For The Love Of Guns, And The Loathing Of Shackles
My relationship with bodybuilding is over 35 years old. It was the mid-1970s, I was in my teens and big time competitive bodybuilding was in its prime. Men like Frank Zane, Roby Robinson, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, and Mike Katz captured my attention like fishing lures. These were educated, avant-garde men who were as accomplished outside the gym as they were within it. I thought that following them would lead me into the promised land, but I ended up in shackles for nearly a decade. Bodybuilding at its highest level would soon begin to fade into the embarrassing elderly state it now displays. What once seemed like a noble pursuit became increasing awkward and clumsy to think about, let alone discuss with anyone outside the gym.
As competitive bodybuilding grew in one direction, I grew in another. By early adulthood, I recognized that I wanted nothing to do with it – we had developed irreconcilable differences. Bodybuilding was losing its intelligence, and I was inexplicably gaining some. Unable to find middle ground, I began wanting a divorce from this stranger I no longer knew.
Of The Term, Bodybuilder
Just hearing or speaking the term, bodybuilder, has caused me to cringe. I have hated that word. It conjures images in my mind of modern bodybuilding which I now find embarrassing, and obtuse as a collective. Big time competitive bodybuilding has outgrown itself, outthought itself, and become well representative of our western lust for excess, extremes, and single-mindedness in all other areas. The modern bodybuilder’s credo is, “go big or go home”. As that go big or go home way of life became more confined to the gym, and applied less to life beyond the workout, the men at the top became increasingly trite in my eyes.
Different Levels Of Heck
But there’s more than one kind of bodybuilding. There are local-level competitive bodybuilders. That kind of bodybuilding still seems noble to me. It is most often pursued as a hobby, much like the garden variety 5K, half-marathon, or the many abbreviated triathlons which are now in such vogue. I actually enjoy attending local level bodybuilding shows; the crowds are always enthusiastic and most of the athlete/artists are purely motivated and in it for the joy of training, not the result of competeting. I may even seek to compete in another local show in the next year or so.
But there is also another form of bodybuilding – personal bodybuilding; the commitment one makes to taking ownership of, and influencing the aesthetic and the abilities of one’s own body. With that in mind, people and their physicality can be reduced into three categories:
2) Body Acceptors
3) Body Destroyers
Those terms speak for themselves. When I think in those terms, the word bodybuilder becomes more appealing to me – I like it. Given a choice between the three, I reckon this country would be much better off if we were all bodybuilders. In that context, I’m proud to say I am one.
Two Sides To Every Roy
Even as a noncompetitive personal lifestyle, I can sometimes have mixed feelings on bodybuilding. Mostly, I find it reinforcing, cleansing, and rewarding – a lifestyle. Other times, it has been demanding, and has seemed like a giant waste of my time and efforts. However, for better or worse, the ideal of bodybuilding has occupied a large share of my essence for most of my life. Bodybuilding bit me at a young age, and all these years later I can’t tell if that bite was one of affection or one of aggression, but the teeth marks still show, and the venom is still in my blood.
Still In Love; Bodybuilding Light
There would be no official divorce, just an on again/off again relationship involving several trial separations through a couple of decades which lead me to running marathons, racing ocean-going paddleboards, cycling, kayaking, trail running, and even competitive stair climbing to the tops of skyscrapers. Through these separations from bodybuilding, and despite relationships with other forms of action, I have come to realized I never left the concept of bodybuilding at all.
Through it all; running, paddling, and climbing, the weight room has been there most every day of my life, and the training never drifted too far from the kind of training serious bodybuilding requires. At some point though, I gave up the idea of lifting big weights for big muscles, with a go big or go home attitude. But I never let go of that connection that bodybuilding movements foster between the inner and the outer me. Bodybuilding is the methadone of my existence.
Good Things Come In Slow Packages
To lift weights slowly, through a complete range of motion, in a quiet room, with absolute concentration on the muscles involved, is a way to connect the mind and body on a level that yoga and Pilates, would envy. Though I use lighter weights these days, the term “lighter” is not to suggest that it’s easy. I can make a lighter weight a whole lot heavier by slowing it down and applying a high level of concentration to it. In my gym, in those moments when the eccentric phase of an exercise seamlessly transitions back to the concentric, the world outside the repetition seems far away from me as the most distant galaxies, and I am proud to be a bodybuilder. In those moments, I am at my absolute happiest, and feel as blessed as a baby in a manger. Be well. rc
Please check back in two weeks for my next essay, A Room Full Of Beasts; Energy And Achievement. Oh, and there is this from the legendary Dale Watson, enjoy…