-8 years, although my heart was in the right place, I wasn’t a very good one. The knowledge and tools which most personal trainers are given is very limited. It is pervasive throughout the industry and is true throughout the health, wellness and fitness industries. We are taught how to train with the same mentality I discussed in this blog. To train to our clients strengths.

      As a coach, I know the reasons for this quite well. It comes from the fear of losing our clients and business. If we train to our clients weaknesses, they will feel clumsy and weak. Most clients don’t want to feel that way. They want to feel strong, but are not educated about what it really takes to actually get strong.

      When it comes to hiring a personal trainer, massage therapist, doctor, PT, or any other health, wellness professional, I highly encourage my clients to spend the extra time to interview multiple people, ask for references of those who were helped that had similar issues as you, and call them before hiring anyone.

      If my clients, during my first few years of training, took these kinds of actions, it would have either forced me to become better at my job faster, or I would have ended up in another career.

      Did you read through the postural series that I wrote? I have several articles up with some basic corrective exercises which will help you get moving in the direction you want.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  4. I will read the postural series Jesse. I have enjoyed reading your posts. I totally understand the commercial side of the job and I have lost a couple of clients in the studio that only wanted to focus on their strengths too and that’s fine.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

  5. Hey Jesse, Your thoughts and words ring true with me too. As a trainer/instructor, I have fallen into a pattern of scheduling more time with others because they need the help. Lately I’ve been feeling like I need to schedule time with my own trainer to work on some of my weaknesses and to stay fresh. Thanks for your openness and reminder to take care of ourselves … It makes us better–at everything!

  6. Jesse,

    Thank you for discussing your weaknesses. I think by letting others know that a seemingly strong person does have weaknesses, will help motivate others to also take a look at their own weaknesses too. I know this is exactly what I plan to do.

    Thank you again for such a great motivational message and expressing your humanity.
    Jeanette

  7. I have developed a training method called BUZZ based on the Feldenkrais method but with emphasis on rhythm. I have found that , as you say , most adults don’t appreciate training sessions that don’t include working up a sweat. However , after introducing a new “vocabulary” , slowly my classes have grown and I have been working with swimmers and dancers, basketball players and horse riders as well as people over the age of 60 who are moving like young children…and I feel stronger than I ever have since strength is a result of organizing the entire”package” and becoming more organized and efficient….Would like to invite you to take a look at my youtube (sandy kessler)
    Anyways, thanks for your personal insight…

  8. Jesse,
    Great post! That’s what I love about fitness and bodywork, both work together to increase the integrity of the body. Finding and improving upon our weaknesses is a lot of fun if given the opportunity to fix them, then we really see growth and that’s encouraging. While I haven’t been in the fitness realm personally for the last 10 years, I still work out regularly to do the type of bodywork I enjoy doing. I always get more out of my workouts when I work on the muscle groups that I’d really not, then the ones that I do. Rock on!

    Marcia- don’t worry about those that only wanted to work on their strengths, when they recover from their injury, they may return to your studio with a fresher outlook on things.

  9. The most common weakness that my clients have is at the thoracic lumbar junction. To get them to work on it, I give them an assignment that makes it feel stronger, that supports correct movement, so that it gets stronger.

    I have them place a 25 cm ball or foam roller against the wall just below the area of weakness and put their back against it. By bending the knees they role the ball into it which holds the proper alignment while the squat ans straiten. When asked how it feels the most common response is it feels good and stronger.

    The next weakness is lateral control. A PT asked one of my clients to make a snake like motion with his body while standing. Because of spinal weakness at the thoracic lumbar junction he was in immediate pain.
    Others are not so severe and think they can do strengthening exercise but then are in pain the next day or two and do not associate it. For the one that knew his weakness I had him just lay on his back wit a ball under the knees and rock it back and forth. But for the ones that want to think that they are stronger than they are I make it a challenge of control. I have them put the heels on the ball and make the ball go in a figure 8 then reverse the figure 8. Try it if you have not practiced it is a challenge. By the time they have mastered it they have also strengthened their lateral control weakness and can work out more safely.

  10. Jesse,
    Weaknesses, dysfunctions or whatever terminology is appropriate, may present to the practitioner in various ways and different locations. For instance, the client that presents pain in the thoracic/ lumbar area, after a thorough assessment may have an indication of postural dysfunction elsewhere leading to the pain. Thus, identifying the weaknesses can ultimately cover a broad spectrum of possibilities, some which may be emotional.

  11. Your blog and the comments thus far bring to mind, for me (at 51), the importance of the body~mind~spirit connection. The greatest self care is that which I give to my spiritual life. I find that it clears the path daily so that I can make right decisions toward the care of my own body as I care for and personal train others. 20 minutes to one hour every morning in study and meditation sets the tone for the day. I usually leave this time with some sense of my purpose for each day (as an overall theme) for balance and care of self and others. Truly gaining the ability to “listen in” has and is helping me live young and model this with my clients into the next 50 years of life.

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