Who Am I? | Carl Raghavan

It’s not just a kickass Jackie Chan movie. Who am I? There are 5 types of trainees (credit to Andy Baker here, who brought this idea to my attention). Lifters, closet bodybuilders, pros/athletes, “Don’t weaken,” and special pops. However, there’s a little more than meets the eye here: it’s not about simply putting everyone neatly into a box. In that spirit, I wanted to add more detail to these five lifting personality types. It’s important that you understand and embrace yours. The sooner you know, the better. 

1. Lifters: Individuals who seldom miss workouts and display dedication akin to serious competitive lifters, whether or not they actually compete in events like Powerlifting or Olympic lifting. 

2. Closet bodybuilders: People who lift primarily for aesthetic reasons – a motivation many of us share, although some are more honest about it than others. 

3. Pros/Athletes: Those already involved in competitive sports, using strength training to enhance their performance in their respective fields. 

4. “Don’t weaken”: Accounting for the majority of gym-goers (in the general population) over 40, these individuals are seeking improved resilience and quality of life through strength training. 

5. Special pops: Individuals with specific conditions like type 1 diabetes or cerebral palsy, who benefit from training that directly enhances their well-being. 

In his discussion of these types, Baker mentions that most people fall into categories #2 and #4. The closet bodybuilder and the “Don’t weaken.” I agree. But now we come to the tricky part.

In my head there’s a
scoring system. It goes from 1 (poor) to 5 (good), and we also need
to factor that into these personality types, because it contributes
to overall success. I score three traits that separate the groupies
from the rock stars, meaning that a top score would be 15/15 (i.e. a
5 for each trait).

Attitude: How
seriously (or otherwise) you take your training, regardless of
personality type. 

Actions: Your habits and the consistency
of your approach to training, even behind closed doors. 

Ability: Your natural aptitude or mastery of the lifts. This can be
acquired through training, or sometimes from genetics or a sports

For example: I’ve had a special pops lifter
with attitude 4, actions 4 but ability 2, which equals a total of
10/15. This person attacks his training with unwavering
consistency. That is why he gets good results. Conversely I’ve had a strong, talented, competitive lifter with attitude 2, actions 2 and
ability 4, giving 8/15. This person had disappointing results and
eventually quit training altogether. I’ve had closet bodybuilders
with attitude 3, actions 3 and ability 3: 9/15. They slowly chip away
but don’t get anywhere fast, and often complain about progress. I
would class myself as attitude 4, actions 4 and ability 4: 12/15. You
need at least a 10/15 to be taken seriously as a lifter in my book.

This expanded version
of the original concept takes into account that your training
personality doesn’t simply consist of your initial reasons for
getting into training; rather, it’s a direct reflection of your daily
habits and devotion to the process, around the clock, even when
you’re not actually at the gym. 

Sometimes, your “lifting
personality” varies from lift to lift. One option while training is
to specialize and focus on two lifts, keeping the others on the back
burner. So you may be a “lifter” for the squat and press, while
taking more of a “don’t weaken” approach to your bench and
deadlift. It’s not that you skip or avoid these lifts, you simply
prioritize your squat and press. This is also a great way to master
the long game of strength, by setting periods in which you focus on
just two lifts instead of all 4-5, all the time, indefinitely. 

the end of the day, the goal needs to match the lifter, just as the
dog breed needs to match the owner. Don’t buy a game dog if all you
do is sit around and watch Netflix all day (hence why I would choose
a lazy dog that farts and is happy doing bugger all, like

Another consideration is that life events can
temporarily change your personality. If you get injured or severely
ill and experience a big setback, you may naturally fall into the “don’t weaken” crowd. If you’ve signed up for a meet, perhaps
it’s time to focus on strength gains rather than abs, like a
dedicated lifter would.

If you’re into BJJ,
you probably already spend enough time rolling, so don’t turn the
weight room into a dojo – the barbell isn’t an opponent to be
wrapped into a triangle or arm-bar; instead, focus on getting
stronger, as that will provide the best return on investment in the
weight room. If you have a beautiful tropical holiday approaching,
you might want to focus on pumping up the guns and cleaning up your
diet for beach season. 

My story is not dissimilar. I also
took a path that could be described as “confused about who I am.” When you’re a trainer, you learn quickly that your physique is your
billboard. So the mindset was: being slim and lean is ideal. Now,
decades later, people pay me for the knowledge and experience I can
offer them, which is a huge paradigm shift.

At first, my path
originated from the fear of losing work. Cast by default as a closet
bodybuilder, after a while my habits and choices naturally
transformed me into a different personality type. I wanted more
physical clout. As I became a strength coach, I wanted to be what I
was preaching. Strong. So a 300/400/500/600 seemed like the logical
step, and because I wanted to pursue that goal, I became a “lifter.” 

Rip is another great example of someone
whose personality has evolved over time. The new goal is to “stave off death.” His days of being a competitive powerlifter and
squatting 600×3 are over. And that’s okay. Rip has paid his dues –
you ain’t. Time is undefeated. Rip now trains for the most basic
human of all rights: independence. Do you want to end up in a nursing
home? No thanks. Neither does Rip. 

Your choice needs to be
consonant with your general personality, lifestyle and aspirations.
That is the key to consistency, which in turn is the key to progress
in the weight room. So much of getting strong is showing up: that’s
half the battle won. And despite all these divisions and
sub-divisions, I have found that regardless of personality type, we
all have the heart of a lifter. We all want progress, we all want
mastery of the barbell. Finding your lifting personality type will
simply help you to better harness that drive. So ask yourself: Who am

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