Just Work

Strong Lifting

Following a recent entry about outdoor training, I woke up the next morning to find my inbox filled with questions. Many readers seemed interested in stone or log lifting, but were genuinely confused about how to track progress with an unmarked odd object.

For instance, one reader of the site wrote the following:

“It’s fun to train outside, but how do I know if I am getting any stronger.”

He went on to explain his fondness for stone lifting, but expressed frustration over his inability to weigh any of the stones that he lifts. Like myself, this individual trains in the woods so does not have a convenient way to determine the weight of the stones that he uses.

Numbers Don’t Matter

Fortunately, you do not need to know the exact weight of a stone to benefit from it. Speaking for myself, I have a huge assortment of stones in the woods that I often lift and carry. I honestly have no idea what the stones weigh. When I lift stones, I am not concerned about training with a specific percentage of my 1-rep max.

Instead, I use my own informal scale. I classify my stones into categories such as somewhat heavy, heavy, and ridiculously heavy. At times, some of my athletes have even added four letter descriptive terms to enhance my classifications. One stone in particular is often described as being heavy as f–k. And while that description may seem inappropriate, it makes perfect sense once you get your hands on the stone.

Progress Doesn’t Hide

As for monitoring progress, I don’t need a pound or kilogram stamp on the side of the stone to know whether or not it is challenging me. When I lift the stones, some go up without too much of a struggle while others require every ounce of strength I have. It’s safe to say that if I regularly lift or carry the more challenging stones, I will eventually become stronger. I don’t need to solve a calculus equation to determine whether I have progressed or not.

If the stone goes up easier, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can throw the stone farther, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can lift the stone for more reps, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can carry the stone more distance, I have probably gotten stronger. I could go on and on with additional examples, but I’m sure you get point. Once you become better at lifting, carrying, or throwing a particular stone, you will know you have improved. You can then seek out a larger and more challenging stone. It really does not need to be more complicated than that.

Ultimately, progress is not nearly as difficult to recognize as many of the pencil pushers would like you to believe. Strength does not hide in the dark. It is easily noticed. As you become stronger, you are going to know. It will not be a secret.

Final Thoughts

Whether you train indoors or out, don’t get lost in the math. It is often best to minimize the complexity and just work. If you regularly challenge yourself against difficult types of resistance, you are going to improve. It does not matter if the resistance comes from stones, logs, free weights, or anything else you can think of lifting. Show up regularly, work hard with whatever you have, and you will progress.

And if or when progress is absent, don’t be so quick to blame the tool or your lack of knowledge regarding its weight. Often times the source of the problem is only visible when you look into the mirror. Stone lifting is like many things in life. You get what you put into it.

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“Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple.” – Edward de Bono


  1. Reminds me of a quote you used: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
    ― E.F. Schumacher

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