Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


Bro-Scientists Are Messing with My Lifters

by Carl Raghavan, SSC | July 09, 2019

carl raghavan coaches a lifter

I’ve heard this story a hundred times. You probably have too. My client walks into the gym looking confused and a little scared. “This guy came up to me while I was squatting and told me I need to keep my head up or I’ll slip a disc! Is that true? Is my back about to snap in half?!”

Uh, no. It’s not. Relax.

The squat as taught in Starting Strength has a very particular style. It’s visually different than what most untrained people would think of as a barbell squat. In fact, to the uneducated lifter, it’s downright unconventional.

The bar position – resting just below the spines of the scapulae and on top of the posterior delts, with a thumbless grip – is the first big difference. A neutral head and neck, with eyes angled slightly downward, is another key hallmark. This is where the bro-crowd goes wild! The lifter is actively bending over into the squat, pointing the chest down and using the hips to come out of the movement.

To the average gym bro or personal trainer with an Associates Degree in Bro Science, all these things are huge red flags. They won’t be able to help themselves. They’re going to walk over to my lifter and tell him he’s doing it all wrong.

No, He Is Not!

“Don’t squat with your head down and your back like that – you’ll hurt yourself!” That’s probably the most frequent comment my clients tell me they hear at the gym. It’s usually coming from a “professional” who works full-time in the fitness industry, often a male trainer with a bit of bro muscle – aka “da guns.” For many clients, this is enough to lend the trainer’s bro-pinion credence, planting a huge mental seed of doubt and giving them a complex. Which is why the next time I see them, they’re asking me whether their fucking spinal discs are going to start flying out of their backs like Wayne Gretzky firing a hockey puck.

As soon as a lifter of mine starts telling me about his run-in with the local gym rat or trainer, my eyes start to roll. I already know the story verbatim. He doesn’t need to walk me through the whole thing. All I need to know is this: his mind has now been poisoned by some dickhead, and he thinks he’s going to hurt himself.

The sad thing? That dickhead was probably just trying to help. If you’ve never spotted someone for a heavy set of 5 reps, then you’ll have a tricky time deciphering what’s a slow rep and what’s about to be a missed rep that you need to save a lifter from. Most of these bro-trainers teach light easy bullshit, so they’ve never seen someone grind or push with all their might under the barbell.

A classic knock-on effect is that when my clients do ask for a spot, the bro-scientist usually grabs the bar and “helps” them on the pivotal final rep, telling them, “Yeah, you got two more!” No. He just stole my lifter’s last rep, and he should be officially bitch-slapped for that gym crime.

But it’s not just inexperience that causes the bro-scientists’ confusion – it’s their education. The knowledge base of a newly-hired personal trainer is often weak, to say the least. Most of it is seriously behind the times relative to what I would consider basic strength and conditioning knowledge. Nor do they make up for it later. A lot of trainers in the fitness community simply never expose themselves or their clients to strength training. Yet instead of making them more circumspect, this glaring blind spot just makes them want to jump in even more: as soon as they see something different, something they don’t understand, they react – without adequate knowledge or critical thinking. And they end up fucking with my clients.

So, as a lifter at the gym, how do you identify the bro-scientist? How do you know whose opinions to safely disregard? Well, there are a few red flags. Maybe they’re telling you how they just discovered T-nation or Bodybuilding.com. Maybe they have a subscription to Men’s Health. When you watch them with their clients, you realise they insist on foam rolling, lacrosse-ball massaging, and dynamic stretching for the first ten to fifteen minutes of every single session. When their clients do lift, they watch in complete silence, occasionally bawling, “Three more, all you, let’s go!” Said clients will usually have retained the same physique and level of performance for at least a year. This is because their training is so varied – in other words, it has no true goal – that it’s more like an adult version of a school gym class than an actual training session. It's exercising, not training.

So, lifters, the next time a bro-trainer with the lower-body strength of a pencil decides to “correct” your squat, you have options. You can tell him that the pursuit of strength is a completely different minefield than that of body composition or physique. You can tell him to shut the fuck up and stay in his lane. Or you could hand him a copy of Starting Strength and recommend he makes a trip to Texas.


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