man attempting to bicep curl dumbbells
Inside The Gym

How to Tell if You’re Ego Lifting

4 min read

One of the worst things you or anybody can do when resistance training is ego lift. Not only is it counterproductive to mass and strength gaining, but it also imprints a lifestyle/habit of bad form on a lifter. Ego lifting is a bad habit that needs to be nipped in the bud and that’s what we’ll be doing here.

Using dumbbell biceps curl as the overarching example, this is an article that points out cues in the biceps exercise from its start to its finish to help stop you or your mate from ego lifting next time you’re having a session.

Your Form Goes Out of the Window

I purposely chose to use the dumbbell biceps curl as an example because it’s the easiest exercise to visualize but also the most common exercise that everyone should be familiar with. Chances are, you’ve seen someone ego lifting in the gym when doing a biceps curl – or, perhaps, you’re the guilty one.

The biggest indicator of ego lifting is when you lack stability in your movement and you can’t control the weight you’re dealing with. When curling you want to have a braced core and the only section of your body moving should be your arms. A person ego lifting a biceps curl will arch or swing their body or arm(s) weirdly/wildly when lifting or lowering the dumbbell. This is done either because the person lacks the raw strength to move the weight with just their arms and no help from other body parts, or because they’re trying to incorporate momentum to help achieve the curl (also known as a cheat rep).

You Can’t Control the Eccentric Portion of a Movement

The eccentric portion of a biceps curl is when you’re lowering the weight back down to the starting position (elongation of the target muscles group). During this final part of a rep, you’re not meant to relax your way back to the starting position, you want to fight gravity and slowly control the weight back down to the neutral position. If you can’t do this, the weight is too much for you.

You really don’t want to ignore eccentric contractions in lifts as some studies argue that they possess more potential to increase muscle mass than concentric contractions (roughly 10% growth potential from eccentric vs 6.8% from concentric)*.

You Fail to Achieve Time Under Tension

The concept of time under tension is maximizing that segment of a lift where your muscle is placed under tension/strain until you reach a neutral position (at the top of a biceps curl, before lowering, or at the bottom of the curl, before lifting).

In a biceps curl, the tension comes when lowering the weight and by a rule of thumb, it should take you roughly three seconds to lower a weight. If you can’t fight gravity and control the weight down for that three second count then the weight is too much, reduce it.

Your Range of Motion is Compromised (Too Short)

Full range of motion (the full movement length of a muscle joint) is essential to any movement and if you can’t accomplish this then lower the weight. Are you familiar with 21’s bicep curls? That’s a good example of full range of motion and half motions.

You Can’t Achieve Your Target Rep Range

If your target rep range is 6-8, 8-10, 12-15, or whatever, but you can’t reach this range when curling with strict form, then chances are you’re doing too much. Lower the weight.

However, this comes with a disclaimer; if you’re struggling on your final set you may be tired and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ego lifting. When this happens, you can incorporate cheat reps since the majority of your sets have been done with good, controlled form.

Putting It all Together

Putting all together now, when you’re dumbbell curling (1) you want to be braced with complete control of the movement, only your arms should be in motion; (2) when you’ve lifted the weight up (concentric) and you’re lowering it back down (eccentric) you want to fight gravity (3) and maintain the lowering for at least three seconds; (4) as you’re doing your reps you want to perform full range of motions; and lastly, (5) you want to be able to reach your rep range while adhering to points (1)-(4), failing to do so outside of the final set probably means you need to lower the weight.

If you can’t do all these, then chances are you’re ego lifting and you need to put your ego in check and lower the weight. With all that said, hope this helps! Go out there, maximize your gains, and kill your next session!

* – Hypertrophic effects of concentric versus eccentric muscle actions: a systematic review and meta-analysis (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research)


A writer, gamer, geek, and gym rat all packaged into one. I'm a certified personal trainer who writes about the things he loves and I enjoy sharing them with others all on MXFitness.