Over the years, there’s been a slew of reports suggesting that marijuana may help people become better athletes. Or at the very least, it might make it easier for them to be more productive in the gym.
These tales often begin as a third person account, something like:
Jessie, 31, never exercised a day in his life, but when he noticed that he could no longer see his wiener when he peed, he decided to hit the gym to slim down that gut. He hated working out, though, until one day he ate a marijuana edible before hitting the squat rack and soon he was a powerlifting champion.
The story would then launch into an ambitious spiel about how working out under the influence of marijuana helps people stay motivated and connected to their fitness routine. Some even argued that it enhances workouts, provides added energy and boosts good vibes.
Fear & Loathing at the Gym
Well, I decided to give a THC-infused workout a try to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve been going to the gym religiously since they reopened – four to five times a week – primarily focused on strength training.
As a man in his late forties, the importance of building lean muscle mass now supersedes the wasted years. It has too. Being strung out with a big old bulging beer gut is not attractive anytime in life, but it’s just plain sad once a person reaches a level of salt-and-pepper maturity.
Slinging weights is a great equalizer. It keeps the metabolism at optimal performance, increases strength, boosts testosterone (you start to lose that in your forties), and informs the body that you’re still a man who refuses to die anytime soon.
Now, of course, guys like me aren’t out there trying to break any weightlifting records (well, we do at first but usually end up with an injury. I’ve had two). We are simply trying to look and feel our best while warding off our impending doom. I only mention this to give you, the reader, a sense of where I’m at with my fitness journey.
All I normally consume before hitting the gym is a scoop full of pre-workout. But one day last week, I added cannabis to the mix. For me, I’ll admit, weed is something I do on occasion after hours. Call me old school, but we always waited to get wrecked until after the day was done. Work, then play.
I’ve maintained this philosophy for decades, and it has served me well. So, catching a buzz during lunch – I usually workout between noon and 1pm – was out of character. Yet, in the interest of science and content, I took a few hits of Blue Dream before my quest for the pump. Note: I didn’t drive stoned, my office is right across the street. Be responsible, kids.
How much weed did I use? Just enough for a slight head change, but not nearly enough to get me laughing hysterically and raving about aliens to the girls at the front desk. Not stoned, but not my normal self.
Although I typically split my workouts throughout the week – doing upper body one day and lower the next – my plan, since I was high, was to explore a total body workout and see how that felt.
Starting off at the squat rack, I knew I was in big trouble.
Even though I don’t typically go too heavy on this exercise – opting for higher reps with lighter weight to lessen the risk of injury – I noticed the workout seemed a little more arduous than usual.
I felt unstable on my feet – something that’s never good while holding one’s body weight on his shoulders – and it felt as though I could lose my balance at any time. To make matters worse, I got the feeling that everyone else in the gym was watching me botch the lift. I certainly wasn’t inescapably focused.
From there I moved on to leg extensions. That wasn’t nearly as unpleasant since I was sitting down. I did, however, notice that I kept losing count of my reps. My focus continued its daring escape, and I found myself strangely absorbed with the performances of others. I had to move on.
Considering the instability I experienced at the squat rack, I was nervous about getting under the bench press. I don’t have a workout partner, which means there’s no one to spot me if I can’t get the weight off my chest. So again, lighter weight and higher reps are the norm for this routine.
Still, when raising the bar, there was more imbalance. The weight appeared heavier, and my focus, once again, wasn’t stable enough to make me comfortable with the lift. There was no laser-focus on my end. I was all over the place. In fact, weed got in the way of my whole performance. My lifts lost structure. My form suffered greatly. The muscle-brain connection was simply nowhere to be found, and my workout was lagging. It was nothing like those articles implied.
Unfortunately, the same was true of every other exercise I attempted.
Very Real Risks to Hitting the Weights Stoned
Come to find out, my clown shoe exhibition was caused by the decreased motor coordination that is synonymous with marijuana consumption. Big surprise. If you ask Ron Jones, personal trainer, fitness influencer and amateur bodybuilder, who goes by the moniker Big Ron Jones on Instagram, this is precisely why it’s probably not the best idea to mix weed and the gym.
“My professional opinion is, don’t do it,” he told The Bluntness. “The inherent danger of not having all senses on high alert is not only crippling to being in the moment, but a distraction from danger perception.”
The gym, the same as anywhere else where machines and heavy things could cause us harm, should be respected.
“The gym is a dangerous place, and the brain is speaking to the body 24/7 because it knows there are clear and present dangers,” Jones added. “Being a few seconds late to respond to a weight falling on your foot or being unaware of moving objects could cost you life or limb.”
No matter what any of those articles claim about marijuana helping a person better connect with their workouts, it’s all likely an illusion. Remember, when you’re high, things aren’t as they seem.
“You are not getting a better workout while stoned,” Jones asserts. “What you are experiencing is the body’s inability to be distracted by other stimuli in the gym. That laser locked focus you have is simply the mind only being able to register what’s currently in front of you, the immediate task at hand.”
Furthermore, weed masks key systems in the body that need to be firing on all cylinders to prevent the gym-goer from getting hurt. “The endurance you feel or increased pain tolerance is a delay in the central nervous system, CNS,” Jones explained. “Pain receptors, also called nociceptors, are delayed in letting the brain know that pain in the skin, deep tissue, joints and muscles is being felt. That’s not a good thing and can stage overtraining and injury,” he concluded.
No, unless your workout consists of rolling around on a yoga ball, weed probably isn’t going to provide much of a benefit in the gym. On the contrary, it could prove detrimental.
But Mike, what about recovery? Sure, there are some who argue that weed helps us recoup, lending to pain relief and working as an anti-inflammatory. It’s probably more of an excuse to get high. But if you feel like it helps, by all means keep it up. You’re not at much risk of hurting yourself in a post-workout haze.
Still, following a heavy leg day, for example, one where I’m destined to walk around like I got roughed up from the rear by a very aggressive water buffalo, there isn’t much that cuts through the soreness. Not ibuprofen and definitely not cannabis. The only thing that consistently works for my recovery is time, sleep, plenty of water and attention to my dietary needs.
Let’s stop trying to rationalize how marijuana can benefit us in our quest to better every aspect of our lives, especially if it means we could get hurt. Sure, weed is great in some instances, but the gym isn’t one of them. If you’re serious about fitness, marijuana isn’t necessary to achieve focus and gains. All that is required is some attention to diet, consistency, and over time you’ll achieve your goals.
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