I lift things up and put them down

Warning: This post contains dangerous amounts of ranting and resolve. Possible side effects include second-hand anger and early-onset New Year’s guilt. Consume at your own risk.

In case you haven’t seen it, you should first watch the Planet Fitness commercial to which the title of this post refers.

(And in case you don’t want to watch it: the ad features a Schwarzzen-esque hulk of a man stomping around a very nice and quiet Planet Fitness facility, repeatedly announcing that he lifts things up and puts them down, and generally ruining everyone’s gym experience by being there.)

I’ll admit I laughed a little. But in truth the commerial really annoys the piss out of me. It perpetuates the stereotype that anyone who lifts weights, who dedicates real time and energy to getting stronger, is a meathead. Then, it follows with the assumption that ‘normal’ people do not want to associate with said meatheads.

Before we go any further, you should know:

  • I lift weights, on a semi-serious, semi-regular basis.
  • I am quite strong despite the semi-ness of my lifting habits and I would like to be much stronger.
  • Possibly the best present Joe ever gave me was an Olympic barbell and 300 lbs of plates when I was living in Tennessee without access to a gym.

So, yes. I lift things up and put them down. I have a close group friends with whom I go to the gym. We are not meatheads; no one’s on steroids (though that’s another topic I could rant about for a while); we’re serious about what we do, and we enjoy ourselves doing it.

For some reason, people have incredible misconceptions about weightlifting and weightlifters. Let’s get a few of those out of the way right now:

  • Weightlifting is not dangerous or inherently bad for your joints, no more so than any other exercise or sport. It’s all about caution, preparation, and control.
  • Women will not get ‘huge’ from lifting. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of work to build any appreciable muscle mass. That guy with the biceps? He’s put in a lot of time to get (and maintain) them. You will not magically get bulging muscles from moving a little weight around.
  • There is NO such thing as lean muscle. There is muscle, and there is fat. Muscle cannot be fat; muscle cannot be lean.
  • Toning is a joke. You have been lied to and misled. Again, muscle and fat. What people mean when they say they want to be ‘toned’ is that they want to be lean and possibly have a little muscle mass.
  • Working seven different muscles at once is not “really great for the core”. Tell me why, if you want stronger arms, you should do curls while standing on one leg?*
  • The amount of weight you lift is not in fact inversely proportional to your IQ.

I just don’t understand the stigma attached to weightlifting. People don’t generally question a runner’s motivations or intelligence or suggest that gymnasts have misplaced priorities. And people don’t generally try to make someone going to the gym feel like they don’t belong there.

I don’t mean to say that some people don’t make the gym experience unenjoyable. Sure, they do. But many gyms don’t make the experience enjoyable for weightlifters either. No grunting policies — it’s often involuntary. No chalk — very important as you move up in weight. Inadequate dumbbells, crappy equipment, layouts that prevent or discourage certain lifts. It’s not easy and most gyms do not cater to lifters.

[And I’ll interrupt myself here to say that not all gyms should cater to lifters. I am perfectly ok with specialized gyms for different types of gym-goers. I just take issue with Planet Fitness’s portrayal of a different type of gym-goer from their target clientele. It’s the same type of pigeon-holing and alienation that they are purportedly trying to combat with their ‘judgement-free zone’. Serious weightlifters would not want to join PF because their facilities do not meet a serious weightlifter’s needs.]

I for one like to be surrounded by people who are bigger, stronger, healthier than me. It gives me something to aspire to; it puts my progress in perspective.

And that brings us to the resolution part of the post:

In 2011, I want to get stronger. I want to eat healthier. I want to lose weight. In 2011, I want to learn how to congratulate myself for the little victories and still hold myself to a higher standard tomorrow. I want to be conscious of my joint health. I want to pay attention to what my body tells me. I want to push myself to my limits and see how far I can go.

I will do some of these, and some better than others. But I know I won’t give up; I know I won’t stop lifting. I know I’m not going to let people make me feel like I shouldn’t be doing this or that I don’t belong somewhere if that’s where I want to be. And I think that’s the point of all of this for me: You go to the gym for yourself. Not for anybody else. Don’t let people (be they meatheads, runners, trainers, or whoever) scare you off. Learn from them if you can, and ignore them otherwise.

*I overhead a trainer say to a woman in my gym the other day, “Do you feel that shredding in the outer part of your hamstring grid?” Um. WTF? That sentence is made of bullshit. I have seen trainers make their clients do some of the most ridiculous, pointless exercises. Not all trainers are created equal. Do your research if you’re looking for one. There are some great, well-educated, well-informed trainers out there. Learn which certifications have higher standards, talk to former clients. Don’t take what they say as gospel and make sure you (and your trainer) understands the purpose of every single thing you’re doing in the gym.

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