“Do you even lift, bro?” was the cliched, but very real, sarcastic put-down of a heavily Italo-american US East Coast bodybuilding subculture that thrived from the early 80s until roughly 5 years ago. The pathos in this phrase is self-evident (to everyone except the person asking it) and Broscience Life is the brilliant comedic Youtube channel that mined this rich vein of comedy gold. Fitness trends change so the roided out curl bro simpleton is rapidly fading in the rearview mirror of cultural significance. In the current zeitgeist, it’s apparently Crossfitters who have picked up the gym douchiness mantle. Nevertheless, the phrase remains as it touches a very raw nerve socioeconomic nerve. Namely, do smart successful people lift weights to the point that, gasp, “gainz” are obvious?
When I first starting going to gyms in the 80s, the last thing I wanted to do was resemble these dudes. For one, you’d probably catch a beating if you ever went near the bench press or any thing that’d allow to work chest, shoulder and biceps – so it wasn’t easy. Also, and I hate how this sounds, these guys were, in my mind, ridiculous. In the US, if you are over 18 but not quite 21, the only clubbing option are these “under 21” clubs which don’t serve booze to the underage and, since it’s the only game in town, forced many different youth subcultures into close quarters. The roid boys and I weren’t going for the same young ladies and, yet, I couldn’t help but notice how some of the most faux Alpha of these guys ended up with some pretty attractive young women. Maybe these young ladies couldn’t trade bon mots like Dorothy Parker, but they weren’t hideous. Hmm, I thought, every woman I know swears these guys are ridiculous so how is it that….?
From the 80s to the 90s I went to the gym as well as ran a fair amount. I’d do chest, arms, abs at the gym and rely on running for the lower body. Boy, in my 20s, this worked like a charm. I was lean but with a reasonable amount to upper body definition that didn’t draw undue attention either way. My legs (quads, etc) were not bad but I realize now my posterior chain (lower back, butt,etc) was seriously weak which set me up for issues when I hit my 30s. At this point I realized that given half a chance ( weird for a former painfully skinny teenager) I could put on muscle relatively easily. Since I was often in caloric deficit and muscle mass was not something that I prioritized, I didn’t care.
Fast forward some years, I get married, have kids and all of a sudden the six pack, good 10k times, etc goes out the window. At first it was strangely liberating to, you know, get sort of chubby. It was fun, I was exhausted anyway, and I was convinced that I could lose those extra Kgs anytime I put my mind to it. The older I got, of course, the harder it was to lose that weight through good old steady state cardio, aka running. In my mid-40s I finally got close the shape I was in my 30s. Then, predictably, body parts began to fail me due to the uneven stress they were subjected to. I developed very serious tendonitis in my right knee which effectively stopped my running career in its proverbial tracks.
There I was in my early 40s with a bad knee and chronic bad back issues. I could no longer run so it seemed that I was doomed to some sort of pre-obese doughy dad-bod state. As as last resort I thought, hell, might as well go to the gym to work out those body parts that can be exercised. At the time, I thought that my knee and lower back issues could only get worse. Nevertheless, my arms, chest, shoulders and back really responded well. But the machines like leg press and quadriceps lift did indeed made my back and knee pain worse.
Purely by chance, I stumbled on Stronglifts 5×5 and Starting Strength at the same time. The message was clear, being stronger was infinitely better than “bodybuilding” lifting – and compound movements are the way to get stronger. So I started down this path and haven’t looked back since. My knee and back problems disappeared very quickly. One of the by products, however, of getting stronger is getting relatively more jacked. Let’s keep it real, while I’m not 7 percent body fat, I’m not fat either so regular shirts, coats, trousers, etc no longer fit me. If I walk into a corporate meeting room I realize that, at my age especially, developed shoulders, arms, back, glutes, etc make you stand out somewhat. Not always in a good way, either, as there is still a socioeconomic bias against a visibly developed musculature.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I’ve had a decent amount of negative feedback in my social circle regarding this increase in muscle mass. I understand where they are coming from as held these opinions for many years. Here’s the issue: I really like getting stronger and building goals that involve strength training. If this means I add muscle mass, so be it. I am the same person, with or without the extra muscle mass.
Let’s be honest, now. If you are jacked, there are a certain number of women who will notice. In fact, you will get much attention from some of the same women who loudly professed such disregard for such a primitive look. Women are complex, finicky creatures so can I say that the “jacked” look has contributed to recent success? Oh yes indeed, and not always the ones that most people would suspect. I sometimes get “felt up” on the arms, shoulders and back during conversations with people. Not complete strangers but not necessarily people I know really well either. I know it’s a thing because it didn’t happen to me at all before.
Which brings me back to the original question. In those days, “Do you even lift, bro?” was a put-down to suggested that nobody noticed your gains. These days it’s more nuanced as too many gains=knuckle dragger in certain circles. I will never be mistaken for the bodybuilder but I’ve got far more muscle than the average. Nobody will ever ask me these days if I lift, but I am sometimes asked why. I do it for me, to get strong and, quite frankly, how you feel about it doesn’t enter the equation.