Sunday, February 7, 2016


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.

...too far?

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.

Image result for Ogre Nerds

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.

Image result for Pat Casey powerlifter
I 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.

Image result for mages suck
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.


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  2. I feel like I see this divide even within traditionally nerdy pursuits. There's the players who want guides, versus the players who write them; the players who argue over how the game works, versus the people who go find out directly. "I fucking love science" versus DOING science, theory versus application, idealism versus empiricism.

    I'm on Team Empiricism, which I feel is a lot better suited to lifting.

    1. I think this was a great point you brought up, and it's something I've experienced in my own nerd subcultures. Ultimately, I imagine much of the things I write about on lifting could apply to ever single pursuit on earth; where there are some folks that "get it" and a lot of folks who don't.

  3. well, I kind of do this leveling thing with lifting, tho in my case I'd say the leveling happens when I learn more and when I see that my physique is getting better.

    1. It sounds like you're more discussing an internal motivational mechanism (liking to think of the process of improving as "leveling up) versus actually believing that there is some sort of for real leveling up system in place regarding the body and training. Whatever it takes to inspire you to train is no issue. Some folks pretend they're in Dragon Ball Z and are increasing their power level, some think of leveling up, some pretend they're in a Rocky montage, etc etc. It's when you start confusing fantasy for reality that things get a little hairy.

  4. Emervas,

    Another thought provoking post.

    I find myself grinning at how i used to fight with people over nutrition and training online. More often than not the arguments were with people who a) were in better condition b) were stronger and more often than not a) and b).

    I bailed from it all.

    In the gym, the same applies.

    As an aside, last year i was training in boxes and tracksuit pants. I had a steel chain on my waist while doing weighted chins. I was up high on a workstation and the chain slipped. The Chain took my pants down and the weight smashed on a wooden floor.

    The entire weights room Got mooned from a great height.

    1. Haha, what a story. Good enough motivation to keep the glutes in shape.

      I was just as guilty with the arguing. Most of what I write in my blogs is honestly a critique of my earlier thought process and life. A lot of folks like to think that I'm being elitist, when in reality it's more like screaming at myself over what an idiot I was, haha. It's a part of growing up, realizing you don't have all the answers, and being humble enough to ask for help from those who do.

    2. Totally agree. That was me also but without the runs on the board in my lifts which made it doubly humbling once i got it.

      I think a lot of guys at the apex of the fitness marketing chain tend to create an illusion that there is one right way "optimal". I also think you have elucidated the missing pieces that determine success or failure. Guys in past eras got big and strong on some simple foundational actions and effort despite lack of access to pubmed.

      Back before any of us got runs on the board in psychology training the same factions and debates and arguments occurred. A head full of science and opinion and arrogance to boot. When I realised how crap I was in practice I ate a lot of my arrogance. The techniques that were "optimal and backed by science" failed. It was often then about knuckling through. Ultimately after synthesising 100 years of information it became obvious that the patient and the quality of the therapeutic relationship with the client was critical not the techniques or program used.

      I think a person who implements what you outline in your blog makes a program look good. We have it backwards.

    3. It's always so cool to see how much of this transfers to other disciplines. Thanks so much for sharing all of that. I think you're hitting on some solid stuff here.

  5. I'm going to be honest here, after reading thus, I'm pretty sure during my next lifting session I'm going to pretend I'm training toward slaying a massive ogre that's been terrorizing the town folk and smashing up supply caravans.

    1. If it's any consolation, I train to be the Ogre.