“Just powerlifting” X “Passion” – time to take a breath and understand what “the other” is saying

I might be playing the mother-figure here in saying both are right and that you possibly agree more than not. Most people who know me also know that I belong to the second class for a very strong reason: it was the accidental discovery of powerlifting that saved my life. I abandoned an academic career after my postdoc and after being a quite ok college professor at mainstream universities because I was dying. Not a metaphor: I was rescued from a pool of blood and had to figure out how to reinvent myself if I chose to live. Choosing to live was less obvious than the how to.

That said, it makes sense to me that many people of my close circle also dedicate their lives to powerlifting. For them, it is not “just powerlifting”, as in “hobby”. It is a profession in the most precise semantic way: something you profess. Take a look:


profession (n.)

  1. 1200, “vows taken upon entering a religious order,” from Old Frenchprofession(12c.), from Latin professionem (nominative professio) “public declaration,” from past participle stem of profiteri “declare openly” (see profess). Meaning “any solemn declaration” is from mid-14c. Meaning “occupation one professes to be skilled in” is from early 15c.; meaning “body of persons engaged in some occupation” is from 1610; as a euphemism for “prostitution” (compare oldest profession) it is recorded from 1888.


Profession, in this sense, differs from occupation. Occupation is what one does to provide for himself and his family. In other words, it is what pays the bills. For many lifters, unfortunately their occupation is secondary in their identity. They do that without a deep existential investment. The history of that occupation is unimportant. Excellence is even less important. But powerlifting is what defines them. It is the core of their self-representation. In this case, their profession is powerlifting and their occupation may be sales manager at something they don’t care about, laboratory technician, etc.

Other people managed to re-shape their lives so that powerlifting is directly related to their occupation. For example, owners of powerlifting friendly gyms who are also powerlifting team coaches and athletes. Or powerlifting online coaches.

For these people, it is highly offensive to be questioned by random social media users with no special concern for powerlifting. Unfortunately, many of them are impolite and express their views in disrespectful manner, belittling powerlifting as sport, practice and culture. Their objective is anyone’s guess: to hurt, to question for the sake of questioning or pure envy for those to excel in anything.

Other highly accomplished coaches get annoyed with powerlifting practitioners, usually young, who portray themselves as “warriors”, “heroes” or general badass characters in what sounds like a fictional scenery. War is something very different than a championship. A championship is a well ruled test of merit: those who, under exactly the same conditions, accomplish whatever it is better will be recognized. A war is fought with no rules, no ethics and the “honorable death” belongs to a martial past lost in myth. Heroes are people who sacrifice their own lives for something they believe is more relevant that that – usually other peoples’ lives.

Also, for these coaches, the powerlifts are tools of their craft: they employ the squat, the bench press and the deadlift, very frequently more proficiently than many lifters I know, to improve other athletes’ performance, the quality of life of their clients or even to recover injured patients.

Apparently, these two groups of people – those whose true profession is powerlifting and the coaches that use the powerlifts as tools – are on opposite sides. But this is only apparent: the actual group (that has zero internal coherence) that annoys or insults both are social media users that disrespect the sport, either belittling it or portraying it as a caricature of their own inflated egos.

As motherly as it sounds, and having friends on both professional sides, I see more common ground than divergence there.

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