The other day following our training session, I was talking with some of the lifters from my gym. We sat around on the various elitefts benches, some sipping away on their post-training protein shakes, others jotting down their training numbers in their training journals. These are lifters (myself included) who have been in the game for years or even decades. All of whom, like you, couldn't fathom a life without the world of barbells, dumbbells, and weights.
On this particular day, we were in a somewhat reflective mood. It was just a few days after the passing of legendary golden-era bodybuilder Dave Draper, The Blonde Bomber (1965, Mr. America, 1966, Mr. Universe, 1970, Mr. World), who passed at age 79. We spent some time reflecting on his life with weights, as many of us had read Dave Draper's Iron In My Hands and were all fans of the purity of his lifting journey. Iron In My Hands is not a sets-and-reps book but a narrative about all aspects of wielding iron and steel and all things muscle and power. The book is somewhat of a philosophical perspective of the nature behind why we lift, as lifting is our life-blood and the gym is our fortress of solitude.
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Although most of us engaged in this day's conversation powerlift or power-build or train for strongman/woman, we all have also done some aspect of hypertrophy training along the way. Hypertrophy to powerlifting is what lobster is to steak—the two different but spectacular sides to the same strength, power, and muscle coin.
I recall training with legendary powerlifter Ernie Frantz in the 1990s through the early 2000s. Ernie was not only an immensely strong powerlifter, but he was also very heavily muscled. Of all Ernie Frantz' powerlifting accomplishments on the platform and those related to his highly inventive and uniquely innovative powerlifting gear, Ernie Frantz is probably most famous for his 1974 accomplishment of winning the Powerlifting Worlds and placing second in the Mr. USA contest on that very same day. Both of those sports venues were located a few miles apart that year, one in the a.m. and the other that same evening.
Photo via Maroscher/Monster Garage Gym
Part of Ernie's training philosophy with regard to the sport of powerlifting was what makes you strong(er), plain old makes you strong(er). Also, full power at full throttle all the time will shorten the competitive life of the powerlifter and rob them of their full strength potential.
Ernie's powerlifting training also involved bodybuilding movements and hypertrophy work and the massively heavy training he and the Frantz Power Team engaged in. Training produced some of the best and most muscular powerlifters to roam this great Earth. Ernie would say that you should possess and maintain the physical conditioning for 12-16 weeks from a powerlifting meet or an amateur bodybuilding competition. For even the most avid, serious and purest of powerlifters, bodybuilding/hypertrophy has its place in quality powerlifting programs. Look back in the 1980s at the lifters like Jim Cash, Ernie Frantz, Dave Pasanella, Kirk Karwalski, and notice the powerlifting numbers they posted and the powerful, conditioned, and muscular physiques.
Photo via Powerlifting USA
Newbies and slogan following-lifters will say, "curls are for the girls," but trite and platitudinous marketing taglines aside, the reality is biceps are the antagonistic muscle group to the triceps and development of one without the other is a recipe for asymmetrical injury. The point is, even in the world of strength sports, hypertrophy matters. Its significance is heeded by those who are serious about their lifting.
Those of us sitting around the gym that day talking about Dave Draper's passing have lifted for many years. Thus, we all share some commonalities based on the amount of time in the weight room. We all appreciate strength, power, muscle, and size. We all started on this journey of lifting via some bodybuilding-type template. To a person, we all still incorporate some bodybuilding movements in our power routines.
Additionally, even as strength athletes, we all share the common vernacular of those who bodybuild. You know the lingo, the pump, super-sets, forced reps, drop-sets, negatives, etc. All of the terminology associated with the bodybuilding/hypertrophy nomenclature and those colloquialisms used today just like it was used in the day of Vince Gironda, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Dave Draper, Steve Reeves, John Grimek, and the-one-namers like Arnold, Franco, Zane, Sergio, Ferrigno, Platz.
Photo via muscle and fitness.com
As lifters cut from this same cloth and who are fairly long in the tooth, we spoke to one another about how at some point in our lifting past, we followed the sport aspect of bodybuilding. At one time or another, we each read about bodybuilders from the era we started training. For most of us sitting around on this day, that was the mid-1970s and the mid-80s.
As we talked, we reflected on lifters who have since passed and gyms we had trained at that have long since vanished. We juxtaposed the gym scene in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s with the present day. We discussed, compared, and contrasted the simplicity of goals and the individual and personal aspirations of putting on some muscle here, adding to the squat, bench, and deadlift max there. We talked about all the fun and excitement as a newbie training with weights, changing and improving your physique, nutrition, food supplements, rest, recovery, and hydration for muscle growth and strength development.
As the conversation unfurled, we also talked about the evolution of bodybuilding as a lifestyle or sport—to be strong, powerful, muscular, healthy, and vibrant or on the stage where the potential for money prizes and titles are involved. These two faces of bodybuilding have aspects as mutually exclusive and opposite as can be.
Over the decades, there has been a significant transition in bodybuilding. Meager prize money transitioned to significant financial winnings and lucrative sponsorships that the elite-level professionals aspire to attain. There has also been a transition in what is physically required to achieve a look now worthy of the win. With regard to the look, the conditioning specifically, and this is the case for both the professional and amateur divisions.
In the larger perspective, there has become a growing philosophical division between the hardly changed lifestyle of bodybuilding and the constantly changing sport aspect of bodybuilding. For those into bodybuilding as a lifestyle, the modern-day lifestyle of bodybuilders is not far removed from those of the bronze era (1894-1939) and silver era (1940-1959) bodybuilders.
Although there is more research and information on nutrition, the food supplements are arguably better. The equipment used for bodybuilding has expanded beyond only barbells and dumbbells. The daily routine for lifestyle bodybuilders stays the same—pack up the gym bag, train with purpose, intensity, discipline, consistency, consume the proper foods and calories, hydrate, rest, recuperate, track the progress, make changes as needed and continue on the journey for self-improvement, increased muscle, decreased fat, improved health, strength, and power.
As the lifestyle version of bodybuilding remains the same, very little fanfare is likewise involved with this individual endeavor. As the bodybuilding lifestyle is about self, those truly on that given path often go about their way in relative and preferred obscurity. They do so as there is no bright light shining down on them, and they steer clear of the trap that is socialookatmedia. The lifestyle bodybuilders are more focused on sets, reps, and growth than likes, followers, and clicks. This obscurity of the lifestyle bodybuilder is often the polar opposite to that of the sport version of bodybuilding, especially now that there is a financial element. And with that money element comes the compounding factors like sponsors and the active and purposeful pursuit of followers, likes, and clicks.
For those young people new to the concept of bodybuilding/hypertrophy, it is difficult to even think of the bodybuilding lifestyle. The sport version takes up the majority of online bandwidth, leaving the impression, especially to those younger folks new to the muscle game, that there is only one avenue to travel.
A Haitian proverb says, "Beyond mountains, there are mountains." A perfect metaphor for our life in the gym and our world of weights.
Those seeking the lesser-known lifestyle of bodybuilding seek the journey and thus reject any shortcuts, inauthenticities or external motivations. Lifestyle bodybuilders reject the trappings of sport, and they represent the antithesis of their pursued lifestyle journey. Lifestyle bodybuilders seek the mountains to climb, fully knowing that beyond the successfully climbed mountains lay even more mountains that need climbing. Their lifestyle journey is one of inner travel, and it is full of self-purpose. Any shortcuts or external motivations are rejected as that robs them of the mountains beyond the mountains.
In other words, bodybuilding during the bronze, silver, and a small portion of the golden era was all about the individual's struggle. Enduring the struggle was the purpose, the reward, and the point of the endeavor in the first place. Part of that lifestyle journey is stops along the way to bigger muscles, more bodyweight with less body fat, and the struggles that occur along the way.
This journey of the lifestyle bodybuilder presents its own set of successes and failures as it makes bodybuilders who they are. Success and failure help them learn and grow in the process. The failures, the challenges, and the mountains beyond the mountains make us look inward for self-satisfaction vs. seeking outward affirmation.
For the most part, bodybuilding in those aforementioned eras, the eras of what was once the bodybuilding lifestyle that lifters like Dave Draper embodied, is the antithesis of the bodybuilding sport he recoiled from. Following his success in winning the 1970 Mr. World title, Dave Draper left the world of competitive bodybuilding, one of stress and pressure and external counter incentives. He continued the lifestyle of bodybuilding for the rest of his life—a lifestyle of stress-relief, self-imposed healthy pressure, and internal motivation.
Photo via Laree Draper
While discontinuing all the competitive and sport aspects of bodybuilding, Dave Draper continued with all the lifestyle aspects of weights, muscle, power, and iron. His journey went in a direction that would be the antithesis of the path many, especially today, follow. He went against the popular grain to remain true to the inner journey he wanted for himself. That understanding of self often resonates with the more philosophical lifters interested in growing strong(er) and more muscular for the sole purpose of self-satisfaction through attainment.
Are all of the sport aspects of bodybuilding (the money, sponsors, being Insta-famous) bad? That is a great question, but the wrong question. The point isn't about why people bodybuild, but what is bodybuilding? Is bodybuilding a lifestyle, a sport, or two mutually exclusive things?
The target audience for this thought debate is a lifter like you, a lifter who lives deep within the subculture of all things weights and dumbbells—lifters who aspire to be healthy, strong, big, powerful, muscular for themselves and who do so without seeking external affirmation. And for those cut from that same cloth as a Dave Draper, he turned his back on a successful competitive bodybuilding career. He lives on as the Polaris for legions of lifters who seek the private lifestyle aspect of bodybuilding. A road traveled less, the bodybuilders back then were seen as outcasts, over-muscled health nuts with overdeveloped physiques, wheatgrass, wheat germ, and the original Rheo Blair protein shakes.
For those following competitive bodybuilding at the professional level, the highest rung on the sport aspect of the bodybuilding ladder, it is glaringly apparent that for a number of those at this pinnacle, the focus is winning by any means necessary. This is indicative of the inordinate number of deaths of this sport's pros, who, age-wise, should be amazingly healthy and in the prime of their lives. That of course is the extreme, but within the community of those who compete in bodybuilding, the majority put the win over the lifestyle for their reasons. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. Each person on this good Earth has the right to follow whatever pursuit they desire and to the extent they desire.
For those following the sport aspect of bodybuilding, one can see how the sport itself is trying to self-regulate and find some equilibrium. It is seeking some equanimity through the emergence of men's divisions like physique and classic physique.
Ultimately, there are two vast and different worlds within bodybuilding to choose from. Both have aspects to them that are alluring to different personality types. One size does not have to fit all. Although the world of socialookatmedia shines a bright light on the sport of bodybuilding and often all things extreme, it does not mean that the sport version is the world best suited for you. Likewise, some could care less about building muscle for the joy of the struggle and care even less for any health or longevity aspects. Those individuals want mass, paper-thin skin, anatomical chart vascularity, and they want that as a means toward an end. That end is victory on stage in competition and the spoils that go with it. For the pro bodybuilder, this can be money, sponsors, endorsements, a place in history, notoriety, or the feeling of satisfaction of dominating over others and pushing oneself past the red line.
Where these Venn diagrams of lifestyle and sport merge is with the discipline, consistency, and drive to succeed. Regardless of the endeavor chosen, there is no forward traction, no advancement, no progress, no self-evolution for any lifter of weights without these factors. You see it everyday at your gym; those who lack these essentials are the individuals whose physique is the same month after month, year after year. As with all aspects of life, what you put into it is what you get out of it. Work ethic is extremely demanding in either of the two forms of the successful bodybuilder.
Without this perspective, those young people following bodybuilding via social media have only that single perspective—bigger is better, by any means necessary to grow, and more likes and followers equates to more success. Those who bodybuild for self-improvement, longevity, love of health, adoration of muscle bursting out from shirt sleeves and well-earned callused hands often do so in the privacy of a garage or basement gym. In reality, what may appear as training dungeons are secret fortresses of solitude, where affirmation comes from the mirror's reflection vs. the sport aspect. These self-made fortresses of solitude where less is more and where the lifestyle, the journey of the self is more fulfilling than any sporting aspect.
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Suppose you are newer to the land of hypertrophy or perhaps a veteran who has grown disenchanted with the direction of the sport and the blueprint that needs to be followed to find success in today's competitive world. In that case, the original lifestyle blueprint is worth your exploration.
There are reasons why greats such as Dave Draper left the competitive world of bodybuilding but never stopped bodybuilding as a lifestyle. These are the same reasons perhaps pursuing the lesser-known lifestyle world of bodybuilding vs the competitive sport of bodybuilding might fit your life goals and ambitions better. Lesser-known does not equate to lesser fulfillment, and new and trendy does not always equate to better. To the contrary, many could and have successfully argued that with the lesser-known comes greater fulfillment.
For those of us who have enjoyed strength, power, weights, and muscle as a staple of our lives over the decades, we borrow from the sport of bodybuilding to enhance our powerlifting or strongman pursuits. When we do, we engage exclusively in the lifestyle world of bodybuilding. We do so as powerlifting is about muscle for go vs. muscle show, and functional muscle is a large part of the lifestyle aspect of the more global term bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding is single in name yet has a duality to its essence. It can be the perfectly fitting glove for those seeking out financial potential, titles, the desire to compete and show their progress to the throngs who attend such competitive events. For others, it can be that inward journey that produces the outward evidence of the journey's success in the form of muscle, strength, and power. But it can also be a lifestyle enjoyed for a lifetime as it has for the countless masses who are anonymous, purposely obscure, and who fly under the radar, only known as "bodybuilders" by family, immediate friends, and perhaps co-workers.
For so many young people, say high school-aged, they have never known a world without social media. Sociologists and psychologists will tell you that for most of these young people, they can not delineate between real life and life online. For that reason, what they see more of in their online life is the sport aspect of bodybuilding since it has a massive online presence, and thus it might be all they know about it. And within that sport aspect, there is a far brighter light on the pro bodybuilding division than the far less popular natural bodybuilding division. Even less illuminated is the lifestyle aspect of bodybuilding, yet that might be the Goldilocks zone for many young people who want to pursue a lifestyle of building muscle, strength, power, health, and self-fulfillment.
Ultimately, there are many out there, and perhaps you are one of them, who seek that bodybuilding road less traveled. Maybe you seek that self-imposed and lesser-followed bodybuilding lifestyle of hard work and anonymous failures and successes.
For those on that glorious journey, enjoy the struggle and enjoy that universal truth that beyond the mountains, there are mountains.
Wishing you the best! Ever Onward.
Eric Maroscher is the owner of the Monster Garage Gym. Cofounded by Phil Daniels, NFL Defensive End, Monster Garage Gym is a premier powerlifting gym in the United States. Eric is the leader of the Maroscher Powerlifting Team, a two-time WPC World Powerlifting Champion, two-time APF National Powerlifting Champion, WPC North American Powerlifting Champion, and a multi-time APF Illinois State Champion.