Celebrities and gym influencers keep getting caught lifting fake weights

In June of 2021, Sylvester Stallone posted a video on his Instagram of an amazing feat. From a kneeling position on a gym floor, the 74-year-old actor plucked a 45-pound plate in each hand, lifted them directly in front of him, and then worked his way up to a standing position. Along the way, he strained and grunted and grimaced. Despite the theatrics, not everyone was convinced the stunt was real.

“You can’t do that,” professional bodybuilder and world-record-breaking powerlifter Greg Doucette said in a YouTube video in which he tried to recreate the lift. Because of how the weight pushes you forward, the Doucette could barely do it with 25-pound plates with handles. “If you thought he could actually do it, you’re an idiot,” Doucette said. Stallone fans disagreed, posting their own theories, analyzes and recreations.

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This was not the first round of fake weight talks. Similar controversies erupted around fitness model Gracyanne Barbosa in 2017, strength influencer Brad Castleberry in 2018, online strength and conditioning coach Jeff Cavaliere in 2020, and eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman earlier in this year.

The problem is so pervasive that even NFL star JJ Watt has stepped in. Shortly after Stallone’s stunt, Watt posted a video of himself doing back squats with what looked like five 25-pound plates on each side. After snatching five reps at what would have been 605 pounds, Watt removed one of the plates, tossed it in the air, and revealed that it’s actually a 2.5-pound change plate. “Watch out for the bullshit,” reads the caption.

And when it comes to bullshit, many of the imposters are easy to spot right off the bat. For example, they can easily squat at near-world record weights with minimal spots, no belts or knee wraps, no bar bend, and not even a grunt or deep breath.

Others are hard to catch unless you know what to look for. In these cases, the revelation may be how easily the lifter moves the bar just before starting the bench press. Or maybe he’s struggling on the wrong side of the elevator. Or it could be that his dishes don’t match the others in the gym, but they look like Exactly like the fake dishes you can buy online.

As anyone who has ever used social media knows, you will be criticized for posting even a moderately impressive feat. But if you’re an iconic actor, famous influencer, or self-proclaimed fitness expert, the scrutiny will be orders of magnitude more intense, not just from trolls in the comments, but also from any competing online creators who can capitalize on the potential scandal to churning out content. So why are people still using fake weights and running the risk of being called out?

Some, like Stallone, are clearly trying to get him attention — he’s an actor, after all. And as another creator pointed out in his response to the kerfuffle, Stallone’s gimmick has gotten four million views and nearly 19,000 comments, a great warm-up for his next post: an announcement for the one-night-only theatrical debut of Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Dragon – The Ultimate Director’s Cuta 1985 re-release of the film. (Stallone’s agent did not respond to a request for comment.)

For other influencers, squeezing the numbers even a little can elevate them from pretty strong to wildly impressive. “If you have £500 and you add another fake £100, that’s a lot more impressive,” as Doucette points out in another video.

But perhaps the most compelling explanation is that there doesn’t seem to be any downside. Take the case of Brad Castleberry, who in 2017 showed himself quite easily to bench press 675 pounds. They were about 275 pounds heavier than he had benched at a powerlifting meet a few years earlier, and Castleberry turned down multiple offers to compete again and prove the numbers were legit. He also denied the allegations, albeit in a roundabout and narcissistic way. Despite the strength of the evidence, however, Castleberry does not appear to have suffered any consequences. Six years later, he has nearly a million Instagram followers.

As you’ve probably heard, almost everything on social media should be taken with a grain of salt. Including, perhaps, some of those followers: Considering the average engagement rate for his last ten posts is a surprisingly low, just 0.1%, at least one website warns that many of those followers may be bots.

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