The world of training has never been named properly in my book. Some people call it the Iron Game, or the Fitness Industry, both names I think miss the mark. This world consists of the people who lift weights for a long time. Not just as a hobby, or as something to do, but as something that becomes a part of who they are. As Salvador Dali said, "I don't do drugs. I am drugs." These people don't just train, they are training. So for lack of a better term, I will refer to this world as PWL (People Who Lift). This article is for PWL, but will have application for anyone trying to improve in a discipline.
Let's explore a new player in the world of PWL currently consisting of powerlifters, bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and most recently Crossfitters. He is the Modern Meathead. And he is a problem.
The Modern Meathead is a new phenomenon that didn't exist 20-30 years ago. In the land before time that was the pre-internet era, your entry into the world of PWL followed a similar path. Allow me to share mine.
Education of a Lifter
I was small and weak growing up as a baseball player. I wanted to get better, so I looked no further than the Varsity Baseball team of my high school. In my mind these guys were big, strong, and above all cool. I mean super cool. The kind of cool that I thought would make my whole life better. I would hit home runs, get all the girls, and drive off in a sweet car, if I could just be like them. So what kinds of things did they do? They lifted weights. Ah, my 13 year old brain had figured it out. Lift weights = Become awesome. I needed to enter the world of PWL. I had my formula, and it was time to get to work.
I went into the gym at the same time as my idols and started copying what they were doing. At first they would make fun of me, but I kept at it. Then they would throw a tip or two my way, and say things like 'you know he's getting strong...for a weakling'. This was progress so I didn't care. Then they would call me over, and show me something. And the next thing you know, they were inviting me to workout with them.
There are many important lessons here that I believe are lost on the Modern Meathead. In our age of self-esteem where everybody is just so stupendous and special, we miss these vital lessons. I wanted to be a part of a group, that didn't really care if I was in it or not. In order to gain acceptance I had to work hard and earn their respect. This meant that I had to look stupid for a time, while I learned the ropes. I had to keep pouring in effort even when it wasn't immediately rewarded. Only after this period of learning and failure was I able to enter the world of PWL. My steps looked like this:
Step 1: Try
Step 2: Fail
Step 3: Improve
Step 4: Fail
Step 5: Acceptance into PWL
Fast forward to today, and I don't think those particular guys are cool anymore. Many never amounted to anything, and I'm stronger than every last one of them. But I never would've reached any personal successes without those guys teaching me the most important of all life lessons: you must apply yourself against an objective standard to improve, and sometimes your best isn't good enough. It didn't matter what I said, or what I looked like, it mattered what I did in that weight room, repeatedly for a long time, in order to earn the respect of the group.
New research indicates it was possible to be strong before the internet...
We see this is in all fields. You can be really smart, and still not be the best rocket scientist. You can be really caring and kind, and still not be the best manager. Trying is not always good enough. You must recognize the growth mindset that you can improve, and be willing to work towards that improvement.
Enter the Modern Meathead
Nowadays, the entry into the world of lifting is a little different. Now, you don't need to be a part of a group, or even know someone who lifts weights to become involved, you can just look it up on the internet. The internet has exploded the world of PWL in wonderful ways, but the flip side is that people are introduced to training without the experiential knowledge of what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. The Modern Meathead finds lifting on YouTube. They watch the videos of the modern gurus, and they think they are in. This is because a major point is missed. Admission to the cool kids is based on ACTION, and not KNOWLEDGE. Now I will never tell you that knowledge is not important in training, I base my career pm my knowledge and experience. But training is most certainly an applied science, and knowing something without doing it, isn't really knowing at all. If I 'know' that vegetables are good for me, but I never eat any, the knowledge has lost its value. 'Knowing' the the squat is the king of all exercises doesn't do any of the meaningful work.
We now have a generation of lifters who think they know how to train because they've seen it on YouTube, but they haven't trained long enough or hard enough to learn the valuable lessons that only experience can provide. Knowledge isn't enough here, unless it becomes practice. The steps followed by the Modern Meathead look like this:
Step 1: Internet
Step 2: Acceptance into PWL
So now we have our Modern Meathead who thinks they know what they are doing. Since they haven't spent much time in the gym yet (and therefore are usually under-muscled, shall we say), they need to make it clear to others that they are in the world of PWL. This means t-shirts and equipment. The Modern Meathead shows up to the gym in a Juggernaut t-shirt, Virus international pants, Romaleo squat shoes (all matching), 10 lacrosse balls, their own foam roller, full band set, unused Inzer belt, and enough supplies to walk the Appalachian Trail. They warm up, and do mobility work for an hour while talking about things that happened on the internet. Then they don't lift very hard, because they need to focus on technique, and 'getting the movement'. After 3 hours of not much, they will pack up their stuff (which takes a while) and talk for another 30 minutes before leaving the gym while telling everyone about their macros and how their post workout meal fits into them.
Now outside of being annoying, why is this a problem? Because now you have a person who thinks that they've arrived at a destination because they have a computer. They put on the lifting costume, and pretend to lift weights for a while. Back in the 90's there was a term for people like that. We called them Posers. Cardboard cut out fakes of what they were pretending to be. It's embarrassing.
The benefit of coming to training by learning from those who have done it before, is that these PWL can teach you what is important, and what is not. Expertise is based on knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore. In the world of training, focus on what is important: Training. Getting stronger is important. What kind of singlet you have is not. Effort is important. Your new deadlift socks are not. Improvement is all there is in training, and anything else is merely a distraction.
So watch some YouTube, and buy some cool socks. But don't forget to lift heavy weights. Do this for enough years, and you won't have to post to forum boards, because people will already be asking your advice.