Being A Purist Won’t Make You Stronger

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I would like to preface this article by stating that I don’t like to write out long rants that often, unless I am repeatedly bombarded by a topic that just won’t seem to go away. Today, that topic is going to be related to “purists” in strength sports.


Webster’s Dictionary defines a purist as “a person who has very strong ideas about what is correct or acceptable and who usually opposes changes to traditional methods and practices.” Thank you Webster, I could not have come up with a better definition of a purist myself. A purist is easy to spot, whether it is online, or in person: picture someone with their arms crossed, a sour look on their face, and are usually whispering little drops of inadequacy to whomever is lucky enough to stand next to them in the gym or at a competition. 


In strength sports, a purist is usually someone who can be found deriding the accomplishments of others, mainly due to training gear the other person uses, a stance that they or comfortable with, and sometimes, even the use of chalk (I can’t make this stuff up). In the mind of a purist, no lift is considered acceptable unless it is completed under the personal rules of the purist. For example, I recently posted a video of Pat Mendes squatting 800lbs using an Olympic-style squat, no spotters, no belt, and he walked it out of the rack. 



Now, I personally think this is one of the most impressive squats of all time, the speed and depth of it combined with the weight makes it a squat that will not be easily accomplished by anyone else. And like clockwork, the purists had to come out of the woodwork to point out that it wasn’t really a “raw” squat because he is wearing rehband knee sleeves. Did you notice that I wrote SLEEVES and not WRAPS? That’s right, he used knee sleeves, which add a whopping infinitesimal amount of weight to a lift, especially in the 800lb range. I wish we all had 3-D printers, so I could send over a blueprint of my open palm to this purist so he could slap himself with it.


The problem with a purist’s mentality, in my opinion, is that they like to claim that they are “the most raw” of all lifters as an excuse for them not being able to lift as much weight. This is also why they need to constantly make more and more new federations in Powerlifting, to accommodate their idea of “real lifting”, instead of just lifting in the multitude of federations that are already in existence.


Powerlifting is not alone with it’s prevalence of purists, however, they are present in Crossfit, Olympic Weightlifting, and even Strongman, though not as much in the latter. In Crossfit, as we have discussed in previous articles, their idea of purity is a nasty leftover from this idea of “functional training”, “training like a caveman”, etc… (Don’t even get me started on the Primal crowd). Unfortunately, there are so many inconsistencies with their thinking that they can’t even be taken seriously. Yes, we were all in fact born naked, with no clothes on our bodies, no wrist wraps, and no lifting shoes on our feet. Does this mean that this is how we should approach a lifting sport? No! It is a SPORT, there are tools you utilize in sports if you want to be a winner. Would you expect a football player to play four rounds of football with no cleats on, because it is more “Primal”? Not unless you want him to make an ass out of himself. If you participate in a sport that has parameters of what is allowed and what is not allowed, you better do every possible thing that is allowed in the sport if you want to win.


There are some folks who like to post videos of athletes training out in the dirt, using makeshift equipment from rocks, or other random farm equipment and say “see! You don’t need fancy equipment to work out.” Yes that’s true, but there is a marked difference between training to win, and working out. When was the last time you saw someone who throws around boulders in a cornfield while wearing Vibrams as their main mode of training win anything noteworthy?


Constantly using the logical fallacy of Appeal to Antiquity, some lifters like to talk about how lifters “these days” have forgotten all the strength secrets of the old guys, and we need to get back to that, away from all of our fancy machines and tools. Guess what: How many numbers from the old days can even compare to the numbers that people put up now? With or without steroids, there is no comparison. People stopped training with the old ways for a reason: The newer ways gave them better results and made them stronger! The reason people mostly gave up using kettlebells is because a barbell and dumbbells are superior in almost every way. Yes, there are some random things you can do with a kettlebell to build hip strength, but a kettlebell was a cheaply made and easily mass-produced piece of equipment that was abandoned as soon as better equipment came along. There is a reason for that.


I normally don’t pay too much attention to purists, until they start crossing the boundaries and creeping into my camp. If people choose to lift without wrist wraps, belts, knee sleeves or wraps, that is fine with me. Most (not all) of the time, the folks who like to pretend that they are “training” by lifting this way are usually just gym-goers that compete in nothing, so why should they need to use training gear? The problem is, the rest of us want to win and we are using tools that we are permitted to use. You can pretend to “train for yourself” all you like, but if you were training for yourself, you wouldn’t need to spend so much time nitpicking the training methods of others. In fact, if you are truly training for yourself, you wouldn’t need to put your lifting videos, photos, and training thoughts online at all! That is specifically done so others can read it.


Wowee that was quite a rant. I think I have said all I need to say with this one, so in closing, please remember that just because someone is training differently than you, you aren’t more “pure” than they are, just because you make up your own rules or federations that say so. If you TRULY want to become as strong as you can possibly become, you will use all the necessary tools at your disposal to get the job done. History isn’t going to remember the person that squatted the most amount of weight in a small-town gym while wearing no belt, no shoes, no sleeves, and most importantly, NO MUSIC! Because we wouldn’t want music to be a crutch, now would we?

  • I came to crossfit from a traditional martial arts background and the same arguments happen there (except it’s among unfit white guys with large bellies but no lifts). In martial arts I got to the point where I became style agnostic and got better. I brought that to lifting and it was easier to stay away from purism from that experience. I’ve also noticed the better thinkers/coaches/lifters take what works and shut up and train.

  • I hate to be “that guy”, but the fact of the matter is, this article applies just as much to the single and multiply feds as the raw only feds.

    “If you participate in a sport that has parameters of what is allowed and what is not allowed, you better do possible thing that is allowed in the sport if you wanna win.”

    If its allowed in the rule book, especially if you get to compete in your own category, who the fuck cares about how “natural” or “unassisted” the movement was.

    We are talking about strength SPORTS with ATHLETES that are using SPORTING EQUIPMENT to be COMPETITIVE in a SPORT.

    NOT a graded exercise test for muscular fitness.

  • I fucking hate purists to be honest! Imma say this, there is no one way to exercise and everybody will have a subjective bias to a certain degree! That doesnt mean us as individuals should just force our ways because someone trains differently! Nobody is perfect and everyone is different!

  • I’m 47 years old and I want to be like the guy in the video when I grow up, seriously.

  • Awesome. Let’s all just lift. I try not to use anything but a belt and a bit of chalk and if other people want to lift with other equipment so be it. I just want to lift. I’m a purist about just getting in the gym and lifting. Hahaha purely all I want to do each gym day 🙂