Full disclosure: I am a nerd. I don’t mean in the trendy way people call themselves nerds these days just because they like the new Star Wars movie. I played Magic the Gathering, I still play Dungeons and Dragons, I own almost every video game system from the NES to the Xbox 360, and I even have a goddamn comic book character emblem tattooed on my body. Yet, all of the nerdy activities I’ve engaged in, lifting has to be the one with the most embarrassing community of nerds.
It didn’t use to always be like this. In fact, it used to be the opposite. The stereotype was that lifters were meatheads: guys with IQs equal to their bodyfat percentages who grunted their way through social interactions and shoved kids in lockers for their lunch money. These same Neanderthals would lumber into the weight room, pick up something heavy, blast until they puked, go home, eat a few steaks, and repeat the process ad infinitum. Somehow, it worked for decades…and then the nerds showed up on the scene.
My theory is that those kids getting shoved in the lockers decided to overcome their position by becoming the enemy. They decided that they TOO would lift. However, they brought to lifting what they brought to all their other hobbies and passion: an obsession with statistics and “leveling up”. Like all other activities, they viewed lifting as a game to be won through grinding to the point of obtaining superior statistics, and assumed that it in turn must follow the rules of their fantasy universe.
It is from this that we developed this idea of “beginner routines” that one must follow until they hit intermediate stats. Once they’ve leveled up, this trainee is now ready for the intermediate routine until they level up to the advanced status. It’s grinding to level up, pure and simple, and its insanity. Read through the “Keys to Progress” and see how ironheads were training in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s: there was no mention of “intermediate” routines, you stuck with something hard and heavy and blasted away at it until you became something. If you needed to get bigger, you ate more, if you needed to get smaller, you ate less, and the entire time you trained, you threw enough intensity of effort at the lifts that your body had no choice BUT to grow.
I mean...it worked for this guy
The nerdiness doesn’t end there either. With the penchant to min-max, munchkin and optimize everything (apologizes to my non-nerd speaking audience for those first 2 terms), many of these trainees believe that the effectiveness of a routine can easily be determined via mathetmatical computations of volume and intensity. The best routine IS out there, and all one has to do is compare ALL of them, crunch the numbers and *poof* the best routine is discovered. What’s missing? The human element of course: the effects of intensity of effort, the athletic background of the trainees, the psychological and physiological responses to certain training stimuli, effects of prior injuries, etc etc. The new generation of beginners is obsessed with finding the best routine before they ever begin, while the old ironheads knew that all they needed was some guiding principles and the rest would sort itself out. No character skill tree needed, just effort and consistency.
If you want a nerdy analogy, here’s one: lifting is like trying to hit level 99 in the very opening screen of your RPG of choice. At first, the experience points are significant, and the leveling up happens quickly. Soon enough though, things slow down. You’re getting better and stronger, and yet your enemies aren’t giving you the boost that you used to. Is the solution to come up with more and more creative means to dispatch them, in the hopes that the game will somehow reward your creativity in slaying your comically easy opponents? No; all you can do is show up, grind forever and ever, and eek out progress through force of will, effort and consistency. Magic isn’t the answer: its patience.
Plus, being a Fighter is way cooler than a Wizard
If the qualities that allowed one to excel at Dungeons and Dragons made one a better lifter, the dynamics of high school would have been radically different. Don’t be afraid to be a meathead. Shut off the brain for a second, crank up the testosterone, and keep showing up until you get results. If you’re rolling a D20, start over.