What Is WRONG with You?

TAGS: What Is WRONG with You?, Integrative Bodybuilding, fortitude, Scott Stevenson, iron game, bodybuilding

My recent Master’s Nationals contest report had the greatest positive response of anything I’ve written for elitefts™, at least from my perspective. Ironically, I was detailing my “failures” after a year’s worth of bodybuilding efforts that landed me both a poorer placing and a lesser on-stage physique as well as an experience that garnered me important lessons (reminders that I’ll call “successes”).

Beyond the mother lode of affirming and thankful emails and private messages, I was generally encouraged to reveal a bit more of the “man behind the references.” (That refers to me, in case you haven't read my other articles here on elitefts™.)

What’s the point?

I’m starting to recognize truth in the saying that “life is short.” At nearly 44 young years of age, I’m more than 50 percent past my life expectancy. You can bet your bottom dollar that I want to cherish all the moments I’ve got left, especially if I’m “over the hill.” Clichés aside, because I don’t seem to have any conscious recollection of past life experiences, I’ll assume that this is my only go around. Carpé diem.

So bodybuilding is one of the ways that I squeeze all I can out of being alive. It’s a daily wrestling match with reality via a perpetual, purposeful, day-to-day, goal-directed effort. (It’s realizing a drive to excel that some simply call “living the bodybuilding lifestyle.") From the nuances of exercise form and program periodization to the intricacies of dietary and nutritional supplementation, bodybuilding epitomizes exploration for me. It’s a grand means of interacting with the world in the “doing” sense. (I’m curious and thankful for it.)

On the other hand, it’s pretty clear (take a current look at the older bodybuilders of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s day and before) that all this “doing” is ultimately for naught. You can’t take it with you. None of the physique improvements will last even if you're buried in an extra large coffin as the joke goes. Perhaps one’s knowledge can live on in books (speaking of, I’ve written one), but whether those words will be significant after my corporeal demise is yet to be seen.

So for me, bodybuilding is really also a way of “being” a part of what I consider a mind-boggling natural beauty that manifests in our physical form. (That’s pretty “wu wu,” I know, but this same form—our bodies—also happens to be the essentially unlimited subject matter of the western biological sciences. Bodybuilding really is kind of a blending of art and science for me.) Thus, gaining awareness through “in the trenches” of training, coaching, teaching, and studying the research literature is one of my main ways of being…of playing my part in the greater whole.

Still, the inherently transitory nature of my body, not to mention the ever changing litany of gyms where I train, the fluctuating state of the scientific literature, and so on and so forth, make it quite clear that whatever “is” now will not “be” tomorrow. In other words, a very wise truth holds: “This, too, shall pass.”

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Integrative bodybuilding?

You might be thinking, “What…does this guy think he’s the next coming of Socrates or something? What kind of la la land is he living in?” (To be perfectly honest, I laugh a little bit at myself because I’ve asked the same questions. How full of it am I?)

For a long while, I’ve made it my mission and perceived it as my greatest avenue of “giving back” to bring the science to the people, to integrate real world bodybuilding with exercise and nutritional science. “Integrative bodybuilding” refers primarily to fulfilling this goal along with infusing my clinical and medical understanding and work as an acupuncturist, body worker, and Chinese herbalist into my professional exploits. (FYI, I’ve been a licensed acupuncturist for nearly a decade.) Nowadays, thousands of blogs lending personal perspective (on every topic imaginable) populate the Internet. There are certainly many amazing blogs and some that I don’t find interesting as well (at least when considering the intended message). Call me a team player if you will. I figured my best contribution to the fitness industry and fellow iron brethren is to unveil what I can via the unique overlap of my knowledge bases in writing applied bodybuilding science articles.

On the other hand, it’s becoming apparent now that my status as a veteran competitive bodybuilder with a rare combination of formal medical and scientific training might make my non-scientific musings at least slightly entertaining. So, as requested, here are a few more reflections from a lifetime muscle geek.

“Man, you chose this…”

Bodybuilding clouds your perspective, which means that it can also help clarify it. The bodybuilder’s daily pursuits increase the “busy-ness” and sometimes the difficulty of daily life, especially when dieting pre-contest. Even the easiest of tasks can seem overwhelmingly daunting. (For me, it has always been a hobby, although bodybuilding is my learning lab and thus part of my profession, too.) Those moments when I catch myself thinking how hard some of this is are the ones that can often create perspective, paradoxically. The “overcoming” of obstacles isn't always the reward in these cases.

In those times when I feel overwhelmed by hunger and fatigue, that inkling of discomfort seems (I think) to provide just the slightest insight into how someone who is truly starving and exhausted might feel. (I’ve never really been starving, so I can’t say for sure.) How would someone really feel who simply has no option to eat more because the food and resources simply aren't available? How have the millions of people who have lived in starvation and died of it felt? How lucky am I that I can spend my money buying organic eggs and salmon caught thousands of miles away and sent to me under refrigeration? I can’t even fathom it to be honest.

“You’re a lucky (and crazy) guy”

Related to the above, bodybuilding is in many ways a luxury endeavor. Bodybuilders mostly have the financial wherewithal to belong to clubs/gyms, buy nutritional supplements, and eat a lot of high quality food. Of course, bodybuilders also scrape and claw together resources (sometime scraping what some might call the bottom of the moral barrel). Again, I’ve been lucky in that regard. Even to my “hardcore” driven bodybuilder’s mind, it seems a bit crazy to pay hundreds of dollars for plane flights, expensive hotels, sanctioning body memberships, and competition entry fees, not to mention spray tanning and other expenses, all just so I can step on stage and “compete.”

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Those kinds of monetary expenditures seem (almost) normal within the bodybuilding subculture. These behaviors remind me that it’s human nature to go to extremes and often to self-indulge. When I see others doing so in pursuits I’m not interested in, my criticism may just well be the pot calling the kettle black.

Various and sundry: The good, the “bad,” and the beautiful

Naturally, I’m very happy to have weight training as a physical outlet, exercise science as an intellectual pursuit, and bodybuilding as a passion that basically earns me a living. (I’ll refrain from expanding upon the obvious—exercise is also emotional therapy for me as for many of you reading this, I suspect.)

The notion that athletic, sporting, and/or physical endeavors are a training ground for greater success in “real life” holds truth, too...I think. I wouldn't be the first bodybuilder to say that I appreciate the “it’s all on you” aspect that underlies much of bodybuilding success. On the other hand, bodybuilding can be very isolating for me. This fits my personality (go figure), but I know I’m more emotionally healthy when I’m less isolated.

Just as it’s said that drinking alcohol can amplify your personality (making “assholes even bigger assholes”), bodybuilding gives me a reason to function autonomously, perhaps too much so. How many bodybuilders have to mend personal relationships after contests? Once again, perspective teaches, and the contrast of competition preparation reminds me of my weaknesses as well as my strengths.

Sometimes, an artist must be a part of society (to share his/her creations) but also apart from society to create the distance (even isolation) that generates creative perspective. Similarly, being a member of the bodybuilding subculture means being a special member of society, appreciated by some but scorned by others. Years ago, when being introduced to a personal training client of a friend, my outstretched hand was greeted by a bold statement: “I wouldn’t come near that guy [me] with a ten-foot pole.” On the flip side, just today I was given an entirely unsolicited and genuine compliment from a fellow gym member I had never seen before: “I just wanted to say that you look awesome, man.”

I've noticed that there's often a slight feeling of being an outsider as a bodybuilder. (Yes, this also means I’ve been successful in building my body, too.) This sense of being ostracized is similar to when I was regularly gazed at as the only non-Hispanic in a Mexican-American L.A. neighborhood where I lived years ago. I sometimes felt foreign, too, as an American foreigner working and studying abroad. These uncomfortable experiences remind me that we are all different and special in our own way, “snowflakes” as I’ve noted before.

More importantly, bodybuilding helps remind me that if one judges a book by its cover, be that a person’s skin color, muscularity, physical deformity, frown or smile of unknown origin, or even the judgment they place on you, this may very well mean missing out on a treasure trove of inner beauty that’s just a friendly gesture away.

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