Thing-a-day 4: Feeling Secure

On Facebook yesterday, I saw a thread about some new drama or another in the lifting community, and someone commented, “you’d think it was all teenage girls, there is so much drama.” It probably should be more teenage girls, for what it’s worth – girls should be supported to get stronger earlier in their lives – but it also encompasses a profoundly drama-free element, popularly embodied in an article by Henry Rollins that appeared in Details magazine in 1993.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds. —From Iron, by Henry Rollins

You can quarter-rep 200 lb and lie – to yourself and others – about your relationship with the iron, but 200 lb is still 200 lb. Your buddies probably know you’re bragging about something you never did, anyway, because if you ever lift anything around other people, ever, it can be very clear what you can and can’t do.

Friends don’t let friends skip leg day. —Photo: Greg Segal/TIME

But there’s a few of those in every crowd. What’s more interesting to me is the range among lifters. As with many groups, the lowest common denominator is very low, with some particularly ugly results in a demographic that is so obsessed with testosterone. There’s also something about being undeniably strong in the most literal sense that releases the soul from its anxiety about appearance, or even urges it to adopt tie-dye socks and novelty singlets.

This guy.

There is a pure delight in lifting well, in marshaling your form so that the weight cannot help but follow the path you set for it, and in progressing to heavier weights. It is one of the simplest repayments of attention, diligence, and consistency, delightfully measurable and demonstrable to others. And it gives rise to a prominent culture of enthusiasm for the success of others as well as for oneself. The drama in the Facebook thread was all about some commercial concern among people who engage in formal competitions, but in the typical weight room, it’s mostly people showing up to get better, who are eager to share their enthusiasm with anyone else who wants to get better, too.

Update: Can’t stop dreaming of that singlet? You can buy one, along with other eye-popping designs.

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