If you have ever been to a circus, you have undoubtedly seen the highly comical clown car.

The clown car has been a circus staple beginning in the 1950s through to today.  For those unfamiliar with this circus act, here is the gist....

The clown car is a circus routine that utilizes an extremely small car, like an old Volkswagen Beetle, from which an inordinately large number of clowns (typically 15-20) seem to endlessly emerge from the inside of the vehicle, one after another. They emerge from the tiny car in full-blown clown mode—the makeup, clown nose, big clown shoes—and they begin their clown routine.

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The secret to this is that the clown car has been hollowed out. No seats, and no guts to the small car whatsoever. Just filled to the brim with clown stacked on top of clown stacked on top of clown.

That said, the circus clown car is not just an act. It has become a metaphor for acts that are clownlike, and those where the people committing these acts seem to endlessly emerge. You see this metaphor in political cartoons frequently.


Walt Handelsman/The New Orleans Advocate 


A real-life example of the metaphorical clown car clowns involves those living, breathing clowns on social media who we have all been saturated with. Those are your dime-a-dozen online trolls, keyboard cowards, mom’s-basement warriors, self-proclaimed experts, or whatever term of affection you wish to use to label them. They are like clowns from a clown car because just like the circus clowns, they just keep coming, one after another after another, and they do their clown routines over and over again.

There are tangible places you can see the clowns of the social media clown car. In fact, sometimes you simply need to go to your local gym and you can see a clown routine virtually on a daily basis.

If you frequent a corporate gym, you can see these performances over and over again. The good news is, their clown routines come FREE with the gym membership, so bonus.

Although the clowns who emerge from their car into the gym are dressed a little differently, they are clowns nonetheless. Every gym has a few clowns, and they are always entertaining. Think about your gym: can you picture them in your mind’s eye? Yup, that is them.

Sometimes their clown routine is to be the loudest, most obnoxious clowns in the gym.  Sometimes they entertain you by doing more posting and taking more photos while at the gym than actual lifting. Sometimes we are treated to their comedy when they pull a couple hundred pounds but slam it down to the ground as if they were handling Ed Coan weight. The bar slamming is always a crowd favorite and a clown specialty, like balloon animals at a kid’s party.

But then there are the times when they entertain us in more subtle clown ways. This is a little less showy and flamboyant but still a great form of clown humor in and of itself. You will see this subtle clown humor when the clowns from the car preach their “programming” secrets, especially to the new-to-the-sport lifters. They share their perfect advice that only they know, and they are quick to point out how you and all of the other inhabitants on this good Earth have it all wrong.

The best part of the clown car show—the part that is the most intriguing most humorous to you as a spectator—is that the gym clowns don’t even realize that they are the punch line. It is exponential humor: the harder they work on their clown routines, the more they illuminate to the audience that they are, in fact, punch joke.

With the explosion of social media, you are now in for a real treat. Now, you can “follow” your favorite clown car clowns. These are the clowns who have 100K followers or more but have never set toe one on a competitive stage or platform. Their clown routines are absolutely, Ringling Brothers, spectacular. Their routine is one of trying to sell you their “secrets” cleverly advertised with clown filters and clown posed photos. These clowns provide endless hours of fun for the entire family. They post their “do what I say,” regardless of having never done anything themselves.

If you are new lifter or new to the gym world, you might not be able to sniff out that more subtle joke, which is that the clowns don’t know they are the clowns. But the longer you train, the more gyms you train at, the more meets you compete in, the more obvious that this reverse joke will become to you but not to them.

In all seriousness, as this is obviously a little tongue-and-cheek metaphorical inference at the expense of the social media clowns we see on a regular basis, if you are a newer lifter, you undoubtedly will have questions. And with an Internet over-populated with lifting information, and with some corporate gyms full of self-proclaimed experts, it is difficult to know what is good and what is not-so-good information. You will see an array of people at the gym, and as a newer-to-the-scene lifter, it is often difficult to see the difference between those who are really good lifters and those who are the clowns who just talk a good game.

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between authentic and the self-serving is to be a good listener. Sit back, observe the lifters, and listen. When listening, consider heeding the words of the legendary Walter Payton. Mr. Payton stated the following: “When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you.” The self-serving clowns will rarely miss an opportunity to tell you how good they are. The “been there, done that” athletes in the power game tend to keep to themselves and let others toot their horns, as that is not the style for authentic and successful lifters and champions.

I have been involved with powerlifting for several decades now and have been fortunate to have been able to train with some truly great lifters. There are many traits they have in common. But there are three of note for those of you who are new to the sport.  Trait Number One: Great lifters will rarely share with you what they have done that is great. Rather, they will readily share with you what they have done wrong. They will share the mistakes they have made so that you might be able to avoid those mistakes. Trait Number Two: Great lifters, if asked, will share with you what they have done for consideration, not what you must do, as they know that every new lifter has to follow his or her own path. After all, “The learning is in the doing,” as Dave (the blonde bomber) Draper often states. Trait Number Three: Great lifters will lift others up rather than cast aspersions on others. Those taking up space in the proverbial clown car frequently make the time to put down others and highlight other’s shortcomings. Great lifters, too, find the weaknesses of others but do so for the opportunity to teach.

These three traits I have seen over and over again throughout the decades, and they will help the newer lifter to illuminate who the great lifters are and who the clowns who talk a great game are.

Never in the history of the world of weights, strength, power, and muscle have so many snake oil salesmen and women, and so many clowns been so prevalent and so difficult to identify as such. Gone are the days where authors of books were deeply vetted by their publishing companies. In their place are those who preach from Mt. Media and have a voice as loud as, if not louder than, an actual authority on the sport. When social media personalities with no actual accolades have six and seven times the audience at event booths than an actual champion of that sport does, well, you get the point.

Robby Robinson, a legendary bodybuilder who, now in his 70s, has a physique and a muscularity comparable to his competitive physique from back in the 1970s, says the following in his book, The Black Prince 2, Diary of a Bodybuilder: “ make matters worse, over the years new training systems, diet fads, and a saturation of supplements...confused the simplicity of achieving a fit, strong body. The best way in my experience is not too complex, but because it takes hard work, time, and patience, entrepreneurs have touted quick and easy ways. But they do now work.” “Our bodies are organic material adjusting to its environment and responding and changing to its surrounding conditions, sustenance and mental experiences. Always growing, always adapting. We’ve been given the power over our own evolution during our lifetimes.” Robby Robinson has a vantage point of some 50 years “under the bar,” and his word, “entrepreneurs,” is a polite way to say “clowns” from the clown car.


There are a lot of great resources out there (from elitefts to Ed Coans and the Robby Robinsons of the world of muscle, strength, and power) for new lifters. But new lifters, beware of the clowns emerging from their social media clown cars. The sermons of these false prophets lack a depth of experience and knowhow that the been-there-done-that shepherds use to tend to their flock, as they are truly invested in making a difference rather than in expanding their followers. Less is sometimes more when quality and experience are concerned.

Wishing you the best as you start your journey into the world of iron, steel, sets, reps, strength and power.

Header image credit: Vadim Guzhva ©

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