From Oddity To Commodity


Cleft Values…

The more available a commodity becomes, the less value it usually holds. Muscle seems to follow that axiom. At a time when lean muscle mass is more accessible and more prevalent than ever, I’ll suggest its value, in the way it is appreciated by its possessor and by those in the periphery, is on the decline.

In this era when round triceps and striated deltoids are the desired look for the 18-24 year old bro set, I liken muscles to cubic zirconia; readily available, the cheaper the better, fake is ok as long as it looks real, and at the end of the day it’s usually ill-used and underappreciated. Muscle has become a young man’s bobble.

What most attracted me to recreational bodybuilding in the 1970s was the rareness of human muscle as a commodity. The contrary nature of cleft muscle in a sea of otherwise ordinary beings was so compelling to me that I would build my entire life around attaining and preserving it. And because it has been a calling for me, I have never allowed myself to take it for granted.

It’s Time To Meat Up…

I currently split my workouts between my own studio, and a typical commercial gym in a nearby suburb. On any given week more quality physiques pass through that gym than existed in the entire city of Denver in 1977. That’s not an exaggeration. I see outstanding physiques on bros and buddies alike that would rival the competitive physiques at the highest levels in the 1970s.

Most of the physiques I see in this gym are not competitive bodybuilders. They are simply competitive followers, who wish to have what all the other young men have – even if they don’t understand what it does or why they want it.

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We first came to appreciate superhuman physiques with our superhuman heroes; Tarzan, Conan, and later on The Hulk, Superman, and GI Joe. Each new generation seems to have added a layer of muscle.

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Later on, superhero physiques with even greater proportions could be found in the ranks of the NFL, the UFC, and even the NBA became has become a domicile for action figures.

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Today ornamental muscle transcends sports. Actors, news anchors, and even comedians commonly display physiques that 30 years ago would have been considered out of the ordinary if not world class. Our social expectations have evolved that we equate muscle to male relevance. This often makes me wonder; what might we equate a lack of muscle to…? That question haunts me, ongoing…

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Earning Is Learning…

Clearly I’m not against the achievement or even the display of muscle. Cultivating functional and aesthetically pleasing muscle has been my occupation, my vocation, and the most grounding influence in my life. What it is that gives muscle a place of such esteem for me, comes down to a single word – appreciation. I appreciate the musculature of my body. Not just for how it looks, or how well it functions, but because I appreciate and enjoy the process of using and preserving it.

When I talk with young men in the gym I often hear of the pain, the suffering, and the long hours associated with making meat. Suffering…? Suffering is finding out your kids is dead. The tactile act of repeatedly extending and contracting my triceps, even to the point of a slight burning sensation is a luxury, but is nothing I grieve over. Long hours in the gym…? I’m done in 45-50 minutes. Pain…? My workouts help keep all those pains associated living everyday life at bay.

Despite my occasional suggestions otherwise, I regularly witness methods of exercise which defy science and logic, yet they have become central to the acquisition of muscle. The potential for physical and emotional injury seems to increase with every new bad idea. From excessive muscle overloading to squatting on a phisio-ball, there is much I just can’t reconcile with science, let alone common sense.

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Accidentally Jacked…

To me the biggest disconnect that I regularly see with young men and strength training is that they rely heavily, if not exclusively on blindly following others who blindly follow others, rather than exploring their own abilities as it relates to their physicality. They fail to connect their minds with their bodies.

Many of the young men I see boasting that meat-nouveau have attained it with little consideration for how they got there or what it’s really worth. In a frustrating irony, bad ideas, youth, and good genetics can still combine to create good results early on. A willingness to lean on extreme supplementation and pharmaceuticals can accelerate this process with even less thinking involved.

While youth, good genes, and drugs may combine to build a decent physique in the short term, to have intelligently pursued and acquired a lifestyle of well used muscle is a path of exploration worth knowing. For me, this quest has provided the foundation for all the subsequent intellectual journeys I have taken.

Possessing muscle in the long-term is a commitment that I’ll admit can sometimes be a burden. The dividends though, far exceed the investment for those willing to learn as they earn. I’ll also say that possessing muscle is a responsibility. It should be carried with dignity, used with respect, and displayed as art, not as something to be worn at spring break with a pooka shell necklace. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button in my head.

Oh, and there’s this: To this day, the biggest grossing private event held at the Whitney Museum Of American Art was to raise funds for the movie Pumping Iron. Today we can see comparable physiques in any gym in the country.  Sad…

7 responses

  1. You may motivate me to get back into light lifting one day. I need to preserve function over false confidence. I’m not always going to be able to lift heavy boxes, pick up my kids, etc. I’ve come to realize that you despise meatheads as much as I despise grown men puffing out their chests at youth sporting competitions. 😉

    • Get your kids on autopilot, Heidi, and the gym will be there. I think you’re getting closer though 🙂 Always here if you need a little push or advice. It’s all about moderation — channel your inner Keifer….

  2. This is an interesting viewpoint, Roy! I never noticed how male action figures were changing. I wonder if girl’s Barbie envy now has a male version with GI Joe?

    I’ve always leaned towards functional fitness and see the martial arts as my guiding pathway. I’m probably what is termed a hard gainer so I’ve just focused on staying hard without the gaining 🙂

    • Dr. J, the GI Joes above are from 1970 and 1985 respectively. The average NBA star weighs 236 lbs, vs. 215 in in 1985.

      Actor Hugh Jackman probably could have won the Mr. New York title in 1970.

      The world, she is a growin’…

  3. Is the core of the issue that you’re disappointed about the cultural appropriation of a practice that used to be rare? In the early days of body building, a body like that was only attainable by a “true devotee,” but now it’s been appropriated by “bro culture.” Maybe it all boils down to why a person is doing it. In a way this may similar to the cultural appropriation of yoga– nowdays people in yoga classes are throwing around Sanskit terms without even knowing what they are talking about, and yoga is becoming unmoored from its spiritual base. I don’t have enough experience with bodybuilding to know what the original intent was.

    Also, only tangentially related, the guys who are using drugs to look swole are not very different from the girls who are using eating disorders to look skinny and pretty. There’s a narrow cultural definition of masculinity that’s being played out here.

    • Thank you, Lisa. Yes, I was kind of all over the place on this one, but didn’t have the time to put into it I wish I had.

      For me what is really at the core here is a lack of appreciation. Not all that different from the granite counter top generation that has much higher material expectations than previous generations. In other words, get off my lawn young man!!

      Something you might find interesting though I can’t recall the source; the fastest growing demographic of steroid user is the teenage girl — because they have learned that adding muscle helps reduce fat. I could be wrong, but I think that came from the CDC or WHO about 2 years ago.

  4. blindly following others who blindly follow others, rather than exploring their own abilities as it relates to their physicality. They fail to connect their minds with their bodies.

    YES YES YES!!!!! This is my message too Roy!!! So many take “stuff” as well – you mentioned it above & Carrot top – I hate to say looks like that too. I even said it to a person on IG who called out a bodybuilder guy for still looking great – obvious drugs thru the years & now.

    I always tell people that you have to get that mind/muscle link AND as you know from my posts – form over weight always – all this other crazy stuff is for ego a lot of the time. I get the challenge – I do it myself as you see with my videos now but not crazy stuff & not bad form.

    GREAT POST!!!!

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