Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 2

Hey, I'm a patriotic guy!

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so if smoking is so bad for you why did so many lifters  do it?  And why were those lifters so successful while smoking.  The quick answer might be that they would have been even better without cigarettes.  This may surprise you, but I DISAGREE!

You may be thinking, “What! Thom is saying smoking will help your lifting”!  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Just like steroids, amphetamines, and the dozens of other drugs people use to increase their performance.  But don’t confuse helping your lifting and helping your health.  Also, there are better ways to achieve the same positive effects of smoking without the long term health problems that smoking brings.

First, how does smoking help.  Nicotine is a stimulant.  When you smoke, you are introducing a stimulant to your system.  A stimulant can help you focus.  By focusing, you can reduce anxiety (which is how cigarettes can calm you down when they stimulant you).  Since it enters through the lungs, it is wickedly fast in how it does it and why it is so addictive.  It has an incredibly fast stimulus-reward connection.  But you have to remember, there’s a DIFFERENCE between short term and long term benefits.

When I used to work in substance abuse counseling patients would often have a “dual diagnosis”.  They would come into treatment as a result of substance abuse, but the reason they would abuse substances had to do with an underlying problem.  I’ll used Depression as an example.  If you are depressed and you take methamphetamine you will no longer be depressed.  As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee INSTANT results.  If you simply go on the instant results, then “meth” would be the greatest success story of all time in the treatment of depression.  But we all know there are many consequences of using “meth”.  The consequences of cigarettes are slow, but the benefits are quick.

I bring this up because when I was a teenager and I was faced with the opportunities to use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, steroids, I would hear only that they were “bad” for you….but what I often saw conflicted with that and as a result, I would question just how “bad” they were!  I even recall people saying that steroids didn’t work at all and that it was all psychological…..yeah, right!!!  If we want to modify our behavior or the behavior of those around us for the better, we have to be honest

Now that we are being honest, let’s back up to the “dual diagnosis” example a little.  So, if you take away the way a person is self medicating, you must find an alternative or they are doomed to go back to their self medication.  With cigarettes, you must find some healthy alternative, or at least a relatively healthy alternative (when I did substance abuse counseling we often encouraged cigarette smoking to deal with withdrawal  from hardcore drugs as it was the lessor evil).

As lifters, we are always looking for an edge.  I don’t know how many supplements I’ve tried over the years.  But if we are willing to work, and wait for results, we can find effective replacements for things like cigarettes that deliver short term but make us pay long term.

Breath easy!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 1

If smoking makes you stronger.....this guy will be the World's Strongest Man in no time!

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid and my Uncle’s were lifting on a regular basis I would often go the gym to watch them workout.  During their workout, they would chain smoke cigarettes.  Cigarette smoke often filled the gym and the ash tray was next to the chalk box!  I recall my Uncle Wayne, taking a drag off his cigarette, setting it on the edge of the platform (with the “cherry” end dangling off the edge) and hitting a set of Power Cleans.   Then he would retrieve his cigarette and, while trying to catch his breath, take a drag off of it and then cough!

Those who are under 30 won’t understand how prevalent smoking was back then.  It was normal for smoking to happen everywhere.  Even at weightlifting meets.  It was a smokers right to light up, not the other way around like it is now!  I recall going to sporting events and people lighting up right next to you, attending classes and people smoking the the classroom in college, and the only reason you wouldn’t smoke at a hospital had nothing to do with health….it was so an open flame didn’t make contact with Oxygen!  Same reason for no smoking in a theater….they were worried about a fire…not people’s health!

We are now taught how bad smoking is for you.  We have a lot of older lifters who used to smoke and if they didn’t, they were like me growing up with it wherever they went.  Both my parents chain smoked, I can’t recall my Dad not having a cigarette dangling from his mouth!  We now know just how bad second hand smoke is for you!

Today, my Dad is gone.  He passed away at age 65 and I’m certain the cigarettes cost him at least 10 years.  My Uncle’s Wayne and Phil, are in their 60’s as well and smoking has taken a toll.  They all told me they wished they had never started.  It’s an addiction and a powerful one.  My point is, these were the strongest men I knew growing up.  And Smoking cost them dearly…..and it cost those of us who loved them dearly.  My grandfather never smoked and he lived to be 85 and was in great shape.  His death was the effects of a car accident….or he probably would have lived much longer!  Sure, there’s lots of factors in that….but he removed the factor that cigarettes could have played in his health and it certainly would have been negative!

We all know smoking is bad for us, but did you younger guys realize not so many years ago that being tough and strong, often meant being a smoker and if you went to a lifting meet you could expect a wall of thick smoke.   David Rigert, one of the greatest Oly lifters of all time lifted in the 70’s and he often chain smoked at meets (and drank vodka in the warm up room between lifts) and would put down his cigarette to go lift!  Or if you joined a gym, people would be smoking….even while lifting!  Things have changed, but in this case…..for the better!