Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This is something that needs to be addressed, as many trainees are becoming victims of their environments.  Despite my constant begging and pleading, despite many pithy facebook posts and motivational posters, despite all efforts and all common sense, trainees love to compare themselves to other lifters.  They love to see how they rack and stack, where they stand, what their level is, etc.  I’ve already written in the past on how ridiculous this becomes when a non-competitive trainee wants to know how they compare with other non-competitive trainees (reference my “surprise boxing match” idea), but, much like how a needle exchange will give clean needles to heroin addicts so that they don’t get an infection while they die from an overdose, I am willing to placate these demands to at least dispel some nonsense and rumors.

Plus, there is NO way you could make this artwork without being high
When comparing yourself to an elite lifter’s lifts, you must understand that this elite lifter is using elite equipment.  I’m not simply speaking about their PERSONAL equipment (shoes, belts, powerlifting gear as applicable, etc), but the actual hardware on site.  Competition grade barbells, calibrated and balanced plates, racks, monolifts, etc etc.  This equipment is standard at this level, but it also costs several thousands of dollars.  It makes sense for elite athletes: we the spectators want to see them perform their best, and in turn we give them the equipment that allows them to display the most strength possible.  No one wants to watch a 1997 Honda Civic blitz down the track at NASCAR, and with everyone using the same great equipment, it still comes down to the lifter to perform rather than just blaming the equipment.
A commercial gym functions in the complete opposite way.  The owner (if he’s smart) realizes that the equipment is going to get abused far more than it gets used properly, and he’s going to simply purchase the bare minimum necessary to satisfy the majority of his customers.  If he can get a bulk rate discount, even better.  And remember the immortal words of George Carlin “I never had a 10, but one night, I had five 2s”.  Yeah, you’re working out with those 2s.

69 dudes!
What does this mean to you the lifter?  It means comparing your lifts to those performed in an organized competition is simply madness.  Ignoring the fact that these athletes tend to be the cream of the crop (through combinations of insane work ethic, incredible genetics, talented coaches, great nutrition, etc), their lifts are being performed with equipment that is designed to amplify strength, while YOUR equipment is designed to meet the bare minimums.  This means that holding your grip to a standard of “I should at LEAST be able to deadlift 315 double overhand before switching to mixed grip” is insanity, as you’re attempting to perform this feat with a bar with knurling that, at best, could be called “cosmetic”.  Yes, George Leeman can hook grip over 900lbs, but he’s doing this with a barbell with diamond knurling that will rip your skin off if you’re not conditioned for it.  Give him a crappy commercial gym barbell and he’ll notice the difference.
This is doubly if not triply true for the Olympic lifts.  Clint Darden made an amazing video comparing the Rogue barbell to an Eleiko barbell as weightlifting bar, and one of the most significant factors was the amount of spin present in the latter versus the former.  Rotation is huge when it comes to getting weights from the floor to your chest/overhead, and if your equipment isn’t up to the task, you’re adding an extra element of challenge to it.  This is why the continental clean even exists: an axle’s collars don’t rotate, making it impossible to solidly clean to the chest a heavy weight.  Weights that make it to the chest with an axle are the result of brute strength and force, not technique. 

I love a sport where this is considered "good form"
All of this is ignoring the elephant in the room that no one wants to think about: the weight itself.  Unless your plates have been weighed, calibrated and certified, you have no idea how much they actually weigh.  Cheap manufacturers give it a shot to get close to right, but 45lb plates can vary anywhere from 1-8lbs, and after years of getting dropped and chipped it’s just going to get worse.  This is why, back in the day, after you set a record at a competition they actually weighed out the plates to see how much weight you REALLY lifted.  It was common for your record to not count, OR for you to have lifted substantially more than you ever did.  This is why the phenomenon of going to a new gym and the weights feeling lighter/heavier happens.  It’s not just in your head, the plates probably DO weigh differently.  And this is of course to speak nothing of the fact that the bar you’re using may weigh differently than what is advertised as well.
The list goes on and on.  Bars that are too thick to grip well for deadlifts, too whippy for bench, no center knurling for squats, 6’ bars, etc etc.  But fear not!  There is a solution: strive to always use the same equipment every time you are at the gym and get stronger WITH that equipment.  As long as you are seeing growth with the majority of the variables being controlled, you are getting stronger.  Yes, this means seeking out a specific bar and plates, but it also means no longer having to stress over your growth.  It also means you need to quit comparing your lifts performed in your situation with those performed by others, as they’re simply not contending with the same elements.  This ALSO means not worrying about needing to use straps at a certain weight, or any other training aid for that matter, as realistically you're more likely just making things even by compensating for crappy equipment with a beneficial aid.  This is why the comparison is pointless, and why you just need to compete with yourself.

But you also need to be honest with yourself
Unless you do strongman, in which case, none of the equipment is regulated, nothing is standard, everything is broken, and you just need to get stronger. 


  1. "Unless you do strongman, in which case, none of the equipment is regulated, nothing is standard, everything is broken, and you just need to get stronger. "

    Excellent way to end this piece. The answer in strongman is always "be stronger".

    1. Haha, thanks dude. Just a little friendly jab at everyone else. Something I love about the sport.