A Quick Primer on Lifting for Radicals

Sorry for the delay in this followup. It’s been a strange few days of shitloads of passive death threats from hundreds of people insinuating I should be shot with a gun so that a bullet pierces my muscles and kills me, along with many calling me a gay mexican weakling, challenging me to fistfights and powerlifting competitions for the fate of the nation, and so on. Yet the training continues.

 

I am not swole or an extremely strong man. I am, at best, mildly burly. I started training later than most and I have something permanently wrong with my left shoulder that causes my arm to pop out of the socket fairly easily. These factors initially deterred me from starting at all, because I used to be able to painfully dislodge my arm by picking up a full bag of groceries and letting my attention drift for a moment. My arm feels more securely attached than ever before thanks to my training, but it will never be completely normal. My shoulder problems led me to sign up for training to perfect my form and get better at coaching others. I will never train the Bulgarian olympic team, but I am good at getting people started with proper form so that they can progress without hurting themselves or wasting time with baffling nonsense exercises involving the use of a bosu ball in a cable crossover machine. Yet the training continues.

I started helping to train activists in my area as a means of building strength and morale among local leftists with an activity generally more productive than drinking until we can’t feel feelings and screaming in horror. I trained people who felt weak and scared because I believed that feeling stronger would help them feel better and more confident and allow them to become more effective activists. I used “punch nazis” as a handy symbolic shorthand for “resist the burgeoning state of white supremacist neofascists through ongoing political organizing and engagement” because that’s harder to say or fit into a tweet. As a result, I now have thousands of people thinking I advocate the wanton physical assault of anyone defending reaganomics because they don’t know any better. Yet the training continues.

If you are here because of the “swole left,” a name I hate, I want to reiterate that I am not advocating for random political violence, that strength training in and of itself will not make you good in a fight, and that getting in physical fights in general is a very bad idea because real modern fascists tend to be violence fetishists who are more likely to carry weapons than most people. Nazi-punching is, however, great headline clickbait. If you want to get good at that, go learn to box. I’m not here to teach you how to do that.

If you read the last post, by now you’ve located a gym with a decent squat rack. Here’s what to do next.

 

1. FIND A COMRADE

If you’re like me, you know people in your area who care about the fate of the world and want to help steer humanity away from ruin, but are so overwhelmed by the scale of the problems of the world that they’ve been paralyzed into inaction because they don’t know where to start. Find this person and ask them to help you. Tell them you need a spotter and somebody to help with your form. They will say they don’t know anything about form. Tell them you’ll learn together. Hold each other accountable.

2. STUDY THE FORMS

The four major barbell lifts are the squat, the overhead press, the bench press, and the deadlift. The best immediate free resource I’ve found on these lifts is this video series from the art of manliness. That is the last time I will ever refer you to the art of manliness. Don’t worry. This book is an invaluable resource as well. That’s an affiliate link. This is otherwise unmonetized.

Master the four lifts and perform them consistently while increasing the weight on the bar, and you will become stronger. This is the basic fact of barbell training. It is more difficult at first because, unlike a nautilus machine, a barbell does not come with instructions and is easy to use incorrectly. So here’s some basic, universal advice.

A. During every one of these movements, do not breathe while the bar is in motion. Take a deep breath, hold it, and brace your abs against it as though you’re preparing to get punched in the stomach. The air in your lungs combined with the tension of your abs will make your torso more structurally stable. Exhaling during a movement makes you deflate and tends to make you more unstable.

B. Wear sweatpants and flat soled shoes, like converse. Dedicated lifting shoes are best if you can find them. Running shoes with bouncy padded soles are your enemy in weightlifting. You want zero bounce for maximum force transfer through your body into the floor.

C. Learn the difference between soreness and pain. Exerting yourself harder than you have before has effects on your body that aren’t altogether pleasant at first. After your first few rounds of training at reasonable work weights, you will experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) like you never have before. It will make you acutely aware of the intricacies of your own musculature as every nook and cranny of muscle fiber makes its presence known. This is, however, normal, and after training a few more times it’ll be less intense as your body says “Fine, fuck it, we’re doing this thing regularly now, fine” and gets better at recovery. This is distinct from pain. Pain in joints or bones or ligaments is of greater concern than muscle soreness and is an indicator you are doing something wrong that needs to be fixed before you hurt yourself.

D. The starting position in every lift, before the bar starts to move in earnest, will be wildly uncomfortable and awkward feeling, but not painful. You want to have as much muscle mass already engaged before beginning the movement as you can so that no part of you is loosely flopping around until it suddenly has to pick up the slack of your shit form. In the squat, your arms will be locked behind you, clamping the bar to your torso, and every muscle in your torso will be taught and braced as in point A. In the bench press, your scapula will be retracted and pushed into the bench, and your feet will press into the floor. For some reason people who do not engage their legs while benching tend to have their feet come off the floor. In the press, your whole body below the shoulders will be a tense, rigid column. In the deadlift, your back will be arched before you lift so that it doesn’t start curved and straighten out on the way up, putting unnecessary torque on your spine.

E. When you train you are going to become hungry. Hungrier than you know what to do with at first. You will be acutely aware of your need for nutrients as raw material for your body to use in the production of new strong flesh. Look up recipes ahead of time for ways to produce food with enough protein and calories to satisfy your body’s needs. Bodybuilding.com has a pretty good calculator to determine your necessary macronutrients. If you do not do this wisely, your new startling increase in hunger can rapidly become the most expensive part of your training. Eating enough will often be harder than the lifting itself because it must be dealt with throughout the day and requires planning ahead to do it effectively.

F. Sleep enough. Lifting weights doesn’t make you strong unless you recover from it correctly.

3. REMEMBER YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
If you’re a leftist, you hope for a better world. A world that will take a tremendous amount of coordinated effort to achieve. Time will pass no matter what you do with yourself, and as the time passes you can choose to fight for a better tomorrow or buckle under the pressure of not knowing where to start and resign yourself to paralysis and nihilism. You do not have time for that. You must begin now. If you are trying to dramatically alter the fate of humanity, steering us away from totalitarianism and ecological collapse, you must learn to focus in the face of high-intensity stressors and achieve goals that you previously thought untenable. If you are working for a better tomorrow, you must do so without destroying yourself. There are countless burned-out firebrand activists from yesteryear who devoted themselves to the cause at the expense of their own well-being. Do not destroy yourself, do not despair. Train. Train with friends and comrades. Strengthen your body and mind. Help others do the same.

Humans live and die, and this is inevitable, but those in power would have untold millions die of easily preventable deaths, either through inaction or direct uses of state force. Now is the time to physically train yourself to withstand what America is about to throw at you. They say the underclass must be “personally responsible” for healthcare, and they mean this in the manner of crushing debt or treatment being withheld for lack of insurance. I unfortunately also advocate for personal responsibility for your healthcare, but I only prescribe a barbell, because its benefits are many, its price is low, and the state will not be doing much to help you anytime soon. We know these people are fueled by hate and have no qualms about taking away healthcare and replacing it with a boot stomping on a human face, forever. Whatever other forms your activism takes in the trials to come, you cannot do activism without a body, so you might as well make yours more resilient.

Be under no illusion that what you are doing in the gym is inherently political. It is only physical training. It will not have any direct effect on the state of the world outside of your body, but if you are planning to make the world a better place, your self is a good place to start. As the airplane safety manuals say, you must put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Prepare diligently, do the work consistently on a moment to moment basis, repeat. As in front of the bar as in politics.

Dedicate your life to a better world.

4. GO TO THE GYM

Warm up with an empty bar on each movement. Then do three sets of five repetitions of squats. Then do three sets of five repetitions of the overhead press or the bench press, alternating each workout. Then do one set of five deadlifts. Everytime you return, add five pounds. Consult the book linked above for a much more detailed summary.

5. DO ACTIVISM
My mind is clear after lifting, and I usually use this opportunity to call the representatives I have on speed dial and yell at them as I walk home. I am calmer, more serene, and I use this time to find what work I can do that day to make the world a better place. My main skill is more as a mobilizer than an organizer: I find unengaged or disheartened idealists and rile them up until I can send them off towards organizers who help them productively contribute to the cause. You must do what you can do. We will not all be organizers, we cannot all be heroes, but we can all contribute. Find others, bring them along. Find leftist activist meetings in your area. If there aren’t any, start a chapter. Host them. Use the newfound serenity from weightlifting to endure the stonewalling of your elected officials and find new ways around it.

But whatever you do, do not think that lifting in and of itself will change the world. It will get you out of the house. It will make you more durable. It may serve as a means to help raise the morale of other leftists in your area, helping you form a community of people dedicated to helping better one another so that they can better the world. These things will make you a more effective activist than someone rocking back and forth on the couch halfway through a bottle of whiskey and involuntarily stuttering the word “terror,” like I used to do.

Those who believe in mercy and generosity and fear power will have to seek power so that those who fetishize power do not get it. Use your strength to help those who cannot be strong. Never denigrate those weaker then yourself. Use power only for good.

Okay. Get going.