The singular joy of a rep, or what we have to learn from the bros
And Links #9, including: the TikTok-viral 12/3/30 method, LeBron on a climbing machine, deepening your squat, and more.
Some points of order before we get going:
- There is now a Twitter account dedicated to this newsletter that will tweet every new column, @She_sABeast. I can’t swear there won’t be other tweets, but if you rely on Twitter for column updates, this will a far cleaner info source than my personal feed, where I routinely tweet about things like Javier Bardem’s deliberate breathing choices. Get in on the ground floor!!
I’ve started migrating all my old Ask A Swole Woman columns from the three different websites they currently live onto my own website, yes, because I own the rights free and clear, I’ve fought tooth and nail to keep ownership of this every step of the way. This is already painstaking work even before I get to deleting all the extraneous spaces around linked text or rebuilding columns interlinked within other columns, but! There are at least a handful of columns you can now experience ad-free, hopefully with faster load times, all to be holistically categorized for easy browsing. This is gonna take forever, but you can view the work in progress at askaswolewoman.com.
Ok onto the thing—
I did an interview the other day that won't come out for a while, and will probably end up being two whole sentences in the publication in question. But as the reporter and I were talking about the evolution and development of gym culture and attitudes around lifting and working out, the interviewer asked me something along the lines of, "so who is right, or who is going to win: the new people, or the bros?" And I said something maybe controversial, but the more I think about it, I stand by it: I think both groups have a lot to share with and learn from each other.
The new generation can teach bros how to not skip leg day, how to not be bigots and make the weight room welcoming and pleasant to others who may not cherish 5% body fat composition, how to deadlift with their butts and hips instead of separating a new vertebrae from their spine every time. But I think the bros have to offer—and I'm not really joking at all here—knowing how to cultivate a sort of small-brained joy about the specific task of working out.
Folks who are newish to lifting might not be aware of this—this was even slightly before my time—but in online bro culture, there was once a guy called Zyzz. Zyzz became wildly popular very quickly in 2010 within the veritable wasteland that was the Bodybuilding.com Misc forums. The big reason that Zyzz was beloved was not, as you might guess from the straight-across web pages documenting who he was, that he was the platonic ideal of "body goals.” It's actually that that he was a bit of a joke to the forums he frequented. A photo circulated of him receiving what is pretty clearly a dose steroids directly to his ass that he breezily declared was a flu shot. He so outsizedly represented bro values—aesthetic muscles, fake tans, his micro-Bieber helmet hair, a cringey fixation on which behaviors were most “alpha"—that he became a sort of ur-bro, a perfect target for any and all bro commentary.
Zyzz died suddenly a little over a year after he started causing a stir online. I don't aim to speak ill of the dead, but I think the reverence-for-the-deceased sort of tone that most remaining documentation of Zyzz exists detract from the light Zyzz shone on the world of being a bro. By that I mean, for a bro (bros tend to be pathologically insecure), he bore all the teasing incredibly well. He good-naturedly teased his audience back, thus his catchphrases: "u mirin bro?" (translation: Are you admiring my physique, demeanor, and/or general comportment, sir?) and "u jelly bro?" (translation: Does my physique, demeanor, and/or general comportment fill you with envy and longing, sir?). They couldn't really land a blow on him, and that was what they were mirin' most of all. However bird-brained and misguided he might have been about some things, Zyzz had total clarity about being a bro without being wholly self-serious. People like Zyzz gave rise to content like BroScienceLife’s YouTube videos, which are incredibly on-point satire, but only give small glimpses into the earnest, unironic love that I know bros have for lifting.
I bring up Zyzz and BroScience specifically and bros generally because developing a positive relationship with your body can be a really long and complicated journey. But bros are keyed into the sort of love of the incremental motions that lead to an appreciation of their body that, frankly, the vast majority of us don't have. This is on full display in the documentary Pumping Iron (AND, crucially, as I was discussing with readers in the comments a few weeks ago, Pumping Iron II: The Ladies, yes, it's real): Arnold speaks very reverently of the feeling of "the pump." And while all of his fellow bro-dudes clearly enjoy hanging out together in the gym, they are also about the their business of doing rep after rep. Bros love reps; Dom Mazzetti loves reps; Zyzz loved reps.This is only two days of Zyzz’s five-day program:
I mentioned a few weeks ago how much I love artist documentaries. One of the things I love most about them is that most successful artists seem to have a real honest attachment to the individual microtransactions, if you will, that make up their work: gluing things together, swiping paint on a canvas, making pencil marks on a piece of paper. They obviously have a plan and an anticipated end result a lot of the time. But they either work hard to stay in touch with, or have a preternatural ability to stay in touch, with the joys of the dumb little tasks that make up what they do.
How do these artists, and/or bros, do it? Maybe they grew up with a lot less baggage around those reps; maybe they were not told by their parents that no one can make a living as an artist so why bother, or were not teased in gym class for their skinny arms or the way they ran. But whatever it was, their viewpoint is correct: It's not objectively shameful or a waste to do these things, even or especially if they weren't born the world's greatest talent for art, or strength, or aesthetics. The tasks themselves can just be fun and gratifying and validating, regardless of who you are.
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There are surely artists who waste away fixated on the acclaim they will never get or the millions of dollars they will never make, and bros who waste away fixated on some unrealistic body ideal. But nothing has to be about that, and for plenty of people, it isn't. They are like knitters who aren't fixated on having a scarf at the end; they enjoy each little stitch, and the scarf is just a bonus. There are plenty of bros who just think it's nice to feel their biceps curling that EZ bar, or their pecs and lats grinding out one last bench rep, or their quads on fire during a set of leg presses (bros simply love the leg press), and then to proudly 'mire one's sweaty self in the mirrors.
That is what the bro has to offer us the most of all: The Singular Joy of a Rep. If you stay prejudiced against the joy of a single rep, and think it’s dumb or smooth-brained or basic to like it, I feel like you might have a rougher time than you need to. But if you can enjoy a rep, you can enjoy the whole process of working out, and maybe even the whole process of doing health stuff.
Does enjoying a rep have to dictate the rest of your personality? No; I hope you are not that fragile (in which case, this will be a great character-building as well as muscle-building exercise for you). Do you have to do thousands of reps to appreciate individual reps? No, not at all. You can key into any rep at any time. The rep is the grain of sand that invents the gains universe.
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(You might be saying, but Casey, there is nothing inherently "bro" about a rep. Reps are for us all! A rep has no gender! I would argue that, in a perfect world, a gym bro has no gender either, and is just a term for “person who maximally enjoys the gym." But I agree. There is not time to get into this now, but like many things (including computer science), lifting weights and being strong used to be a weird thing ALL genders did, and then society normalized it for guys and put everyone else in the doghouse. No more! We are long overdue to take reps back.)
I read the book The Writing Life recently, and was struck dumb by this quote: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” I spend my life moving from one fridge-magnet-wisdom island to the next. This has made it suddenly a lot easier to do things, because it's ultimately impossible to lie to myself, really, about what I am “doing” this way. Put another way: The journey of a thousand gains begins with a single rep.
What subscribers will be receiving this week: Basic strength training is amazing in a lot of ways, but “what comes next” isn’t just about having to keep working out; it’s about the directions you can go. In this column, we will talk about all the potential avenues that open up after doing a basic strength training program (like LIFTOFF, or GZCLP, or StrongLifts), including: aesthetics, other sports, strength in earnest, specific skills (pull-ups, anyone?) and more. How can there be more? Is there more? Only one way to find out:
~Discord Pick of the Week: Several folks, including me, bought this shirt about deadlifts.~
I've gotten a handful of requests recently for deepening one's squat; other than general mobility, these are some really good specific moves to practice as a warm-up or just on any day. I stretch while my coffee brews now, like some character at the beginning of a movie about to have their life ruined/changed forever.
A nice reminder that 5 minutes of intense training periodically (doesn't even have to be every day!) goes a long way.
It's is Dinnie Stone season in my country of origin, where people go to pick up some rocks that weight 321 and 411 pounds, respectively, and carry them for as long as they can. People who say they don't like sports need to carve a wider lane for "things people do for fun in Scotland." Do you know the Highland Games? Not every sport has to be about finesse and technique; we simply don't pay enough attention to the sports that are about "horking big things around."
I'm going to be upfront: Facebook is not only dumb as a company, but bad for humanity. But lord help me, this danged and cursed Oculus app where you swing real bats at virtual flying targets looks extremely cool. It brings me no pleasure to say this. And now you can punch the targets as well, punch them right out of the air. I would not be caught dead spending money on this, however I would play the crap out of it at an arcade (remember arcades?). I look forward to buying a competitor's markedly worse product probably decades from now for the price of a soda.
Anthony Davis got injured and said it would have been worse, if not for training with weights all summer. Hm!
Come for the reassurance to this guy who wants to make peace with gaining weight, stay for the reply "I know plenty of sad buff guys." Same!
Gwyneth Paltrow saying that porn is bad for women is barely relevant to this newsletter, except that, she has been rewarded so much for doing bad things, that when she actually gets reprimanded for doing other bad things, I gotta revel. You cannot knock me for savoring it because being present for small joys is part of my mindfulness practice.
Dietitians came to collect the cheeks of influencer Jessie James Decker this week for posting a "secret" diet that involved a lunch of "just toast" and a "dessert" of 4 individual raspberries and yogurt. Who will pretend starving is some clever innovation next?
Do CBD drinks work? Probably not; there is not enough CBD in them! (And, this is not in the article, but there is no real centralized authority making sure anything CBD is what the CBD companies say they are.)
There are climbing machines now. LeBron James is doing spon for it, and I was like, why isn't he using the handles?.... Ohhh he's too tall. This just looks all wrong, like an elliptical with all the pieces in the wrong place. I can't honestly say I wouldn't try it at a gym, but...
I love when people send me things to have an opinion about!! A dear reader requested comment on the 12/3/30 TikTok trend (walking at a 12% incline at 3 mph for 30 minutes). I hope everyone is aware at this point that there are not really "tricks" to the "calorie burning results" of cardio: For the same amount of effort expended, walking upside down and backwards (you heard me) does not burn significantly more calories than walking the normal way. You're doing a harder thing, but probably for less time and distance; it all evens out, for the most part. Walking at this incline on a treadmill specifically is probably even harder, minute for minute, than jogging. So, will you hate doing the 12/3/30 walking more than if you just jogged, but for slightly longer? Only you can answer that. That said: I prefer any kind of walking (especially hiking) to running, usually. Therefore it once again gives me no pleasure to rate the activity of "walking on a treadmill at an incline" a Buy rating, as long as you don't think it's some kind of magic above and beyond any other steady state cardio. I'd rather you do that than this. I'm taking all kinds of L's this week.
I would not even say Dune was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, yet I can’t stop talking about it. Rebecca Ferguson’s no-makeup-and-freckles look! The teen angst over being “part of a plan”! They made all the right cuts from the book, which is impossible to read. If you watch it, please keep your eyes out for the Javier Bardem Oscar moment where he does his nose acting thing; you will know exactly what I mean.
I watched this entire half hour video of Claire making croissants the other night. I strongly considered making croissants, then remembered I live around the corner from a bakery. So I just went and bought one of their croissants and ate it with new appreciation for how wild the process of making a croissant is.
I've also fallen into the Tim Rogers canon of absurdly long, detailed, memoiristic critical analyses of video games because he released one for Cyberpunk 2077 this week. I haven't even played most of these games and yet I'm addicted? The review of 1994 for those who were alive and sentient is a trip.
I love you, thank you for reading, let’s go—
Social photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash