Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Hey, I'm the Art of Manliness guy. Long-time reader (and paying subscriber for a few weeks!) Enjoy your work. One of the reasons I love your newsletter is how eclectic it is. Never thought I'd see an article about weightlifting after an article about education spending in America.

Any-hoo, I agree with this article. I'd say there was a time in my life when I thought there was a "one true way" to exercise and that way was benching, pressing, deadlifting, and squatting. It was likely due to the zeal of a new convert.

Now, my philosophy towards exercise is do what you enjoy because you're more likely to stay consistent with your exercise if you actually like it and being consistent is key to getting the benefits from exercise. I wrote about that here: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/motivation-over-discipline/

(Also did a podcast with a psychologist about making exercise a habit and she said the same thing. The benefits of exercise come with long-term consistency, so do the exercise that you enjoy: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/make-exercise-a-sustainable-habit/)

I love lifting weights. It's my favorite thing to do which is why I've been able to be so consistent with it for 6+ years and hit some PRs I never imagined I'd be able to hit.

I imagine runners who have been consistent for years would say the same thing.

I still encourage people to try "old school lifting" because it's something I enjoy and it's natural to share what you enjoy with other people. But if they don't like it or like something else better, I'd encourage them to lean into that. There's more than one way to skin the fitness cat.

My own training is changing as I get older and it's changing so I can continue to enjoy lifting. I pulled 585 a few weeks ago and afterwards I thought "Man, I don't know if I enjoy pulling that heavy anymore. That felt pretty bad."

So my training is changing. I'm still doing the main lifts, but at higher volume and lower weight. Doing some bodybuilder stuff too because it's fun.

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Relevant Ginny Hogan joke:

“Thank god exercise makes you hotter. If all it did was improve your health, boost your mood, increase your longevity, prevent physical pain, and help your sleep, I’d never do it.”

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

I really appreciate the honest discussion of psych meds and body weight in this newsletter. It’s a common experience but rarely discussed in this way: that for many people, it’s permanent and there’s no good alternative.

A lot of people think you can “switch medications” or stay on an extreme diet forever, but that’s not realistic for everyone. Most people try all that stuff before giving up and accepting it.

I’d like to lose the 20 pounds I gained on my anxiety medication, but I need to be able to function. So it just is what it is.

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I'm a powerlifter and I agree completely. I compete in meets, and I'm in the upper third according to openpowerlifting. It is a very bizarre sport, as strange and artificial as boxing. Think about it: Everyone uses SBD knee sleeves sized down two sizes. Why? They're about as thick as is allowed at raw comps and puts a few kg on your squat. And if you have very good back flexibility, as some former gymnasts do, your bench distance can be all of two inches. The sport is full of "tricks" like this. Limb proportion matters a lot. Add to this the amount of psychological preparation before your lifts, proper snacking between lifts, and the sport becomes about much much more than being "strong," whatever that word means. So the idea that it is "meat and potatoes" or "old school" is ridiculous—In fact, I hadn't ever heard this before. Nevertheless, I can see why it's taken off as lately, and why I think this is in general a healthy turn for meatheads everywhere.

The biggest reason I powerlift is because, to quote Marge Simpson, I’ve dug myself into a happy little rut here and I don’t want to hoist myself out of it. I'm also a scientist so I chase numbers like Corgies herd. Nothing gives me more pleasure than plotting, calculating, fitting, etc. I think this gives it a lot of its appeal as well. We live in the age of metrics, and powerlifting loves metrics. Powerlifting instagram comments are alphanumeric soup like "3x5 140kg @ 6!"

Along with olympic lifting, it's also as close to a sport as lifting gets. I love the camaraderie. I love when you go hit a PR and your gym buds spot you and encourage you. Lifting at a meet is electrifying. You get to be an athlete. And treating it like a sport seems to shift the psychic energy from vanity and self-obsession to healthy competition, fun, and "feeling strong." This means a lot to some people. Of course, you get the "looking good" as a side benefit while pretending is not important; hypocritical, yes, but that's your audience.

And I think we need to appreciate what powerlifting has done to the gender balance in the weight room. The powerlifting team at my gym is just about half women. I've been lifting for just over ten years, and the number of women whom I see lifting has increased dramatically. Anecdotally, I have two women friends who struggled with their weight, eating, and the constant pressure to be skinny. They've both found powerlifting. They appreciate an environment that emphasizes being strong as opposed to looking frail and cute, and where men and women do the same lifts and we compete at the same meets.

The sort of "vanity" exercises of yore were strictly gender segregated. Men did curls and shoulder presses. Women did pelvic thrusts, little curls with pink barbells, and then an hour doing cardio, lest they get "too bulky." I think this kind of thing naturally struck many women as demeaning, and one sees their point.

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Interesting time in my fitness life to read this. I did strongman/powerlifting at a specialty gym I used to live near and I got very strong but I didn’t look any better because I ate like crazy. Carrying 400 lb yokes and calorie deficits do not match, at least for me. I also tweaked my back a few times, not trying to hit a max but just during normal sets, which I’ll chalk up to fatigue. These tweaks affected my day to day life (standing,sitting, etc.) more negatively than it was improved by lifting heavily.

When the pandemic hit and I couldn’t go to that gym any longer I picked up some kettlebells which I enjoyed but got a little tired of because it wasn’t my “idea” of lifting. When the local gym (a YMCA) felt safe I went back but eventually realized a place with no deadlift platform and one squat rack and bench was not going to make a powerlifting program anything more than a pain in the ass to program- I don’t have two hours to spend in the gym waiting for space. Stopped renewing my membership and ordered a set of adjustable dumbbells and a folding bench, and I now don’t have to wait for anyone but myself and can pursue a program more dedicated to aesthetics than trying to move as much weight as possible.

I’m never going to make lifting a career or try to become a fitness influencer, and I realized it’s a bit pointless to try and program to hit a new 1RM when I’m not competing. Instead, I can do what people have done in their garage or rec room for decades and been fine with- working out with moderate weight and higher reps, getting some better muscle tone, and looking better for myself and my partner as opposed to having a “power belly” for a log clean and press that no one will ever give a shit about. It’s not likely someone will have a home gym with different bars and a combination of plates to allow them to really hit 1000lb+ totals. A lot of people are healthy and look good working out regularly with lighter weights and eating well and just walking, and I think that’s more than enough to offset my big fear of all the time sitting at a desk. I’ll likely look better and feel better working with 50lb adjustable dbs than I did deadlifting reps at 405, and there’s a lot less chance I’ll be hobbling around from a tweak.

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This was timely. I'm neck deep in research to try to take my fitness to the next level, which really means trying to regain my formerly legendary fitness, after a baby and old age (simultaneously) completely wiped it out. The internet was invented for people like me, OCD level researchers who need to know facts, advice, statistics, peer review research papers, and sage wisdom from the fringes on every topic. You have to slough through so much obsolete conventional trash, and newfangled myths to find the truth, which only means the combination of strategies that will work for you personally, sometimes after trial and error, because there's no one else exactly like you.

Every interest and topic has its own obsessive multi-pronged and multi-tiered rabbit hole and "club" on the internet. Freddie's already written about it. The hyper-focused topic communities can be a great tool if you have the patience for the unavoidable pontificating poseurs, and dead-wrong bad advice. On balance I've learned much that's had a meaningful impact on my weight, fitness, energy levels, and (they tell me) immunity and longevity. I learned that while "calories in, calories out" is still the general golden standard, so much complicates this simple equation, such as:

1. Your hormones heavily regulate the "calories out" part of the equation. Intermittent fasting is effective not only because of reducing the "calories in" part, because of its impact on your hormones that helps regulate hunger and preserve muscle, in addition to other non-weight benefits. Unfortunately, intermittent fasting doesn't get anywhere near the promotion it deserves because there's no money in it. There's only so much cash you can squeeze out of the advice to "just don't eat," and no equipment, membership, classes, supplements, or snacks you can sell to bolster the advice to "just don't eat."

2. HIIT, the super "calories out" tool, is long term unsustainable because of its cortisol stimulation, which jeopardizes fat loss. LISS is sustainable, but time-consuming and can get monotonous, which in turn also jeopardizes the calories out part once your body adapts to the monotony.

3. Weight lifting is great for women, especially older women, not just for retaining muscle and bone density, but because of its hormone regulating effect. Who knew? But yes, proper form and avoiding injury are even more important for the older women. I weight train in my basement with dumbbells, kettlebells and a power rack, which is also equipped with the glorious cheat feature of a smith machine.

4. The run vs walk debate for weight loss and fitness is still raging, with no clear winner other than "do what you're most likely to stick to." For me that's a combination of the two, mixing it up so I don't get too bored or too spent in either direction. The run vs walk debate is akin to the HIIT vs LISS debate. Despite the wisdom that slow and steady burns more fat and running releases too much cortisol and creates more wear&tear and injury risk, I've personally never seen an overweight runner, so I'm skeptical that walking is clearly superior....

5. Heart rate, step/activity, and elevation gain monitoring are so old hat. Holy cow, we can now continually monitor blood oxygen, ECG, heart rate variability, and analyze max VO2. We've never before had access to this much data at our fingertips, all the time. But is it going to make a difference, or are these just marketing bells and whistles? Time will tell.

6. Some people are just genetically predisposed to being ripped. I had a boyfriend once who was chiseled out of marble, complete with washboard abs and giant pomelo biceps. He never lifted a single weight, or even worked out. My husband is a beast of sorts. He's always been lean and a natural athlete at everything he does. He doesn't lift weights, but when he does, he gains muscle very quickly. He prefers Brazilian jiu jitsu training, and is a brown belt. Growing up he was a skinny guy who regularly got his ass beat, and he still thinks he lives in that same world where ass-beatings are a constant potential threat. So he learned how to choke out the big gym rat meathead with tats all the way up the neck. Muscles, strength, and your size and weight are big pluses in being able to avoid or deliver the beat downs, but they can be overcome by the smaller guy with the right technique.

7. I'm a big believer in recovery time and a sustainable pace. In the past I had a tendency to overkill, jump in too fast, too long, too hard, marvel at how well I can immediately take it 10, and think it's not a workout unless I'm dying. That inevitably led to my loathing the workout and avoiding it altogether. My most important fitness strategy now is avoiding the burn-out and loathing.

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I tell ya, I don't lift and don't know anything about lifting and don't particularly want to know anything about lifting but I can read an entire FdB article about lifting and stay interested.

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Great post. I also wish more people would point out that hypertrophy is more dependent on genetics than anything else. Basically any program "works," especially for new lifters. Just do whatever program you enjoy most and can stick to and you will get something like 80% of the gains of an optimal program unless what you're doing is incredibly stupid.

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I’m 58, and have been doing Starting Strength for the last 6 years less for looks and more to avoid old age stuff like bad back, hips, knees, etc. It’s something I recommend to all my aging friends, because it works wonders for me. I agree it must be done carefully with coaching, and definitely is not for everyone.

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Doing the big three is easily the best "fad" to ever happen to exercise. God I wish I had the resources I have today when I started as a teen. I wasted so much time on bullshit. 15 years of progress would have taken me 3 years if someone had just given me a barbell. Yes, some people don't properly align programming with their goals, but I have a hard time being anything other than enthusiastic that the next generation is learning the main lifts.

I don't have a 40inch vertical. Calisthenics aren't going to do that much for us regular people. The big three will. My other gripe is the strongest people in the world giving advice to amateurs. It rarely applies to us. Robert Oberst's take on deadlifting is as useful to me as Pavorotti explaining the bel canto. I just want to do a passable Karma Police.

I did enjoy the post though, and like seeing this different type of stuff.

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

How much of this universal, one-path-to-proper-lifting stuff is the Knowingness you talk about in other articles, I wonder? You mentioned kids who don't know what hamstrings are dealing in lifting advice - I see a lot of this online, too, amateurs speaking in absolutes.

I've completely switched how I approach cardio in the last six months not based off a belief that I've found the One True Path but because I'm trying to save my knees and I'm trying to increase endurance, not decrease time per se. If someone is not aiming for those things - or even if they are - they might do something else.

For lifting, low-rep, high-weight exhaustion sets work for me. Are they optimal? Dunno. Are they for everyone? That I do know: certainly not.

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Aug 24, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

I belong to beachbodyondemand.com, and lately I've been doing LIIFT 4. I really like it; a typical week is like this:

Mon: Chest/Triceps

Tue: Back/Biceps

Wed: Rest

Thurs: Shoulders

Fri: Legs

Weekends: Off (or stretching)

All four days have cardio and core (abs) exercises mixed in too, so it constantly keeps you changing things up. And programs like this are a Godsend during the pandemic, where you can work out at home.

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Great post, at 56 I still swear by the big three. I know I’m a lot weaker now than I was thirty years ago, because I’m doing the same exercises, just with less weight. It’s like really honest feedback, only other activity I can think of like that is running, and yeah I’m way slower as well.

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Take it from someone a few decades further down the road, you can still lift. You goals probably change from appearance to sustainability. Especially as the accumulated injuries start piling up and their effects go from acute to chronic.

For me the most beneficial aspect was all psychological when I started to realize I could never lift that much again, no matter the amount of time and effort expended. Nor should I (see above). After some period of denial then regret, the real breakthrough came when I truly didn't give a crap about anyone else, and happily grabbed a lighter dumbbell, or moved the rod up, up, up on the machine.

I may lift less than your average high school athlete now, but man, I'm still there. "Just do it!"

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This article/ thread has reminded me that Alison Bechdel's new graphic novel, "The Secret to Super Human Strength" is out and that I have to read it. It's about her obsession with fitness.

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Ha ha, ironic. I woke up, didn’t want to roll out of bed & hit the gym quite yet, and thought I’d read a couple pieces from my Substack Reader instead.

It’s absurd but I had no idea weightlifting had such an online presence. Did I assume the Internet was good for baseball statistics, politics, and other nerdier pursuits? Maybe.

Hadn’t heard the name before but I guess I do bro splits, along with getting in as many aerobic workouts on the stationary bicycle as possible too. It works! In my early-30s I found myself gaining weight; at a certain point being a male waif is less likely to attract girls than it once was. I would also see pictures of myself and wonder who I was fooling.

It’s a weird place where I’m at now. I am slender and people tend to assume I’m unathletic but I can bench at least 225. Like Freddie wrote, it’s silly to go above certain weights in certain lifting pursuits, and cripes deadlifting looks like it’s just asking for an accident. Plus after enough time you hear nasty stories from older guys who tore something while lifting, benching, etc.

It’s also a tricky balance wanting to see gains while simultaneously having no desire to invest in a new wardrobe.

Anyway, appreciate the post, as a teacher I appreciated yesterday’s on education funding, and I appreciate that this is a Substack that can address both.

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