Should I face my plates in or out at the gym?

If you go to a gym with older equipment, you’ve most likely found yourself dealing with asymmetrical plates. While these may not be as convenient as the spoke-wheel type of plates that newer gyms tend to have, there is something to be said for the feel of authenticity that they give your workout. However, if you’re like me, then they come with a downside that’s so big you need to make a blog post about it: people putting them on things backwards.

The type of plates I’m talking about are the ones where one side is completely flat and the other side has a lip. The lip-side of the plate will display how much a given plate weighs, and there may also be a logo. Here’s an example:


The backs aren’t visible, but they have nothing on them. They are also facing the correct way. And the only reason they’re facing the correct way is because they’re from my gym and I was the one who fixed them.

If you google which way people should orient their plates, you’re going to get a few basic responses. Most people will say that they don’t care. Either it isn’t something they think about or they go to a gym that has newer plates. A surprising number of people will say they face the plates with the label in. And the relatively few of us who have actually put some thought into what makes sense will tell you that the above picture is correct.

(Another answer you may get is that Olympic rules say the first plate goes on backwards and the rest go on forwards. This is almost purely for advertising purposes.)

The people who say plates should go on backwards – that is, letters first – will usually cite a myth they’ve heard about wobble reduction. They believe that having the lip side on the bar first will somehow make everything more stable. It won’t. First, the same amount of material is touching the barbell in either scenario. Second, if the rest of the plates are facing the same way, then it makes no difference anyway. Third, anyone who has actually been to a gym can tell you that it makes no difference. Close your eyes with the plates oriented one way or the other. Do a few reps of whatever. You won’t be able to tell which way anything is facing. Fourth, if wobble is such an issue for you, then you can use clips (which, incidentally, will be tighter to the lip side than the flat side).

But why does this matter, you may find yourself asking yourself this far into the post. There are a few reasons. First, it’s not that it really matters which way a person wants to put plates on a bar. What matters is how they return the plates to the trees, such as the one featured above. It is wildly easier to pick off a 45 pound plate that has something to grip than it is to pick off a flat one. Even more importantly, people are assholes who over-fill pegs. Sometimes you have to barely touch a weight and it will seemingly just fall. I’d rather not break my foot because someone couldn’t be bothered to do something correctly. Second, not everyone has been going to the gym for 20 years. It isn’t always obvious which is a 10 pound plate and which is 5 pounds. I’m a well-seasoned veteran of the gym scene and I still occasionally grab the wrong weights. Facing the plates out so that they can be read is about basic respect for others. Third, a lot of people can’t seem to be bothered to place the same sized plates on the same pegs. In the picture above, the top peg had 5 pound plates on it before I got there. The second peg also had 5 pound plates. Some people are assholes and they aren’t going to pay attention no matter what, but I’m convinced a lot of people just need a simple visual cue to get things straight.

Please, for the love of whatever you worship, face your plates out. It doesn’t matter which way you do it on the bar, but get into the habit of doing it with the lip side out anyway. Not only will it be easier to pull off the bar, but it’ll also make it far more natural for you to re-peg the plate the correct way since it will already be oriented correctly.

Here’s that lift again

I was looking through some old weight lifting books that once belonged to my grandfather when I came across an exercise I had written about in the past. At the time I called it the cleave and jerk. It turns out it as an alternate name:

I believe “one arm power jerk” is probably a more accurate name, but either way works. Of course, it’s all somewhat moot since this is a fairly old fashioned lift. In fact, aside from that excerpt/image coming from a book originally published in 1963, I was once doing this exercise when, just after I set the dumbbell down, an older gentlemen by the name of Ralph asked me if I had learned it from my grandfather. I asked if he had had the honor of knowing the man, but he said no. He just knew that there was no way I had learned it from a high school coach or any modern trainer.

On another note, here is a picture I found of my grandfather doing a similar exercise:

Again, this is only similar to the description above. The one arm power jerk involves an extended press of the bar as opposed to the resting of the upper arm on the ribcage. I’m not even sure if that’s safe. (I estimate there to be about 90 lbs in discs with the bar likely weighing 15 or 20 for a total of 105-110 lbs.)

Going up

Some time ago I wrote about weight lifting. In that post, there was an exercise I couldn’t find. Eventually I figured it out. Of course, that didn’t mean I could find a video of it. Not even an image. So for that reason, I have uploaded a picture of my grandfather performing the feat in December of 1950:

"GOING UP - Bob Hawkins, Augusta, one of the most talented young weightlifters in New England, shows good form on a one-arm cleave and jerk of a 152 pound lift. Hawkins and other leading Maine lifters will compete in a Knights of Columbus sponsored, Maine AAU sanctioned, meet here January 6 at City Hall." Dec 1950

Just to emphasize, that’s 152 pounds. I don’t know what my grandfather’s weight was at the time, but I would estimate not over 170, and I think I’m high-balling it a bit. In short, what he did was damn impressive.

Macho chest beating

I feel I have this interesting mix of emotions when it comes to fitness, if only because I know people tend to be willing to overlook important distinctions. On the one hand, I very much enjoy weight lifting and athletic competition. I want to be as strong as I can be, and I want to always win at whatever I’m playing – I never going into any game willing to lose. I like to discuss form, breathing, technique, and everything else that comes with lifting. And I’m not afraid to ask others what is they bench or squat or whathaveyou, provided I know they also go to a gym. But on the other hand, I hate macho chest beating. I’ve seen it on FTSOS at least twice, and I hear it at the gym from time to time. It’s annoying and immature and it shows a lack of appreciation for what weight lifting is about.

Just today I saw someone on the bench press (monopolizing the friggin’ thing) working out of form – wildly. I saw him pressing 200lbs for his sets and doing fine, but when he went up in weight to 220lbs, he began arching his back higher than I’ve ever seen anyone go. His toes were the only thing touching the ground and he was clearly using his full body – not just the muscles the bench press is meant to target – in order to get through the exercise. He was probably trying to impress his friend, which was ridiculous since his friend never went above 130lbs anyway. Besides that, he did not improve his bench press in any meaningful way.

For another example, just last week I heard two guys making disparaging comments about others in the gym who were under tutelage or doing simply, relatively easy exercises. They kept it to themselves, not directing any comment to any one person, but it was still annoying, and on three levels. First, it was stupid macho chest beating. Second, it was mocking people who were putting forth an honest effort to better themselves – I disapprove of those who are willingly fat and out-of-shape, but there is nothing wrong with being fat while attempting to become healthy. And third, these two guys were acting as though they were the toughest thing that gym had ever seen. They weren’t. Aside from the massively strong – and generally humble – guys I’ve seen around there, I was out-lifting them. And they each out-weighed me by about 30lbs.

And then there’s this example from Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Passan:

There is an umpire problem in Major League Baseball, and it has nothing to do with blown calls or instant replay. It’s about a distinct lack of respect and baseball players’ cowardice in treating umpires as some subspecies, knowing the worst thing that can fly back at them is a suspension instead of a fist.

Most MLB players are far larger and far stronger than MLB umpires. I doubt they would be afraid to engage one of them in a fight if they could. After all, most teams get into a few brawls on the field every year – and that’s against other baseball players. Ya know, those guys who are professional athletes. It’s ridiculous to not only place false bravado on the players but to also pretend like an umpires fist is a big threat to these guys. It’s Passan who is throwing out the made up bravado, not the players.

So yeah, it bugs me when people try to play up the macho card. It’s worse when it’s done so by those who aren’t actually the strongest in the room – they deserve to be put in their place simply for getting their facts so wildly wrong – but it’s stupid when anyone does it. None of this should take away from a good appreciation for what weight lifting or athletics is about, but I do think it is good to maintain a distinction between being a macho jerk and just being a person who cares about fitness.