I’ve been a gym owner and a strength coach for over a decade now, and while some misconceptions have thankfully died on the vine in that time, there is a certain degree of magical thinking that still persists in the way we talk about fitness:
Certain movements and exercise protocols are believed to hold magical fat-burning properties, for instance. Workouts consisting of plyometric movements like burpees, mountain climbers, and squat jumps are believed to induce a metabolic afterburn that we now understand to be at best overstated and at worst statistically meaningless for most everyday athletes.
Still, it persists. We speak of these movements and workouts as though mere exposure may induce systemic changes, as though standing in the very vicinity of an interval-based workout might do for our body composition what thirty minutes of midday sun in July does for our tan.
Am I being a little flippant? Maybe. But when you hear enough stories from athletes–some of them young athletes–who chase body composition changes by overtraining and underfeeding themselves, you long for some real talk. The afterburn effect may be overstated, but the stress on joints from repetitive pounding and jumping isn’t.
Then we have the flip side: throwing some iron around in hopes of getting stronger. Millions of dudes bench pressing 135 for 5 sets of 12 every Monday in chain gyms across the country remind us that magical thinking extends to weightlifting as well. It’s National Bench Day, so I can just hit the gym, slop the same weight up each week, and the mythical gainZ (with a Z) will eventually become so self-evident that the world shall henceforth refer to me as Sir Swole, right?
The thing is, the barbell isn’t a magical entity either. Just like putting on a new leather jacket doesn’t mean you’ve been jumped into the Sons of Anarchy, putting your hands around a barbell doesn’t magically confer strength or size. Doing sets of squats or presses won’t magically turn you into Hercules–whether that’s your lifelong dream or biggest fear. It’s in the way that you use it, as with most things in life.
What the barbell is, however, is an incredibly pliable training tool. The ability to load weights slowly and titrate them up as skill develops, or down as fatigue sets in, is unmatched among training implements, including that of your own bodyweight. Barbell training allows good coaches to help you load functional movement patterns properly, and the disposition of the load across your shoulders, or in your hands, or above your head, allows you to build real-world strength in a regimented, acquisitive fashion.
It isn’t magic, though. It’s recordkeeping on a sheet of paper. One week you squatted 75 for 5 sets of 5. The next week, 80. Three months from now, 200. You got better. You got stronger. We lose our way when we speed past the proving ground of these numbers in our training logs in search of things we can’t quantify but name and claim because we want so desperately for them to exist.
This is why we love barbell training at Woodshed. It is black and white in the very best sense of that duality. It is distinct. It is available to all of our athletes. It is planning, foresight, course correcting when necessary, and in its simplicity remarkably human. You can take your training log home to your family and in ten seconds or less show them to the decimal point how much stronger you are today than you were three months ago.
It is strength without interference. But it isn’t magic. It’s just real.