Quiet Strength: What It Is and What We Can Learn From Those Who Have It

Have you ever seen the strong quiet person who carries him- or herself with a presence of strength and humility at the same time. Here’s what I think we can learn from these people.

Have you ever seen the strong quiet type of person who carries him- or herself differently? He or she has a presence that demonstrates both strength and humility at the same time. The Navy Seals are often called “quiet professionals” because they do out-of-the-ordinary training, but retain a professional demeanor in their approach to life. They are often described as having this quiet type of strength. People with quiet strength show that they have been tested, have succeeded, and don’t need to tell everyone about his or her success. There are probably times for quiet strength and for “loud strength” as there are advantages and disadvantages with both. However, as students of strength and fitness, I think there are lessons that we can take from the following examples of quiet strength.

Lesson #1: Barry Sanders

By quiet, I am talking about humility, and by strong, I mean a physical presence (not just size). Barry Sanders, a Hall of Fame running back for the Detroit Lions carried himself this way. After every touchdown, he did not do a dance. Rather, he tossed the ball to the referee and returned to the sideline. From many accounts, he did not like to receive the accolades awarded to such a distinguished football player. (He almost avoided going to the Heisman Trophy Awards ceremony. Although, some might say he had “fear of positive evaluation.”) He was called Clark Kent and Superman because he could perform an amazing Superman-type of run, but then quickly revert to his Clark Kent demeanor on the sidelines. He retired abruptly before a season when he was about to break the all-time rushing record. The individual record was not that important to him when he saw a team going nowhere.

Lesson #2: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee described quiet strength perfectly when he said, “Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.” He also made famous a fighting stance called the “art of fighting without fighting.” In the classic film, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee demonstrated this style by tricking an obnoxious fighter into a small boat that he let loose into the open water.

Lesson #3: Aung San Suu Kyi

People who are tested have the knowledge that they can be resilient in tough situations. Aung San Suu Kyi fits this description. She won a Nobel Prize for Peace for her peaceful protest of the Burmese military government. She was under house arrest for fifteen years and has an aptly named documentary of her life, Lady of No Fear. The following quotation from her is a perfect summary of quiet strength:

Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as “grace under pressure” – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Lesson #4: Pavel Tsatsouline

Pavel has been writing about strength since the late 1990s and has trained many famous strength coaches and collaborated with many other “big names” (his collaboration with Dan John, Easy Strength, is destined to be a classic). Pavel doesn’t have a dominating style that turns others off and this allows him to work with such other big names. However, even with all of his important writings and fame, he maintains a humble presence. The code of his organization even promotes a quiet professionalism. In all of his writings, he is quick to quote someone else and to give credit to others. That style of humility is what epitomizes quiet strength.

The following excerpt from him summarizes what he believes and how he trains his coaches:

Really strong people have class. They never bully the weak…Rob Lawrence, the master of one-liner, once quipped that the very strong and the very weak will never give you any trouble. It is the guys in the middle who have a chip on their shoulder. Beta males, frustrated with their inability to rise to the top and taking it out on the even weaker letters of the Greek alphabet. These betas are easy to recognize in gyms by their swagger… Just a week ago I witnessed one make a lot of noise quarter squatting 315 – and then walk away and never come back. The unfortunate newbie in gym gloves who later came to the power rack to do his curls got stuck unloading the bar… If you are strong, or at least on your way to strong. Do not let it go to your head. Do not give the noble pursuit of strength a bad name by acting like a jack. Let your conduct inspire the weak to be strong.

quiet strength, barry sanders, bruce lee, pavel, pavel tsatsouline, craig marker

Finding a Balance

There are many other people who could be named as leaders of quiet strength. I highlighted these four as each exemplified a different type of quiet strength. My take is that these individuals may have had different reasons for and manifestations of their quiet strength, but their confidence in their abilities allowed them to feel comfortable with their quietness. As Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there is probably a place for both extroverts and introverts. However, we sometimes recognize the extroverts’ accomplishments before the introverts’. As a society we reinforce the need to promote ourselves by telling of our strengths. However, I appreciate the person whose strengths are only seen by the way he or she carries him or herself.

Please post your thoughts of who else fits the description of quiet strength and even loud strength in the comments.