Is wearing a bro tank at the gym still a thing?
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"Bro, do you even lift?"
It's one of the fundamentally important questions of our time. It's at once an inquiry and an admonishment, a power move by a power cleaner, devastating in its doubting effect. How does one respond to such an injurious slight?
Well, if you're a guy who wears a bro tank to the gym, you don't have to worry about that question. The answer is manifest in your attire, patently portrayed in the bulging biceps exposed by your sleeveless shirt. And if you elect to rip the shirt further, perhaps all the way from the armpit down to the waist, your side boob (pecs?) and other side muscles (do those have a name?) will surely silence any suspicions regarding whether or not you even lift.
Ah, the bro tank, the manly tank top. According to Urban Dictionary (the preeminent authority on such things), it is "intended for muscular and tan males." Purported to possess the power to enhance a guy's muscles – or at least his self-image – the bro tank was popularized by the gentleman on the "Jersey Shore" TV show about five years ago and has somewhat maintained its allure since then.
Is it cool? Is it still a thing? Is it a fitness fashion trend, or more of a fashion statement, like Lady Gaga's meat dress? What does it mean to don one? What does the opposite sex thing of it? Does it have any practical benefit? How jacked do you have to be to pull it off? Can you still put one on if you have self-awareness?
These are all fair questions but they are also all irrelevant. When you wear a bro tank, you answer the only question that matters – do you even lift? – and you answer it incontrovertibly in the affirmative. So the rest of those weak-sauce, beta-male questions can be coolly dismissed.
But I still wanted to know more, so I did some hardnosed, investigative reporting on the bro-tank situation in Milwaukee. I found some interesting things.
On Monday at around 5:30 p.m., there were about 60 people (mostly men, some women) on the fifth-floor weightlifting level at Gold's Gym downtown. During the busy workout primetime, I counted 18 dudes in bro tanks (there was also a guy in a spandex onesie with a camouflage codpiece, but I'm not really sure what to say about that). About half were standard sleeveless shirts and the other half were ripped-tee DIY jobs.
I mustered the confidence to ask one guy, rocking a deep-V gray top that been spectacularly cut down the sides to create a minimalist fabric effect, why he wore the bro tank and if he derived any sort of exercise advantage from it.
"It gives me way better range of motion," he said, flapping his arms up at his sides in an unrestricted way such as I've achieved only on the occasions that I've worn any kind of shirt, jacket or upper-body clothing.
Nevertheless, I wasn't convinced that was the only reason for it. So I talked to Gold's general manager Mark Fine and trainer Eric Stachowiak.
"That guy probably just felt stupid, so he said something about it helping movement," Fine said.
He added that a bro's decision to wear or not wear a tank can be influenced by body type and "where you're at in your training." Fine said his sleeveless days are over and he now mostly works out in a sweatshirt.
Both laughed off the bro tank, agreeing it was a trend that peaked a few years ago and has more or less gone away (though Fine noted the ones Gold's offers still sell well), replaced by jogger pants and compression leggings under shorts and specialty performance gear. In fact, both thought male fitness fashion had recently gotten more "conservative," or even returned to 1980s styles.
And in the tank's wake, some lingering bros had been left behind.
"Not as many guys do it anymore; there's been a thinning of the herd," Stachowiak said. "So the ones that wear them stand out."
Could that be true? Could I have just been seeing a few conspicuous zebras, rather than an actual herd, and thinking it was a fad?
I went back upstairs, this time on a Thursday – a Gold's trainer mentioned the gym gets less crowded later in the week – and also in the afternoon, before the meat-market time that appeals to those who want to work out when it's busier and when maybe there are more spectators.
Indeed, on this visit, of the 20 or so men working out, only three of them had on bro tanks, one a manufactured sleeveless shirt and the other two homemade. It seemed Fine and Stachowiak were right.
Just to be sure, I messaged a friend who's a professional trainer at another Downtown Milwaukee club to try and confirm that the trend was fading, save for a few remaining holdouts.
"Unfortunately, bro tanks aren't going anywhere," she said, wishing to remain anonymous so as not to hurt her business. "A bro will never pass up the opportunity to give out tickets to the gun show."
I asked her, from a girl's perspective, is the look attractive?
"All ladies are different, but I can speak for everyone I know when I say that wearing a bro tank automatically puts you in the 'do you even lift bro?' category, which is not a good thing," she said. (I spoke to a different female, a Gold's member, who agreed, saying, "You look like a douche.")
Curious what else besides a tank could put a guy in such a category, I asked my friend for other telltale examples of bro-havior.
"Grunting and dropping weights so everyone sees how much you're lifting," she said.
Even without wearing a tank, a bro is always ready to preempt the question of whether they even lift.
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