In the language of the Westside Barbell boys, you should know the difference between a “contest max” and a “circa max”.  

It’s a metaphor for life that works not just with the competitive lifts, but with all things.

Staying at a solid 85% in all things is good.  It keeps you within striking distance if you have (or want) to ramp up to the competitive stage.  Be that in sports or… anything, really.

Trying to hit a “contest max” in all things, all the time is a sure recipe to crash and burn.  Falling below 85% of your best in all things will leave you dull in the edges and with too soft an underbelly.  Can you ramp back up from that point? It’s questionable.

And one thing today should be a “circa max”.  The best you’ve ever done (or at least in a very long while), outside of competition, in one thing.  This keeps you sharp. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

Now that “circa max” might be a gym lift.  Or maybe it’s your cleanest, most profitable sale close.  Maybe you trained your dogs to the point where none of the four of them pissed on the floor today (my personal “circa max” in that realm).

The “contest max” is where you lay it all on the line.  Go for broke; all chips in. That could be an athletic competition, or it could just as well be that make-or-break pitch for an entrepreneur.

“Contest maxes” come around but a handful of times a year.  Sometimes they’re planned for well in advance. Sometimes you just get thrown in the ring.  

But you’re ready (and even eager) for those opportunities.  Because you know you’re within striking distance already, and you’re used to rallying to a daily best.  

It’s as much a mindset thing as it is an ability thing.

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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