Don’t Let Your Ego Get In The Way

I’ve seen it happen a thousand times: a big, muscular guy walks over to the dumbbell rack, grabs a pair of dumbbells that he feels “look” big enough. He then proceeds to do some sort of lift, whether it be shoulder presses, db bicep curls, reverse flye, etc…. Only instead of that lift, he actually just flails around in some sort of herky-jerky pattern, using momentum more than any muscle to move the weight around.

And it’s certainly not just guys that do this; I see it in females too. Or sometimes it’s not a flailing, spastic movement, but rather hardly any movement at all. I watched a guy doing back squats recently, and while he was moving the weights in a very controlled manor, he was also only moving them to about 30-40 degrees of knee flexion, and struggling to do so. I guarantee that if he would have decreased the weight on the bar, he could have gotten into a much better squat position, and he would have gained much more from a proper squat at a lower weight than a barely-quarter squat at a heavier weight.

Why do people go for weights and dumbbells that they can’t lift with proper form? Easy. One word:


You know, that two-faced monster that can be used for good or evil. A good ego can give you confidence; a little too much ego can make you cocky, (and lead to horribly flawed, possibly dangerous lifts).

Anybody who’s spent any time in the weight room, or exercising at all for that matter has had a few ego bruising moments, it’s inevitable. The first time you tried to do pushups, were they perfect? No, probably not. Maybe you can’t quite get a full unassisted pull-up, even though otherwise you’re quite strong. Maybe you have a particular lift that is difficult for you and requires much lighter weights than you would like to admit.

For me, it’s the reverse flye. Tara wrote a great post on these recently if you’re not familiar. For me, and for many people, this is my weakest lift by far. While most of my upper body DB work is done with 20s, 25s, 30s and 35s, I can not complete a full set of reverse flyes with anything over 10 lbs. And that’s just a set of 6. For 8 or 10, I need 7.5s. It honestly hurts my soul a little bit every time I have to grab those lighter dumbbells. For some, I know that 10 lbs is a challenging weight, but for me, I know how far I’ve come. I remember using the 10s back in the day, and I remember how much I struggled when I first started lifting weights. So to have to go back to those 10s, despite being leaps and bounds stronger than I used to be, is a little kick in the pants to my fragile ego.

Ego aside, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it. Lifting weights that are heavier than your capability is not doing you any favors. It’s really just a waste of your gym time, pretty stupid, and quite frankly, potentially dangerous.Ā  Take care of yourself and keep working, because before you know it, you will move up to that heavier weight, but you’ll do so safely and correctly. I know I’ll eventually be able to move up to the 12s and beyond with my reverse flyes, but until then, I just have to keep reminding myself that quality > quantity.

Take away point:

The goal of each lift should be to use the maximum weight while maintaining a good quality of movement through a full range of motion. NOT lifting as much as possible at any cost. Trust me, no one is going to be impressed with how much weight you’re benching when it comes crashing down on your chest.

Do you notice people lifting more than they should? Would you ever say something to a fellow gym-goer if you saw this? Are there any exercises or lifts that hurt your ego?

15 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Ego Get In The Way

  1. Thanks for the shout out šŸ™‚ By its very nature, you have to lift less weight on reverse flyes. But your post is timely – today I saw a guy doing rotator cuff work with 25lb dumbbells!!! NO. I was just waiting for him to snap something. Lol.

    I think squatting is the worst exercise when it comes to ego. When you are truly doing it properly, and squatting to a decent level, you really have to cut back on the weight. A lot of people can’t handle that! I saw a guy at my gym spend 10 minutes loading up plates and strapping up his knees to then squat 2 inches. What a waste.

    1. Very very true…I just get frustrated because it seems as though I’ve never made any progress with them, and although I know they’ll always be a relatively light weight, I’d like to be able to at least make progress! And EEK about RC work with 25s…dangerous!

  2. Sanctified Brother September 7, 2012 — 7:48 am

    I don’t train in a gym any longer. Unbridled egos, like those you mentioned (among other things), keeps me away. I remember seeing guys with incredible upper bodies and puny bird legs hog the squat racks with 365 and bend low enough to say they got the bar off the rack. Clearly too much weight, especially illustrated by the lack of leg development. Some of those standing, alternating dumbbell curls were downright dangerous to be around LOL

    I stopped making mention of weight because my opinion was largely ignored. A sub-6-foot, less-than-150-pounds runt telling a “pro” bodybuilder how to lift?

    My best exercises were squats and deadlifts, most likely due to my height (5’6″). My highest was 365 in the squat and deadlift, however I could never curl more than 90 pounds! My arms were never able to match my legs and back. I wouldn’t say it hurt my ego, it was just annoying to do so well in other areas and subpar with arms.

    I enjoyed the post. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! It can be extremely annoying when people won’t take advice from someone who isn’t “huge”, as you’ve said here, size isn’t necessarily correlated with strength, and is certainly not correlated with intelligence. I know what you mean about the weaker lifts being more annoying than anything else — but we all have certain weaknesses based on our genetics and body type. But at the same time, bicep curls are always going to be a much weaker lift than the lower body movements, just because of the potential for generating force from such a small muscle. Frustrating just the same!

      1. Sanctified Brother September 12, 2012 — 8:51 pm

        Yes, I agree about the genetics and smaller muscle. I’ve switched over to bodyweight exercises now and am starting my muscle building all over again. I feel good about it this time. I don’t even have to use big (or small) weights LOL

  3. Great post, and I totally agree! I completed New Rules of Lifting for Women and was making awesome progress on everything except this one called YWTL, a major shoulder exercise. When my trainer at the time told me to start off with 5lb dumbbells I LAUGHED. Like seriously, I can deadlift over 100lbs, and you want me to use 5lbs? Total discouragement. But I think at the end of the program I made it to using 12lbs. Whoo.. lol.

    1. Thanks!! Ahh…I know the exercise you speak of..and it is a TOTAL ego killer. I would say most people have to start at even less than 5 lb, so consider yourself advanced! And going from 5-12 lb on that is huge!! Sounds like a small accomplishment, but it’s all relative šŸ™‚

      1. Thanks!! Keep lifting šŸ˜‰

  4. Such a great post, Stephanie! It’s important for us to smile and eat a big ol’ piece of humble pie every day…and simply appreciate our ability and privilege to be able to lift. We’re strong, independent women who work HARD. Take that, ego! šŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks Heather and you are so right! Taking a little time to appreciate what we do have, and looking toward the positive is so important, and we could all use a little reminder sometimes šŸ™‚

  5. YES to all of this! i chuckle to myself at the ego-driven guys on the weight floor – but in the same breath i have to check my OWN ego when i’m working that one lift where i’m dismally behind (it’s dumbbell lateral raises for me) and am forced to accept it and work with what i’ve got. it’s humbling for sure, but we all need something to work for! : )

    1. Very true! And the lateral raise is another one that kills me…I feel like I’ve finally made some progress there but it’s been a long time coming. Isolating those smaller muscles is always tough, but reminds you of all the hard work that still needs to be done!

  6. I love it, yes I see this a LOT. And I have been bad myself. I thought of this the other day when I was doing an inverted pull up on the smith bar, struggling to pull myself up I realized adjusting my feet to keep my form was NOT a shamefull thing, And I got more out of the pull up. šŸ˜‰ Just gives me a goal… lol and yea I do tend to kind of look at the grunt lugging the weight and not think OH WOW, but omg+’eyeroll’

    1. Nice work on the inverted pull ups! I’ve had to adjust my feet on those a few times as well…and although it can be a bit frustrating at first, it’s much more rewarding to actually complete the lift well than to do it half way!

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