Why Powerlifting does not = Chick Magnet: a Primer

In past posts I have expounded at length about the many benefits of powerlifting.  We’ve also examined the “why” of powerlifting; namely, it’s insanely fun to be able to lift heavy shit.  However, nobody every tells you the shameful truth underlying this otherwise laudable sport.  Sit back, gentle reader, and clutch your emotional support pillow as your fearless author lays some truth bombs on your (lard)ass.  Powerlifting maybe life, chico, but the lifestyle and everything about it is kryptonite to many women.  Why?  Glad you asked:

  • You fuscular, son – Powerlifting ain’t about aesthetics.  Every weightlifter knows that weight moves weight.  If you’re  serious about the sport, you will gain weight both in muscle mass but you’ll more likely than not have some fat on top of it – aka “fuscular”.  Which looks bulky AF and, as every powerlifter knows, makes buying clothes a neverending challenge.  The body type is decidedly not straight up fat guy, but neither does it scream Adonis.  So, if you take your nutrional and body comp advice from Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength, you will undoubtably lift more weight.  You just won’t be using those strong, strong arms to beat back the hordes of admiring women.
  • Strong body equals weak mind?  – I know, I know, logically speaking this doesn’t make sense but stereotypes die hard.  Lifting weights is for meatheads goes the old trope.  You must be some sort of emotionally and intellectually stunted moron to want to lift weights.  What are you trying to compensate for?  Obviously, lifting weights doesn’t automically qualify you as a genius, but neither is it evidence of being terminally dim.  Why, then, is this attitude so prevelant?
  • Classism:  Simply put, any sport that requires strength is for the lower classes, the hoi polloi.  (Ironically underlining how far we’ve deviated from the classical physical ideal of ancient Greece).  This explains the persistent classist attitude in the US regarding baseball vs. American football.  Baseball is famously the favorite sport of American intellectuals while football is seen as a very blue collar, working class past-time.  While I myself prefer baseball, I have to admit the football is actually the more intellectually and strategically interesting.  It’s the Art of War in real time and in 3D.  Nevertheless, tennis, running, baseball and cycling are all sports that get the upper middle class seal of approval.  Your girlfriend or partner would not frown on you discussing these sports at her BFF’s next cocktail party.  Not coincidentally, while these sports will make you fit, you will not be jacked unless you’re taking the same “vitamin” regime as A-Rod, Jose Canseco or Barry Bonds.  On the whole, however, being more muscular than the average and engaging in a strength sport is akin to advertising you’re working class (and possibly illiterate) in blinking red lights.  And that is a huge turn off for many women, although many would not admit it.
  • Intimidation:  This is weird one, but I understand it on the surface.  I’m not saying that powerlifters intimidate people the way MMA fighters do.   Most women, as we’ve illustrated, will have taken one look and classify you as a bulky simpleton with low earning potential.  Some guys, however, will manifest a similar response but with a “competition” angle.  More than once I’ve found myself in, literally, a cocktail party where some guy will ask me if I lift, what my PRs are, etc and then mention that he did better – back in high school.  My dear Sir, if that is indeed the case, kudos to you. Never, ever call this into question.The only sane and mature response to that is “Cool” and then swiftly change the subject.  Or you get the guy who will try to subtly spin the “you’re dumb”  or “you’ve got issues” tropes because that’s what some guys do in social settings.  Whatever.  Very rarely, you’ll meet a secure dude who will ask you questions about powerlifting either because he’s interested in the subject or maybe just being social.  Which brings up another important point, which is…
  • The first rule of powerlifting is you do not talk about powerlifting.  This means do not just casually bring it up in conversation or, God forbid, try to “humble brag”  about your lifts, training, etc to a fine young Thang.  For one, It’s a niche sport and a boring one at that unless you are actively involved in it.  Basic decency and rudimentary understanding of social etiquette require one to keep to topics that are relatable and, hopefully, even interesting to the other person.  Nothing quite screams socially stunted Incel as bragging about your lifts, unbidden, or worse droning on about your training.  And no, if she does Crossfit this doesn’t give you a hall-pass to talk shop.  For one, she probably knows tons of much more “shredded” guys from her “box” (I’m referring her Crossfit gym, you animals).  Also, you’ll invariably bring up the whole “AMRAP”ing heavy weights by an already tired athelete is a recipe for disaster, encourages bad form, etc, etc…and she’ll shut you off for contradicting Crossfit canon.  Currently Crossfitters are the notorious “fitness bores” of the lifting community…let’s keep it that way.
  • The exception to the rule:  On some rare social occasions the fact that you powerlift might come up, either from a acquaintance or a particularly efficient “wingman”.  Now, gentle, lardy, powerlifting reader (see, we read) this is your one and only shot to do discuss your nerdy, niche passion in public.  Don’t f##& it up.  And by that I mean respond to the question, as in “Thanks Julio, the competition prep is going well, I hope to PR in bench”.  And then quickly change the subject to say, the relative merits of Cabernet Franc and what it brings the overall Bordeaux “assemblage”.  This works because you will look a renaissance man, a multifaceted James Bond like character schooled in many different arcane arts.  I sincerely hope for your sake that powerlifting ain’t the ony thing you got going on, Bucko.

Life imitates meme…or why the gym is always packed the first week of January.

It commonly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  And yet, in spite of decades of gym-going experience every December I find myself tut-tutting at all those lame “new year’s resolutioners” memes and snarky posts to forums and Facebook groups.  Every year I tell myself that this phenomenon is exagerated, it’s not really a “thing”.  After all, human beings aren’t lemmings and human behaviour, even group dynamics, is often far from being predictable.  Finally, and this is probably the biggest reason, I find it hard to believe that somebody would wait until January 1 to do anything.  I’ve started, and failed, quite a few good resolutions in my time but never have I waited for an arbitrary date to do so.

So I felt supremely vindicated from January 1st to 5th, as I trained away at the Globo gym near my work.  All the “usuals” were there, as as we always are, week after week but there was no tsunami of Gymshark-clad noobs.  “Yaaassss”, I thought, “people are rational, idependent minded beings after all”.  We aren’t swallows going back to Capistrano or salmon swimming upstream driven by some antediluvian instinct.

Then I went to the gym on Monday after work.  Or should I say, I spent 15 minutes trying to find a parking space any where remotely close to my gym (there are 2 other gyms within a 3 block radius as well) before giving up and parking far, far away.  As I battled my way past the front door the scene that presented itself was part Lord of the Flies, part Star Wars bar scene and part outtake of a “Black Friday riot at the Tulsa Walmart” youtube video.  Everybody and their actual grandmother was there, resplendent in fresh from under the Christmas tree gym-wear.  Heck, even the Prime Minister was there…Ok, to be honest, he’s a semi-regular so his presence was far less remarkable than the sheer mass of humanity that managed to pack itself into the gym that night.  No joke, I began to wonder if we hadn’t attained the building’s occupancy limit.

Unfortunately, it was my night to train bench press and yes, it was Monday (aka International Chest Day) so the six flat benches were all taken by the time I got there.  Luckily, it didn’t take long for a bench to free up because, as is always the case in this scenario, the following happens:  Noob approaches the bench, doesn’t think a second about warming up with, say, just the bar… and slaps on what he thinks is a good working weight but is actually much closer to his 1RM.  The young gent (feet up on the bench, of course, never planted firmly on the floor) then attempts to bang out a set but barely manages to get the bar off of his chest for 1 rep.  He then reduces the weight, but not enough, and manages to squeeze 2 or 3 more reps before deciding that the Pec Deck looks more inviting.

Back, however, to the subject at hand.  So, yes, a crowded gym in January is not just a cliche or urban legend.  It’s a fact of life, in the same way that airports are crowded just before Christmas.  It’s also true that by Febuary things will be right back to normal.  Aside from the glaringly obvious (guilt over holiday excesses, corny resolutions, promotional deals by gym owners) I honestly don’t why it is such a thing.  Gym training, like running, is not seasonal.  And speaking of running, the sidewalks aren’t suddenly clogged with joggers in January.  So, what gives?

In the end, I suppose, who cares?  I’m glad they are there, whatever their motivation.  It’s nice seeing some new faces and, quite frankly, I’m hoping that as gym going becomes more and more the norm, the market will mature and prices will drop in the country where I live.  I pay extortionate rates at my Globo gym and (considering the amazing value) very reasonable rates at the Powerlifting club. And finally, as somebody who is considering entering the industry at a future date, it’s comforting to know there is an absolutely reliable annual cash cow.

Gym may be life…but keep it to yourself.

As I’ve said in previous posts, if you want to stick to a strength-training program it’s absolutely necessary to find your motivation.  Strength-training, per se, is not necessarily fun.  People who stick to strength-training programs are those of have developed an interest in which weight-lifting plays a part.   Often, these are athletes in heavily strength dependent sports such as American Football, Rugby, Highland Games, Track and Field, etc.  However, the most fervent gym-goers tend to be those whose sport is specifically gym-based, such as body-building, Cross-fit, Power-lifting and Olympic weightlifting.  It’s very common, once one has developed an interest in one of those sports,  to go through “gym-bore” period.  You’re excited to find this new interest that has a major positive impact on your life and you’re as giddy a kid on Christmas morning.  Do your loved-ones and co-workers a solid, though.  Keep it to yourself.  Here’s why:

  • It’s boring:  Yea verily, it’s boring.  Of course, it’s interesting to you and your gym buddies but nobody else on God’s green earth cares about your deadlift PR or your new programming.  We’ve all heard people droning on about their new diet..how captivated were you about that endlessly fascinating subject?  If the subject somehow comes up when you’re among non-gym goers, keep it brief and change the subject or you risk coming off as a narcissistic bore.
  • Gym is not LIFE, it’s part of life:  I don’t care how good you are at your sport, never forget it should only be one facet of your existence.  Outstanding champions such as Muhammed Ali, “Arnold” and Zydrunas Zavickas (Strongman) accomplished quite a bit outside the arena of sports.  Unless you are a coach and it’s your job, droning on ad nauseam about training makes you look one dimensional.
  • The douche factor:  Let’s face it, if you speak about your powerlifting training to people outside the sport, you might not only come off as boring but also like you’re bragging. Hence, douche-y.  Things are commonplace amongst powerlifters (say, a 200kg squat for reps) sound somewhat extreme to the uninitiated.  So, while maybe you’re not really bragging, but it’s going to sound like you are. And if people think you are literally “flexing” on them, you’ll either turn them off or they respond to what they perceive as intimidation.  “Oh yeah, we’ll I benched 360 lbs before…in high school”…
  • The frustration factor:  See above – if you get caught up in a “I’ve lifted mad weight” conversation with somebody who, shall we say, doesn’t look or speak like they have experience with training, just smile and agree with them.  While you may be tempted to press them for details, don’t.  For one, it’s an inane conversation for adults to engage in.  Really, 360 lbs?  Full range of motion?  Pause at the bottom, no chest bounce, no help from spotters?  Like quarter-squatters, just let them be.  It’s frustrating and a little bit silly, but that’s not your problem.  Also, if it just so happens they did lift that weight with proper form, you’ll look the world’s biggest insecure tool for trying to call them out.
  • Chick magnet, it’s not:  Note to the heterosexual males out there – the babes will appreciate those six pack abs and wide shoulders, but preserve some of the mystery.  She doesn’t need or want to know about drop sets and how much you spend monthly on creatine.  And for my powerlifting boys out there, women could care less about your righteous PRs, you lard asses.  Dudes will care, perhaps, but women…nope.  Sad, but true.  So if you think blathering on about your training will make the fillies come a-running, guess again.

The dark side of the Gym

 

 

This blog is about to get real.  This morning I read an excellent post from Awkward Brown Guy (https://theawkwardbrownguy.wordpress.com/ – I highly recommend his blog) in which he describes his motivation for going to the gym, and how it’s changed over the years.  It got me thinking about how we all like to post about the myriad benefits of going to the gym, but we very rarely touch on the less than salubrious aspects.  It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, folks, so let’s have an honest discussion about some of the more disturbing trends in gym going behavior.

  • Balance is the key:  Nature seeks equilibrium; too much or too little of anything is not good.  Physical activity is required for one’s physical and mental hygiene. The question that many people struggle with is “how much?”.  Some people see some of the less than healthy behavior of some “fitness” trends and use it as an excuse to avoid exercise.  Still other seemingly think that engaging in physical exercise will solve all of your problems.  I think all of us are somewhere on this spectrum, and where we are at any given time depends on external factors.  Personally speaking, I’ve had couch potato periods, somewhat exaggerated periods of heavy training and more common work/life balance “trying to find time to train” periods.
  • Motivation vs. Pathology:  The modern fitness world is addicted to motivational stories to an unhealthy extent.  It’s very simple, if you don’t train and then start training, you will notice many improvements.  Better mood, sleep, weight loss and/or muscle gain, reduction of anxiety, the list goes on.  And I think it’s great this engenders a feeling of empowerment in people.  I don’t think, however, that pushing stories of how people have seemingly conquered all of life’s ills by physical training is a positive trend.  We all know a few 1 dimensional “gym is life” types and, admit it, it’s a bit sad.  Sadly, many of us have a seen a few pathological cases which literally make you wince.  At the Globo gyms I go to, for example, there is  one guy who is so hyper-ripped that his muscles actually interfere with his mobility.  He waddles from machine to machine and occasionally the dumbbell rack.  It’s kind of disturbing.  There is also this extremely anorexic woman I’ve seen at gyms around town for years now.  It always makes me nervous to be in the gym with her because I honestly expect her to keel over at any moment.  She’s literally a walking skeleton and all she ever does is cardio.  I have a family member who struggled with this disease, I know it’s a desperate attempt to exert control over one’s life,  so I don’t take this lightly.  The gym is the last place she should be and nobody should be enabling her to burn any more precious calories.
  • Performance Enhancing Drugs:  I used to be very naive and thought steroid use was rare.  10 years ago I might have even thought that the behemoth I described above was a “natural”.  The reality is that most of the shredded guys and gals at your local gym are on “gear”.  Most of us don’t have the genetics  it takes to resemble a Comic Book hero, so, surprise, surprise, many people resort drugs.  I understand if a professional athlete or movie star does it because the risk may be worth the monetary reward.  It’s pathological, however, for  your average gym goer or amateur competitor take the same hormonal health risks.
  • Body Dysmorphia:   Sure, body dysmorphia exists outside a gym environment.  It’s also true that physical training is conducive to developing a limited degree of body dysmorphia in most people.  What I find most interesting is how the condition manifests itself depends on what type of training you are doing.  This is logical because depending on your chosen activity you’ll spend a certain amount of time around phenotypes best suited to that activity.  For example, when I ran semi-marathons I used to think I was too bulky at 66 Kgs for 1m79. I now weigh 30KGs more after years of strength training.  Honestly, some of that is fat, but a lot of it isn’t.  It’s not an abnormal body type to find in a powerlifting gym but I am sometimes reminded, by people’s reactions, how outside the norm it is.  The interesting thing is that in my mind’s eye I’m “normal” size and I don’t really dig the “getting bigger” aspect.  It’s a side effect of the sport, not the raison d’être.

The point is that we need to apply the same critical regard to physical training as we do to other parts of our lives.  I often liken it to stages of “culture shock”.  When you first arrive in a country you often “love” (or detest) everything about it for a period of time.  Then, abruptly, that feeling completely changes to its polar opposite.  So now you loathe every stupid aspect of said country/culture.  Within a few months, however, you’ll reach a more reasonable mindset and begin to see the culture for what it is, neither perfect nor horrible.  Physical training is, for me, an essential part of life.  Sadly, it doesn’t provide an answer for all of my problems.  Sometimes, it even causes a few problems such as my recent injury or getting bulkier than I’d like.   At my age, though, I’m not motivated by vanity.  I like how it makes me feel and I get a kick out of achieving goals and getting stronger.   Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.