By: Ben Patterson, SSOC Intern

Online Communities for Lone Lifters

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Years ago, when I first started training, I trained solo, in my basement. I had resolved to get stronger for martial arts and built a home gym sufficient enough to get the job done. This was appealing to me because of the convenience. I had done some exercising (not training) in gyms before, but it was always on my own. After a few years and twice as many plateaus, I gave up the convenience and joined Westminster Strength and Conditioning, a Starting Strength affiliate gym. The combined effect of the coaching and the community there was the single biggest boon to my training progress to date. Training and struggling alongside other lifters taught me that even the most dedicated and introverted of lifters can benefit from a like-minded community.

Lifting heavy barbells is simple, yet it isn’t always easy. Part of the difficulty comes from mustering the strength to fight gravity and make the bar go up. Forcing yourself to get under the bar in the first place is another matter, and doing this for months and years can be an even more daunting task. Yet, meaningful progress requires your continued and constant persistence. While the motivation and discipline to continue is, ultimately, your responsibility, sharing the activity with others can add some fuel to the fire.

Having a coach can help. A good coach holds you accountable, removes the barriers of figuring out what to do in the gym, and gives you confidence instead of you wondering if you’re doing things correctly. Your coach is your guide and is there with you on your journey into, and through, strength training. But, it can be hard to see your coach as a peer in training and envision them in the trenches with you.

This is where a lifting partner or group of fellow lifters come in. They are next to you sweating, straining, and gasping for air at the top of a heavy set of five. There is no question they are putting the work in because you see it happening. You see their successes and you see their failures, and they see yours. You have an unspoken mutual understanding of what each other is going through immediately before, during, and after a lift, whether it is successful or not.

The misery of a heavy set and the elation of a new personal record are feelings shared in-the-moment amongst groups of lifters. A missed lift stings less when you know it’s part of the game, and you see others working just as hard under the bar. Conversely, the shared excitement of a possible new PR can be fuel to make it a reality. New heights can be easier to reach if someone you train with has already achieved them. You’ve seen the work they put in to get there, and you now know it is possible to attain. There can be an atmosphere of competitive camaraderie amongst lifters. As much as you want to have the best lifts, you want to see your partners succeed as well, and they want the same for you.

This is where training solo, and perhaps being coached online, has its biggest downfall. It is impossible to recreate the atmosphere of a black iron gym without actually training at one. No matter how driven and disciplined an individual you are, humans evolved to be social creatures and we feed off of the energy of others.

What is a lone lifter to do?

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Hiring a coach is going to be Step One for most folks who are new to training. Even for those who have been training for a while, this can be a helpful step toward better progress. Search your area for a reputable coach. If you find one near you, hire them. As we talked about above, you can’t really replicate the in-person training experience over the Internet. The best we can do is to get as close as possible. This coach may be coaching out of a gym with a helpful and positive community of lifters also training there. If that’s the case, you’ve struck gold and there is no need to move on to Step Two. If there is no coach in your area and you choose to hire an online coach, then Step Two is for you.

Step Two is to find a good online community of lifters that will be encouraging and positive. Preferably they will subscribe to the same ideas about training that you do. There may be an excellent online community of bodybuilders (those primarily training for aesthetics) out there, but if you are primarily looking to increase strength it may not be the best choice for you. This online community will not be a perfect replacement for a gym full of like-minded people lifting heavy chunks of iron, but it may be close.

Some online coaches and coaching organizations have made finding a community easy by establishing one exclusively for their clients. In the same way that a coach or gym owner helps establish the attitude of a brick and mortar gym, they also influence the online communities they establish. Communities like these are more likely to be populated with similarly minded people. After all, what attracted them to a particular coach, organization, or method may be what attracted you. A private community created by your coach or organization saves you the time of searching one out as well. At Starting Strength Online Coaching, we’ve created a Slack workspace for clients and coaches to take part in our great community of lifters. But, there are certainly other great communities out there on social media sites and various forums across the web.

Here are a few active online communities to help get you started. The official Starting Strength Group on Facebook is great for beginners looking for form checks and basic programming advice. For a more laid back atmosphere on Facebook, check out After Your Fahves. This is a great place for random chat and sharing personal records. Not on Facebook? You can get form checks and advice from Starting Strength Coaches and others on the Starting Strength Forums.

After you’ve found this community, you need to participate in it in order to reap the benefits. This can take different forms for different people. For some, it may mean posting regularly with videos from your workouts or just thoughts on how a workout went. It may also mean commenting with encouraging remarks on videos of hard sets and sentiments of congratulations for new personal records. For others, it may mean sitting back more and posting less. Just hanging out to see that there are others out there going through similar challenges, or to learn more about training. Continuing to learn about lifting is an important part of meaningful participation. These videos from Barbell Logic are a great place to start.   

Barbell training is a solo undertaking at its core. Some lifters can do well for many years on their own, but even they can find benefit from a community. Despite the individual nature of strength training, it is an activity that can still be shared by friends, acquaintances, and even people you’ve never met before. For some, this community is an essential part of the experience. They will get a lot out of participating in a community of other lifters.

If you are already lifting heavy things and associating with others online or in-person, great! If you are having trouble getting motivated to get under the bar, go hire a coach or find a group of like-minded folks to train, or talk about training, with. You’ll be glad you did.

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