Dan John is a renowned author and strength coach, focusing on Olympic-style lifting, and track and field coach. He holds records in the Weight Pentathlon (Discus, Hammer Throw, Shot put, Javelin, Weight Throw) and Highland Games. Here are his thoughts on the value of competition in any training program.

The bottom line is this: I’m going to receive death threats over writing this, but it all comes down to competition. Demonstrating strength and skill may be the only true measure for training programs! I’ve competed in countless Highland Games where young men in the crowd wearing “muscle shirts” have asked me “What muscles does the caber build?”

They just don’t get it. Serratus muscles don’t live in isolation when you pick a 130-pound piece of wood off the ground at the vertical. To toss a caber, tackle a runner, or jam the ball, you have to demonstrate some serious levels of strength. All the glossy “before and after” shots in the world aren’t going to get the shot past sixty feet.

Athletic competition also has standards. A sixty foot throw in the shot, at any level, is an excellent mark. Snatching bodyweight is a standard that the lifter is no longer a novice. The reliance on machines misses the whole point. Save for the small confines of your gym, nobody in the world gives a damn that you moved from “P” to “Q” on the leg press stack. Honestly, nobody cares.

Competitive athletes, in my estimation, understand training better than anyone else in the gym. It’s a simple formula: did X or Y help me compete? If the answer is “yes,” we keep on doing it. If it doesn’t, it’s dropped and discarded. Now, this process is not exact and many of the things tossed aside may have value, but competition rarely allows the athlete to experiment too long in a blind search down the wrong training program.

To summarize:

  • Everything works, no matter how crazy, for about three to six weeks. Even those miracle strength devices on television that guarantee the loss of several dress sizes work but your results might not be the same as a Los Angeles model’s results.

  • Even though everything works research is sometimes valuable.

  • Measure your training with something outside of the gym [or away from your home range.]