Do you want to be a Hero, or a Professional?

'Asking a Judge inappropriate questions: three years in the cubes, citizen.'

‘Asking a Judge inappropriate questions: three years in the cubes, citizen.’

If you haven’t seen the film Dredd, you almost definitely should. It’s a near-perfect translation of the comic it’s based on, beautifully acted by everyone involved, with the added bonus that the plot revolves around a drug that makes everything look really cool.

It didn’t do very well at the box office.

One thing that makes Dredd different from the vast majority of action films, and a large part of its brilliance – and maybe one of the reasons that it didn’t sell too well – is that Dredd, in the film, isn’t a hero. He’s a professional. He has a pretty bad day, trapped in a city block full of people trying to kill him and low on bullets, but he still gets on with his job. For him, there’s no drama in the gunfights, no breathlessly ducking behind things or desperately returning fire – half the time, he just stalks the corridors, shooting when necessary. He doesn’t crack wise or make impassioned speeches or otherwise grandstand – he gets shit done. 

Which brings me back to weightlifting. And, in fact, doing most other things.

Acts of heroism – or things that come close to them, since we aren’t talking about life or death situations here – are massively popular in both sports and, erm, real life. Sucking it up, leaving it all out there, pushing it to the limit – whatever your cliche, seeing people go beyond their perceived boundaries is exciting: in fact, it’s something sports are designed to encourage. But there’s a difference between enjoying the occasional heroic effort and aspiring to crank them out on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Here’s why:

  • Nothing worthwhile gets done in one Herculean effort.  Whether you’re aspiring to get a black belt in BJJ or write the Great American Novel, you aren’t going to do it in a day, or a week. Whatever you’re doing, you need enough left in the tank to keep coming back, and back, and back. You know why Rocky always has to do a massive training montage? Because he gets fucking fat between films. This is not the way to approach things.
  • Heroism is tiring. In lifting, pushing it to the limit every single time you hit the gym means adrenal fatigue, overtraining, and injury. In writing, one 5,000 word day might ruin your brain enough for you to need a week off. I’ve done both of these things. Usually, it’s better to leave a rep in the tank before absolute failure, or stop writing at a point where you’re still excited about what you’ll write tomorrow. Sprint guru Charlie Francis puts it best: ‘Usually, if your athlete hits a personal best, you stop the workout.’
  • By its very nature, heroism is unsustainable – right there out on the edge of your abilities, testing things to the absolute maximum, is not where you want to be. At some point, you’re going to come up short. To bring this back to Dredd, think about a real-life special forces unit. Do you think they’d rather their gunfights were desperate, messy, heroic affairs, or clinical, precise, no-bother ones?

Pushing things to the absolute limit is something to do occasionally, not constantly. Professionals do enough to get the job done. And they win.

HOMEWORK: Set yourself a nice, manageable set of goals this week: lifting or other projects. Once you’re done for the day, down tools. Be professional. And watch The Raid: it’s got an almost identical plot to Dredd, but is every bit as good.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.

1 Comment

  • Some interesting thoughts about training here. Gotta agree that success – in my experience – comes from a a training approach that is unglamorous, monotonous and definitely not heroic. And your point about Rocky Balboa had me laughing out loud!

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