Pumping Placebo

A first-hand account of the power of belief

Farid Alsabeh
4 min readMay 30, 2023
Photo by Arthur Edelmans on Unsplash

It’s one thing to read about the placebo effect: the well-studied phenomenon whereby our attitudes and expectations alone are sufficient to produce a beneficial effect.

But it’s another thing entirely to experience it for ourselves: to see, in our own actions, how a simple belief can lead to significant changes. And it’s especially surprising when this happens in the weight room.

A yearlong absence from the gym had set my bench-press performance back considerably. But I was close: after several months, I was only 10 pounds away from eight reps of the elusive 225 pounds — ‘two plates’, in the gym-bro vernacular — which had once been my personal best.

After racking the weights, I asked a fellow gym-goer for a spot. He was a blonde lad with long hair, of medium height and athletic build: a high-schooler, by looks and general demeanor.

The first five reps were unremarkable. The sixth went up slowly. Trouble by the seventh. And as the final rep came up, trembling and uncertain, my spotter’s hands were hovering closely below the bar.

His assistance wouldn’t be needed after all. As I got up, he praised me: “Nice dude, you’re pushing 225 pounds easy!” I thanked him for the spot, and he went back on his way.