Train Like a Wiener – Five reasons why you probably shouldn’t buy things from your fitness idol

If you follow the social media fitness scene, after a while you start to see some clear patterns. One is that in the Instagram and YouTube fitness scene there’s an inordinate amount of woo in the form or various products and supplements being sold to unsuspecting and eager fitness enthusiasts. Another is that people get enamored with their favorite instagrammers or youtubers and buy into their workouts or copy their exercises in a rote manner. The problem with this is that in many cases you’re wasting your time and money on ill-planned exercise and useless of ineffective products.

I want to be clear, this article is going to be very blunt and critical. Despite that, I’m not opposed to social media or fitness. I think it’s great that people are inspired to share their experiences in social media and interested in making a positive change in their lives. With this post I want to support that and encourage you, the reader, to become more self-sufficient and independent and take charge of your own fitness. This post is not a witch hunt and I don’t want to vilify anyone running a legitimate business, that’s why I’m not mentioning any names except in a good context or as sources.

I’m not writing this to sell anything, I’m not sponsored by or affiliated with any company, and this is not fitness advice as such. Take this an op-ed. What I want to do is help everyone in thinking for themselves, and putting their limited resources for the best possible use. So let’s examine the top five reasons why you probably shouldn’t buy your favorite YouTuber’s or Instagrammers or other social media celebrities training programs or supplements.

1. Is your favorite athlete doing well because of or despite the things they’re selling to you?

To summarize upfront: unless you really know the person, their history and their exercise and nutrition regime, you can’t say if they get results because of or despite what they’re selling.

There’s multiple reasons why people in social media look great, many of which have little or nothing to do with their lifestyle and exercise programs. A very basic thing even before we start on fitness is that professional photography is magic. There’s all kinds of sorcery in posing, make-up, lighting and post-production, so don’t trust photos in social media to reflect what a person looks like if they walked past you on the street. There’s a lot to be said about the beauty standard of any given time, yet here we are, at this time and you want to look attractive, but you can’t expect to have the same results as someone else in glossy pictures just by copying them. As the saying goes, even the girls in the magazines don’t look like the girls in the magazines.

Another basic reality check is that the most popular fitness figures in social media are fitness professionals of some sort, either personal trainers, professional fitness competitors, or other sorts of ‘sponsored athletes’, i.e. youtubers/instagrammers who make (some of) their living being a walking, talking, lifting advertisement for their sponsors. Saying it’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle is not just a motivational soundbite, it’s a fact that being fit is a job for these people. Especially professional bodybuilders might train twice a day six times a week and have 6-8 measured meals a day. It’s hard work being cover page material.

The next basic thing to understand is that some people are genetically predisposed to grow big muscles and to generally have what is considered an aesthetically pleasing body by current beauty standards. Besides genetics, there’s the sticky issue of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). You can think what you will of PEDs, but they are a reality and well used in the fitness scene, as exhibited for example in the 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*. According to some estimate in fact PEDs are the most confiscated controlled substance on the border between Canada and the US, and that not only the majority of professional athletes but a fair share of fitness competitors and your garden variety fitness enthusiast use PEDs.  And then the adjacent issue of plastic surgery and implants. Apparently nowadays you can also get most physique issues fixed by implants, starting from the classical breast to glutes, i.e. butt-cheeks, biceps, and calves.

I’m not going to even start guessing which social media celebrity is ’juicing,’ ‘geared up,’ or ‘got some work done’ and who not, as the point of this post is not to go on a witch hunt. The bottom line is that your ideal physique you follow in IG or YouTube might be a result of more than sweaty gym sessions, cleansing tea and protein shakes, but also hefty dose of something something. In case your fitness mogul is using PEDs, you can expect wildly different results than them, not the least because they can not only achieve muscle growth easier even with ill-planned programs and badly executed exercises using PEDs, but they can also do more volume with heavier weights and recover from that. Thus you can’t transfer a geared lifter’s program to your natty lifting and expect results. Thus a healthy dose of scepticism and realistic evaluation of your goals and possibilities is called for.

Talking about ill-conceived programming, I don’t want to overly stereotype, yet it seems to be particularly a female thing that you have often stunningly beautiful people doing silly ‘glute burnout’ workouts for the camera with endless sets, negligible weights and often questionable form and technique, where the only thing you develop is lactic acid in the muscles. That might give you a sense that you’re accomplishing something, but it’s not the best use of your time because you’re not getting stronger and probably also not “toning” your body (see note about toning below).

Feel the burn..
Feel the burn..

While it’s true that exercise regimes with light loads and very high repetitions can be effective, if you look at social media stream where a person looks the same year in and out, and does the same exercises with the same weights, you know that whatever they have is a gift of birth and they don’t have a clue about training or coaching. The cousin of glute burnouts is functional training, where you supposedly train for added stability and coordination by adding unstable platform. That’s all well and good, but first of all adding an unstable platform to lifting heavy way is an excellent way to get injured, and second an exercise is not “functional” if it does not train you to perform a movement pattern that you actually need.  And don’t get me wrong, many of these exercises are hard, and make you sweat for the concentration needed to summon the coordination to perform them alone, but that’s the point. In Alan Thrall’s words, just because it burns it doesn’t mean it’s doing any damage, and effective exercise needs to inflict microscopic damage to the muscle to initiate the protein synthesis that will make them stronger. So if you need to train balance and coordination, and heaven knows I do, by all means, do that but don’t pretend it’s going to tone you.

functional2
Functional training is all well and good, but what is the exact function that corresponds to this movement pattern?

Besides, do you know what these people do outside their YouTube videos and Instagram posts? I don’t, and neither do you. A recent publicly examined case of one ‘personal trainer’ illuminates what is possibly going on. This trainer specialized in posing in photoshopped pictures designed to reflect a luxurious fitness lifestyle and ‘online training’ by selling off-the-shelf training programs and meal plans. He had a personal trainer to take care of his training  and tailored meals shipped that had nothing to do with the exercise programs and nutrition regimes he was selling, and even hired staff to take care of the business correspondence so he could concentrate of whatever it was he used his time on. It should be needless to say that you’re not getting your monies worth by paying for a box standard program and meal plan you can just google online in 15 minutes yourself and you’re quite possibly not achieving what you could. This illustrates that it is possible that your favorite social media star is not even taking their own medicine.

2. Are you biting the hand that feeds you? – The sponsored athletes are there to sell  a product

Again to summarize upfront: athlete endorsement by default doesn’t tell anything about a product or service for better or for worse. It only tells that their sponsor thinks that the endorsement deal can help them sell more product.

Nobody said it more explicitly than the colorful veteran bodybuilder Rich Piana: “Supplement companies hire athletes to represent their products, … they’re being paid to represent the products. There’s a commercial running right now, Michael Jordan, he is advertising Fruit of the Loom underwear, and I don’t know about you, but I know damn well Michael Jordan does not wear Fruit of the Loom underwear. … but if you believe Michael Jordan wears Fruit of the Loom and you’re going to wear Fruit of the Loom because he says he does on commercial, then hey, that’s all you man. ”

That is to say that because whoever professional athlete uses or says they use any given product, it does not automatically mean that they use it, that they believe in it, or that it’s any good. Making that conclusion includes the implicit assumption that the athlete would have systematically studied and tried all the alternatives and found the best program and supplements. If you know that to the be true, then endorsement has some credence, but otherwise not. In many cases the athletes and social media stars are endorsing products for money and may not even be using them. It’s called co-branding, you develop your personal brand by getting visibility with your sponsor, and your sponsor is getting associated with that star quality you exhibit.

The only thing for regal quads is the king of protein powders
The only thing for regal quads is the king of protein powders

Further, for people who are in the circuit there’s absolutely no external incentive to speak their mind about training or supplements even if they do have a bad experience. As long as you’re in the circuit, you don’t want to speak ill of your present or past sponsors however bad their product might be, because when you need the next endorsement deal you don’t want to have a reputation as a difficult partner. Especially in judged competitions like bodybuilding, there’s a decent amount of politics going on, so you don’t want to irk the federation and their sponsors. The only people able to speak their mind are independently wealthy athletes who have retired from competition, or people who have independent income streams, that is to say a day job.

Beside actual professional athletes, there’s even more spurious stuff going on with social media stars whose income is based on the star qualite they are able to project over YouTube or Instagram. Some companies contact regular instagrammers with endorsement deals or ‘brand ambassador’ offers, where you get to “represent the brand” by buying product bundles at discounted prices and posting about them in social media and if you manage to push enough product you get yours free. Now let’s look at this logically:  They’re getting endorsement deals and sponsorship because first they represent a certain demographic and segment the company wants to sell products to, and second because of what they have done and achieved independently; the sponsors’ products didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the success. People get recruited as ambassador because they have that fitness look and a good social media following. They’re not selected because they’re a good and qualified coach or athlete. The social media star who’s making their living out of endorsement deals and modeling has absolutely no incentive to be rigorous and reflective about what they’re selling. There’s a meme going around that distills this quite well: “I’m working hard now, so that my future daughter does not have to sell protein powder in Instagram” – which is all but a blatant admission wrapped in a joke that people are selling supplements and various other products for the cash, not because they need it, not because it’s a good product, but because they want the cash and added fame from the co-branding deal

3. Are you going to the same goals? – Your training needs to be specific to your goals and constraints, not theirs

Powerlifting champion Andrei Malanichev is sometimes credited saying something to the effect: “Everybody wants to do my program, but they can’t because then it would be their program,” which says it all.

In other words, what you need in terms of programming, exercise selection, and supplements depends who you are, and what are you aiming to achieve in the short and long term. To take any elite level lifter, we can assume they know what they’re doing or at least their coaching team does. However, do you need to be doing the same thing? Yes, no, maybe – I don’t know – it depends what you aim for and what is your current fitness and strength level.

There are some well-tried generic guidelines for effective training that make sense to use, but verbatim copying your favorite athletes’ program or individual exercises just because they are doing it, is not what you need to do. Especially when it comes to accessories, you do small isolation exercises to improve muscle balance and fix weaknesses so you can lift more in the big compound lifts and build serious muscle. Just picking cool looking exercises that you like to do is not conducive to getting stronger or better looking.  This goes to back to the ‘Laws of Training’, what the list starts with is the ‘Law of individual differences’, which is the principle that for effective training you need to address your weaknesses, and go on to say that among other things that your training needs to be specific and progressively harder within your recovery envelope for you to become better, and you can effectively work on one thing, strength, speed, conditioning, at a time. 

Don't forget to train functional, bro.
Don’t forget to train functional, bro.

Where you might say that instafamous fitness models and youtubers are more likely to sell cookie-cutter programs and promote woo for their followers, and that you’re less likely to see professional or elite amateur athletes promoting silly workouts, they are not immune to magical thinking. Pros are always looking for a performance edge, and that’s why they fall for placebos.

If you don’t believe that professional athletes would do something that is not in their best interest or is less than effective, take any of the following examples. A few years ago it was the magnetic or hologram “power” or “energy” bracelet, which was enthusiastically endorsed by hall of fame hockey players, rugby teams and other athletes, that demonstrably had none of the promised effects. Then it was gratuitous use of kinesiology tape featured in 2012 Olympic Games. The 2016 Olympic fad was cupping. The next up and coming woo-based treatment scheduled to break through in 2017-2018 is Graston Technique that’s championed by popular powerlifters at the time of writing. Beside the magnetic/holographic bracelet, most of these things are sort of plausible on the surface, and the marketing copy definitely is heavy on the trappings and finery of scientific language, but on deeper look in theory and practice these are not more effective than established practice and often employed inappropriately.

Then you might ask that why would people get into these, you’d assume it’s in athletes’ best interest to do what’s best for them. Some aspects of the psychopathology are the will to believe, superstition and the search for the elusive performance edge. You’re injured or just somehow not getting where you want to be with the things you’re doing, and maybe your buddy recommends you try this new thing. When your performance plateaus, or you are just not feeling 100%, and there’s a big event coming. I can see you might get even a bit desperate to try even a bit of snake oil to see if you can get that last bit of performance. You try it and you want to believe it’s working, so it does. But not because it’s a good product, but because you want to believe so hard this is the thing that pulls you out of the rut.  

4. But look how successful they are, it must be working? – Competitions and fame as measurement

If your fitness idol has won something, was it really because of the programming, exercise selection, supplements, or because someone else had a bad day or the judges were biased? The point is that if someone wins something using some gear, supplement or training method, it’s not clear that they won just because of that detail. Especially in higher echelons of competition people do their very best to compete and prepare very thoroughly, so winning on the day might be just as much someone else performing poorly than the winner performing well. Then bodybuilding and fitness competitions are judged events, so it is as much a question who are judging and what is their understanding of the perfect physique than the competitors properties, or in some cases who the federation needs to win. You can ask about the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition from Mike Mentzer on that last point.

That is to say that there are many gifted and hard-working athletes out there with a lot of knowledge from training.  The best advice doesn’t always come from the winner of this or that competition. Without mentioning any names, I’m thinking of one well documented cult anti-hero of the fitness scene, who went through a string of five committed coaches running them down one after the other and messing up at least two sponsorships over several years, managing to finally get on stage at a local bodybuilding show with two other competitors, and ended up as a ‘nationally qualified competitor and winner of 3rd place in a qualified show.’ In other words, be very wary of people who have competed once and went on coaching. If someone places comfortably in the top 20 or top 10 in their competitions over a few years with a rising trend, it tells that they have at least made some progress and they have grit and staying power. However, being the best competitor in a sport does not make a person by default articulate, reflective, and able to convey their experience, or otherwise a great coach.

What goes for social media fame, there’s nothing wrong with having a wide fan base, but what you need to understand that the reason for being popular are not the same reasons that make a person a great coach. I’m going out on a limb and say the reasons for popularity have more to do with having a certain je ne sais quoi; star quality and ability to project an engaging personality online rather than straight up coaching ability or athletic performance. Otherwise Boris Sheiko would be one of the most popular social media personalities, right? (Mr. Sheiko’s athletes have won 36 golds, 17 silvers and 3 bronzes in Powerlifting World Championships, as of late 2016 Mr. Sheiko has 17 thousand followers in Instagram, whereas some of the really popular social media stars have 3-9 million).

5. There is no silver bullet – there’s no one perfect program, supplement or product that’ll make it all better.

To quote Stan Efferding about the secret of success at the Westside Barbell gym “… the real secret to their success is they just worked harder. They were in a savage gym, with a savage coach, surrounded by savage lifters, and they trained like savages.”

There are some generally recognized guidelines that work for most people, as discussed above. Each training program has its strengths and weaknesses, and some might suit some individuals better than others. It’s true that some gyms and coaches produce champions, like Boris Sheiko, Juggernaut Training System with Chad Wesley Smith, Westside Barbell with Louie Simmons, Kabuki Strength Lab with Chris Duffin. However that is not only because of the superior programming, it’s also because the expert coaching staff knows how to adapt the general principles to address your individual strengths and weaknesses, and the coaching and peer pressure at the gym gets the best out of you.

There’s also significant selection bias in measuring coaching quality by results, for example Westside is Westside because it’s Westside; ambitious lifters go to Westside because they know Louie and his staff get results, and the same goes for Sheiko, JTS, RTS, and others. From the other side the people who don’t benefit from that mode of training get dropped off, they might quit altogether or go to for example JTS, or RP Strenght, or RTS. The point I’m making is that looking only how many champs one gym or coach produces is not the most accurate measurement, you should look at the average progress all the clients make and attrition rate of the program to draw any conclusions for general population.

To continue beating on a dead horse, the extreme example of this is the Bulgarian method for weightlifting as employed by the Bulgarian national weightlifting team. The system resembled the Soviet Union, and built on recruiting young people, many of whom had nowhere else to go in life, and lift maximal weights every day. The Bulgarians did well in international competitions, but they worked with selected gifted young athletes to begin with and the attrition i.e. drop-out rate of the program was horrible, the logic of this kind of program is more to weed out the weak ones, more than build up strong lifters. In the early Soviet program that’s the basis of Bulgarian method, before they actually studied strength training and came up with things such as the now ubiquitous Prilepin’s Chart, it’s been estimated that the intake was thousands of young lifters that resulted in few champions. The point is that program was also successful on the outside, but the attrition rate was horrible.

Then supplements. Don’t take this as a me being against supplements out of principle. It’s just that if you look at the facts, from e.g. Examine.com supplement guides that compile existing published research, there aren’t many that have actual robust evidence that they work better than placebo for growing muscle, increasing strength, or aiding recovery. The two that do have robust clinical evidence are protein, particularly whey, and creatine supplements. This means that if someone promises wonderful results for muscle gain, strength, or whatever, just flat out don’t buy it, because they don’t know whatever they’re talking about or they’re telling what you’d like to hear. What you need is to eat a lot of home-cooked food made of fresh ingredients, sleep good and long, and a solid cup of joe before training. And then if for whatever reason you can’t hold on to that, you might supplement your nutrition based on what you actually need, not what some powder merchant tells you do. What I’m saying is that if you use supplements, might as well do it properly; knowing what you actually need and what you’re using, know it works, and using a clinically effective dose. Order the supplements you need as separate powders and blend your own. For an example, you can tailor your own pre-workout like I did.

Remember kids, to become IFBB pro, you just need OutLift, out-lifting everyone else is optional
Remember kids, to become IFBB pro, you just need OutLift, out-lifting everyone else is optional.

In case you’ve wondered, the reason why there are so many impressive sounding  mysterychemicals in various supplement concoctions is that first of all brands try to differentiate and make it seem that their product has as mystical edge over everyone else’s. Another is that some ingredients are cheaper than others. It’s a common practice to include impressive sounding proprietary  ‘complexes’ in the recipe and ingredient list. What these complexes in actuality mean is that you don’t know how much of what ingredient you’re getting per a scoop of the supplement. Which leads us to the second reason why there are so many mystery ingredients, many of the actually effective ingredients are expensive so you want to underdose them and hide them in a ‘proprietary blend’ or ‘complex’ and fill the scoop up with cheaper ones. That way both sales margin per product volume increases and you get to sell more product since the users need to use more of it.

Finally the other fitness-related products then, like cling films and ointments marketed as fat loss wraps, waist trainers, fit teas and what have you. Bluntly speaking these products are all bunk designed to prey on peoples’ insecurities, those seeking shortcuts and desperate to make a positive lifestyle change in their lives.

First, I can tell you as a rugby player, I’ve used warming lotions like Deep Heat profusely on my quads, around the shoulders, and various other body parts, with and without compression bandages, but I haven’t lost any fat there. If they would work, I’d know about it. More seriously, the only reason weight loss or fat melting wraps appear to be working, is because they apply compression to the adipose tissue and in doing so displace liquids and compress the tissue temporarily, making you look leaner in that one place for a short while. For added illusion, if you put on a plastic wrap or a thick neoprene compression sleeve and let it sit for a while, you’re getting sweaty under it because your natural perspiration doesn’t escape through the film and the compression compacts the tissues, and voilá, it ‘worked’ the fat melted away, didn’t it?. The exact same thing goes for waist trainers, shapewear, training corsets, tightlacing, whatever the name you want to use. However the added danger compared to wraps is that with enough use you actually develop muscle atrophy in the core muscles, you waste away your abs and back muscles because the corset incapacitates them, and with yet more use you might actually do some organ damage.

And how about ‘fit’, ‘flat tummy’, and ‘detox’ teas? The various fitness teas are usually a very expensive blend of mediocre to bad green tea with some herbs that supposedly have ‘benefits’. For the same price you can buy the finest gyokuro, if you genuinely enjoy green tea. Green tea in general may or may not be beneficial to general health and weight loss, but these fit and detox blends are exceedingly expensive for what they are, herbal teas with no magical properties beside fabulous spokespersons. Further, dietary ‘detox’ is not a real thing. Detoxification is a medical term for specific treatments of substance abusers and poisoning victims under life-threatening conditions, and that’s a harsh and dangerous medical procedure. Whatever real or imagined toxins your body might be dealing with as a part of your daily life, it’s your liver and kidneys that do the detoxing, not something you ingest unless you’re thinking activated carbon or a specific cocktail of medicine.

You too could grow 20 kilos of leg mass at 13% body fat if you only cleansed, sis.
You too could grow 20 kilos of leg mass at 13% body fat if you only cleansed, sis.

I could go on and on about these products I’ve seen marketed all over Instagram, but look at it this way: if they would work, would there be an army of social media celebrities pushing them, or would they sell themselves? I mean everyone knows about protein, right, you don’t need to sell it because everyone knows it works. You can usually tell when surreptitious marketing is happening, not by the honor-code mandated hashtags ‘#ad’ or ‘#sponsored’, but by gratuitous display of skin coupled with extended praises of the product and a host of hashtags and tags for the sponsor. Usually the more suggestive the exhibition, the more likely it is that something is being sold; in technical terms the amount of cheesecake on display is in direct and positive correlation with the propensity of commercial interest.

Supplement marketing at its finest
Supplement marketing at its finest.

Conclusion

To summarize, things are not all that they seem in social media, for multitude of reasons. The bottom line of this post is that everything goes back to using common sense, not being fooled by groomed professional photography and not getting carried away by promises that are too good to be true. This should be an empowering message, you don’t need all this fitness paraphernalia to be fit healthy and happy.

It follows that you probably shouldn’t trust outright what people are telling about various products they use, Youtube and Instagram feeds. The more dependent your fitness idols are on social media fame, endorsement deals, and flogging sponsor products, the more likely it is they’re selling bunk. If people have an independent income stream, as in a day job (outside fitness industry), you can be more trusting. 

So is everyone out to get you? Probably not, but buying personal training from instagram or youtube celebrities is like getting household appliances from daytime TV infomercials. Yeah, it might be that some of the products are okay – in an ‘if you’ve had a few beers and there’s no cops around’ kind of way – but you can often get the same product cheaper locally from a big box store in that case. And if you need proper tools, you go to the real hardware store to get your Armstrong, Proto, or Sandvik Bahco that’ll last you a lifetime anyway.

On a more serious note, buying into all this woo reinforces the predatory behaviors the fitness industry has been trying to shake off for decades. This includes bad training advice that keeps clients dependent on personal trainers by inhibiting progress, outlandish and borderline fraudulent marketing claims of supplements and other fitness-related products.

It might seem like I’m ragging only on online personal trainers who have their shop window in social media. That’s because poor online training is very common and actually it’s very hard to do properly even for a good experienced coach. This is not to say that there wouldn’t be a lot of poor personal training at physical gyms, just like you can get ripped off in your local shop as well. The point I’m making is that there’s a lot of silliness out of which you need to sieve your golden nuggets. The good side is that in fact there’s also very much good information out there for which you don’t have to pay a dime, if you use some of those google ninja skills and flex some critical thinking muscles.  

Where should you be looking training advice from then? If you want to hire somebody to train you based on their social media, take care at least to do your homework and vet your candidates. Find a trainer who doesn’t sell things because they need some cash, but because they want to lift and help other lifters. If you want good advice, seek for people who have realized a modicum of actual athletic success over some time through some actual work, not a person who’s famous because they’re staggeringly beautiful, because it’s more likely that they’re just that by the virtue of their genetics.

And don’t get this wrong, I’m not a bitter troll who hates people for their good looks, it’s just that a person who has a beautiful figure as a gift of birth can’t tell you how it’s done because they don’t know either, they never had to build it. I feel I need to stress this point because social media seems to be full of beautiful 20-something people who have a massive social media following and endorsement deals, and next to no idea what proper training let alone coaching is. If your prospective trainer shows hardly any workouts and when they do they’re almost the same over months and years and they haven’t made any progress over time, it’s a sign that they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a different thing if a person has fought themselves from being a skinny or fat kid to an athletic venus or adonis and went on winning competitions, than if they were stunningly handsome to begin with and just started selling programs because people ask for them. In the first case you have the evidence that at least they have managed to make a positive change in their own lives.

The next question is that changing your own life is one thing, but are they qualified to train others? If you’re spending real money on a PT, ask yourself: Do they have a sufficient knowledge base as measured by relevant degrees in sports and exercise science, sports medicine, biomechanics, or peer reviewed publications, do they have legitimate PT certificates and experience in training, for example some client references who also have made some progress, what’s their track record in producing champions, and so on?

Contributing author MissMiaFit lifting some actual weight.
Contributing author MissMiaFit toning with some actual weights.

I’m sure you don’t need my advice, how to train and I’m not going to sell my own brand. However, my counter-intuitive advice is that regardless of your ambitions, seek out a good powerlifting or weightlifting gym and coach, for the following reasons:

  • First, low threshold. Even if you’re intimidated to go to a gym, strength athletes don’t care where you come from, and they’re not there to pose in flashy clothes, impress, or judge anyone, and they respect hard work. They’re there to do their own thing and prepare for the next meet, not to look at other people and judge. Regardless what you might expect, strength athletes are also generally a friendly and welcoming bunch.
  • Second, you’ll put your time to best use by learning good technique and getting stronger boosts your self confidence and quality of life more than pumping iron aimlessly. You’ll not only look and feel better, you’ll be more functional and resilient. And powerlifting is not mutually exclusive with working on aesthetics, if you look at powerlifters below the superheavyweight class, they often have a very good physique. If you don’t believe me, look up Marisa Inda, Mattie Rodgers, Kevin Oak, or Brian Alsruhe – these are all unbelievably strong competitors who give fitness chicks and jocks a good run for their money in terms of looks.

And if getting a PT locally isn’t an option, never fear. If you’d rather read a book, Starting Strength and Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe are the classic one-two jab-and-cross combo of lifting. The Wonderland that is Internet has also some very good resources. For beginners I’d particularly recommend YouTube channels by Alan Thrall, Brian Alsruhe, and Omar Isuf. For a bit more fine tuned advice, I’d go and take a look at Izzy Narvaez Powerlifting to Win web page and channel, and Strength Theory portal by Greg Nuckols. Following Dr. Layne Norton, Chad Wesley Smith and Juggernaut Training Systems website, Dr. Mike Israetel and Renaissance Periodization, Chris Duffin of Kabuki Strength, Matt Wenning of Ludus Magnus, and Westside Barbell podcast might not be a bad idea for new ideas to spice up your training. If you’re into lighter side of things and can handle saucy humor, Mark Bell’s SuperTraining YouTube channel might be worth a visit. If the list looks somehow slanted in the gender balance, that’s regrettably true. However I’ve gleaned through a wide variety of training material in my time, and there are regrettably very few female content creators who upload training material of consistent high quality. If you, the reader, know some, please add to my knowledge.

I personally like to follow the advice of successful powerlifters in their mid-to-late thirties and fourties, because these people have been often lifting competitively for more than 10 years, and if they’re still in the game and functional, it tells that they know a thing or two about longevity, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and they’ve likely hit a plateau or several and overcome that. I like to follow Matt Wenning, Chris Duffin, and Stan Efferding, all three of whom are one time World Champion powerlifters and produce quality material of interest. As a rule of thumb, I’d say anyone who deadlifts roughly triple their body weight or 350kg/770lbs, whichever comes first, and has been lifting over 5 years injury free is probably worth at least hearing out.

Anticipating some critique for this piece of writing, who am I to criticize people and talk about these things? Well, I have some lifting, some mountain biking and some rugby in my history. That’s to say I’m not born yesterday. I like lifting, and thinking, and writing, and I’d like others to experience the joy of lifting and start with the best foot forward.  I’m also secure enough as a human being to know how much I don’t. I’m not a coach and I don’t pretend to be, that’s why I cite people more knowledgeable than myself. But more importantly for this paper, I can think straight and interpret data by virtue of training and profession. You see, arguments aren’t evaluated by who lays them out, but by how does the logic work and factual premises hold. So if you have objections, please write a comment and I’m happy to discuss things.  

Credits and notices

The following people have kindly contributed to this piece through advice and comments:

Juha Hulmi, PhD (Exercise Science), Academy Research Fellow at University of Jyväskylä, and Adjunct Professor of Exercise Physiology at University of Helsinki. Dr. Hulmi’s primary research area is muscle hypertrophy. Dr. Hulmi writes a popular fitness blog Lihastohtori (in Finnish)

Mia Sand, better know as MissMiaFit in Instagram. Ms. Sand is a fitness enthusiast, a model, and a health care professional.

Copyright notice: Rights to images belong to their respective owners, pictures used under Fair Use, and credits are withheld to protect the identity of the persons in questions. Credits available on request.

Note 1: ‘Toning’ might be predominantly a female thing, but what toning means in practice is that you grow more muscle and/or loose body fat. The predominate female attributes of vogue seems to be well developed legs and wide hips with an hourglass figure. The pelvic bone determines your hip width, and it’s not going to change without reconstructive surgery, your core musculature determines your waist size, and toning your hiney and legs for more of an hourglass figure means you need to grow muscle in your behind and legs, specifically the gluteai, hamstrings and quadriceps. Any bodybuilder tells you that what growing muscle for natty lifters means lifting relatively heavy weights with full long range of motion in a controlled manner and getting stronger, as well as eating a lot of food and resting a lot, not pumping small weights with partial range of motion and licking an apple for dinner. If any PT tells you otherwise, they’re either selling a miracle cure, or at least telling you comforting lies you’d like to hear.

Another predominantly female thing is the fear of getting ‘too big’. Your average female does not have enough androgenic anabolic hormones in their body to accidentally develop monstrous muscles. Even for the average male it’s hard, and especially after the first half a year of going to the gym, after the beginner gains have been received, any change in lean mass and strength requires incrementally more and harder work. You’re not going to balloon up accidentally to a monster, even if you’re in the lucky few with the genetic predisposition to have high androgenic hormone levels, . If you look at top level bodybuilders from both sexes, they are genetically predisposed and/or using PEDs, have a huge training volume up to twice a day 6 days a week, and 6-8 meals a day; they didn’t grow that big by accident.

 

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