Did you know you can just buy weights and start lifting them?
It’s totally legal, the cops can’t stop you
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I don’t want to waste your time (well, maybe a little bit), so let me cut to the chase: (1) I’m pushing forty. (2) I suddenly feel awesome, all the time. (3) I’m not selling anything (except for this book about the butt jokes in the Bible, which you can actually get for free, so).
There are a lot of people out there who make tons of money by leading people to believe that health and fitness are super-complicated, but it turns out that feeling not-like-garbage all the time is a simple, two-step process:
Buy some weights;
Pick them up.
And honestly, after tearing my hair out for decades trying to get fit, I wish someone had told me this sooner (or, more to the point, that I’d listened to the multiple people who told me this sooner).
What I’m saying here is, I literally just invented exercise, and I am here to share my boundless wisdom with you. Ask me anything.
Wait, aren’t you just some dork struggling to sell his second novel about ghosts and butt jokes? What do you know about weightlifting?
Basically nothing. I’m sure the comments on this will fill up with gym rats being all “Do you even lift, bro???”—but that’s kind of the point. This post is about how basically any idiot can do this stuff, and the only thing preventing you from doing it is the price of a barbell and inertia (metaphorically, but also literally, I guess). There’s no shortage of hucksters out there who want you to think getting fit is hard and complicated, so that you’ll buy their products, but unless you’re looking to win Mr. Universe or whatever, it’s stupidly simple. I let weightlifting intimidate me for years, but then when I finally made up my mind to just do it, I was in awe of (1) how much better I felt and (2) how many years I’d wasted not doing it.
Does it have to be weightlifting, though?
I mean, yeah, I think. Ever since I first realized my body was deteriorating (circa age twenty-seven or so), I’ve been desperately trying to stave off the reaper. I’ve tried all sorts of physical activities: swimming, roller skating, rowing, running, various fitness videogames (RingFit Adventure FTW), but I didn’t ever see much in the way of results. I think the main problems with all those things are (1) they only work out a handful of muscles, and (2) it’s hard to “scale them up.”
That second one is key, I think: Once your body gets used to running a mile a day, the only way to keep improving your health is to start running two miles a day—and at some point you run into the I-only-have-so-much-time problem. On the other hand, it’s always possible to just add some more weight to the ol’ bar.
But I don’t want to be a musclehead!
Yeah, same. There’s a whole weird culture surrounding weightlifting that turned me off to it for a long time. There are perceptions out there that weightlifters are either (1) morally superior or (2) hopelessly vain—when in reality, most of them are probably just doing what they feel they need to do to be good stewards of their bodies.
I dunno, the culture was always what kept me away from this stuff—I was born in the 1980s, back when Rambo / He-Man / Hulk Hogan culture was at its apex, and I always felt pretty insulted when people assumed I aspired to that muscley-tough-guy stuff just because I was a boy. (I remember once proudly, unironically calling myself a “wimp.” I was a weird kid.)
That changed for me when I realized weightlifting was a morally neutral thing. It wouldn’t turn me into a vain misogynist or a conquering hero. It would just . . . make it so my muscles were actually strong enough to move my body around. Which is sort of a nice thing to have.
It also help that I realized I didn’t have to go to a gym and deal with the weird culture surrounding this stuff. I could just buy a barbell and do it at home.
So what changed your mind about this stuff?
Uh . . . it was a guy named Adam Ragusea.
What? That YouTuber who’s devoted his life to telling people how to make pizza and explaining chord changes in Mariah Carey songs?
Yeah, that guy. He posted a “how I lose weight” video that I came across at a time when I was really feeling those extra COVID pounds. Some of his system sounded insane (eat nothing but tilapia and cauliflower rice? ewww), but the “lift a bunch of weights” part sounded . . . strangely doable? I ordered a cheap barbell from Amazon(yeah, I know, they’re probably evil or whatever, but let’s solve one problem at a time, folks), watched a YouTube video on how to do the basic barbell moves, and got to work.
And within a few days, I realized Wow, my entire body doesn’t hurt all the time anymore! What manner of devilry is this???
That was it, then? you just started lifting and you were suddenly euphoric?
More euphoric than I expected to be, anyway. My back pain disappeared, and I don’t dread having to bend over or squat anymore, which I’m pretty sure makes me an Olympic-level gymnast.
You realize euphoria never lasts, right?
I mean, I hope it doesn’t. That show’s fans are obnoxious.
And you lost weight?
I think some? I don’t have a bathroom scale, so who knows. I fit into my clothes again, which is all I really needed out of this.
And you didn’t adjust your diet at all?
I actually did, which I’m sure could be an essay in itself. I just cut carbs out—no grains, sugars, potatoes, etc. That choice actually proved to have a lot of benefits as well: My energy levels stopped crashing, my mood swings disappeared, I stopped having food cravings all the time, etc.
I actually don’t know if “cut carbs” is the trick, or if cutting carbs is just a pretty good approximation of cutting out junk food, but either way I felt like I was sobering up for the first time. After a couple days without them, I really didn’t miss carbs at all.
So you discovered exercise, big whoop. Everybody knows about exercise.
I mean, maybe they do? If anyone doesn’t, I just told them about it, which I think literally makes me a hero.
For the record, if you don’t know about exercise: I recommend it. You’re welcome.
Um, check your privilege. Not everyone can afford a barbell! Not everyone is able-bodied!!!
Yeah, and most people are literally dead, but I’m not sure what you want me to do about it? My only point here is that this stuff is easier than a lot of people think. Will it be harder for some people than for others? Duh, yes, just like everything, and I’m not sure why you need me to acknowledge something so blindingly obvious. Calm down. Yeesh.
Where in the world am I supposed to find time to work out???
I dunno, man. Do you watch TV? If you’re an average American, you watch more than four hours a day, which is completely insane, but also gives you the perfect opportunity to get your reps in. Just start lifting while you’re binging Is It Cake? or whatever garbo you’re mainlining these days.
That’s what I do—I just try to cycle through the basic barbell exercises for at least the length of a TV episodeevery weekday.
That doesn’t seem like a lot.
No, but I’ve found it’s important to have a “bare minimum” that I can commit to doing every day. That way, I can do more on days when I feel great and have a lot of time, but even on the days when I’m rushed or feel awful, I can maintain the habit. Doing a less-than-ideal amount of a good thing is always preferable to doing nothing at all.
And if I start doing this, I’ll look like [attractive celebrity] overnight?
Ha, nah. That’s not really the point, though: I got into this mainly because I hoped to lose weight, but I’m keeping it up because it makes me feel so much better.
Think about it this way: Whatever your job or hobby is—cooking, woodworking, playing an instrument, videogames, whatever—think how much better it feels to do it with really good tools. A cheap Walmart skillet is not the same as a Misen nonstick pan. A fifty-dollar violin is not the same as a Stradivarius.
And you’re a tool, too.
Wait, that came out wrong.
What I mean is, your body is a tool—and sort of the most important one, since you use it for literally everything. And it’s not going to become a Stradivarius overnight, but the good news is that there’s a huge spectrum between “totally useless” and “extremely useful,” and it’s always possible to move a bit closer to “extremely useful.”
The other day, I had to move a heavy piece of furniture. Before I started working out, I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all—but after eight months of lifting, I gave it a try, and managed to give myself a really cool hernia.
(I’m kidding. I moved it successfully and without incident. It was great.)
Is there a point to this article?
Just that it’s far easier to get in shape than you probably think. You don’t need a gym membership, you don’t need fancy supplements or protein powders, you don’t need any expensive machines,and you don’t need a bunch of designer “athleisure” gear. Just buy some weights and start lifting them. You’ll feel worlds better.
Can you give me a money-back guarantee?
Nah, but here’s something almost as good:
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Stuff I’ve been enjoying lately
My general impression is that most normal people, when it comes to books or movies, have “a genre”—a type of story they’ll almost always enjoy, even if the specific book or film isn’t great. Some people love fantasy, some love horror, some can’t get enough mystery, etc.—I’ve never felt like I’ve had that, though. I like certain genres more than others (horror, comedy, musical), but I’ve never had one genre I absolutely can’t get enough of.
If I don’t have “a genre,” though, I’m starting to think I might have a very specific aesthetic—namely “weird, vaguely silly ideas, taken slightly more seriously than you would expect.” If there’s a movie out there that blends magical realism, genre tropes, and that extremely “Quirky Indie” vibe that was everywhere in 2000s cinema, I’m all over it—which is why I was so surprised to realize that, until a few weeks ago, I’d somehow never heard of the movie Colossal.
Released in 2017—right alongside I Kill Giants, which was another Extremely Quirky Indie Magical Realist movie that has haunted me ever since I watched it—Colossal is a very strange film where Anne Hathaway plays a recovering alcoholic in New Hampshire who one day discovers she’s psychically connected to a kaiju destroying Seoul.
Clearly, the premise isn’t for everyone, and my guess is that both the Quirky Indie set and the Godzilla set will be a bit alienated by this one—but man, since I watched this movie a few days ago, I’ve been powerless to get it out of my head. There’s something deeply human here about the presence of destructive forces within all of us and the duty to wield them for good, even if they can’t be fully controlled.
I dunno, I guess that’s what we were all supposed to be learning from Turning Red right now, but thanks to the toxic online discourse around that movie, I have less than zero interest in watching it. If your tastes are like mine, and you don’t mind a few plot holes, Colossal is a great alternative.
Note that after about four months of lifting, I had to scale up to a stronger bar. Your mileage may vary.
(Or at least a half-hour of a feature film. I watch all sorts of stuff. I’m cultured.)
Actually, since a machine is, by definition, something that reduces your workload, your workout will be much more effective without one.