What Is Ego Lifting? + 4 Tell-Tale Signs You Are Ego Lifting At The Gym

If you’ve ever spent time in a gym, particularly one with a reputation of being packed with “meatheads,” you’ve likely witnessed ego lifting.

Perhaps you have seen people hoisting excessively heavy weights while using poor form, grunting and groaning audibly as if trying to garner attention, and dramatically dropping heavy barbells and dumbbells after executing what seems like poor technique on a weightlifting exercise.

Almost every gym goer has seen someone doing an ego lift; perhaps you have even been guilty of ego lifting yourself at one time or another.

In this ego lifting guide, we will discuss the ego lifting meaning, how to know if you are ego lifting, and what to do if you are ego lifting in order to have more effective and safe workouts.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Ego Lifting?
  • How Do I Know If I Am Ego Lifting?
  • 4 Signs Of Ego Lifting
  • How Do You Avoid Ego Lifting?

Let’s dive in! 

A person ego lifting at the gym.

What Is Ego Lifting?

Before jumping into the specifics, let’s take a look at the ego lifting meaning.

Ego lifting is a common faux pas in the gym but should be avoided at all costs: it refers to lifting more weight than you should to either feel better about yourself or one-up the person next to you in the gym.

In a sense, ego lifting is trying to show off or boost your ego by appearing to lift impressively heavy weights.

While there is nothing wrong with being the strongest person in your gym or even trying to hit big PRs in the privacy of your own home gym, the reason that ego lifting is problematic is that the person is attempting to lift more weight than they should or than they are able to handle with proper form and technique for the exercise.

Essentially, when someone is guilty of ego lifting, they pay no attention to the quality of their reps or using proper form and execution for the exercise.

Instead, the sole focus with an ego lift is on how much weight they can possibly lift, even if it means compromising the actual nuts and bolts of how to do the exercise and their own physical safety, abilities, and biomechanics.

This can lead to injury rather than helping the ego lifter safely and effectively achieve his or her strength training goals.

A person doing a back squat.

How Do I Know If I Am Ego Lifting?

So, how do you know if you are ego lifting or just aren’t sure how much weight to lift or how to exercise with the full range of motion?

What distinguishes ego lifting from a beginner attempting to lift more weight than they can handle is that someone doing an ego lift typically knows that the weights they are lifting are ultimately too heavy.

However, they want to either one-up the person they are sharing a squat rack with or someone set up at the next bench or trying to impress or show off in front of other people in the gym.

In contrast, beginners sometimes aren’t sure how much weight they should be lifting, and they are testing the waters, potentially not even knowing how to perform an exercise with the full range of motion properly. 

This may cause a beginner to appear to be ego lifting when they are really just completely inexperienced and either replicating what they see around them in the gym or taking a wild guess at how much weight they should lift and how to do the exercise.

A true ego lift is usually a conscious choice by someone trying to showboat or boost their own ego by trying to use heavier weights than they know they can handle rather than a display of ignorance and inexperience by a beginner trying to figure out how much weight they should be using and how to perform a weightlifting exercise properly.

A person at the gym looking in the mirror.

4 Signs Of Ego Lifting

As mentioned, ego lifting is generally a deliberate choice to prioritize the load you are lifting, or how you are lifting, over using proper form and technique for the exercise.

Here are some common signs of ego lifting to help you determine if you are guilty of performing ego lifts rather than lifting within your ability levels:

#1: Choosing Weights That Are Too Heavy For You

The biggest sign of doing an ego lift vs. quality lift is going for heavier weights than you are physically ready for.

You should choose an appropriate weight that you can handle with proper form and technique for every single rep of your set.

It’s one thing if you are trying to gradually and progressively increase your weights, using the principle of progressive overload, and you are bumping up in your load and find that by the last rep or two of your set, you really can barely eke out the rep properly.

Bicep curl.

This is a normal part of using sound strength training principles as long as you progress gradually and only increase your weight by 5% or so, depending on your fitness level and the exercises you perform.

In these cases, you may need to reduce the number of reps in your set until you are able to finish the full set with proper form.

You may find that you are able to do 6 or 7 high-quality reps using proper form and the full range of motion, but when you try to get up to 10 reps, your form starts to break down.

You may find yourself wanting to swing the weights in order to use momentum to help “cheat“ the weight up, or you are not fully extending your elbows on the way down so that you don’t have to start from a dead stop.

Instead of going for 10 reps per set with that weight, scale back to 7 reps or whatever you can handle with good form.

Then, slowly over the next couple of workouts, increase the number of reps in your sets until you reach 10 (or your goal).

Even if you are trying to do strength training workouts to build strength rather than muscle, so you are using a lower rep range, you should be able to do at least 2 to 4 reps with good form using the weights you have selected unless you are following a specific training plan that is only doing 1-3 reps per set.

Squat machine.

#2: Using Bad Form and Technique

The classic sign of ego lifting is using bad lifting form and technique.

This occurs because when you are doing an ego lift, you are inherently using more weight than you are ready for, so your weightlifting form and execution will break down.

Therefore, ego lifting signs include:

  • Swinging the weights
  • Rushing through reps to use momentum
  • Failing to use the proper and full range of motion for an exercise
  • Straining through reps by hunching over or twisting your back
  • Changing your posture or stance
  • Jerking the weight around
  • Using gravity rather than your own muscle control to help bring the weight or weight stack down if you use a weight machine

Imagine someone doing biceps curls. A symptom of ego lifting would be jerking the weights up or swinging them up and down to capitalize on the momentum.

You may also see someone hinging at the hips or leaning forward so that the torso comes downward, reducing the range to get the weights up.

Someone may also swing or pop their hips forward and back to use the hip thrust momentum to help keep the weights up.

The other common sign of ego lifting with something like a biceps curl is failing to extend your arms all the way on the eccentric portion of the exercise before beginning the next rep. 

This is because it is easier to lift the weight if your elbow is already partially flexed.

A person looking in the mirror at the gym.

#3: Lifting Through Pain

Although this can also be a sign of exercise addiction or a gym addiction sign in addition to an ego lifting sign, if you find yourself lifting or training through pain, it can also be a clue that your ego is getting in the way of listening to your body.

If an exercise is hurting, but you are trying to squeeze out the reps anyway, you need to check your ego at the door and listen to your body. 

You are either fighting off an injury, and you need to heed your body’s signals, or you are lifting more weight than you should and exceeding the capacity of your musculoskeletal system to handle the load you are trying to lift for your set.

#4: Looking Around 

Lastly, another ego lifting sign is feeling like you are looking around at the other people in the gym and trying to one-up them or show off. 

If you find your inner competitor coming out and you are trying to match the weights that someone else is lifting even though you know you aren’t ready for that, or you are sharing a squat rack with someone, and you have to add on an extra set of tens to the bar they lifted, you are guilty of ego lifting.

A person doing a deadlift.

How Do You Avoid Ego Lifting?

Learning how to avoid ego lifting is fairly straightforward and mostly involves being honest and realistic with the weights you are using and the progression you are doing in your strength training workouts.

However, depending on your personality and level of competitiveness with yourself and other weightlifters in the gym, some people find it surprisingly difficult to stop ego lifting if it has become a habit.

Here are some tips for how to prevent ego lifting in the gym:

  • Gradually progress the weights that you lift
  • Master proper form and technique
  • Focus on yourself, not other people around you
  • Listen to your body, not your ego or what other people around you in the gym are doing
  • Don’t progress too quickly—be patient
  • Use mirrors to check your form

To avoid ego lifting while still increasing the weights that you can lift so that you feel stronger and can get the feeling of an ego lift without actually being guilty of ego lifting, check out our guide to building muscle here.

A bicep curl
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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