Note: The following is an article I wrote and published on my personal tumblr a while back. I've decided to repost it here as a lead-in to an article I plan to publish next week about lifting and Taoism.
This is a world in which amateur bodybuilding has attained a certain popular status within the fitness world, tied up mainly in masculine fantasies of strength and power, and as such there’s a lot about bodybuilding that we simply have a flat out wrong attitude towards. You get big guys rolling up in the gym by the dozens, imagining that they’re lifting weights because they’re so big, they’re so strong, they’re so cut, etc. But in reality, the reverse is true, and it always has been.
Sure, you’re the one lifting the weight, in the literal sense. You pick up a heavy weight, you lift it, you put it back down again. In that sense, yes, you’re lifting the weight. But here’s the important thing: the weight doesn't change. Yeah, you change weights to bring about different levels of loading and thus overload your muscles, but each individual weight is a static entity. You lift it, you put it down, end of story. The weight is not a complex character, but a simple one. It doesn't care how many times you lift it, how you lift it, and most importantly, it doesn't care about your bravado or the attitude that you bring to the lift. It couldn't give less of a shit if you didn't move it at all; it has no pretension, no consciousness. It is only a weight. It doesn't grow, it doesn't adapt.
What do you do, in response to this weight? In response to the solid object, this stable unchanging entity, the body is forced to change. It begins weak, flimsy. By lifting the weight, it is broken. But in that breaking, the body learns to adapt, learns to evolve. Thus it grows stronger, and then it can lift an even heavier weight; the process continues, and as long as the lifter has enough willpower (as well as a proper understanding of the science involved), the process can continue essentially indefinitely. In response to the static, immovable object, the body is forced to constantly adapt and change to bear this new burden, to lift this new load. The result is that it is the body which conforms to the weight, and not the other way around. Were the positions reversed, this would mean that all human beings would be of exactly the same strength, but that through lifting, the weights themselves would diminish in mass until they could be properly lifted by the dedicated lifter. This isn't the case.
What this means, is that it isn't the person which lifts the weight. The weight doesn't go anywhere. What is lifted, is the person. It is the person which changes position, it is the person which responds to the force of the lift. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Against the immovable static object which is the weight, it is the person which is pushed. It is the person that changes. It is the person that is brought higher, is made more perfect, is lifted.
This, of course, is not the mindset of the modern bodybuilder, who in his egotism foolishly imagines that he is the one lifting the weight. He has it all wrong; he sees the process of lifting not as one of supplication and learning, but rather one of domination and control. The great lifters understand this key lesson, they realize that the ego, the self, has no place in the sphere of the gym. There is no self, there is no bragging person, there is only the weight, and the act of lifting. No matter how good you are at talking shit, the gym boils down to the simple binary of: can you lift the weight / can you not lift the weight. It is only by practice, only by allowing the weight to lift oneself as much as possible, that one’s strength improves.
Can’t lift the weight? Let the weight lift you some more, and then come back.