Do you lift things up and put them down?

May 10th, 2011  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  24 Comments

Many of you have undoubtedly seen the Planet Fitness ads that mock bodybuilders.

Personally, I find the “I lift things up and put them down” ad somewhat poignant — there is a certain existential purity and focus to the bodybuilder’s mission that many of us might wish to emulate in purging the distractions of modern life. He is akin to a Zen prophet — merely a humble traveller on the Way of Weights, where enlightenment comes simply from moving the body towards a dedicated objective. reviews the messages inherent to PF’s ad campaign, as well as the more real challenges in a gym where serious lifting is discouraged. I remember similar problems in a Globo gym about 15 years ago, where I was told, “This isn’t a deadlifting gym.”

Arnold wept.

Now, let’s imagine the scene — I am a small female lifter. I’m not intimidating anyone with my mighty 95 lb DL (or whatever I was lifting in 1996), besides perhaps a 6-year-old child. I don’t smash my weights; I put them back assiduously, carefully stacking the plates properly (even taking several minutes to rearrange the plates on the racks so that they all hang in the proper order).

This is the same gym that made me feel like a lardy piece of crap when I showed up to get a membership — after having proudly lost about 20 lb.

And there’s no deadlifting for me. For no other reason than… well… this isn’t a deadlifting gym. (Amusingly, the guy who actually owned the gym was a waddling steroid-slab who wore the stereotypical bodybuilder ensemble and loved to make pants-crapping sounds while shrugging. Do as I say, not as I do, I suppose.)

The larger problem is that many commercial gyms are businesses. They couldn’t give two shits about getting you into shape. Their business model is based on taking your money and ensuring you don’t show up.

In fact, Globo gyms are much like the high school cliques of popular kids that occasionally pretend to include you as long as they can cheat off your science test, then shove your face into a locker while mocking your haircut. It casts a veneer of republican meritocracy over a feudal system.

Conversely, one thing I have always loved about the serious strength world is its deep sense of democracy.

They don’t care if you’re a fatass, a pencil-neck, a four-eyes, a dweeb, geek, dork, banger, or spaz… as long as you show up, work hard, and try your best. If your best is a tuna can or a water jug, fine. See you tomorrow, kid. We’ll give you a bigger tuna can in a week.

They also don’t care if you think you’re a shit-hot athlete or have abs like the Rockies. Either you can lift the weight, or you can’t. Shut your mouth, grab a bar, and get to work. (Delightfully, other gyms have begun to respond to PF’s strengthphobia with their own ad campaigns, although I’d love to see the sequel where a kindly old lifter takes the pocket-protected nebbish under her wing and turns him into a squat god.)

The larger, larger problem is that we do not have a sense of healthy physical culture.

Muscular people are viewed as weird, stupid beasts who — in a Cartesian brain vs. body economy of “knowledge workers” — serve as mockable morons (as Scott Abel discovers). Other “fitness nuts” are obsessive crackpots who wear Spandex, live on spirulina, and run in the snow at 5 am.

In any case, we feel, fit people are somehow different from the rest of us.

We view movement and strength as a luxury, not an intrinsic capacity that is available to all of us — and should be developed in order to be a functioning human. Movement is not a luxury. Strength of mind and body is not a luxury. They are our birthright. We will all move differently, within our own abilities… but we must move as often as possible, as powerfully as possible.

We view movement and strength as something that you have to go to a special place to do, in a pre-approved way, under the watchful eyes of surveillance personnel — many of whom have never, themselves, experienced disability, aging, or simply the humility of struggling against time, life circumstances, and gravity. They (dis)approve of our bodies. They create regimes and tell fibs about what we can and may do. If we displease them we are shamed.

Today, I encourage you: Take a moment. Pause your intellectual pursuits. Wrap your human appendages around an object. Move that object.


And let your freaky fitness flag fly.

Postscript: One of my judo instructors, a spry wiry man in his 50s, told me, “I never lift dead weight.” I asked him what he actually lifted. He looked at me like I was nuts. “You lift your own body, or you lift someone else’s. You do pullups or you throw someone.” Then he dropped into a deep squat like he was four years old with glowing, shiny rubber joints. He kicked my ass six ways from Sunday. Maybe he had a point. In his gym, you wouldn’t deadlift… unless that meant hauling a guy over your head before you threw him on the mat. I could live with that vision of the universe.


  1. Laura says:

    May 10th, 2011at 4:46 am(#)


    Today I am going to lift things up and put them down, then some yoga and maybe a bit of grappling. Flying my freaky fitness flag.

  2. Zoom says:

    May 10th, 2011at 9:38 am(#)

    I’m going to lift some heavy shite later and spin some fire in the meantime. I’ll also pass the thought on by printing this out and putting it on the fridge of my workplace. =)


  3. KicknKnit says:

    May 10th, 2011at 11:00 am(#)

    I get a chuckle out of that commercial.

    On Lifting things up…

    Yesterday I was at the garden store and the bags of topsoil were across the parking lot. I hauled one in and said “can you ring me up for two of these” and said I would go back and walk across the parking lot to put it in my car.

    The woman behind the counter was stunned.. not ONLY did she want to get me a flatbed for my one bag of topsoil (I dunno.. maybe 25lbs?) she encouraged me to “bring the car around”.

    When I said “I actually WANT to carry this.. it’s good for me” she kinda of.. um.. well she didn’t know what to say.

    I know it’s only a “tuna can” but I carried that sucker across the entire parking lot and was damn proud of it.

  4. Kristen says:

    May 10th, 2011at 1:16 pm(#)


    PF’s campaign annoys me to no end — thank you for articulating this so well.

  5. Sandra says:

    May 10th, 2011at 2:12 pm(#)

    I’m still appalled at the explicit contempt and downright meanness of the PF ad. As noted in the Slate article, it just doesn’t make sense to alienate a potential market share. I guess we’re all supposed to buy the heavily hyped pre-workout or post workout energy drinks, supplement with randomly alphabetically named substances of dubious value, and wear technical fabric clothes head to toe, but not actually work out. Sheesh – whadda great business model but I suppose it’s kept these chrome ‘n’ tone ‘fitness’ facilities profitable.

    I for one will not be giving my money to these places. I’d rather have some big tires to flip, or chains to drag, or kettlebells to twirl at home.

  6. Mich says:

    May 10th, 2011at 7:47 pm(#)

    I’ve never seen this ad before (no tv), but I like that one.

    Occasionally, my students (middle- and high-schoolers) see me with a gym bag over my shoulder at the end of the day and ask me what I going to do in the gym. My standard answer is that I plan to pick up heavy things, walk around with them, and put them down again. :)

  7. Rachel Kadel-Garcia says:

    May 10th, 2011at 9:10 pm(#)

    I was surprised to find myself identifying with the bodybuilder who PICKS THINGS UP AND PUTS THEM DOWN. After all, I’m a fat chick who’s never identified as athletic, and tend to be really self-conscious in the gym.

    But then, I’ve considered finding an “I lift heavy things” t-shirt to fend off the people who want to warn me of the dangers of “getting bulky”, and those few serious lifters who use my hole-in-the-wall gym have always either left me alone, or given me good advice. And, well, I get almost as tongue-tied as that dude when talking to gym-salesmen.

    I’m afraid that, having come to this article late at night, all I’m picking up and putting down is the laundry basket. But I bent my knees and kept my back straight, so it’s a teeny-tiny deadlift…

  8. psi*psi says:

    May 10th, 2011at 9:45 pm(#)

    As a PhD student approaching my oral exam, lifting heavy things is keeping me sane. It’s relieving to shut my brain off for an hour and not worry about research failing or committee members with their Depends in a knot. Just lift things up and put them down. Ahhhh :)

  9. amber says:

    May 10th, 2011at 9:54 pm(#)

    Awesome post. thanks to you and a few other internet sources I found myself in the free weight section. a year ago I could squat a barbell, today I squat 150lbs which is 10 lbs shy of my body weight. in January, I deadlifted 115, then I started your workout 4 and my working set is now 185 with a 1 rep max of 225. ive also lost 40lbs thanks to lifting. not bad for someone who’s 5’3 on a tall day.

  10. Mistress Krista says:

    May 11th, 2011at 3:46 am(#)

    @amber: Congrats on your awesome progress!

  11. Hulk says:

    May 11th, 2011at 4:22 am(#)

    Awesome post. FYI: Orlando Barbell did a warm-and-fuzzy version of the PF ad, which I almost like better than IronSport’s:

  12. Mistress Krista says:

    May 11th, 2011at 5:42 am(#)

    @Hulk: LOVE IT!

  13. Dana says:

    May 11th, 2011at 6:35 am(#)

    Love this. So true they don’t care “as long as you show up, work hard, and try your best.”

  14. Kristen says:

    May 11th, 2011at 9:31 am(#)

    I love your take on this! Reminds me of an “old-timer” at the gym. If he sees me doing something stupid, and I say “Well, I heard…” to explain why, he always says “Who told you that.” Not so much a question as a statement, referring to the skinny, flabby trainers. :) The “sales guy” in the commercial looks like he doesn’t even know what all that stuff in the gym is for. :p

  15. This Weeks’s Linky Things are Linky « says:

    May 12th, 2011at 12:14 pm(#)

    […] 10th – Do you lift things up and put them down? – I lift things up and i put them down! – I think I have mentioned that I love this […]

  16. Nancy Chavez says:

    May 13th, 2011at 4:28 am(#)

    Krista, You are awesome. Been following you for years. I work out and train clients at home (although have certainly seen and worked in my share of globo gyms) . I have been a trainer for 24 years (I’m 42). I wanted more for my clients and I so I became certified in Crossfit. I lift heavy $h!t and drop it and make noises while doing so. I deadlift 230# and am not a freak (5’6′, 130#). Most people are dumbfounded when I tell them my deadlift PR because apparently I am supposed to look like a freak of nature but I don’t. I still have to educate nearly everyone (especially woman) on the fact that lifting heavy things won’t make you bulky. I was very disappointed in the ad campaign for Planet Fitness. Perpetuating the myth and collecting your money (and once you pay they don’t give a crap if you ever show up again as long as they’re collecting their monthly dues). So all I can do is my part in getting the correct message out there so that’s what I do. I’m on a mission to empower woman and gently but firmly tell them that “looking like a Victoria’s Secret model” (as some want) is not really a great goal since I’m pretty sure they are subsiding on minimal food and definitely not lifting heavy $h!t. Rant over. I get fired up obviously.

  17. Virginia says:

    May 13th, 2011at 7:08 pm(#)

    It’s sad, but I think it makes sense for them as a business. Planet Fitness has specifically set up their gym to deter serious lifters, and to enable mediocrity and insecurity (god forbid that one should have to share the gym with someone who is lifting heavy and who looks better). They are targeting a very real demographic; we just happen not to be a part of it. I would recommend choosing a gym that is supportive of your goals.

  18. Scott says:

    May 13th, 2011at 10:01 pm(#)

    I play guitar. I ride a motorcycle. I lift heavy things.

    I have the luxury of having several lengths of thick telephone poles outside my barn and a pile of very big to huge rocks in my field that I can pick up, set down, pick up, drop, pick up, toss.

    After a horrid 2010 I didn’t turn to my six string or to my two wheeler. It was the picking up of heavy things that helped me emerge from my “perma-anxiety”. In my blog (more of a personal diary) I referenced the “shaky man”. Knowing that he is not a victim of his “pathology” helped me to not be a victim of my circumstance. I turned to exertion via heavy lifting and emerged well.

    (Sorry for rambling.)

  19. Mistress Krista says:

    May 14th, 2011at 2:28 am(#)

    @Scott: Where do you live and how can we all visit you?

  20. Melissa "Melicious" Joulwan says:

    May 17th, 2011at 6:47 pm(#)

    “We view movement and strength as a luxury, not an intrinsic capacity that is available to all of us — and should be developed in order to be a functioning human. Movement is not a luxury. Strength of mind and body is not a luxury. They are our birthright.”

    So. Awesome.

    Thank you for this post!

  21. Tuesday 5/24/11 • Derby City CrossFit – Louisville, KY says:

    May 23rd, 2011at 6:40 pm(#)

    […] Do You Lift Things Up and Put Them Down? Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press Guidelines for Women Partial Movement Training For The Deadlift New Starting Position “Is the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ really that interesting?” Pervasive and Persuasive: Food, TV, and our Kids “I think I am a good testimony to the fact that CrossFit … no matter when you start, you’ll see at the least 10 years of adaptation,” says Greg Amundson, the “original firebreather.” May 23rd, 2011 | Category: Uncategorized […]

  22. Ms .45 says:

    June 5th, 2011at 6:00 pm(#)

    I clicked through to the Scott Abel blog and had a little weep.

    I haven’t seen the ads (for a start, I’m not American), but for some reason this article made me remember that time when I was maybe 7-8 years old and my dad took me to the wholesale night market where farmers would sell to restaurants, supermarkets etc. I had to deliver a big bag of lemons – it was like carrying a baby, so I guess it would have weighed 2-4kg – and I carried it from one end of the market to the other. I still remember the burn in my arms, and how proud I was of myself for carrying the bag all the way to the destination, because I really, really wanted to put the bag down.

    I have no idea why I’m pressing submit comment, but here you go. Ummm… I guess if a seven year old girl can lift things and put them down so can you?

  23. Jean says:

    June 7th, 2011at 10:23 am(#)

    Ha! I pick things up and put them down…and in a hospital-owned wellness center! The management is supportive of ALL their members’ goals, and nothing short of self-destructive or dangerous activity is forbidden.

    Chalk? fine. Noisy lifting? If ya gotta.

    I’ve been working with a personal trainer there for years, and nothing is off the table. They’ve brought in tires, sledgehammers, kettlebells, chains and a sled. I’ve done relays with my trainer over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry, with him holding weight plates. In the last two months, he’s twice harnessed me to his pick-up truck and I’ve pulled/pushed it across the parking lot.

    If where you are doesn’t welcome you and your preferred fitness, find another place.

  24. Me says:

    October 21st, 2011at 12:04 pm(#)

    How may I put this eloquently?

    I lift things up and I put them down.

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