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Gus's Barbell Club

The Matchup

By Gus

One of my passions is chess. As chess players compete in tournaments, they earn a rating of their performance. If you’re playing an opponent rated much higher than you, and win, your rating will go up significantly. At the time of the game, you were “under-rated” and the math needs to correct that. Win against an opponent rated lower than you, and your rating will still go up but only slightly. As a player continues to play, the rating will be proximate to their true skill. But if a player can be under-rated… doesn’t that mean we can never truly know how strong our opponent is?


In chess, this isn’t too much of a concern. Even among masters the stakes are usually low: few make their living playing the game. All players just have to deal with the imperfections of the system, play more games, and let the algorithm settle it out over time. Everyone is learning new ideas and getting new coaches and changing all the time.

In strength training your matchup is much more certain 1. 315lb on the bar is 315lb on the bar. When you put 310lb on your back a week ago and then 315lb today, it doesn’t feel like 120lb because the bar didn’t enough sleep last night.

On your end of the fight however, you are stuck with all the variation the chess player deals with. Poor sleep, nutrition or hygiene interrupting your energy? Illness or injury limiting your potential? The matchup becomes more difficult if your answers are less than your best.

As much as possible, we strive to eliminate these negative factors. If the athlete is at her best, she can attack the matchup with full confidence that she will be the victor. Not feeling her best, she will likely still have no issues making the lift! (Assuming the load was programmed sensibly.) But it may require bit of gusto to get up the nerve. If truly ill or injured, and she knows she’s outmatched… the fight may be postponed.

But in all cases we can benefit from understanding the bar as our adversary. Setting up a lift can have the vigor of a walk-out song. Our breath can be as fiery as a dragon’s. And we give it what we’ve got. Don’t fear making it an event to be remembered: get excited for the game.


1. Yes, I know, weight plates have margin of error. For argument’s sake, please grant me that you train full-time at Gus’s Barbell Club and you have the privilege of using the same plates every session so any error will at least be the same amount of error every time.^
A foggy gym.