The origins of ‘Do you even lift?’
“Do you even lift?”
If you’ve dabbled at all in the fitness world, read any fitness forums or read the comments of any fitness-related YouTube videos you have probably heard this now famous phrase.
For those that haven’t it’s basically meant to be an insult- you’re questioning someone’s legitimacy in giving their opinion on fitness matters because according to you they look like they don’t lift weights themselves.
After a bit of quick searching I found that some have pinned down its first use to a bodybuilding discussion forum in 2002, in one of those fearsome keyboard warrior battles that frequently lay waste to logic, reason and perspective in the no-man’s land that is the internet.
It’s evolved into a pretty stock riposte these days, like a fitness equivalent of other more general classics such as ‘whatever’ and ‘your mum’.
But I’m not going to try and pin down day zero, I actually want to discuss why it exists and how it has become so popular.
One main reason it has become so widespread is obviously the fact that the internet exists.
It’s funny, because “do you even lift” is exactly the kind of thing you’ll read a lot, but you won’t hear it so much. What I mean is that no-one will really say it directly to anyone’s face.
It’s a perfect phrase for the internet, because you can call someone out without actually having to prove anything yourself. Even if you have an avatar or a picture it doesn’t have to be you.
If you do post an actual picture of yourself, or film a video you’ll probably still get the same response “do you even lift?”, unless you’re some kind of mass monster with abs bench pressing 500 lbs.
It’s prety much a no-win situation.
It’s because, as usual, our perceptions have been warped.
Most people have no idea what is achievable physique-wise these days without drugs. Fitness marketing is so saturated with images of 220 lbs ripped models that if you’re not near that size people aren’t impressed.
What’s more it’s not just size; there are drugs out there that can give you the so-called ‘photoshopped’ look- dense, hard and dry with very full and rounded muscles that you just can’t achieve naturally.
As a result, everyone thinks that you can step into a weight -room for a few weeks and emerge looking like superman.
Who is to blame?
The usual suspects…
The main reason the supplements market exists is because it counts on people’s ignorance and/or naivety. And the demographic that has the biggest combination of both? The teenage/young adult market.
Very broadly I would split those serious about weight training into 3 categories.
1. Been training for 5-10 years, still natural
2. Been training for 5-10 years, dabbled with or is using drugs
3. Training 2 years or less, still natural
Who is the best target for supplement companies? The guys in group 3.
Group 1 people used to be in group 3. They saw the pictures, believed the stories and bought the supplements and crazy routines.
But after 5 years they realised that no matter what they did, they couldn’t get anywhere near the size and strength of the guys in the magazines. The scales fell from their eyes: it’s the ‘special sauce’ that adds the extras, not the cheese by-product whey powders. But they love working out by this point, so they accept it and keep training.
The group 2 guys also went down the same road. But once they hit the fork, they decided they were going for broke: they went down the drugs route, either to try and make a career in fitness or just because they were prepared to do what it took to look like their idols.
They know supplements don’t work; they’ve done them all themselves. But ironically a lot of these group 2 guys are going to be the ones claiming natural and selling ideas and hopes to group 3.
Group 3 keep the whole money train spinning. After getting some good ‘newbie gains’ (where your body adapts very quickly in the first year you train) they think that the gains will keep coming year after year, as long as they eat, sleep and train right. They want to believe it, and there’s plenty of marketing PR that will assure them it’s possible, all natural.
The best thing is once group 3 graduates to the other two groups there will be a whole new generation to fill it!
This is why so many of the ‘do you even lift’ bros are young, impressionable internet warriors. And guess who dominates the social media channels and the internet as a whole? These guys.
Anyone who has been training properly for years, living the lifestyle and learning knows and has realised that if you are 180 lbs at 10% bodyfat natural at 5′ 10″ you are actually pretty big, and have probably paid a lot of dues to get there, including lifting some decent weight.
But in this day and age of the ‘fake natural’ you don’t even lift.
How much do you bench? Less than 315 lbs (140 kgs)? You don’t even lift.
How much can you deadlift? 405 lbs (180 kgs)? You don’t even lift.
How much do you weigh? Less than 200 lbs (91 kgs)? You don’t even lift.
Everyone knows someone, a friend of a friend, their cousins friend’s girlfriend’s dog walker who is benching 405 aged 16 at 220 lbs bodyweight.
That’s the power of the internet and marketing. Raise the bar beyond everyone’s reach and make it normal. Then sell a load of ways that will never get you there. Rinse and repeat, until no-one knows what’s really possible, and your bank account is full.
Well, I want to flip it around, and claim it for people who can see through all the bullshit. The guys in group 1, who have put in the time and realised what is the truth.
So you think you can put on lbs of muscle ad infinitum because you gained 10 in your first year of training?
You believe when someone says they’re natural that they are never lying?
You think that there’s a secret formula to results, and it comes in a powder?