Friday, March 16, 2012

Darksidin'.........obsessions......Part 3 - The Big Empty

Everyone who picks up a weight, and keeps picking up weights, is trying to become something they currently are not.  

Let that sink in for a minute.  Try to grok it.  

To grok - to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

To grok something, is not just to know it, it's to understand it so much that it's part of who you are.  It's part of your soul and your energy.  You understand it as much as anything you will ever understand in your life.  

Let's get back to that, in a bit.

The fun house - 

If you've ever been in a fun house, you know they have all these different kinds of mirrors.  Some make you look short and stocky, or tall and skinny.  Some make you look all squiggly.  

Lots of people who train for a long time, especially bodybuilders and/or fitness competitors, end up living in one of these fun houses when it comes to their own perception of how they look.  

I've got a friend who is 300+ pounds lean at 5'8", and his wife told me they have gone to bodybuilding shows and ask her "am I as big as that guy?".

To which her response was "that guy is 198 pounds."  

I know fitness competitors that OBSESS over the smallest amount of "fat" (skin?) on their ass, or thigh.  Not just at competition time, but year round.  

I need more mass!

Your training life, just like your personal or professional life, is a journey.  Or let me say, it's supposed to be.  People are in such a hurry to arrive at their destination that they never enjoy the trip, or even bother to ask themselves, what happens when or if I arrive at that destination?  


Make a new goal?  

Obsess over fat on their big toe?  

Want another inch on your bicep?  What do you think happens when you add that inch?  Yeah, it's not all you thought it would be is it?  Now, you just need arms another inch bigger.  

People that spend a lot of time trying to develop their body, often don't see themselves as they really are.  They are stuck in the fun house.  Looking into mirrors where they are too fat, or too skinny.  

A few years ago a good friend of mine was in the gym training, and he was the leanest I'd ever seen him.  And the biggest maybe too.  He was getting ready to go on vacation for a week to Virginia Beach and wanted to look good.  

"You look awesome dude." I told him.  

He just kinda "meh'd" me.  

"No seriously, I've never seen you this lean.  You're definitely ready for that vacation."  

But I could tell he didn't think too much of himself at the time.  

Some years later he told me "I was looking back at old pictures the other day, and I pulled up those Beach pics.  I couldn't believe that was me.  I looked like that!  That was the best I ever looked."

"I told you that at the time."  

"I know man." he said "but the thing is, you never enjoy it when you're in it, because you don't see yourself for how you really are."

It was, without a doubt, the most poignant statement I'd ever heard in regards as to how people see themselves in this little sub-culture.  

You don't get to enjoy it while you're in it, because you never see yourself for how you really are.  

Never enough - 

I know all of this because I've lived it.  Well, not the fat on the ass part, that never concerned me that much.  

I remember thinking, when I was younger and around 150 pounds that if I was 175 I'd be a fucking powerhouse!  

"175, that's BIG!"  

When I got to 175, what do you think happened?  I found out that I wasn't Arnold.  I wasn't quite as uber jacked as I thought I'd be.

"205.  If I can get to 205 I will be fucking HYUUUGE!  That's over 200 pounds.  And anything over 2 bills is swole."  

205 came, and went.  And felt very much like 175 did.  

I wasn't impressed with myself.  I wasn't happy.  I was nowhere near as jacked as I thought I'd be.  

Then 225 and 240 came, so forth and so on.  Never happy.  I didn't look like I thought I would look.  I also remember feeling fat and terrible once I cracked 245 for the first time.  I was a bloated hippo carcass.  But not as sexy.  

At one point I was 280.  Fat and miserable.  Now in fairness to me, I got to 280 because the wife wanted me to gain sympathy weight with her, and my love for food put up very little of a fight.  Ok so no fight at all.  In fact that love pushed me with full force right into this exploration.  

I stayed at around 270-280 for a couple of years.  I wasn't strong at that weight either.  I know some think I would be, but my work capacity sucked.  I didn't train very hard really because I wasn't really training for anything in particular.  

I began to hate that fat weight eventually.  And as soon as the wife was ready to start dieting I was all in.  I got back down to 230 or so within a few months.  Felt better, started training harder again, and never desired to get fat again.  

It was also some time between that period and now, that I lost all desire trying to get super massive and huge and all of that.  I'm talking pro-bodybuilder size.  I became very content with who I was, physically.  I just wanted to be strong and in shape.  Thus, one of my mottos.  Be strong, be in shape.  

What happened eventually, is that I ended up looking like what I had wanted to look like, or close to it, without training specifically to look a certain way.  

Or maybe it's just that because I removed that inability to see myself for how I really am, that I realized I looked a certain way.  My guess is, it's the latter.  I quit obsessing over how big my arms or lats were, and just worried about kicking ass in the weight room, in conditioning, and in fighting.  Suddenly, I looked better than ever.  I don't think my body changed all that much really.  I think I moved out of the fun house.

Dark steppin - 

One of the biggest reasons that a lot of young guys use, is because they live in the fun house.  And their mind becomes consumed with becoming something they currently are not.  

The problem is, as I noted before, as they grow or change, they never really see themselves for what they are.  This is why you have 300 pound guys with abs talking about gaining size.  

It's really no different than athletes making 20 million dollars a year talking about feeding their families.  It's absurd to the rest of us, but when you're used to a certain lifestyle, it doesn't feel absurd.  You still gotta buy 10 lambo's AND groceries.  You need those lambo's.  

So you have these kids, or even adults, and they see themselves as weak and small.  And no matter how much their body changes, or how many people tell them how big they are, they never reach the destination.  One of the reasons I believe that is so, is because guys see other guys bigger than they are and then go right back into "I'm small and weak" mode.  

Women do the same thing when they see another chic in fabulous shape.  

"Her ass looks better than mine."  

There's quite a few competitive bodybuilders at the gym I train at, and the biggest of the bunch came up to me one day and told me he knew who I was.  I was flattered, but even more so when he told me he had told his wife he wished he had the mass I did.  I was shocked because to me, this guy was really jacked.  But in talking I learned I outweighed him by 20 pounds, at similar bodyfat levels.  

People involved in fitness, powerlifting, bodybuilding, get in a mindset of comparing themselves to others.  And then they seek out adoration or admiration of others to give them reinforcement that they are "ok".  

This is the mindset that leads most guys to the darkside early.  It's the mindset that causes average gym rats to run pro bodybuilder dosed cycles and do shit they have no business doing.  And eventually their whole life becomes "what cycle can I run next?"  

That's a sad existence.  What kind of journey is that?  What's the destination?  

To get bigger?  

We've covered that.  It will never be enough if you are caught in that fun house.  

To get leaner?  Same.  You'll never see yourself for how you really are.  

To get stronger?  You're always going to be chasing some number.  

For you, and no one else - 

The lesson I learned, that got me over all of these hang ups, was a simple one.  But let's back up.  I didn't learn it.  I grok'd it.  

It's part of my thinking and who I am.  

I don't care if I have the biggest arms or lats or whatever compared to someone else.  If every single soul was wiped off of the face of the Earth tomorrow, I would still lift.  Without a single person to "impress".  I am a "lifer" because I love to train.  Not because I want to impress someone.  

If you can't grok that, you will end up caught in that vicious cycle of never enjoying where you are at.  You must do the things you do, for yourself, and no one else, and you must enjoy the journey.  If you aren't enjoying the journey, then you either have no destination or will never reach a destination.  

When I think of that scenario, I picture someone driving really fast through all of these exciting places.  With tall buildings and amusement parks, hot women waving from the side walk, and big flashing signs.  All the food and drink you could ever want, but you pass it right up.  

The journey.  

Then I see them at the end, in the dessert.  Nothing around for miles and miles.  Blistering heat and a thundering silence.  Their lips are chapped, and skin burnt.  They have a cup in their hand, but it's bone dry.  They thirst so badly for water.  Something they can't have.  

This is their destination.  

A big empty nothing.  

If you aren't doing the things you are doing for the right reasons, then you will end up in that desert.  Bypassing all of the great things you could have experienced during your journey.  

It's ok to want to be something you are not.  We all lift and condition and diet because of that very reason.  But trying to become someone else, or trying to be something else because of someone else or what they think, is a destination full of nothing.  This is the cup from which you drink.  And it will remain empty until you change your destination.  

When I show up in April for my meet, I don't care what anyone else there lifts.  It doesn't matter to me.  I'm there for myself.  To test myself against me.  No one else matters.  If I give it my all, and still don't reach my goals.  I will be happy.  Because giving it my all, is all I can do.  It sounds like dime store psychology, but when you really learn how to grok that, all of the negative associations you have about yourself fade away.  Your fun house gets torn down.  And your dessert is replaced by white sands and an ocean, and hot women bringing you drinks with umbrella's in them.  Your cup is never dry, and you never thirst for anything.  

And that feels good man..............

You think this goat gives a shit about abs and 800 pound deadlifts?


  1. Now that is a phenomenal post. I've recently taken up the mantra to "live for the experience not your appearance". It's very fleeting to push yourself in any area of your life if it's not being done for you personally. You don't develop good character by trying to compare yourself to others and you'll never be satisfied. Great write-up man, very well said.

  2. Paul,

    Thanks for the response on the Big-15/Bodypart specialization question. I need to work on my entire shoulder area (traps, delts) and the supportive structure around it. Any advice you could give as to how to chnage the Big-15 programming to support this would be appreciated. I understand if you don't want to offer too much with a lot of this coming out in the book. Either way, I appreciate your work.

    1. Just run the regular cycles, but don't push the back off sets too hard on anything but your overhead pressing day. On that day, throw in 3 rounds of giant sets of side laterals. You will fucking hate me for this. But pick up 3 sets of db's. Not too heavy.

      So say it's the 10's 20's and 30's. Do 25 reps with the 10's, 15 reps with the 20's and 10 reps with the 30's. Now rest for a few minutes. Do 10 rep's with the 30's, 15 reps with the 20's and 25 reps with the 10's.

      Rest and do the first cycle 1 more time.

      after that, 5 sets of 20 with upright rows. Stay light (won't have a choice).

      On the other pressing day, do inclines as your main chest press. After that do 5 sets of rear laterals for 30 reps. finish up with 4 sets of 20 on dips, if you can.

      Go 6 weeks max.

    2. I keep coming back to your blog not only for the great tips about weight lifting but mostly for all the other stuff. Don't want to sound cheesy dude, but I appreciate you taking the time to write this blog and share your views, even tho sometimes I don't necessary agree with everything you say, I do have a lot of respect for you.


    3. The last thing I want is for everyone to agree with me. But I hope I at least make people think about thinks now and then.


  3. Amazing post Paul. Would just like to say that I can relate entirely to this as I was trapped in the fun house for many years during my early teens. Comparing myself to my peers as they were bigger,taller and stronger, the psychology it built was not healthy and I ended up hating how I looked for many years as a result of "trying to get bigger" but only getting fat as a result. It was a vicious and ugly cycle I feel a lot of people and even teenagers experience.

    I just turned 20 and can say that the journey I've been on since leaving the fun house, is one I plan to do for myself.

    Thank you

  4. Great post, Paul. Really rings true. I stopped giving a fuck about how other people looked and what they lift. I have my own goals, and my own reasons to train.
    I train in a gym with a lot of competing bodybuilders, and a whole lot of guys that use gear (the sort of guys you talked about in part 2, the guys that only use because they wanna be the "most jacked dude in the gym"), and they're bigger than me without a doubt.
    Honestly though, I stopped giving a fuck. I'm happy lifting, I enjoy lifting heavy shit and getting stronger and that's all that matters.

    On a side note, are you gonna pursue that standing 315 after your meet? I remember you said that you were gonna make it a priority to hit it, is that still gonna happen or are you more concerned with building your pull and your incline nowadays?

    Keep up the good work, Paul, awesome blog

    1. If my elbows hold up I will give it a shot after this meet more than likely.

  5. One of the best posts Paul has done imo. I am a frequent visitor to the fun house and although I manage to escape from time to time, this hits home to my experiences, even as a relative newbie (3 yrs training).

    There is an old Greek poem called 'Ithica', which this post reminded me of.

  6. Damn this series of posts really hit home with me. I'm 23 and on HRT for low test (still trying to find out the cause) and up until I was put on HRT last year, I never thought about using a steroid in my life.

    Once the HRT began though, I figured heck, my nuts are likely turned off at this point (although my hCG use in my protocol adds a question mark there), I've got almost 6 years of solid natural training under my belt (and with low test for who knows how long) I'm going to run a test cycle to get bigger and leaner even though I don't compete in anything or plan too (maybe PL one day).

    I read and read some more, hyped up and ready to start a cycle once a few nagging injuries healed up, and then you posted these mini-articles. I had to step back and ask myself why? And the only answer I could come up with was for personal vanity: to look big in a t-shirt, and still look big and lean at the beach etc. Your posts helped me realize how empty that mindset really is. Is it worth pinning week after week just to make some girls ooo and ahh? Or be that one jacked dude in the gym? Probably not.

    Thanks Paul.

  7. "If every single soul was wiped off of the face of the Earth tomorrow, I would still lift. Without a single person to "impress". I am a "lifer" because I love to train. Not because I want to impress someone. "
    That is one of the best lifting quotes I have ever heard. It goes up there with the Henry Rollins "200 pounds" speech. Also, about doing the meet for yourself. I try to convey that to my friends as I get them involved in powerlifting. Even if I am trying to get ranked higher or take someone's record, it's not about them, it's about a number that I know I can put up. I would rather come in tenth and put up the numbers I wanted, then come in first and feel disappointed with my total. You can't help who shows up at the meet, all you can do is put your best lifts up on the platform. Thanks Paul.

  8. Damn, Paul. You just described the whole problem of life. What you're talking about applies not just to lifting, but everything. I know I've been living in a funhouse of sorts for years. I didn't go through the graduation ceremony the first time I got through college, because I didn't feel like I had really worked for it, or achieved something worth talking about. This, despite the fact that I had been invited by a professor to take a graduate level seminar as an undergrad, and had been praised by my faculty respondent at the department symposium for the quality of my research and making him think about his specialization in a new way (and this is a guy who's got degrees from Stanford and Yale). Sure, it wasn't a major that was going to get me big bucks, but I didn't care at the time; I did it because I loved it, because I wanted to do it. And yet despite having it half figured out, and doing what I did for myself and no one else, I still was not satisfied with it. I felt as though I hadn't earned anything, that I had just gotten through college because I was smart and hadn't really put much effort into it. And yeah, maybe that's true. But even if I didn't put in as much effort as I would have liked in retrospect, I stuck with it. When I was backed up against a wall and facing papers due in a matter of days that I had barely started, I didn't run away, I didn't roll over and die, and I didn't give up. I stayed in the computer lab all day and into the night to finish them. Sure, I could have worked harder, but when the chips were down I worked like a dog on the things that mattered to me.

    Since graduation I've been a little lost. Both career-wise and in terms of my lifting goals. I lost track of why I wanted to lift weights. I lost track of why I was writing fiction for a hobby. I lost track of what my goals in life were. I didn't stray too far, but I strayed far enough that I started to fuck with my own head, especially with the lifting. Gotta get swole. Gotta get big. Gotta get up to 200 pounds at 12% body fat. It was the same with my writing. I was so obsessed with putting out something original, even though it had been years since I had written more than 5000 words together, or completed so much as a short story. I kept doing it out of force of habit, not really because I wanted to. I kept working on things that I didn't really want to work on, or writing what I thought people wanted to read rather than what I wanted to write.

    Now, I'm slowly starting to turn this around. I've got a story in the works now that I really love, and that I see a lot of promise for. Sure, it borrows heavily from half a dozen SF and fantasy stories I've seen/read over the past several years, but what the fuck ever. I don't care anymore, it's a great concept and I'm having fun with it, and odds are that by the time I'm done with it I'll have left my own stamp on it. Thanks to this, it's looking to be the same with lifting as well. My priorities are going back down to "get strong, do conditioning, and eat to support training." Bob Peoples was one of the strongest men who ever lived, and he pulled his best deadlift at a buck eighty. He sure as shit wasn't worried about getting swole, and somehow I don't think it's worth it for me to sweat too hard over it either. To paraphrase Arthur Saxon, "focus on strength, and let the muscles take care of themselves."



    1. Thanks for the write up Michael.

      Lifting and life often have a lot of parallels. People just need to learn how to perform proper application to both.

  9. Hey Paul. Love the blog and this most recent post in particular. I'm constantly comparing myself to others so that part of the post rang really true for me. I also have a question about squats (high bar) and hip/low back pain. I favor one side at the bottom of the squat.So basically, I bounce off of my right calf at the bottom of the squat, and my left hip and lower back really hurt as a result, I’m assuming. I think my piriformis is tight. I have been stretching a lot but it hasn’t seemed to affect it. It hurts when I'm sitting down and I fee like if I keep it up I'm gonna snap something up. If you have any advice or tips on how to fix it and stop the pain, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.


    1. Sounds like your pelvis could be uneven actually. Have you ever had it x-ray'd?

    2. Nicely done, Paul. I can tell by the replies that you got into a lot of guys heads, and made them think hard about why they train. I'm 52 and I've been lifting since I was 15. There's been so much self discovery through lifting over the years. I still love going out to my power rack in the garage. I can't imagine my life without it. I hope all your readers can find out what truly motivates them and derive life long satisfaction from their workouts. It will make the 'roids question(pro or con) insignificant by comparison.
      By the way, your deads look really strong. No hitches or deceleration, nice and smooth.

    3. Thanks Frank. I've tried to set the stage for these pulls and so far it appears to be working.

    4. Thanks Paul, No I've never had it x-rayed... Are there any other signs that would indicate it is that? I always think I am sort of sitting into my right calf. Sort of like if you try to come down on a certain leg by having your butt to either the right or left. I sort of feel it happening that way when I'm squatting and feel my body moving that way. Is it possible to have one leg's hip much tighter than the other and so your back might round on that side.Sorry to ramble, I just sort of picture that happening and wonder if it's feasible.
      I'm 18, 5'7, 170 and squat 1m of 345 if that helps at all.

      Thanks Paul.


    5. IF you are leaning it means you have an imbalance. Do some speed skater squats to see if you are just leaning too hard to your more dominant side. You'll know which side that is when you do speed skater squats. One will feel far easier than the other.

  10. I had the same experience as your friend. When I look back at pictures of me in the summer of 2010, I'm amazed, but I never thought I looked particularly good back then. I think I was laboring under the delusion that if I got down to single digit body fat, I would magically get a small waisted bone structure like Steve Reeves. With any luck I'll be more satisfied when I cut down this summer, now that I know what to expect.

    1. LOL on the flipside I have another friend who spent a year bulking. He thought he looked pretty good and had his wife take pics one day. He told me when he saw them he nearly burst into tears because he looked so awful. I remember trying to be understanding but I couldn't stop laughing.

  11. Amazing post. Seems you mirror my life, in many aspect; from age (I'm 40), marriage (16 years September), kids (2 daughters), discipline (powerlifting) as well as training philosophy. Glad to find a kindred spirit.

  12. Paul, the fair way to describe your post would be to call it wise. I don't say shit like that often, so I mean it when I say it. It made me thing a lot about why I do the stuff I do, why I take the stuff I take, why I drag my ass to the gym with gastritis and shit and still lift heavy when I'd rather be home playing pokemon and how all of this fits together in the big picture that is life. I thank you for that.

  13. Living in a fun house. Man I did that probably from the age of 19-27 or 28. And it was from both aspects of I thought I was jacked when I was lard ass, and I thought I was a lard ass when I was in good shape. Finally around my late 20's I stopped comparing myself to others and started to enjoy the process of training. I'm 34 now and I've never looked forward too, or enjoyed training as I do now.


  14. How did you meet Wendler?

  15. Paul, I tried to purchase your Philosophy of Training Programs but the paypal link is not working. Are you not selling it now?

    1. Could just be paypal. Looks like it's working for me.

  16. Nice Stranger in a Strange Land reference.

    1. Really? Where? I honestly have never read it. Swear.

  17. Nice post. But when you tell young people that you got old and didnt give a crap, do you think they can really stop giving a crap at the age they are at?

    I try not to compare my physique to any kind of personal ideal, because when I do I realise that the only physical change that would make me feel any better would be a grotesquely thick skeleton and a massive jaw with two bottom rows of teeth. So I guess the actual training I do is almost entirely to emulate what others have already acheived or to best them, otherwise I'd most certainly destroy myself.

    1. 'But when you tell young people that you got old and didnt give a crap, do you think they can really stop giving a crap at the age they are at?"

      Sure they can. That's the greatest thing about it all. You get all the power. Whether or not you CHOOSE to exercise it is up to you, regardless of age. I do understand it's more difficult at a younger age to exercise said power because of lack of maturity, but it is possible.

  18. really excellent post. Please keep all this coming

  19. That was very well written and is so very true on many levels. I think the manorexia / broken mirror is just complete neurosis. You take the healthy perspective of appreciating the journey / accept you to a very rudimentary level. Maybe in there a slight twist of Maslow and self actualization for athletes. Either way you could write a 12 step program for dealing with body issues. Lift Run Bang Anonymous

  20. "you need those lambos." hahaha made me crack up. great series, along with your squat and bench articles too. all of these have taught me something.

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  22. Profound words of wisdom. Thanks.

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