Do You Suffer From Mass Fitness Psychosis?

by Charles Staley

5 Reality Checks

Which of these examples of mass fitness psychosis have you fallen prey to? Maybe it’s time for a cold splash of reality.

Many lifters fall victim to what I call “mass fitness psychosis.” This is a type of hysteria you sometimes see among people who belong to the same isolated group or community… like ours. Let’s dive right in.

1. Most of the time, disappointing results in the gym are due to poor work ethic, not sub-optimal programming.

The training methods that build great physiques are staggeringly varied. Some lifters excel using machines; others are successful using free weights. Some swear by slow tempos; others use plenty of momentum and acceleration. Some rarely exceed 5 reps; others rarely do less than 15. Some swear by bro splits; some use whole-body routines. Others prosper on upper/lower splits.

Genetics and PED use can indeed make training style largely irrelevant, but, all else being equal, your work ethic is probably the most impactful variable in your overall training approach. And it’s without question the least appreciated factor for most lifters.

Bottom line: Before you start overhauling your training methods because you’re not getting the results you expect, sit down and honestly appraise your work ethic. It’s clearly the trait that all successful strength and physique athletes have in common.

2. Most physical therapy and recovery modalities are actually rest in disguise.

There are two long-standing statistics regarding low back pain:

  1. About 75% of all people will experience low back pain at some point.
  2. Most low back pain resolves within 30 days, regardless of what you do (or don’t do) about it.

The two observations (particularly the second) have long given shelter to many questionable treatment methods, thanks to the widespread tendency to mistake correlation for causation.

A general understanding of anatomy and kinesiology supports the idea that all orthopedic structures probably respond to various treatment modalities, particularly the least appreciated among them, which is rest. By rest, I mean being patient enough to abstain from constantly testing the injury site, hoping you’ve resolved the injury without allowing sufficient time to heal.

And, if you’ll allow me to take a slight tangent, a good decision-making “rule of thumb” is that when the value of a method is unknown but the cost is low, it’s probably worth implementing.

3. Most health problems we blame on poor food choices are better attributed to excessive eating.

Dr. Eric Helms sums up this idea by observing that “there are no bad foods, only bad diets.” Don’t miss the point: some foods are certainly healthier than others. But the sum-total of what you consume has a much greater impact on your health than the quality of specific foods within your diet. Two reasons for this:

  1. If your total calorie intake is appropriate, this by itself limits the amount of “bad” foods you might be consuming. The devil is in the dose.
  2. When your total calorie intake is appropriate, you’ll maintain an optimal body weight, which greatly influences overall health.

Consuming low-nutrient/high-calorie “junk” foods is mostly problematic from a behavioral standpoint. Eating such foods leads to unmanageable cravings, resulting in excessive calorie consumption. If you’re one of these people, use restraint.

4. Unstable “stabilization” exercises are substandard nonsense.

This is a bad idea that’s been on life-support for a couple of decades now. Its longevity is rooted in the fact that most of us instinctively assume that anything difficult must be beneficial. The truth? Difficulty is a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition for effective training.

The primary adaptations from resistance training (hypertrophy, strength, power, mobility, etc.) require high muscular tension. Any time you perform an exercise in an unstable manner, you’re sacrificing your ability to create such tensions.

While that trade-off may have merit and some context (think physical therapy), most lifters are far better off using stable exercises.

5. Accusing others of cheating is just excuse-making.

Many lifters justify their poor progress by accusing more successful lifters of drug use (while deeming less successful lifters as simply stupid). In this version of reality, you always come out on top, blissfully unaware of the actual reality: although the barbell doesn’t worship at the altar of equity and inclusion, it’s more than happy to reward anyone willing to put in hard, consistent work.

But let’s take a closer look at the concept of cheating. Most people would define cheating as when you use methods that give you an unfair advantage over others. While this is logical enough, the problem is that when it comes to our life in the gym, “fairness” simply doesn’t exist.

Look, I’m not saying that cheating isn’t a thing. Sure, some people cheat. However, you can do nothing about it, so from a practical perspective, the best approach is to focus on your own behaviors and let the cards fall where they may.



Cheating? As in PEDs, AAS, etc?

Surely more context is in order. Good point on fairness. I’d think anyone would use any tool they could constrained by their risk tolerance and time they want to spend on Earth. If done properly, “cheating” makes working out harder since it opens up additional working capacity.

Which of these are cheating?

Whey protein isolate
Synthetic androgens
Being born better
Creatine supplement
Sodium bicarbonate


My myostatin levels are way too high. Why are all you other guys cheating? It is just not fair.

Thanks for the article and your time to write it.

PS. Another plug for this:*emphasized text*


On the point of recovery and physical therapy. I used to do this stuff, and I think mostly just made me more sore (and took up training time). Foam rolling, stretches, band exercises to activate muscles, etc… Now I just start my workout walking on an incline treadmill to get the body temp up, and warm up doing the exercise I am about to do by ramping up the weight.

For me at least it is that I am addicted to training. It takes more mental effort to skip the gym since I have to rationalize my way into not doing something I want to do.

I suspect a lot of successful lifters are like this?


Some ppl cheat, that is a part of everyday life, work, home, sports, weight training, it’s inevitable. But for those who don’t use steroids or something like that. Live longer. Yea they have the advantage now, but the ones who don’t use those things won’t have the health repercussions. Heart attack, stroke, kidney failure… it’s a long race not a sprint…

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Haha. Still a long race with reasonable, intelligent use of androgens/PEDs.

Still confused by this. Cheat who? Themselves, other competitors, the other dude in the gym, their kids? Who are they cheating?

I guess it is just part of the mindless lexicon at this point like “steroids”. Lasik aint cheating for a pro golfer? :person_shrugging:


Also, cue the Lance Armstrong discussion. He showed us what it takes to win and when we saw it many of us turned our heads. Fair weather fans many of you are. If Lance would have followed the golden rule…pay your people and treat them well you all would still hold him up as your champion.

Thank you Lance. You almost died for us every year. Ultimate stud.

Marvel at all this critical thinking happening all in one room. Thanks Joe!

Regarding asymmetrical, functional training/conditioning. Respectfully disagree. Maybe it’s a function of decades of lifting, or maybe it’s a function of the disease we all fall victim too (aging), creating stronger links in the “chain” has been, in my case, undeniably beneficial for chronic back and joint pain. Add to that the gradual decline in coordination and balance that often leads to tragic outcomes in our aging population.

Making blanket statements that these exercises have no place in the conversation seems to point to the same “psychosis” issues the article otherwise effectively details.


I’ve been like this for over a year now. Get the core temp up a bit and do some good warm up sets on the exercise you’re doing. There may be an exercise or so that would do me good in preparing for a workout session but I don’t believe not activating my glutes first or using a foam roller has ever deterred any results (see Point 1 of this article).

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there is no such thing as cheating if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to be a champion and take accountability for all risks and consequences.


If it’s competitive sport, others, if not they are cheating themselves and possibly family from having them around for a while. And I don’t think in my own opinion, that even golf has room for any of that

I like it when random posters show up to virtue signal on a bodybuilding forum.


It basically boils down to the person. Their aspect. Some want instant results, others are willing to take the long road. I myself keep my head down and work.

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What about those of us who have trained for over 15 years naturally and have reached a point where natty gains have all but dried up?

I think your perspective is lacking in nuance.


No Lasik allowed for golf? Respect Brother.

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There is nothing instant about using androgens. Stims, ok they work pretty quick.

Door number 3 is also available…keep head down and work and inject twice a week.


When no one in the upper echelon of a sport is clean, is anyone really cheating?
Cycling is getting even more ridiculous. They banned CGMs that would alert the riders when they needed to eat something during the long races…now carbs are cheating.
Play by the rules, but elite cycling in Armstrong’s time had a bunch of unwritten rules related to doping that I am sure the ruling body knew about, and didn’t really give a crap about as long as they weren’t called out on it.

Calories in equal to or less than Calories Out would solve the majority of the populations problems with food.


It is still a long road with PEDs. It isn’t one cycle to be big and juicy looking.

It isn’t necessarily a short cut to a goal. It may be the only path to that goal. It’s also a misconception that using steroids means you don’t want to work as hard. Anecdotally, the steroid users I know work the hardest in the gym. They have better diets on average.

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Where is the outrage right now…

Somehow the cyclists this year figured out how to best Lance’s times clean.

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Personally, i think PEDs/doping/whatever should be allowed in pro sports. People know the consequences and it would make sports more worth watching. Pro athletes are heavily monitored by medical professionals anyway.

Some of this comes down to the courses chosen and bike technology, but yeah, I doubt it’s clean, people just got better at hiding it.


tenor (2)

Mass fitness psychosis for the win!!

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