I would say far too many guys at the gym believe being strong automatically makes them tough. Undoubtedly, this comes from the fact that in the animal kingdom, size tends to intimidate. While this is one of the general rules-of-the-jungle, some animals don’t follow the rules. A fifty pound wolverine may kill a 1000 pound grizzly bear if it comes between him and a meal. Likewise, these big gym bullies may rue the day they try to intimidate some little guy who thinks like a wolverine.
I’ll admit the practice of getting one’s body physically strong takes a certain amount of toughness. Stressing your body against heavy resistance, on a regular basis, is not an easy process. It’s a tough grind in the pain-zone to complete those vital, final reps. If you’ve ever fought through the urge to quit during a set of breathing squats or endured the burning in a high rep set of calf raises, you know it’s not for the weak of heart. Therefore, I contend that most people, who choose not to endure the rigors of becoming physically strong, lack an appreciable level of toughness.
One dictionary definition of tough is: “…to be strong enough to withstand adverse conditions.” Search the definition of strong and you’ll find: …“to be able to withstand great force or pressure.” The two definitions seem almost interchangeable but are they so similar when used in defining a person? Some muscle bound behemoth may be able to dead lift a townhouse but if he’s afraid of his own huge shadow, no one would describe him as tough. Consider that the average navy SEAL weighs in at 175 lbs and stands 5 ft. 10 inches tall. That’s a far cry from a massively strong frame, yet a Navy SEAL would represent my example of the absolute tough guy.
It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World
There’s an old expression: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” I agree — and one of the breeds, said to be both strong and tough, is the pit-bull. It seems to me that it’s almost mandatory for every bad ass, gang bangin’ drug dealer to own a pit-bull. My S.W.A.T. team has served many high risk search warrants where these dogs were part of the Intruder Defense System. Despite their massive builds, very few pit-bulls will stand their ground when faced with the overwhelming aggression of a legitimate S.W.A.T. team entry. They tend to hide or run for the closest exit. The same often holds true for their big, tough owners. After hundreds of S.W.A.T. missions these reported bad-asses always seem to lose their muscle when faced with a true challenge.
Conversely, I’m reminded of a night the team had an armed standoff with this skinny dude, holding the high ground on his front porch. He glared at the team as I watched a flash-bang device explode at his feet. The concussion shook the entire neighborhood but he didn’t even flinch. This is the type of guy that concerns me. The type of guy who seems to posses “no quit.” I would sooner face one hundred hulking giants, who were squeamish of combat, than one little dude with the attitude of “is that all you’ve got?”
We Don’t Need To Be Strong
For the vast majority of us, physical strength is not a necessity in our everyday lives. The process of becoming physically strong has become a choice ever since the advent of computers and automation. Very few jobs still require physical strength. Most jobs favor brain-over-brawn, and even blue collar workers have replaced muscle with machines and most companies have strict rules prohibiting lifting anything that could lead to an on-the-job injury.
We forge strong bodies because we choose to be healthy and to live longer, active lives. We strive to be considered attractive. We enjoy having the strength to perform a task if the need arises but mostly, I think we just enjoy the feeling of being strong.
Everyone Gets a Trophy
Likewise, the necessity to toughen-up is all but extinct in this era of “we can’t hurt anyone’s feelings.” Life gets easier every day but people still complain about every little inconvenience. We live in a country where people take the elevator up to the gym to get on a stair-climber. Every parent tells their kids stories about what we had to endure “back in my day,” but I have no idea what horror stories my kids could conjure up to tell their kids about how bad they had it “when I was your age.”
Nature vs Nurture
I believe every living creature is born with their own level of strength and toughness. However, each trait can be cultivated with time and determination. If a baby bird doesn’t have the strength and willpower to resist, it may be pushed from the nest by its stronger, more aggressive sibling. It’s survival- of-the-fittest but this law of nature no longer applies to the human animal in most civilized countries.
The Internet Joins But Separates
This is the kingdom of the typing-tough-guy and the keyboard-killer. School kids can choose to avoid any face-to-face contact in favor of engaging in anonymous cyber-bullying. Back in my day kids wouldn’t dare to openly “talk smack” about someone they feared, for concern of an actual confrontation. Why would @KickAssThug really need to be tough when he can Tweet challenges to @MikeTyson, all day long and he’ll never need to back it up?
The Choice is Obvious
Everyone possesses their own portions of each trait but if I had to choose between super strength or tenacious toughness, I would choose the latter. What good is strength if you’re afraid to use it? I’ve never been a big guy but I have ingrained in myself the mindset that if someone tries to kill me, they’ll need to cut my head off and hide it where I can’t find it — because I’ll never quit. Those of us who have sworn an oath to keep others safe don’t need to be big and strong. What we do need is an unyielding determination to complete the mission regardless of the adversity we face.
Very few people possess both great strength and true toughness. Some of these rare individuals lead virtually normal lives. Some climb to the elite ranks of professional athletes. My preference would have them defending our country in the military or protecting others on our police and fire departments. Honestly, my favorite place to find one of these ultimate warriors is standing beside me when the “s#!+ hits the fan” …and thankfully, I often do.
About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com