Problems With Odd Lifting Culture

I routinely find myself engaging in self-reflection, where I’m teetering between my rigid views on best principles and my desire to enforce them … and the realization that I might just be the guy sticking my finger in everyone’s Snack Pak.

That’s never more evident than when I’m watching popular lifting channels where the feature of the day is some mode of lifting that I think is trendy, overhyped click bait at best and a counterproductive or outright dangerous influence to it’s viewers at worst.

Take Juji, Boogez and Szat.

3 guys who are as popular as they are jacked, obvious veterans to the barbell and who likely have a ton of experience-driven wisdom to pass on to their viewers.

But then they do some crazy, “hey look at me” shit that’s useless to the viewer at best and a dangerous influence at worst.

And suddenly, like the shrill wife of a Victorian aristocrat, I scream to everyone around me about the bee in my bonnet.

I was extra critical when the three of them teamed up for a sick collab, only to have Joey Szat tear his bicep doing a max preacher curl, which forced him to drop out of World’s and eventually led to him moving on from Strongman altogether.

But here’s the thing; as pointed out by many others, the joy they bring to lifting, the enthusiasm that surrounds their brand, has value. This is certainly a type of low calorie content, driven by the same type of ‘what would happen if?’ curiosity that compels Mr. Beast to fill a swimming pool with Orbeez. It leads to to the jackass type stunts that made popular…. well, Jackass. 

It’s choosing to watch Saturday morning cartoons over reading the book for your report that is due on Monday. It’s watching Vanilla Ice do home renovations or watching my 600lb life; They are tangentially related to things on your to-do list but neither is getting you closer to your goals. 

The thing is, I love Jackass. My eyeballs have absorbed as many video clips of shopping cart jousting and Irving Zisman bits as anyone; I even mimicked some of the stunts in my youth (if any of you parents need to get your kid away from a computer screen, get a block of ice and take them to a hilly park; you’re welcome). 

Sure we can argue that our culture is more saturated with low-value escapist entertainment than not, but it still has a role to play, especially when, in the case of these creators, it can get people enthusiastic about something as essential as lifting weights.

So when did I turn into the miserable guy that mutters “fucking kids these days?” every time I see an odd barbell lift? After all, I was the guy defending Crossfit to the hoardes of my fellow powerlifting and strongman fanatics who thought that the fuckery that came out of Crossfit HQ was somehow more sinister than our own.

High rep cleans and snatches one-handed with a KB is fine…. but though SHALT NOT USE 2 HANDS WITH A BARBELL!

Take Atlas Power Shrugged. He does odd lifts in what looks like the parking lot of an apartment complex, always shirtless and in jeans (Barbell Apparel of course). 

***Side-note: Barbell Apparel is legitimately the most comfortable athletic-gear on the market and I’m proud to rep their brand. I could do a full workout in their chinos and dress shirt in the middle of a July storm in Texas and be cool as a cucumber.

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Enough shilling, back to the show!!

He also writes really thoughtful bits on his training views, which range from inspirational to thought provoking. And he’s damn strong.

Here he is doing a one arm Zercher Clean, an apparent tribute to man-giant Tom Haviland, with 265lbs. 

This lift makes me cringe. It makes me say, “why?”. There’s no obvious physical benefit other than showing people what weird shit you can do with your strength…. and there is a very real risk that is far beyond that of traditional strength training movements. The math of risk/reward seems pretty damn obvious here. 

I can’t help but feel that this type of work just appeals to the need of the lifter to stand out, to look different or feel exceptional despite not really being so.

My experience is also that “odd lifting culture” attracts proportionately more non-serious lifters, those motivated by less noble intentions, like that need to stand out over the need to actually get strong. These are lifters who overhelmingly won’t be around in 5 years. Chasing odd lifts over the fundamentals feels to me like learning to throw your Chi instead of learning to throw a punch.

The defense usually looks something like this:

“I like to do hard things.I like to push the envelope. I like to see what my body can handle.”

I’m firmly on the anti-fragile train but I’m not sure that this is always that.

Anti-fragile refers to things that do not simply resist stress, but actually grow and get stronger from it. The implication of the term is that there is a net positive from the pressure being applied so that what doesn’t kill you…. actually does make you stronger.

Most of what you see in the world of Odd Lifts isn’t that; the ‘hard things’ being done are about as developmentally effective as Steve-O kissing a cobra. It’s on the same type of ‘character building activities’ as running with the bulls or a drunken game of pinfinger. For every AtlasPowerShrugged dedicating himself to improvement, there is the random, manic, attention seeking fuckery of a Tim Sowards or a Mikey Maybeme (if you know, you know). 

Let’s practice some good faith here and step aside from that extreme. I want to look at some of the real possible developmental benefits of odd lifting.

For example, AtlasPowerShrugged preaches movements with an extremely rounded lumbar spine as a means of improving durability of the low back and maintains that back injuries are likely a byproduct of avoiding this position. Look at this Zercher deficit deadlift….

Gotta respect the mobility just to get the elbows to the bar…. Most days I have a hard time just getting my hands to the bar.

Look at my buddy, Dr. Andrew Mock, who at 6’3″ and fucking peeled, is one of the tallest 105kg strongman competitors in the sport.

Andrew bypasses the disadvantages of his lanky frame when he deadlifts by letting his spine bow like a rubber fishing pole (I was going to say double-sided dildo but I decided to keep it classy). I actually tried for some time to ‘clean up’ Andrews pulling technique and mold it to how I thought it should look…. Results weren’t great. It looked more awkward and performance suffered greatly.

Also, Dr. Mock has had his share of problem areas, but his lower back isn’t one of them. According to him, he’s never had so much as a back tweak.

As someone who has had a dozen low back injuries from trying to support challenging loads in a rounded position, injuries which sidelined my competitive career for over a decade, I look at this approach with a heap of skepticism….

No doubt their backs are strong to support these activities, but I can’t help but wonder whether they are the exceptions or the rule. 

If a sample size of 1 million athletes committed to a brand new zercher deadlift federation or to regularly maxing on the Jefferson curl, and if they used ‘monkey fuckers’ as a staple accessory…. would we see in this population the realization of true spine-strength potential we’ve all been missing? 

Or would injury rates increase 5 fold?

Part of me thinks it might be an outright wash and that I really am a grouchy, malcontented pot calling the kettle black. “Pick your poison becuase they will all grow and deteriorate you in the same proportion!”

I’m sure that individual differences in durability are responsible for how ‘safe’ any given movement is for which lifters at which moment in their lifting career…. I’m also sure that, like the proprietary blend in your favorite Muscletech supplement, that ratio of durable to fragile lifters is unknown and won’t be any time soon.

We already know that ‘best/optimal/safe’ are empty terms when it comes to training recommendations. Like the hopscotch game in “Squid Game”, the perfect maneuver that avoids hitting the untempered glass and falling to your death, won’t be known to you until you make the jump. 

There is risk in everything we do and whether the juice is worth the squeeze is going to come down to a subjective calculation on behalf of the lifter. I can give my .02 cents on what I think that calculation is for determing physical growth, but when it comes to weighing enjoyment in the pursuit of conquering hard things…. I got nothing to offer.

AtlasPowerShrugged fucking loves what he’s doing. His joy in his daily parking lot antics bleeds through every clip he films, every post he writes, every non-sense, toe-curling PR he hits. If Jujimufu doing backflips in between sets of bazooka lifts, inspires awe, excitement and wonder in the rest of the world, I have an increasingly difficult time using my chronic cynicism to argue against it. And if it potentially encourage a hesitant couch potato to put on some jeans, take their shirt off and go lift in the parking lot, then all the better.

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