Are you a weightlifting snob?

  1. Are you a weightlifting snob?

    Large Professor - Weightlifting Snobbery
    By John M Berardi
    First published at, Oct 25 2002.

    Have you recently used the terms "lazy, couch potato" in conversation?

    When was the last time you gave your favorite and most well-developed look of nutritional disdain to someone eating a bagel, a muffin, a large order of McDonalds French fries, a greasy pizza, or a sugary yogurt cup?

    How 'bout the last time you felt a stab of pride and superiority when watching a colleague slurp down a supersized cola or sucking on a straw delivering a generous 64 oz helping of semi-frozen slurpie. Have you experienced that bit of self-congratulatory aggrandizement lately?

    What about in the gym - have you recently walked by someone curling in the squat rack, strutting away with your hardcore bad self, muttering something about pencil necks and spaghetti arms?

    If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you my friend may just be a full-fledged weightlifting snob. That's right, your contempt for those you consider "inferior" or for those who are less "hardcore" - whatever that means - is shamelessly displayed even through your seemingly harmless training and nutrition conversations as well as your every day social behaviors.

    Now your first response may be "Me, a weightlifting snob? - No way!"

    But take a moment and think about your basic attitude toward your office mates, classmates, and gym mates.

    Now come on, admit it, you think that you're better than them. After all, you spend hours of your week finely honing your will and your body by lying under bars of heavy iron, thermoregulating at a HR approaching your maximum, and counting calories and grams of each macronutrient. In addition, you've been told by countless gym mates, by the magazines, and by your ego, that this lifestyle is nobler; more "hardcore," more important than how all the other "lazy, couch potatoes" live their lives. It's just gotta be, damn it!

    And it very well might be.

    But have you ever taken the time to legitimately question this assumption? Have you ever sat down with your preconceived notions about your place, as a weightlifter, in the Universe, held those notions out in front of you at arms length to examine them, then cocked that arm back and thrown them at the wall of truth and observed whether they stick?

    Most people haven't. Weightlifting snobbery has become far too commonplace in the weightlifting and nutrition communities. So common that it almost seems praiseworthy to sit around the gym counters or around our personal computers discussing and sounding off, with all sorts of pejoratives, about the weakness and inferiority of our more sedentary or less nutritionally informed earth mates. And it's this bunch of crap that I want to sound off about today.

    Personally, I've spent much of my training life under the yoke of this assumption; an assumption that, unchecked, can lead to the aforementioned embarrassing case of weightlifting snobbery. The worst part was that my actions were determined by an assumption that I never thought of questioning. One that I didn't even realize was an assumption at all. I thought it was a foregone conclusion. Someone, somewhere along the way must have proved it to be true and therefore who was I to question it. I wasn't a philosopher.

    It all started when I was 19 years old and fancied myself a hardcore up and comer in the bodybuilding world. I had been training very seriously as a bodybuilder for the last year and I was making great progress, so much so that I was getting bigger than many decade plus trainees. My training was awesome, my diet perfect. As you might guess, weightlifting snobbery ran rampant in my youthful mental haze.

    So there I was. 19 years old, growing fast, quick becoming a bodybuilding prodigy, and people were starting to notice. I was getting attention and praise and my ego was growing by leaps and bounds. Of course it's superior to lift weights and to eat well. The proof's in the puddin'. And my puddin' told me that if I felt this good, there must be something to the idea that weightlifters are, simply put, better.

    Now when I talk of the people who were noticing, I mostly mean the women. And there was this one "people" that I was most interested in. She was the most beautiful, tight creature that I had ever seen up close. She was about 4 years older than me (I knew this because I had a crush on her in high school when she was a senior and I was a freshman), tall, dark skinned, lean, and Italian with a perfect complexion and long flowing dark hair. My breath stopped whenever she came into the room and, as God is my witness, I vowed to make her mine. After all, I was a weightlifter and weightlifting makes me better than everyone else. So of course she'd want me. But after weeks of turning into a clumsy idiot when she came into the gym, I realized that I would never be able to relax enough to talk to her. So I abandoned the idea of trying to capture this goddess' heart.

    But then one night I was at a gym party and lo and behold, she walked into the room, fashionably late - of course. And, oh my god, she saw me right away, smiled at me, and began walking right over toward me. After a rather clumsy introduction, we began to chat about stuff. We talked about mutual friends, about the gym, and finally about training. I should have been in heaven. But the funny thing about this interaction is that what I most remember about that conversation was the ridiculous weightlifting snobbery that we used as our bond. Yep, she was one too.

    Since it was a keg party, everyone around us was drinking copious quantities of fermented barley and hops. We were both drinking water. She pointed that out. We discussed it and we shared a mutual feeling of superiority.

    There were all sorts of snacks around us, chips, pretzels, Doritos and other samplings of junk food. We laughed as our gym mates ate their hydrogenated fats and processed, bleached carbohydrates with reckless abandon. They were weak, we were not. So we discussed it and used it to feel very advanced, very evolved.

    As we continued to chat about our training and nutrition, I remember discussing the fact that our Spartan nutritional discipline had created in us such a loathing for fast food restaurants that we wouldn't even stop at McDonalds for a McPee. She told me that she was too afraid that someone she knew might see her there and think that she actually ate that kind of food. I laughed and offered support. Heck, I felt the same way.

    So there I was, sitting next to the girl of my dreams, and rather than talking about all the amazing things that come from the lifestyle we had chosen, rather than being quietly proud of the fact that we had made a choice to live in a healthful way and, most importantly, we were following through with it, the best we could do was chide others for not choosing the behaviors that we had chosen. We were looking down our noses at them as if our choice to eat well made us inherently better. Our assumptions had turned into our realities and our realities were alienating us from others and from ourselves as human beings.

    After all, at the end of the day, when tallying up our life's successes, are we really going to be glad that we never touched a morsel of cheese cake to our non-refined food eatin' lips? Are we going to be glad that we missed a friend's birthday because it was cardio and abs day? Are we going to be happy that we surrounded ourselves by a small circle of friends that can't function well in society due to this mass delusion that they're truly better than everyone else?

    Some may argue with me. They might claim that if you're going to be committed to the goal of good health, then you should make no excuses. You should avoid the foods that aren't on your plan, and you should workout exactly according to schedule. Well, I agree completely. There is a major sense of pride that comes from the steadfast dedication to a worthwhile goal. However, it's easy to mistake the pride and satisfaction that come with this unwavering commitment to your own personal goals with absolute confirmation that your goals are inherently superior to those of others. In other words, if they don't eat with the urgency or train with the intensity you do, they are inferior and weak.

    As in any endeavor in life, it's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. Maybe it's because most weightlifters are surrounded by a posse of other weightlifting snobs. Instead of pointing out that you are being a bit shortsighted when you dump your new girlfriend because she didn't think that cottage cheese, protein powder, and peanut butter tastes just like a dairy queen dessert, they praise your fortitude because, after all, you're right and she's wrong. They tell you that you're just "trimmin' the fat" off your social life, getting rid of the weak. It's just one more step on the road to hardcore.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that newbies are the ones that most often fall victim to weightlifting snobbery. To them, weightlifting snobbery is almost a prerequisite. Psychologically, I can understand why. You see, someone new to weightlifting, eating well, and taking supplements has to overcome a lifetime of habits and momentum. Of course, one of the easiest ways to overcome old habits is to negatively associate those old habits, by calling them bad habits. By extension, the new habits they are adopting must be good ones. From the start, there is a dichotomy set up, complete with value judgments and a sense of superiority. Therefore, the decision to begin eating and training properly is one of improvement, one of moving from bad to good. That is motivation enough for many people to get moving toward a very personal fitness goal - whether it's getting huge that they're after or whether it's looking lean. And any psychological device that helps us in the attainment of our goals is good to explore. But it's important to note that a psychological motivational device can easily (subconsciously) become an immutable truth and can guide all of our actions, making them fit a paradigm that is not always healthy.

    Need an example? Consider the typical newbie who has made the commitment to get into shape. You know, the one that, when sitting down to dinner with their families, feels the necessity to relegate their "bitch" mothers to the fiery pits of Hades for serving a high glycemic carbohydrate meal. How about quietly making your own damn meals that are more appropriate for your goals, and eating them at the family dinner table without busting your family's collective balls? First of all, your mom might not be ready to choose to live like you just yet. So cut her some slack. And second of all, if you truly think that what you're doing might be better for her, how about giving her some suggestions as to how to improve her diet and resources for her to investigate on her own. Teaching by example is far more effective than yelling like a spoiled child.

    Think I'm exaggerating about how vicious the average newbie, recently armed with a few golden nuggets of nutritional wisdom can be? I'm not. I guarantee that the world is full of thousands of newbies in hundreds of languages saying the equivalent of: "Mom, what the hell are you feeding us? Did you know that potatoes produce the same glycemic response as white bread? You know I can't eat high glycemic carbs; they screw up my insulin sensitivity. You know Mom, if you stopped serving such crap food perhaps you'd lose a few pounds yourself."

    Newbies, I understand that you need these devices to stay motivated, but please give the world a break from your dinnertime crusades. They're embarrassing, uninspired, ineffectual, and plain old boring. You're not helping anyone by spending the entire dinner accusing your dinner mates of having too little dietary fiber, an imbalance in the omega 6 : omega 3 ratio, and too many refined carbohydrates.

    Although I'm implicating the newbies, I want to make clear that the lifers aren't immune from the standard trappings of the ego. In the iron game, as in many other cliquey subcultures, and among the ranks of many individuals sharing common belief systems, there is a whole lot of useless, unproductive, and unhealthy arrogance associated with their beliefs and their lifestyles. Where this us vs. them mentality comes from, I don't know. But it seems to me a strange irony of the human condition that we tend to be very social animals, enjoying rich social relationship and preferring to travel in packs, yet we also seem to want to isolate our own little pack from the other packs, stereotyping them, making them seem different and inferior, making them seem unfit to breathe the same air as we do. In other words, we want to be different from everyone else - special, significant, and unique. But we also want a group of like-minded individuals to share this uniqueness with.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to be different and significant, or wanting to share that with other like-minded individuals. The problem, as I see it, comes from perverting this and making it quarrelsome. Now, while very few people purposely try to alienate others, many do just that out of ignorance of their own assumptions. As discussed above, when we sit around, congratulating ourselves on our superiority, we are making several assumptions that are leading us down an unhealthy path.

    After all, just because someone doesn't say no to Krispy Kreme, does that automatically mean that they are lazy couch potatoes? Just because someone doesn't have a gym membership does that mean that they are automatically sedentary slobs? It's as if many weightlifters would have you believe that the people of the earth can be classified into two main categories: those noble men and women who commit themselves to a lifetime of intense training and proper eating, and then the rest of 'em. Apparently it doesn't matter what the rest of 'em do, what they're passionate about, how they live. What matters most is what they don't do. To me, that's a little ridiculous.

    I guess that means that my friends who have spent a significant portion of their lives traveling to third world countries to help the impoverished with food and shelter are lazy bastards for not finding the time to hit a Gold's or consume 1g/lb of protein. After all, we weightlifters are inherently better, aren't we?

    It's my hope that some of the weightlifting snobs out there might take a moment to examine their biases. Realize that many people don't make the time for regular programmed exercise and six meals per day because they're busy focusing, with the same discipline and laser-like efficiency, on other things - things that are as important to them as weightlifting and nutrition are to us.

    Is a passionate novelist who works full time during the day and writes (instead of going to the gym) at night is of any less value than we are? Is a devoted dad less of a man because he chooses to spend the only free time that he has after coming home from work, helping his kids with their homework and spending an hour of quiet time with his wife?

    I can't answer these questions with a total degree of certainty. I've still got a little bit of the weightlifting snobbery going on in myself. To this end, I'm strong in my belief that everyone should make the time to do some program of regular physical activity, no matter what. I'm also strong in my belief that each person should take the steps to educate themselves about proper food choices and incorporate these choices into their everyday routine. It is truly possible for everyone to take positive steps toward a healthier body.

    So on a deep level I'm convinced that there is something very right about taking good care of your physical self. I assume that it's just right for me to train and eat well. And to that end, it makes me proud to know that I take all the steps necessary to do just that for myself. But nowadays, in my infinite wisdom (cough, cough), I realize that there is a difference between doing what's right for me because I believe it to be what's best for me and doing what's right so that I feel like I'm better than everyone else, to fuel my weightlifting snobbery.

    Just like we shouldn't pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for not telling lies to the people we care about (because in my book you don't get a gold star for doing what's expected, what's appropriate, what's right), we shouldn't let our egos get too out of control for doing the right thing in taking care of our bodies.

    Weightlifting snobbery tries to sneak its way into the thoughts and patterns of everyone who endeavors to improve their physical body. No one is immune to its siren song and its promise of ego gratification. But if you're conscious of this and aware of your assumptions you may just be able to grab this foe by the neck and wrestle it into submission each time it tries to win you over to the dark side. After all, we are the ambassadors of the iron game, the people responsible for turning people off or on to the joys of building a better physical body. Weightlifting snobbery does nothing to attract people to this lifestyle and everything to send them back to their hypothetical couches and 64 oz slurpies.

  2. I am guilty of this. Shoot everyone probably is. I like the attitude of the girl nice to hear they are out there. Nice article man I really liked it.

  3. im EXTREMELY guilty of it lol..although i dont consider is snobby.. instead consider it me trying to help out obese america..

  4. Man, it's so weird you post this now, cuz just this week I had the first experience that revealed this snobbery to me. I was doing it subconciously, casually telling this girl I can't believe she had pizza for lunch. Instead of hanging her head, or saying "I know", like other wanna be snobs, she was like "you're not one of those guys are you?? who's going to criticize everything people eat." I was so embarrassed by her confidence, and shrewdness. (Also cuz I liked her.) Anyway, that's the last time I'm gonna preach to anyone else about their diet or workout ethic.

  5. Lets see..they say 60% of America is overweight, and I know 99% of that 60% isnt excessive muscle weight. Snob..YES I AM!. Physical fitness is something I respect in others, because it usually extends into other areas of their lives. In my experience, people who have little slef control when it comes to their physical appearance (in other words they are fat loads) I have found..usually means they do not apply themselves to many other things very dilligently either. ANY activity, be it weightlifting, martial arts, etc that requires a CONTSTANT long term effort..will breed snobbery..because SO few people have the discipline or dedication to do ANYTHING for the long term. Meet any US Navy will see a degree of snobbery. Hell..I am sure if you went to chess would see snobbery, just because they have spent years mastering something. The only real difference bodybuilding, our hard work and dedication, are out there for everybody to see. I can be wearing anything from a tank a baggy sweat shirt, and it is obvious I workout. Most men my age (early 30s) are already sporting a nice beer guy, and 2-3 chins. I stand out..because of my discipline, and over 9 years of hard work. It isnt like you just start jucing and lifting, and look solid in a month or two. Muscle takes years to build. Others want to look like us..why else would these "Body for life..10 week transformations* be so popular?? If I am a snob..too damn bad. Find any other group of people who have taken years to master something or gain something, and you will see snobbery there also.

  6. I am a snob and a half, too bad!


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