Photo: Arsenii Palivoda (Shutterstock)
I used to use “ego-lifting” as an insult. Some guy loads all the plates on a bar and deadlifts with a rounded back? Curling and sticking his hips in? He’s obviously getting it wrong and making me superior even if I don’t even get half of his deadlift off the floor.
But now the tables have turned and I’m probably the ego lifter. I love lifting the gram heavy. I enjoy showing cool looking stuff that doesn’t reflect how I exercise most of the time. And the more I see the term “ego lifting” thrown around, the more I think: Okay, and what’s wrong with that?
What is ego lifting anyway?
Ego-lifting is colloquial when you try to show off at the gym. It’s a term people use to describe your lift when they think you’re trying to impress them, but they are not impressed.
The downside of ego-lifting, according to critics, is that you are using “too much” weight, that you could injure yourself, and that your form is not perfect. You might criticize that if you used a different exercise or better form, you would gain more muscle, making your ego a combination of useless, ineffective, and dangerous.
But my more cynical side sees it differently. Sure, there are people out there who do unwise things in the gym. But there are also people who look at a big lift and try to pull the lift down because they feel insecure or jealous. It helps them feel better about their own place in the universe when someone stronger than them gets it wrong, or when someone who shows off doesn’t deserve your attention.
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Any of these people can tell you the downsides, so let’s examine the good parts of ego lifting. Maybe you will get some ideas for your next workout.
It’s good to try hard things
It’s safe and comforting to stick to the same exercises that you’ve always done, with the same weights. But when you step out of your comfort zone, you learn about yourself.
If you only squat in sets of five, at some point put on a little more weight and see how much you can really squat if you don’t have to do four more reps afterwards. If you see someone doing a strange or cool exercise, give it a try. Maybe you can do what you thought was impossible.
And maybe you can’t. That’s okay. But when you try, you learn about yourself. The first time I deadlifted was because my husband asked me to try it. “No, I can’t,” I said, and he said, “Prove it,” and I grabbed the bar and was just as shocked as anyone when I pulled and she came up. I no longer shy away from challenges; Since then, I’ve pleasantly surprised myself dozens, maybe hundreds, of times.
A lot of us can lift a lot more than we think so Put a damn weight on the bar and see what happens.
It’s good to do things to be proud of
There is nothing inherently wrong with showing off. Every competition is an invitation for people to show off, and I don’t mean just weightlifting or powerlifting. Professional basketball players show off by playing in front of crowds rather than in their local park. We just got through a whole bloody Olympics where people showed what they can and we got behind them and celebrated them for it.
You can also do things that you are proud of. If you’re running a race, please post a photo of yourself smiling at the finish line. When you’ve built strength in the gym, show us what that strength is good for. When you’ve practiced a skill show us all how your hard work has paid off. I love this stuff. (I’m serious, mark me on insta, I want to see it!)
People have told me that my posts about weightlifting on social media inspired them to try weightlifting, or study some aspect of fitness that they think they would enjoy, or they told me mine Antics brightened their day. And I think similarly about the performances I’ve seen from my friends and acquaintances and from athletes I’ve never met.
It’s good to do things to be proud of. It’s good to work towards doing things that you want to be proud of. After all, that’s the nature of training. You are pursuing a goal. And it’s up to you whether your goal is a formal competition or a 1RM attempt in front of your gym pals, or something difficult but stupid, like a gymnastics club make a turkish outfit with a kayak.
How to use ego lifting for good
So how do we balance these benefits with the criticisms of ego-lifting? Quite simply: We make sure that we are meeting our own needs before we consider how we will communicate our services to others.
Do not confuse training days with test days
A satisfying ego lift is something you do to demonstrate the strength that you have built, but it is not a substitute for building that strength in the first place. If you max your bench press every week, your bench gains will plateau pretty soon.
Prioritize the long term over the short term. Most days, all you should be putting in is work, the boring stuff that makes you stronger. And occasionally you can enjoy a little ego lift as a reward.
Do what you trained for
People like to criticize anyone who tries to get the maximum of one rep and is not in perfect shape. But as you will know, if you’ve ever tried one, max reps won’t be perfect, and that’s fine. Injury in the gym is much more difficult as an armchair trainer like to pretend it is.
But all bets are wrong if you do something drastically different from what you have been training for. If you’ve never done a squat in your life, don’t put a barbell on your leg press and expect to be able to walk and bend them. Be sure to try new things, but be smart about how you do them.
Be honest to yourself
If you’re aiming for a big squat but are so afraid of failure that you don’t even try to break the parallel, that isn’t exactly an impressive squat, is it? Before you decide that it is worth celebrating with others, consider taking pride in your accomplishments.
However, it is up to you to choose what to be proud of. If you’re struggling with your squat depth, a heavy squat that is a little high may still be something you want to show the world off. Just make sure you prioritize your goals for yourself over what you want others to think of you.
Recognize jealousy in you and use it productively
Funny how ego-lifting is viewed as attention-grabbing behavior and we still use it for careful introspection. But I think that makes perfect sense. Ego-lifting is ultimately about you, and it is valuable to think about what services you value and why.
When you’re in competition with someone else – maybe deadlifting just a little more than you – it can be great when the other person is pushing you to train harder and dream bigger. It’s not great when you just see someone do something you wish you could do and then stew in jealousy.
It’s up to you where you put your ego. When you find yourself obsessed with the accomplishments of others and interfering with your own training, it is time to find a new way to focus your work and goals. But if you film yourself doing big lifts to challenge yourself and connect with a community of friends and teammates, and have healthy relationships with rivals, then I say do it.