Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Fitness Industry - Extremes and addictions - Part 1

The most paradoxical thing about the word "fitness industry" to me, has always been that there's so little about fitness involved in it.

What I mean by that is, when most people think of the word fitness, they think of healthy, or a lifestyle that brings about good health.  Oh hell, let's reference Webster's.....

  1. the condition of being physically fit and healthy.

I think for the average person, when they hear the word fitness, they envision power walking whilst wearing a Nike headband, then having some granola after.  Doing some "power aerobics" on Saturday morning, then a Yoga class on Sunday.  Lots of inhaling of the positive energy and exhaling of the negative.  Stocking up on kale, yogurt, and anything they heard on TV that had a lot of calcium.  You know, because calcium makes your bones as strong as Wolverine's.  And he's healthy.

"Look how fast he heals!  Of course he's healthy!"

Something like that.

In reality, the fitness industry isn't filled with a lot of "health".  Sure, there are healthy aspects that can be taken away from it.  But you need to be smart enough to have a filter to discern which parts those are.

For example, one of the funniest things to me is that pro bodybuilders will often shun drinking anything with an artificial sweetener, then go home and inject trenbolone.

"Well that's because the artificial sweetener can have an impact on how he or she looks."

No, I've literally had guys tell me they don't drink or use artificial sweeteners because, essentially, "it's bad for you."

These kinds of moments do make for great entertainment in my head.  I will say that.

Can you imagine this kind of thinking from the average street drug user?

"I won't eat McDonald's.  That food is terrible for you.  Now hand me that crack pipe."

Oh you think that's a dumb comparison?  Tren wasn't meant to be used by people.  At least cocaine still has real medical uses.  And there is at least SOME cocaine in crack.  You just gotta add baking soda, and boil some water...I don't know the ingredients or recipe, I'm just saying.

The goal of extremes will usually cause people to cast out sanity, and embrace the insanity that is often required to push one well beyond the scope of their natural limits.  All the while losing grasp on what really is logical, and what is not.

And let's be honest; we both admire and encourage that.  Meaning, every meme, t-shirt, or motivational quote that embraces never taking a day off, training until you puke or getting rhabdo, is somehow to be admired.  When in fact, most of these things are actually counter productive.

Personally, I've never thrown up from training ever.  Not once.  I've come close on a few occasions but it's never happened.

Sometimes the response to that is, "well then you've never trained hard enough."

I guess I haven't.  I've done 30+ rep squats with 315 pounds until I literally hit failure and couldn't stand anymore.  I got dizzy, and had to lay down for a long time, and almost lost my lunch, but never actually puked.  I've also never gotten car or plane sick, or threw up from riding roller coasters all day.  I guess the roller coasters I rode weren't hardcore enough.

I did a seven hour belt testing once when I was in Krav Maga.  In the middle of the summer with no air conditioning.  Despite going through over 30 bottled waters that day, my whole body cramped up so bad that evening I thought I was going to pass out.  Truthfully, it shouldn't have gone on that long.  It was some slugs that drug the testing out longer than it had to be.

I once did the 9/11 Firefighter challenge.  Climbing 110 flights of stairs wearing firefighter gear.  That was one of the hardest and most challenging things I've ever done in my life.  It took about three hours to complete, and I almost blacked out on a few occasions (I didn't train for it specifically and learned later that there are plenty of firefighters each year that do it, that don't finish).

I never puked.  Maybe I'm not a puker.  I have no idea.

Either way, the point is, puking and passing out and going far beyond what our body is capable of is often applauded and cheered with great reverence.  And honestly, I do it as well.

For competitors.

What I often have trouble coming to grips with, are those that embrace the extreme parts of this "lifestyle" that don't compete.

Years ago, I was on a message board and there was a guy talking about how he was loading up on his cycle.  He was going to blast this and run that, and get up to X amount of pounds before the Mr. Olympia.

Not to be onstage, mind you.  But, and I quote, "to be the biggest guy in the audience."

Hey man, I get it.  We all want the admiration and affirmation of our peers and fellow gym rats and iron slingers, but I'm not sacrificing years off my life so I could potentially be the biggest guy sitting down in an audience.  How is this any different than some girl saying she's going to starve herself for months before a fashion show so she can be the skinniest chick in attendance?

I really don't think it is.

"Well, anorexia and bulimia are unhealthy, and need to also be treated as an emotional disorder as well as an eating disorder."

I agree.

And clearly, injecting 6 grams of anabolics into your body a week and having a grocery list that reads 70 eggs, 14 tins of tuna, 10.5 pounds of beef,  10 pounds of chicken, 9 gallons of nonfat milk, 4 loaves of bread, and as many sacks of brown rice and whole wheat pasta as part of a "week of eating" to be the biggest guy in attendance, is completely healthy, sane, and normal.

Clearly, there's no emotional issues or eating disorders involved here.

Isn't this simple just reverse anorexia?  Muscle dysmorphia, I believe it's called.  A fear of being too small, or the perception of not being muscular enough.  Certainly, the "fitness industry" is filled with people suffering from said disorder.  Again, I'm not just talking about competitors.  I basically expect them to have this issue, as they literally put themselves up in front of people for the sake of being judges on how lean, muscular, and symmetrical they are.  For the professionals, it's also how they make a living, and feed their families.  Most elite level athletes and professionals I know, go to extremes because it is their livelihood.

I'm talking about people who end up gravitating towards this lifestyle, that find themselves "living it" without ever competing, yet try to live the competitors lifestyle.

"Well what's wrong with trying to be the very best you can be, Paul?"

Nothing.  Nothing at all.  But let's apply some fucking context to the situation as well.  You know, some common sense and god damn logic here.

Not a single person would ever tell a woman suffering from anorexia or bulimia, that it's ok.  Yet in this industry, we do often applaud even non-competitors who push to the same extremes in the other direction.  "Bro, you are looking jacked." said to the guy who is purple or a nice shade of magenta, sweating his ass off just standing in one spot.

We don't applaud anorexia or other eating disorders because at the core of "good people" we don't wish to see people destroying their life with emotionally unhealthy habits and vices.  Somehow, this often doesn't get applied to people on the other end of the spectrum, who are doing the very same thing.

"Well it's his life.  He'll pay for it."

Apply that same situation to someone standing over a girl who is performing self induced vomiting because she feels she isn't skinny enough.  Sounds fucking atrocious doesn't it?

"Good job, girl.  Some people just want to be the best they can be."

Does any of this seem logical to you?

Some people are going to try and tell me how these things are not paralleled at all, but I fail to see it.  For non-competitors, especially those who have a previous history of addictive behavior, one of the worst things they can do is try to emulate the diet, training, and overall lifestyle of people who do compete.  More importantly, if you have such a history, you need to understand that competing may lead you down a similar dark path that you had walked on previously.  But instead of the road being littered with amphetamines, ecstasy, or cocaine, it will be clenbuterol, DNP, tren, anadrol, and various form of diuretics.

And for what?  To be the biggest guy in the gym?  Or sitting in the audience?  To be the leanest girl walking around at an expo?

All of these factors come back to an inability to find a degree of self love and self worth that keep someone from self abuse.  When someone can't find enough self worth, then their only option is to find it from external sources.  And just like any drug or stimulus, over time, they need more and more of it to get the "fix" they desire.

A common bond that I believe most of us muscleheads share, is that we all came from a place where we felt unworthy, unappreciated, low on self esteem and self worth.  Lifting is what gave us so many of those things.  And the feeling of finding those things, is intoxicating.  To be told we look strong, jacked, awesome, etc.  This ends up becoming our addiction.  And we need more and more of it.  And for some people, this overwhelming need for approval is what leads them down the road to abuse.

I often think of the movie Requiem For A Dream.  The characters in the movie devolve from pretty normal people, just pawning a TV for pot money at worst, to full blown drug addicts willing to do anything to get that next fix.  It doesn't happen in an instant.  It doesn't occur overnight.  They took small, seemingly insignificant steps over time until they arrived at rock bottom.

And no one thinks it can happen to them.  Despite the overwhelming amount of guys that are on kidney dialysis now, or that have suffered from heart attacks at very young ages, they always blame these guys conditions on other factors.  Ignoring the single common denominator.


Again, this isn't just competitors.  This is normal people who end up trying to emulate a competitor's lifestyle, and ultimately pay for doing so.

What isn't often seen is that the people who feel the most insignificant on the inside, the more significant each of them tries to appear on the outside.  Trying to create a facade of invincibility behind a wall of muscle mass, strength, and appeal via physique.

Lost in all of this along the way for some people, is that they work so hard on their exterior, that they forget to strengthen the interior to go with it.  Some of the biggest and strongest people I have known, are also the most insecure, and emotionally broken.  Constantly being told how "inspirational" they are by the masses when all the while, they can barely cope with normal day to day stresses in life. Wilting under fairly basic life problems.

I've seen it first hand, and it's not a pretty thing to watch.

I absolutely am not out to change the industry, nor do I even have a wish to or a name big enough to do so.  The industry is far too big for that, and the fact is, people want to see "freaks".  And so long as there is a demand for that, there will be a supply.  No one will ever be able to change that.

Admire and respect it, no different than you would a lion or tiger in a zoo.  But throwing yourself into the lion's den is a pretty fucking stupid idea.  You're sealed off from that area for a reason.

If your goal is to be jacked, and be strong, but you don't have a desire to compete or chase world records or turn pro, then you have no reason to resort to extremes.  Moderation will serve you very well in this case.  If you have a history of addictive behavior, then competing probably isn't for you either.  Because more than likely, you're going to find yourself repeating previous addictive behaviors that simply manifest themselves in other ways.

Some people don't care that it will take years, possibly decades off of their life.  I've even read where people wrote..."it's going to be worst 10 years of my life, so they can have it."


I bet Mike Matarazzo thought that when he was in his 30's too.  When he was lying on his death bed at 49 years old he said "it wasn't worth it."

Being super human big and strong is cool.

You know what else is cool?  Longevity.

You always take the chance of losing one, when you chase the other.  So you have to ask yourself with some degree of honesty; do you want to be the "old guy in the gym still kicking ass" when you're 70, and in good health.  Or the guy that was 290 ripped in his 30's, now lying in a hospital bed, waiting on a kidney transplant or dying from liver disease in his 40's.

Guess who is still in the gym kicking ass and who isn't?

If you're the female that suffered from depression, anxiety, anorexia, or bulimia, then plunging yourself into a lifestyle that accepts and appreciates other types of extremes is probably going to lead you back down another dark and isolated road.

What this all comes back to is being introspective enough to know who you are, what you want out of lifting, life, and what really is most important to you.  Instead of living in the moment, ask yourself if achieving these extreme goals are worth compromising your health and sanity over.  Because it's very possible that is what you're going to have to give up.

At the end of the day, regardless of what you read on the net, no one gives a shit what you can lift.  No one gives a shit what your biceps measure.  I can tell you from experience those things are a well that will never quench your thirst.  This sentiment is echoed by so many that have walked that path, won, and said they still felt empty on the other side of it.

The love of self and the unwavering commitment of those who will always walk through fire with you will outweigh any amount you can ever put on the bar.  But you have to find a way to appreciate that more than what's on the bar, and what you see in the mirror everyday.

That's entirely up to you.

In Part 2, I will cover diets, and eating disorders seen in the industry............

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  1. Really cool post.

    I'm a mediocre lifter at best (downright bad at the bench), and I got started in the iron game late. Leading up to my last meet, I was following an RTS-inspired program, and the sessions were pretty grueling. Each was ~2.5hours, 4 days a week, full body, really pounding the main lifts and close variants. Granted, I made great gains, and I hit my goals at the meet (9/9 was the main thing, first time doing that, and smoking the 3rd attempt squat and bench to boot). After that I was thinking "man I could keep this up, really cement a solid total in a year or two". Granted, "solid" to me is 1500, 1600 would be fantastic (drug free, old, not particularly gifted). Nothing world class, but any 200lb dude totaling 1500 is no joke (can't stand how average gym rats dismiss legit very good totals at the local level because they don't measure up to Dan Green... sorry we can't all be Kaz, dude).

    But then I thought about it and thought "wait, I'm not elite. I'm not going to be. I'm not married. My social life has waned a bit. I can't afford 10 hrs/wk in the gym, plus ensuring perfect nutrition and sleep day in day out." So now, I'm still training 4 times/wk, but I'm in and out in under 90 mins. I'm focusing on improving work capacity and hitting different lifts for fun (like DB incline!). I'll still compete, but with the understanding that I can really only be in "meet mode" 2-3 months a year. Maybe I'll still tackle that 1600 total in 10 years instead of 3. Or not. But I'm not going to let life pass me by just to chase some arbitrary PL goals.

    1. I agree. I know guys who can't bench 225lbs who dismiss a 315lbs bench as "average". Most dudes have unrealistic expectations. You will likely NEVER be Mariusz or Benny, stop comparing your numbers to theirs.

    2. The reality is that if a guy has to start with the empty bar to learn the lift, or deadlifting a plate a side on day one, and works up to benching 2, squatting 3 and deadlifting 4 plates, he will be an entirely different man.

  2. This was a great read Paul and a good check for myself. Thanks.

  3. Great read! I look forward to reading Part 2.

  4. Good read Paul, thanks. I decided about 5 years ago, after wanting so badly to be as big and strong as possible, that the things I would have to do (and give up) just weren't worth it.

    I never question the decision and stuff like this reminds me it was the right one.

    I have that Extreme personality so I knew that "just 10 pounds more" would never be enough and decided to focus on the Work instead of the results, and the results continue to come anyway

  5. This a very well done piece, thank you. Has your view of goals/desires changed more recently or has this idea always been with you even as you went after lofty goals? Also, I've been going back through old P&B posts and it's amazing how you really have stuck to your princioles of lifting, it's a great testament to yourself and people should appreciate that quality in this field of horseshit from most.

    1. I've personally never been one of extremes. I have three kids and being around for them as long as possible has kept me grounded to that.