I only ever see you at the gym. Maybe in other contexts you’re a thoughtful, knowledgeable person. Regardless of how competent you may be in other areas, it’s clear to this personal trainer that you have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re doing when it comes to lifting weights. 1
It’s no skin off my nose whether or not you reach your goals, 2 but I don’t want to watch you hurt yourself or, God forbid, someone else. Plus, after you’ve given yourself a sprain or a heart attack, you might think it’s a good idea to sue the gym or start a nasty rumor that Olympic weight lifting is inherently dangerous, and those are possibilities I can’t abide.
I get it – you’re a man. From your Git-R-Done muscle shirt to your no-nonsense white Nike® high-tops, you’re clearly every inch a man. Sadly, I imagine that getting feedback at the gym from anyone, let alone a woman, might feel emasculating, 3 so I’m gonna write a list of suggestions and just put it out there. Maybe someone you know will read it, print it, and leave it in a bathroom you frequent. I pray someone does, and that you take a big, thoughtful, open-minded dump before I see you in the weight room again.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Congratulations – you can bend at the hips and lift 250 pounds clear off the floor with a grunt and then let it crash to the ground. If you were doing it safely and correctly, that would be called a deadlift. But the way you’re doing it? That’s called a Crippling Lower Back/Hamstring Injury Waiting to Happen. Doing it correctly involves sending your butt back, bending your knees, having the awareness to keep your back flat throughout the exercise, and moving mindfully both on the concentric 4 and the eccentric 5 movements (I know, I know – I lost you at “butt”).
You have no business using that much weight.
You like to do bicep curls. A lot. Fine. Imagine the arc a dumbbell moves in when you do a curl. Now imagine that the bottom of the arc, when you’re holding the weight with an almost straight arm, is the Pats’ 10-yard-line. The top of the arc, when the weight pauses near the chest and shoulders, is the Colts’ 10. If someone is using an appropriate amount of weight, that dumbbell moves the length of the whole field every single rep. 6 But since you’re trying to curl 150% of your One Rep Max, your dumbbell is lurching between the Colts’ 40- and 15-yard-lines like a concussed linebacker with a partially torn ACL on speed. Tone down the weight. We won’t lose any respect for you. I promise. Not for that, anyway.
Working the “prison buff.”
Have you ever been in prison? Physically, you’d fit right in. Guys on lockdown often adopt strength-training regimens to help pass the time. Sadly, they sometimes only ever do the lifts that make them look and feel tough in the moment. As such, upper body work can account for the lion’s share of their iron time. Ignoring everything below the chest results in wildly disproportionate bodies that resemble upside-down pyramids perched on toothpicks with knees.
I know curls and presses make you feel strong and make you think you look awesome – they have the same effect on me – but you can do better things with your time. Try lifts that encourage total-body strengthening, balance, and/or coordination. 7 Even if you don’t change a thing, try learning proper form on all those lifts you are doing. 8And, you know, the ones you’re not doing. 9 Heck, just re-racking your weights and using an inside voice when other people are in the room would be a huge improvement.
(If you’re the guy planting this letter in the bathroom so your self-endangering friend can read it – thank you. If you’re a guy who knows what you’re doing in the weight room and knows how to be civil when other folks are in there – thank you. Thank you for being considerate and skillful. Thank you for demonstrating how beautifully strong a man can become with the proper drive and execution. Thank you for taking your time, for being safe, for showing these kids what proper form looks like, for moving slowly, and for leaving the weight room nicer than it was when you arrived. You rock my world. When you sense I’m looking at you in the mirror, rest assured that I’m doing so fondly.)
For the rest of you – clean it up, Bro.
- I imagine the guy in the above photo does actually know what he’s doing. And if he doesn’t, the heavily oiled fella behind him is sure to save the day. ↩
- Not that you appear to have any beyond “YAAAAARGHLOOKATMEEEEE!” ↩
- And as such, might inspire even more unsafe behavior. ↩
- That would be the “up.” ↩
- That would be the “down.” ↩
- Well, just shy of the whole field, but you get my point. ↩
- A properly-executed deadlift would be a great place to start. ↩