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Creating Our Own Limits

It doesn’t happen often anymore, but in the past I have failed to achieve a lot of the goals I have set for myself simply because I elevate the goal itself to such mythic proportions that it begins to terrify me. The more mental weight we give to a task we’re trying to achieve, the more effort it will take to reach it.

I believe effort is overrated and innovation is undervalued.

Here’s an example: on June 3 of 2009 I wrote a quick piece about the Secret Service Snatch Test. I had read a book called Enter The Kettlebell and I wanted to pass the SSST as a benchmark. To prove, as it is put, “that I have the right to call myself a man.”


But back then, I ate the shtick up (still do, in some aspects) and became appropriately terrified of the snatch test. How could I not be? It was hard! Everyone knows that it is really hard to snatch a 24 kilo kettlebell 200 times in 10 minutes!

Except it isn’t. But I was in “full effort” mode. Blood and guts. I scoured the internet looking for programs and protocols to help me snatch better. I committed to grueling training sessions over and over, adding a few reps here and there.

I found a way to make it difficult because the book said it was supposed to be difficult.

What a waste of time and effort.

But I did it. I sweated and suffered so much that I finally got my 200 reps, and then what? I became a man! No, just kidding. What happened was that I quit trying for more. I quit trying for higher numbers, even though there were people hitting snatch numbers well above 250. But the book said 200 was a good benchmark, so that was that. I let myself stop.

That’s the example of me creating my own limitation. Maybe it works differently for you. Maybe I’m just crazy. Anyways, I don’t blame the book or the author (I’m still a big fan of Pavel Tsatsouline–he’s been very good to me), I blame me. I let an outside resource decide what I was capable of. What I should shoot for. What my potential should be.

It is so easy to do this to ourselves. We look for standards to meet, when we might instead create our own standards and go much farther than was ever thought possible.

The Secret Service Snatch Test is not hard

I can now hit upwards of 230 any time I try, and I very rarely do snatches anymore. It is not difficult, because I have made it easy. I ignore the programs. I followed my own body and tested everything I did with my body’s own feedback.

Age and bodyweight will definitely make this test more challenging for some. But I have yet to see anyone who could not pass this test if they would just get it out of their head that it’s nearly impossible to do.

It is possible. So are so many of the things that we talk ourselves out of. There is no problem with dreaming big and tackling huge challenges, but I try to make sure that I am the one deciding what difficult means, not taking it on faith. It is so easy to abandon goals if they feel too difficult, but I realize more and more that few things are as difficult as I used to think.

Each new breakthrough someone has, whether it is in the strength world, the sciences, a wonderful book unlike the rest, or whatever else…occurs because someone vaults over someone else and gets better results.

For a time, however brief, they quit listening and try something their own way.


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  • Todd August 11, 2010, 6:23 am

    Oh boy! How many times have I put up my own mental barrier? I couldn’t count them on my fingers and toes.
    When I was training for my first powerlifting meet, I came to the conclusion that I don’t really care how I stack up against other people. I just wanted to compete, and set new PR’s. That hasn’t been an easy journey though.

  • John Sifferman August 11, 2010, 6:27 am

    Very well said, Josh. I think one of the best things you can do is not only set your sights high, but also to see what you’re made of from time to time. My coaches often remind me that “if you can, you must.” Maybe today’s session is supposed to be 100 reps of such and such. Why not try for 500 reps? And would you be disappointed if you only hit 330?

  • John August 11, 2010, 7:13 am

    Great post Josh. A boss I used to work for had a sign on his office door that I still remember to this day…it said “A goal is not a stop sign.” That was the first thing I thought about when you mentioned that you quit trying to do more once you hit that “manly” benchmark. I’ve been guilty of the same thing, and I try to remember that sign each time I put an self imposed limit on what I can accomplish. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  • Joe DeGiorgio August 11, 2010, 8:04 am

    Great example of the limitations that we impose on ourselves. And most are usually self imposed. We just have to break through those mental barriers.

    Having said that, all those snatches are definitely an impressive physical feat!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 11, 2010, 9:41 am

      Thanks Joe. I don’t want to downplay the SSST as a goal. It’s a good goal, it’s just not as terrifying as the marketing suggests. I read a runny article in The Onion once. The headline was “Corporation meets goals, closes down.”

  • jonathanfigaro August 11, 2010, 8:51 am

    Keep stretching your limitations by taking action each and everyday. By putting your ego aside and working towards a dream or desire. Something not so practically, but anything than will make you happy to be engaging in this activity. If it scares, you even better. For fear is just a magnified emotion to something which isn’t really what you percieve to be.

  • Demond Thompson August 11, 2010, 9:04 am

    I love this post. How many of us put limitations on what we can do? Too many. I’ve grown tired of the mental barriers and keep crushing them everyday.

    That being said: Good job with the snatches!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 11, 2010, 9:40 am

      Thanks Demond. I won’t lie–I was pretty happy when I hit 200.

  • Casey August 11, 2010, 10:35 am

    Thanks Josh, this post has come at a very important time for me. I’m dealing with a lot of personal chaos and for too long I let it consume me and used it as an excuse to quarter ass (not even half ass!) my responsibilities and goals. Jean Paul Sartre would be ashamed of my “bad faith”.

    I’ve been taking the Gym Movements philosophies to their logical end. I mean I’m applying this stuff to everything. As a result I stopped being worried about what others might think or say about what I am trying to do and am just doing it. As Dan John likes to say “No one cares”.

    I’ve been finding much more time (where before I deluded myself into thinking I had none) and opportunity to get better at everything I do. A lot of self-evaluation and restructuring going on. Anyway, many thanks for this post as it just cements everything for me. Hope all is well man, take care!


    • Josh Hanagarne August 12, 2010, 8:50 am

      I’m sure Sartre is looking down at you from Heaven and shaking his head:)

  • Jenn August 11, 2010, 11:05 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this. I’m going to the RKC in San Diego at the end of this month and I have made a huge mental mess in preparation for “the snatch test”. Long story short I’m right at the weight cut off for women. It’s a crap shoot on what I will weight that morning. I can easily pass with the 12k but the 16K is terribly hard for me. This post has got me thinking that maybe I should just start viewing the 16k as easy and maybe it will be? Maybe I’m giving that bell too much power?

    I’ve been trying to find more info on the Gym Movement but having a hard time finding anything. It seems like it’s sort of a secret club? Are there many women followers? I would really just like to know what it is.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 12, 2010, 8:49 am

      Jenn, you’ll pass it no problem. It’s the first thing you do that morning and the adrenaline alone will get you there. As far as easy reps, just keep in mind that there is a difference between something looking easy and feeling easy. When I do a heavy deadlift, it feels hard, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at me while I lift. If you do snatches and you make them look effortless, you will make better progress, even if that means doing fewer reps. I have seen this to be true with every single one of my clients and with myself.

      As to Gym Movement–it is not a secret club, if you want to get better, you’re in– here are a few things to get you started:

      A summary of my own GM experience is near the bottom of this article:

      Adam and Brad Nelson teaching the GM protocol in the Grip and Rip DVD (this is an affiliate link)

      And the page is loading slowly, but on http://www.adamtglass.com, there’s a ton of stuff. It doesn’t seem to be working right now though.

      There are a lot of women doing GM. Lots of them are (or were) RKCs. They are all making the best progress they ever have. But there are certainly not as many women as men hanging around. Please come change it:)

  • Sean Schniederjan August 12, 2010, 7:47 am

    Josh, can you use that same mindset and gym movement to hit 200 with a 32kg? I mean, when you’ve been kettlebelling for as long as you (and I) have, 200 with a 24kg should be pretty easy.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 12, 2010, 8:40 am

      Sure, why not? The last time I saw Logan Christopher he was doing just that, at a very light bodyweight. But you don’t have to use Gym Movement for it. Wasn’t it Philip David who posted in the last year about hitting over 200 with the 32? But for me, I believe 100% that GM is the safest, fastest way to do it. It’s the reason why I’ll soon be deadlifting 600 with minimal effort, and hitting the one arm pullup two years ahead of schedule.

      And I agree, it “should” be easy for guys who have been doing it as long as we have. But there are still plenty of those guys who can’t hit it yet. I know a dozen in my city alone. It’s certainly not for want of trying. I’ve watched them sweat, get injuries, moan, and ignore me for every time I suggest that there might be a better way. I’m fine with them telling me why GM doesn’t work for them. I’m incredibly bored when they start telling me why it doesn’t work for me.

  • Yusuf August 12, 2010, 12:29 pm

    Excellent! It can work the other way too. Someone may have low standards for himself and simply by learning about an external “standard” that others complete, he allows himself to make it possible and then achieves it.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 12, 2010, 7:47 pm

      Wise man. No surprises there, though!

    • Piers McCarney August 14, 2010, 6:52 am

      I’m running late by posting here now, but what Yusuf says is soooo damn true.

      My “standards” are being set by some of the strongest people in the world; the example people like ATG & Logan Christopher (as well as you, Josh!) set inspires me to aim for excellence.
      ATG said something once along the lines that “you’ll only be as strong as your strongest friend”. I count a few of the GM users as friends now (whether they’d agree is besides the point) and I have a lot of catching up to do!

      A lot of my workmates, even in a physically demanding job, marvel at what I accomplish, while I endlessly aim for more, from knowing how sky high the true limitations must be.

      • Casey August 14, 2010, 7:15 am

        Well said Piers and I feel very much the same about the GM crew. Having strong friends and influences really does help spur ones own progress.

        Heck, once I saw Josh BUP the Beast I said to myself “Awesome job…seems like I’ve got some work to do”. It’s not at all competitive and there is no sense of “superiority” here. Rather it further inspires us to be better and keep getting better.

        • Josh Hanagarne August 14, 2010, 7:41 pm

          Everyone gets better, everyone wins. There are going to be so many of us a year from now.

      • Josh Hanagarne August 14, 2010, 7:41 pm

        I think that’s the most fun thing about this: we have no idea how far it goes.

  • cinderkeys August 14, 2010, 12:29 am

    Interesting thoughts. I’m not sure what to do with them yet, but I’m filing them away.

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