Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Allegations of Unwanted Barbell Contact By Trainers/Coaches Surge

Barbell: “A line was crossed”

by Niki Sims | December 14, 2017

unwanted barbell advances

Across the country, trainers, coaches and workout partners are being held under scrutiny as multiple allegations of unwanted contact with a barbell have been brought to light. 

One victim, a 3-year-old barbell with a center knurling, describes a particular encounter: 

“Like any other day, I was placed on the back of my lifter. We moved through our normal routine of increasing weight, each of us rising to the challenge as the workout progressed. At no point did the situation feel precarious. 
“Toward the end of the set when the intensity was reaching its highest point, with my lifter and I still being very much in control, a man placed his hands upon me, applied pressure and then forced me back into the rack. This touch was uninvited and I had no voice to protest. While my lifter voiced his discontent, the damage had been done. Something had been stolen from me – from us.”

In many cases, the unwelcome contact went unreported for years. “There was an element of trust between myself and the trainer. I thought it was part of the job,” reports a Los Angeles barbell. It wasn’t until many years later, when a new trainer was hired, the barbell began to understand that this was indeed a bad situation in which one entity holds a position of power and authority and the other has no voice. 

Trainers and coaches are sought out as experts in their field. This mounting pile of evidence against them leads the public to seriously doubt the integrity and objective morality of these figures. When a person touches a barbell without invitation and without the barbell being in any imminent danger of being part of a missed rep, the contact is substantiated as inappropriate.

“In 1988, I had just become a new barbell at Cramp Fitness, and had spent some time getting acquainted with the clientele and trainers. Toward the end of my first week there I was being bench pressed by a fairly new lifter working under a trainer I did not yet know, Tony Handlesmith. Under the instruction of Tony, my lifter and I completed a set of 8 reps at 95 pounds. I knew at this point my lifter was spent and I needed to be re-racked. But then I heard the words, ‘You’ve got 7 more buddy, let’s do this!’ At that point we were forced to complete these additional reps to a point at which Tony was full-on groping me. I cannot blame my lifter, as he did not know better; he trusted Tony.
I will never forget him saying ‘I got you,’ and ‘All you.’ But that was so far from the truth. I had no choice.”  – Lara 

An investigation into Tony Handlesmith revealed that, while credentialed by NSCA, a reputed Strength and Conditioning authority, Tony would often force barbells into reps well beyond limits, was extremely aggressive while putting the barbells back into storage resulting in chronic damage and would even encourage this kind of activity from his clients who worked out with other people. The NSCA has thus far declined to comment.

It is clear that barbells are being victimized with unsolicited contact and force. Why are so many trainers crossing these lines? We contacted Barbell Relations expert, Niki Sims, for comment: “The trend of groping and even molesting barbells has cast a shadow of shame upon this industry. Individuals who are guilty of such a thing are stealing reps and disrupting the objectivity of our sport. Once the barbell has been touched, the damage has been done. I, personally, would not fault any barbell for immediately seeking retribution. Don’t wait years and years for it to pass. Unsolicited barbell touching is wrong now, no matter who is doing it.”

Sims continues: “No barbell should be touched by a third party unless under these explicit conditions:

  1. The lifter with whom it is working is clearly missing the rep.
  2. During a "lift off" or "re-rack" in which the lifter and barbell have granted permission to be touched with clear boundaries being established.

Any person who goes beyond these lines of contact is a deviant that deserves scrutiny and requires reformation.”

Sims advises that barbells and their lifters very clearly state when contact is allowed: “Be very clear and direct, don’t pussyfoot about the issue here. Your confidence around the issue will not go unnoticed and your point should be obvious.” For example, ‘Don’t touch me unless my lifter tells you to,’ or your lifter can say, ‘I will do all the reps by myself. Don’t touch my goddamn bar unless it starts moving down toward my face or if I tell you to. Understand?’

In closing, if you or a barbell you know has been a subject of this behavior or if you suspect misconduct, please say something. Contact authorities or your local crisis hotline immediately.

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