It's the old elephant and the ant analogy. Elephants are among the strongest mammals, yet can not lift each other up . Ants are among the tiniest land creatures, yet can lift multiples of their weight rather easily. The ant's balance, geometry and skill far out-performs an elephant's brute force and size. Even if an elephant can move more weight in one effort, the ant will move WAY more weight compared to their size.
Now, I am not saying elephants are wimps. Hell no. They could tromp me in a heartbeat, as could their human correlations in this analogy. But I am saying that there is something far more impressive about a guy – of ANY size, ant OR elephant – who can figure out the skills involved with moving weights typically far beyond his expected capacity. In other words: it is impressive when someone lifts an elephant's load with the skills and capacities of an ant.
The correlation between strength and size is much misunderstood. Strength is about skill as much as it is about sheer heft. And sure, a massive dude will be stronger via sheer inertia and momentum than a dude 100 lbs. smaller. But pound-for-pound the smaller guys often are way stronger in comparison to the work they do. The ants often impress far more than the elephants.
At the Arnold Sports Festival this past weekend, there were a lot of elephants. Most were the type that just lumber around in all their heft and glory: the bodybuilders. Some were lifters as well, but mostly bodybuilders. And while I am certain – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that those who came to show off their size also are capable of lifting big numbers, theirs is a type of self-flagellation that straddles the border between compelling and masturbatory. (And all too often just becomes the latter.) Tons of chemicals (and a huge dose of fear of powerlessness) drives many of these mountains of muscle to unbelievable scale and dimension . . . and yet, any herd of elephants is impressive for it's sheer tonnage. It is the nuances that develop strength, however that truly impress.
And in a far corner of the Arnold was a display of those nuances. Away from the glitz and glam of freshly-shaved pecs and water-swollen 23" biceps were those who stay in the moment of their mission rather than get lost in the myth of their own might: the lifters.
And one particular lifter was fortunately captured on film performing something those giant elephants might be humbled by. The man is Muhammed Begaliev, and he weighs a mere, narrow-shouldered 170lbs. Let that sink in a second: 170 lbs.; a quite "average" weight for a man. By comparison to most of the muscle monsters tromping around the Arnold Expo, his is an easily forgettable build. Because his Under Armour is not straining at the seams, and because his quads don't orce him into a waddle-walk, many would just assume "Yeah, that's just a dude who lifts . . . but NOTHING like THESE superheroes of mass!"
You might think that, of course, UNTIL you watch the video.
This 170lb man proceeds to snatch 150 kilograms right up over is head. (That is 330 lbs for those who hate the metric system.) And what is most remarkable is not THAT he lifted the weight, but HOW. Indeed, one could argue that he did not so much lift the weight as "move under it." (One constant coaching philosophy I drill into my athletes heads ad nauseum is that "all lifting is not lifting but rather all lifting is "trying to get underneath something.")
Begaliev illustrates how skill is what builds strength just as much as sheer mass. The ant understands leverage, positioning and "feeling" his own center of gravity relative to the weight's. The ant gets how you are moving one center of gravity AROUND another center of gravity. And he does just that.
If a 250 lb. man moved 330 lbs., I'd be impressed. But when a man of 170 lbs. does the same, I am somewhat speechless, for he represents what the "regular guy" is actually capable of. Sure, the pharmaceutical monsters can move gigantic loads – but we'd EXPECT them to do that. The big guys who move big weights via chemical injections are not actually, truly impressing us; they are merely just meeting our expectations. "They're big, they're using assistance, therefore they SHOULD move a big weight." Nothing unique there. Thus any pleasure at seeing a big guy move a big weight is more about satisfaction with what "should be" rather than inspiration regarding what "could be."
Yet to see a man of average build – a build that we can all relate to because most of us have been that size – move nearly double their weight, it is mind-boggling! Especially when it is done with such skill. Begaliev made it seem so fluid and smooth, as if the weight itself just naturally flies upwards that way. It truly illustrates the power of the human body when focused.
And it also illustrates one of the single most vital principles behind lifting: the application of confidence. Most people think that confidence arises from lifting big weights and developing big muscles. Begaliev proves what is true: the opposite is the fact: in actuality, it is confidence which helps us move weights. The confidence comes first, not afterwards. It is the confidence that he has the ability that is the key. Become confident first, and the work will come afterwards.
This is a huge message to the men at the Arnold Expo deriving a sense of egotism via admiration. That narcissistic path to confidence is faulty and fleeting. Once the admirers of your muscle depart, so too does your own glow of confidence fade. Yet the confidence we nurture within ourselves – the kind Begaliev fired up as he squatted down to that bar – is the kind that propels great feats. And even if you want your great feat to be gigantic mass, you will need that calm, quiet, private confidence to get you underneath the weights that would help you produce such heft.
The elephants may parade confidence via their stature, but the ants live confidently via their ability. It's a lesson from the small guy in the herd of monsters – that even the monsters can benefit from.
Confidence first. Big lifts afterwards. Big muscles last. In THAT order.