Sing the Body Electric: Lifting Our Feels

A while back,  a playboy bunny got in trouble for posting an unsolicited picture of a fat woman showering naked at the gym. I was surprised and disappointed by this, because my experience at the gym has always been generally supportive. Obviously, there’s assholes in all walks of live. Unfortunately, this will only help to foster the stereotype that gyms are full of judgemental snobs shaming people for their bodies; that unfit people are unwelcome.

Personally, I can say that when I see a beginner at the gym, I feel very motivated. It’s great to see people trying to improve their bodies. And I think most of my fellow lifters feel the same. I’ve had lots of friends who were intimidated by the gym because of the stereotypical meatheads that supposedly inhabit it; a gay friend who was wary of homophobic bros, or women afraid of–well all the shit women have to deal with. But, generally, they’ve all been pleasantly surprised by how chill and welcoming the environment is.

As such, I’ve never felt self-conscious working out at the gym. For example, whenever I put on weight, I refuse to buy new workout clothes. I’m taking a page outta Arnold’s book here. Early in his career, Arnold had great gains in his upper-body, but had small legs and calves. To push himself, he’d wear bulky long sleeve shirts and shorts to hide his strengths and expose his weaknesses. Likewise, whenever I see fat spilling out of my shirt on an overhead lift, it motivates me to work harder.

That being said, even though I’m confident when it comes to my appearance, that doesn’t mean I don’t deal with my share of mental hangups when it comes to exercising. As one anon once famously said, “perhaps the heaviest things that we lift are not our weights but our feels.” Here is a list of cognitive distortions that I find myself dealing with regularly.


1) All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things as black or white, perfection or failure

Fitness goals are achieved by building on small successes one at a time. The ultimate goal is to have a consistent routine complimented by a clean diet. I struggle with the latter. Unfortunately, I love junk food. So whenever I cheat too much on my nutrition I really beat myself up over it. Or I’ll design a regimen and whenever I fall short of expectation, I get down on myself. I’m always having to remind myself that it’s all just a work in progress, and to learn from my mistakes. Also, like Salvatore Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”

2) Filtering: Dwelling on a negative so much that other successes somehow don’t count

I’ve written before about my admiration of my father’s running career and my own weaknesses as a runner. While I’m not a great endurance athlete, I’ve always been explosively strong. However, because I’ll probably never run a marathon, my strengths are diminished by this one deficiency. In addition, in terms of bodybuilding, I get really fast gains in my legs, triceps and shoulders. However, my chest and my biceps are slow gainers. This is frustrating because these are traditionally the glamour muscles; they give you that “wow” factor. To combat these thoughts I remind myself of what I should be grateful for. For example, I have really big calves, which don’t require much work to maintain. This is something even professional competitors lack. A lot of people struggle with chicken legs but I have natural tree trunks. Dad used to say I have cows not calves. Gratefulness is definitely a powerful force that I’ve learned to embrace as I get older.

3) Overgeneralization: Seeing one bad experience as a never-ending pattern of defeat

Returning to my weak points, sometimes I get discouraged and think that I’ll never get them up to par. In these moments, I remind myself that everyone has weak points and it just means having to adopt different strategies. Lately, to bring my biceps up, I emphasize the negative phase of a lift, or use half-reps to go beyond failure. For chest, I start with a lower-pec movement, because prioritizing a weak area is a great way to sustain stress on it throughout the workout. In a word, when you have a weakness, strategize.

4) Personalization: When you think everything people do or think is a reaction to you

Like I said, I’m not really self-conscious at the gym these days, but I get why some people are. You think everyone around you is judging you. I think most serious lifters/athletes are more focused on their own workout to worry about other people. I think people have to remember that while you may be looking at someone thinking, “Oh, if I only could look like that,” someone is looking at you and thinking the same thing. Ultimately, you have no idea what people are thinking so don’t sweat it.

5) Control fallacy: That you have supreme control over everything and thus all shortcomings are your fault

Again, coming back to my weaknesses, some things are genetically beyond my control. No one is the perfect all around athlete. You can’t look like Dorian Yates and perform like Lance Armstrong at the same time. Recognize your natural strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

6) Fallacy of fairness: Being resentful because things don’t play out according to your pre-conceived notions of fairness

One of my favourite movie quotes is from Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood is about to shoot the sheriff, who says “I don’t deserve to die like this!” To which Clint responds, “‘Should’ ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.” A lot of people have preconceived ideas of how their fitness goals should play out and when things don’t go according to plan, they piss and moan about how it isn’t fair, etc. Abandon whatever notions you have of “fairness.” Maybe you’re following a plan that doesn’t suit your morphology. Get over it, re-group, strategize.


I’m sure there’s more I could think out but these give a pretty good overview of the mental hangups I, and probably a lot of people, deal with at the gym. One concept that kept coming up, I noticed, was strategizing. Overwhelming challenges always seem to disintegrate when you break them apart with potential solutions. Whenever I feel I’ve hit a plateau at the gym, I look up videos on YouTube. It’s insane how much material is out there. When I started working out in the early 00s as a teenager, all we really had were magazines and whatever bro science was being disseminated at the local gym. And don’t get me started on all the “motivational gurus” out there, but that’s for another post. Anyways, get out there and get after it!



~ by braddunne on December 8, 2016.

One Response to “Sing the Body Electric: Lifting Our Feels”

  1. its so much mental bro. its insane. And currently I’m trying to lift my feels man. I’ve been going through it a little bit lol

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