Squats and Sport Coats: What The Barbell Taught Me About Style

by Barron Cuadro  |  in Lifestyle

Earlier this year, I switched from a lax workout routine (a.k.a. “working out random muscle groups, and finishing with an arbitrary amount of cardio”) to something more structured and goal-oriented (Starting Strength).

barbell-squat-muscles-usedFor several months, I was perfecting my low bar squat (one of the movements you would learn by following the program) and got quite used to it, but recently, I’ve decided to switch to a version of the high bar squat.

In theory, they sound pretty similar, but the motor patterns associated with the two differ significantly.

Long story short, because of the difference in these movements, I’ve had to retrain myself.

At first, I had a hard time adjusting to the high bar squat, and because of this, I had to drop the weight significantly just so I could focus on the actual movement and not worry about crushing myself under the heavier weight I was used to with the low bar squat.

Anyway, you must be wondering…

“How does this relate to personal style?”

A week into practicing this new squat, it was getting increasingly easier to do. Soon enough, I was able to complete multiple sets of my usual 3-5 reps while steadily increasing the load closer and closer to my previously achieved weight.

During one of my rest periods, I realized how similar learning a new movement in the gym is to improving personal style, especially when starting practically from scratch.

Here’s what I mean:

It takes practice to learn something new, so do it consistently to get better

Like I stated above, there was a learning curve I had to overcome when getting used to the high bar squat, especially since my body was already used to performing the low bar squat.

When I decided to switch it up and first encountered difficulty, I could’ve easily given up and stuck to what I was familiar with.

Doing what’s familiar is easy. It’s comfortable. You won’t look stupid or make mistakes since you already know how to do it.

But learning new things is how we grow, progress, and improve as humans. It’s how we discover new tastes and preferences.

It’s important to improve and try new things, otherwise you’ll forever be stuck in the position you’re most comfortable. That’s why sometimes, you see older guys still rocking the same clothes and hairstyles they had 30 years ago, or the guy in his mid-30s still wearing his T-shirts and cargo shorts from high school. To them, those were the good ol’ days, and they haven’t moved on from that… or maybe they just haven’t made the effort to evolve and improve.

My point is this: Don’t be afraid to try new things with your style.

Is there a classic garment you haven’t adopted yet, like an OCBD? Go for it. Something that’s considered trendy, but you’re still drawn to it? Do it!

The only way you learn what you love and hate is by trying new things.

The only way you can really hone in on your personal style is by figuring out more and more of the things you love to wear and the things that don’t work for you.

If changing your style makes you uncomfortable, wear those outfits every day until it feels like second nature having them on. Once you’ve committed, consistency is key. You won’t get used to it if you keep reverting back to your comfortable, familiar outfits.

You’re updating your personal style for a reason; be resilient and stick with your decision until it’s no longer uncomfortable (and trust me, you’ll get used to it sooner than you think).

Start light, and continually add more weight


Another thing when I first switched over: my upper trapezius wasn’t used to the bar position and the heavy weight.

This made me want to go back to the low bar movement even more, since my rear deltoids were already used to the bar weight and pressure, but I knew if I did that, I would never get used to the high bar’s positioning.

So what did I do? I dropped the weight a bit, and continued to practice the high bar squat every workout. Just two weeks later, my traps are completely used to the bar positioning and the ever-increasing weight.

When working on your personal appearance, start light by improving just one area instead of your whole closet all at once.

For example, maybe your shoe selection could use some help. From there, dial down even further and evaluate the specific shoes you own. Ask yourself things like:

  • What about them needs to be improved or changed?
  • Is it the silhouettes?
  • Is it the mediocrity in style, color choices, sub-par materials?
  • Are your choices not representing who you are, what you’ve learned, and how you feel?

Once you are comfortable adjusting one specific area of your overall wardrobe, you can confidently adjust others, even multiple ones at a time. It just takes that first change to get used to things.

Focus on one thing while incrementally improving others

Obviously, if you take on too many items, garments, or outfits at once, you may become overwhelmed and then just give up completely.

For example, if you know your business casual workplace garb is terrible, that one suit you own is ill-fitting, and also your after-work, everyday clothing sucks… it’s hard to pick a place to start, isn’t it?

When I first started my more structured heavy lifting routine earlier this year, I was doing very basic movements (squats, deadlifts, overhead press), but they were completely different from the machine-assisted or isolated lifts I was used to, like the leg press machine, or a standard bicep curl.

While I worked to be technically correct in all movements, I focused on growing stronger with one specific movement while trying to at least stay consistent (if not get incrementally stronger) with the others.

I focused on my deadlift, and because of that focus, I was able to break through plateaus relatively easily.

Here’s a tip: If you work in a relatively casual environment, get your “business casual” wardrobe up to par first.

Since you probably don’t wear suits as often as, say, an investment banker, you can work on improving your suit situation later (yes, you still need one or two).

Stick with your plan of improving your work gear until you’ve gotten strong, then move onto another area that needs your attention.

Your fears? They’re all mental

I have this mental block when it comes to heavy squats. I realize that even saying I have a mental block out loud is detrimental to my gains.

Whenever I get under the bar, I first visualize myself going below parallel, and easily and effortlessly coming back up in one fluid motion. I have to work extra hard to mentally picture myself doing the movement, so my doubtful mind doesn’t psych me out.

Your fears about improving your everyday style, whatever they may be, are all mental. It’s all a game you’re playing with yourself.

  • Scared to change it up because you’re afraid people will think it’s “not you”? Chances are, people will hardly notice, and the ones who do will think you look great.
  • Think learning how to dress better is difficult? It’s not. Sites like this one oftentimes lay it out, step by step, and there are resources you can buy if you need even more hand-holding. You simply have to follow the directions.
  • Feel like you look weird in your new clothing? If you get the fit right, and you follow the Lean Wardrobe philosophy, you’ll look just fine. In fact, you’ll look (and eventually feel) incredible.

Your fears? They’re all in your head.

Change your patterns

All these experiences I’ve shared with you in my quest to high bar squat more efficiently (adapting to the differences in bar positioning and motion, dropping the weight to acclimate to the movement, etc.) describe a change in pattern I needed to make.

Put more simply, my brain’s used to one set of experiences and everything that goes with it. In order to do a similar, but completely different thing, I’ve had to learn a new pattern.

Since I’ve consistently practiced, I was able to build a new mental pattern, and now a high bar squat is as effortless as the low bar movement. Now, I can focus on lifting heavier instead of just getting the motions right.

A simple pattern change is all you need in your journey to style improvement.

You’re already wearing clothes every day, now it’s just a matter of learning and internalizing the concepts of fit and good garment choices to build a new mental pattern. Eventually, you’ll replace your old pattern with this new one.

How do you create a new pattern? Get in the right state of mind and consistently improve and attempt to dress well every day so your brain and body get used to it.

Remove all temptation to fall back into old habits. That means cleaning out your closet and getting rid of old, ill-fitting clothing… anything that doesn’t serve your new purpose of dressing to look and feel better.

If you are easily overwhelmed or have a hard time juggling many ideas at once, focus on improving just one aspect of your overall style like I mentioned above. Work with that one thing until your mental patterns have changed before tackling the next problem area.

Study those you admire and learn their technique

Because technique is incredibly important in weightlifting, I did my research. I read about technique, and I watched many “how to” videos on YouTube that broke down the movements in phases and illustrated the sticking points of each, just so I knew what to look out for.

You should research this same way when upping your personal style game.

Follow those you find inspirational. Pick up books and magazines. Check out Tumblr, read numerous style sites (not just EG), and listen to interesting podcasts about style. A few weeks ago I gave you this list of sites, and that’s a great place to start.

One final thing to note: When I was exploring YouTube’s strength and weightlifting channels, I ended up subscribing to specific ones and avoiding others because I wanted to learn from people whose message and style resonated with me as a person.

If a site’s message and style—I’m referring to both clothing style and style of writing or information presentation—resonates with you, stick with them, and learn all you can from them.

Focus. Practice. Maintain consistency. Learn new patterns. Study.

Improving your personal style (or anything in life) is simple. It doesn’t take much to be great at something. The bulk of it is practicing regularly and maintaining consistency, and learning from the best.

And what about you? What areas of your personal style growth could use a bit more consistency or practice? What patterns do you need to change?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


[photo, photo, photo]