Close Enough to Get the Job Done

By Thom Van Vleck

As I read Al’s recent story on the history of formulas several things come to mind. First, it made me think of a “formula” I used to use to calculate my one rep max. (.0333 X weight lifted X reps) + weight lifted = one rep max. I swore by that, but the reality is that it just gave a “probable” one rep max and obviously has a lot of flaws (such as going high reps not being a strong an indicator). I can’t remember where I got it, or why I came to “believe” in it…..but I did and used this to calculate contest openers and goals. I believed it was right and somehow that made it a good formula. But how often did it work? Not work? How often did I stop at that max and validate my own belief and not try more?

The reality is that the FIRST lesson I learned in Physics 101 in my freshman year in college was that every measurement is flawed. The real question is: “Is it close enough to get the job done!” I recall doing an experiment where we measured a long metal rod, then heated it and cooled it and got different measurements. We then discussed the nature of matter and that it’s made up of atoms which are dynamic, etc. Finally, the instructor took the rod and bent it and said, “Now, how far apart are the ends and how do you measure it, point to point, or along the length”?! Formula’s are like measurements, NO formula would be perfect. But his real lesson was, is your measurement “close enough to get the job done”.

I was at a ball game last night and there were two umpires. At one point, one called a guy safe and the other over ruled him and called the baserunner out. I thought the base runner was safe from my vantage point. There was a groan from the crowd….but the game went on. There was a recent major league game where a picture had a perfect game into the last out and the ump blew the call and the pitcher lost his perfect game. Television revealed his error, but the flawed call was upheld….because that’s the rule! The umpire makes the call and “calls it as he sees it”. Just like judges at meets calling depth on squats, or knee kick on a strict press. If we want to compete, we accept those human failings. The real question becomes: Are they good enough to get the job done?

Then there is the equipment. Recently, Dave Glasgow got us started on the subject of how much barbells weigh. I had actually weighed ALL of my stuff and come to realize that a 45lb plate rarely weighs 45lbs. I have a set of Ironman 50lb plates that are unmilled and they weigh 57.5lbs!!!! I should point out that they were sold that way, back in the day you could get cheap weights if you would be willing to take them “unmilled” or milled to the exact weight. However, I have milled plates and they are off, too. But not nearly as much. However, they are “close enough to get the job done”.

So, we have a flawed formula, developed by flawed people, using flawed equipment, in a flawed world. We can’t have perfection so to me, the real question is: Is it accurate enough to get the job done. I think one thing Al’s article showed was that the formulas do seem to have some decent reliability. There is some variability. I doubt there’s been a lot of testing on the validity of these formulas, so where are we?

Here is where we are at in my opinion. The USAWA is an organization like no other. I think we should continue to use the formulas but I hope that we would be open to having contests that don’t use them. I would think ideally, we do both. If I competed in the Nationals and I lifted more than anyone in my age group and weight class….I’m the winner. I also get the added BONUS of being ranked in an overall. We need to look at the formulas as a way to add another layer of competition to the meet. We either accept they are “close enough to get the job done” or we don’t compete.

Dave Glasgow and I compete in Scottish Highland Games. This is a unique sport like the USAWA. There is no central governing body and often meets are open to having their own rules and standards. For example. the Braemar Stone event (like a shot put) will have stones that vary 10, 20, even 50lbs in weight from meet to meet. Or in some meets you can spin and throw the Weight Over Bar, and another meet may only allow to throw from a stand. Each style will fit different athletes better, giving advantages and disadvantages. This is often debated and Dave delivered the best quote on it I can recall (which he said he actually got from Mike Smith), “You know the rules, either go and throw or stay home, don’t complain about it”.

Maybe someday, we’ll have so many lifters, the formula’s will be more like the “best lifter” award stuff, but right now we need them to make the meets more competitive. Otherwise, just lift in your gym and go buy a trophy. I have a buddy that owns a trophy shop and he’ll help you out….as a matter of fact he told me he makes trophies for non existent contests all the time! Or lift in the USAWA and have a good time and don’t expect perfection from a formula, like you don’t expect perfection from a judge, weight, or weather man!

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