The Worth of Knowledge

A woman who I sometimes chat with in my gym came up to me this morning and asked me to spot her on bench press.  I was happy to do so, of course.  She’d seen me benching and wanted to try putting weight on the bar for the first time.

She wrapped her fingers and thumb around the same side of the bar in what is known as a thumbless or suicide grip.  I told her to put her fingers on one side and her thumb on the other, in a normal grasping motion.  She told me that her trainer had told her to grip the bar that way.  I explained to her that what she was doing was called a suicide grip for a reason, and suggested that she try it the other way.  She did, knocked out 8 reps of 55 lbs, thanked me, and I went back to my squats.

A few minutes later, I saw her with a trainer.  He was motioning to the muscles in his forearms while talking to her, and later spotted her while she benched with a suicide grip.

So, what is it that made that trainer’s opinion more valuable than mine?  I thought about it for a while and settled on some possible reasons.

  1. She’s paying him for his knowledge and instruction
  2. He works for the gym, so he must be very knowledgeable
  3. The man looks fairly muscular, so there’s a presumption that he knows what he’s doing

The first one is the one that gave me a little bit of a paradigm shift in my head.  If you pay someone to teach you something, do you automatically raise up that person’s level of knowledge in your head just because you are paying them?  Are they more worthy of your respect for that reason alone?  After all, if they weren’t very knowledgeable, you wouldn’t be paying them, right?

I’m not really sure if I’ve done this before or not.  Specifically with trainers, you don’t know what you’re getting until you’ve trained with them for a few sessions.  I can tell the difference now between a good, bad, or useless trainer just by watching them, but that wasn’t always true.  I’ve paid for lessons in a variety of things that were taught by people who only had a passing knowledge on the subject, I’ve gotten free lessons from people who were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate on the subject.  I learned to solder from a man that creates small electronic kits.  I learned to lift weights by a large group of people, some at my gym, some on reddit, and of course, my awesome coach Todd Christiansen.  I learned to program first in formal classes, then picked up more languages out of books and internet tutorials.  I learned to crochet from my great aunt.  I learned to boulder by a woman who travels the world bouldering.

I now have to decide what to do if this woman asks me to spot her again.  I’m not going to point out to her that she was already training with a group of very knowledgeable people before she hired her trainer.  I’m not going to tell her that no certifications are required to be a trainer at our gym, or that most of the trainers teach exactly the same workout to everyone that they train.  The truth here is that I am not at all confident that I can catch a bar dropped in a suicide grip, even if it only weighs 55lbs.  This is a safety issue for me.  

I firmly believe that this is a very advanced grip that should only be used when benching with three spotters or in the power cage.  It should certainly only be used by someone who is very comfortable with bench press and has a lot of experience with it.  This woman is a beginner who is still wobbly when benching the bar.  She needs a lot more practice before she’s ready for that grip – or before the slight musculature changes it gives you will actually make a difference for her.  The only answer I can think of is the truth – that I am uncomfortable spotting someone who is using a thumbless grip on bench press.

Who have you given authority to that didn’t deserve it?  Was it because you paid them money?  Were they built up by advertising?  Did a friend make a huge deal about how awesome they were?


~ by Liz on April 2, 2013.

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