When is ego good, and when does it hold you back?
What Is Ego Lifting?
Ego lifting refers to the practice of using your IDEA OF YOURSELF—your ego—to determine how much weight goes on the bar, rather than basing this decision on your actual physical abilities.
Here’s an example. You’ve never benched above 120, but one day, you see other lifters lifting well above 185. They look big, strong, badass, and that’s what you want.
“I should have a 185 bench by now!” you say. You load that bar up, get under, unrack it, lower it, and then, shaking like a man being tased, proceed to shimmy your hips, kick your feet up, jerk your shoulders in every direction, and actually manage to finish the rep. You jump to your feet and scream, “I’m a 185 bencher!”
No, you’re not. You’re a person who almost killed themselves for a dumb reason: because your ego told you to. Do it enough times and eventually, you’re going to get injured.
I’m here to tell you that getting injured for your ego is not worth it. It can put you out of the gym for weeks, months, even years, and even if you do recover, your body may never be the same again.
What Causes Ego Lifting?
Generally, ego lifting happens when our opinion of ourselves is not based on reality. Often, that opinion becomes tied to other people. Chronic ego lifters want to be seen as one of the “big fish.” They want other people to see them as something special, sexy, and badass, because in their mind, that’s what they are.
And they want this recognition now.
Ego lifting is most common among the big compound lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. It manifests as horrific form, highly truncated range of motion, and all kinds of grunts, hisses, and yells, mainly to get attention.
But here’s the thing: in order to improve as a lifter, you have to be able to imagine yourself as better than you are now. So ego is not ALL bad.
When Is Ego Good?
For that matter, when is competition good?
It’s good when it gets you to improve. In a bodybuilding context, your desire to get better is what allows you to push through those painful sets when your quads or biceps or abs are ON FIRE.
In a strength context, this means that you’re doing adequate volume—so NOT just heavy singles, but backoff sets, accessories, and conditioning—to get meaningfully stronger.
Some would argue that strength training IS ego lifting. What good does it do you to have a 405 deadlift? Is it world-class? Does it put food on the table? Does it attract romantic partners? No, no, and generally not. Does it subject your body to needless injury risk? Yes. But does it make you feel cool? Big? Badass?
The question comes down to this: do you enjoy strength training? If so, then you should do it. Period. But here’s the thing: the point of strength-training is to BUILD strength, not constantly TEST it. Asking yourself this question keeps your ego in check and prevents injury.
How Ego Holds You Back
Continuing from a strength perspective, another question to ask is, “do I like how I look?” If the answer is no, consider whether maybe you prefer to do heavy singles because they make you feel better than the guys doing sets of 8 whose arm is as thick as your thigh.
I’m here to tell you: strength training will not get you big. At least, not efficiently. You have to lower the weight, increase the reps, and do more than just the Big Three.
In other words, you have to check your ego.
See how insidious ego can be? It can set you down the wrong path, but it can also push you to improve. It pushes us to be the best, but it can also keep us trapped in a comfortable prison of envy, entitlement, and laziness.
I hope this article gets you to think about your lifts so you can consciously ask yourself, “is this my ego talking?” And then, if you decide to do what it says, you can do so with your eyes wide open, conscious of both the potential dangers, and the rewards.
Stay safe, brethren!
About the Author
Mark Ludas, CPT is a NASM-certified personal trainer with a decade of experience in the fitness industry. After an asthmatic childhood, Mark discovered his natural aptitude for fitness in his late twenties. At age 36, he accomplished a 300+ pound conventional deadlift and 280+ high-bar squat as a 6’5” 170-pound ectomorph on a fully vegan diet, all after just one year of proper self-programming. Mark is the founder of Resistance Quest Fitness, established in 2016, and the creator of the Paralinear Method of strength training. Additionally, he is a writer, actor, model, and musician. Find him on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and at www.resistancequest.com.