I’ve spent a lot more time over the past 6 months weight-lifting than in nearly any other period in my life. At 38 years old, there’s really no reason for me to be so mono-focused on cycling when I’m not about to enter competitive bike racing at this stage of my existence, so I decided to more seriously pursue a side interest of mine. As you would expect, engaging with the lifting community has exposed me to some pretty disturbing updates on how things are going in the physical “fitness” world outside of the hidebound cultish fundamentalism of road cycling.
The first alarming detail is that virtually everyone is on a cocktail of performance enhancing anabolic drugs and no one really feels guilty about it. There is a veritable cottage industry of YouTube channels dedicated almost exclusively to discussing whether someone is “natty or not”. (Spoilers, they’re not.) Body-building doesn’t prohibit steroids thusly they have become mandatory, and by extension, their influence seems to have spread into all corners of the weight-lifting world. Movie stars are absolutely notorious for their “chicken broccoli and rice” make-overs that are really fueled by plenty of TRT and Anavar. Think Tom Hardy just worked out a little for his roles? Think again. Nowadays I’ve learned to just assume that anyone with a serious interest in weight-lifting is taking PEDs until they tell me otherwise. Believe me, no one in the current year has the slightest problem with over-sharing about their gym-candy addiction and natties are quicker on the draw to start preaching about their clean lifestyle than most vegans.
If the “gymcel” culture has a unified objective, it seems to be the pursuit of “fizeek“. To come out of a discipline where pure athletic performance is the only currency accepted in the realm and look into this world where “size”, “mass” and anabolic cycles are talked about more than the actual amount of weight being lifted is a jarring experience. I’m used to respect being earned by what you do leading a paceline or attacking a climb, not by what your shoulders look like or how big your trapezius muscles are. Culture shock aside, the fixation on appearance still seemed at odds with the idea of established benchmarks for what should be achievable via hard training. Apparently the benchmarks largely don’t exist anymore, for some historical reasons we’ll soon dive into.
It’s obvious actual physical performance has entirely decoupled from “fitness” as a visual signifier. “Fitness” or “athleticism” has itself been reduced strictly to images, and those images are constantly accelerating towards pure caricature. There’s a couple of forces driving this trend. Most obviously, we live in a world where physical fitness is almost entirely superfluous. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I worked for the family business in timber-cutting. It was a hard, demanding job that kept me painfully skinny despite a steady diet of sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches combined with gallons of Mountain Dew. However, the logging we did with chainsaws, skidders, and loaders was easier by far than the logging done decades earlier when lumberjacks needed 8,000 calories just to get through a typical day. And logging now? It’s increasingly done with feller-bunchers that reduce the “lumberjack” to a mere pilot in an airconditioned cockpit. My father, who was at various times in his life a competitive body builder, weight lifter and cyclist, certainly benefited from his strength and endurance conditioning in his occupation as a timber-cutter. This was a job where physical fitness in the realest sense had a lot of obvious utility. That no longer holds true, do you need any physical fitness whatsoever to operate joysticks inside of an enclosed cab?
This same process of increasing mechanization in the name of productivity and safety has effectively eradicated the physical requirements of a countless number of jobs, or eliminated them entirely. Jobs involving hard manual labor in the United States probably account for less than 10 % of the total economy. 4.6 % of the workforce is employed in construction, with a far tinier slice working in agriculture, forestry and mining. We have an economy largely dominated by service jobs and retail, not one centered around the types of work that require “functional strength” or place huge athletic demands on the employee. Similarly, in day to day life, there are very few situations in our modern, pampered lives where the ability to deadlift 500 lbs would be of practical use or even a feat you could demonstrate outside of a gym. Unless you’re a professional furniture mover, you’ll likely have a pretty hard time even coming up with a decent excuse for lifting something heavier than a couple dozen pounds.
Overall, the forces of technology and capitalist “efficiency” have made strength and physicality meaningless. “Muscles” really are just a superficial characteristic for most modern men, so true to form, they are polished up as a vanity project for peacocking. Doing physical feats changed to just being strong and has now been replaced by merely appearing strong.
The second factor that transformed muscles into a Baudrillardian hyper-reality symbol is much more insidious and traces back to modern body-building itself. Body-building as we know it today is actually the result of a divergence from the popular strongman shows of the late 1800s. An impresario found that audiences seemed more interested in the size of a certain strongman’s muscles than the actual amount of weight he was lifting. That strongman was a Jew named Eugene Sandow and he would go on to become the “father of body-building”. Sandow infamously sued legendary strongman Arthur Saxon for claiming he couldn’t replicate Saxon’s “two hands anyhow” lift. Despite winning the court case, Sandow never fully completed the lift in question. This would ultimately be a cautionary and prophetic tale for what would happen to weight-lifting in general as a discipline. It would later become an industry full of scheming, litigious Jewish capitalists looking to hawk products and permanently distort male body image.
In the coming decades, a fledgling fitness boom was growing in America. Charles Atlas would popularize a body-building program with one of the most memorable advertising campaigns in history. Like all great American capitalist enterprises, it worked by selling people a product they didn’t even know they needed. In the 1950s and 60s the future of American weight-lifting would be decided by a rivalry between a Jewish businessman from Canada and an American devotee of Olympic lifting. Joe Weider seized on body building as an opportunity build a full-scale publishing empire that tested the limits of public decency and even sold his own version of Playboy Magazine. On the other side of the equation, Bob Hoffman coached the US Olympic team and promoted weight-lifting as a more performance based discipline. By the mid 1960s American weight-lifting had come to a fork in the road between a functional strength sport and a glorified beauty pageant between a racially diverse ensemble of roided out science experiments wearing banana hammocks.
We all know how it eventually turned out. Joe Weider launched the International Federation of Bodybuilding in 1965 and held the first Mr. Olympia that same year. According to another Jewish bodybuilder and businessman, Dan Lurie, Weider stole the IFBB from him. Lurie was a former business partner of Weider and was himself sued by both Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The same year as the IFBB launch, another Jewish entrepreneur started the first Gold’s Gym in California. The pieces were in place and the stage was now set to firmly put America, and by extension the entire world under the reign of a new vision of male fitness defined by Jewish capitalists.
They had their own internationally recognized bodybuilding organization, their own gyms, a media empire of fitness magazines, and the star power of so called “Golden Era” bodybuilders like Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno. The 1980s would be a decade of the roided up action hero dominating TV and movie screens all over the world. Olympic lifting and strongman competitions? Forget about it, check out the handshake scene in Predator! Bob Hoffman ultimately lost the struggle and the “racist” Mr. America contests held by the Amateur Athletic Union would be overshadowed by the multiracial IFBB. Any hopes of weight-lifting as a nationalistic sport for white men were smothered by the counter-culture of Jewish bodybuilding and its pretenses as an anti-establishment middle-finger to the strict discipline of traditional weight-lifting.
Today we’ve strayed even further away from strength and onwards towards escalating superficiality. The symbol, the image, the ideal of peak male fitness has been completely divorced from reality. What is presented in television, magazines, social media, video games and on YouTube is an exaggerated caricature of the masculine form and completely unattainable without high doses of exogenous hormones. It isn’t a perfect human specimen, it’s the cartoon of one. An intersection of naked Jewish profiteering, hyperreality, capitalism and historical forces have all conspired to transform what should be healthy and attainable for men into something completely, hideously warped and unrealistic. Instead of Greek statues we now have body-horror freaks straight out of a David Cronenberg movie. This toxic soup of transhuman proportions is what meets your eyes anytime “fitness” is presented to you in the general sense.
In the span of a few decades we went from European strongmen performing actual athletic feats unmatched to this very day to slabs of African beef slathered in spray tan and served up on a stage. Instead of a strict discipline that challenges men to outperform each other at contests of strength and imparts an honor culture on the participants, we have a cosmetic industry for guys serving them up faux-masculinity as a surrogate for male accomplishment. The inspiration for what you should be aspiring towards has been completely replaced by something foreign and artificial. In this morass of influencer charlatans, grifters selling useless supplements, rampant steroid use, and confusing information on training, it’s damned hard to just get your bearings and develop some kind of reasonable approximation of what you should be doing to “get in shape”. I really have a very hard time recommending weight-lifting as a hobby unless you have the patience and perseverance to sift through all the assorted bullshit and hype to find the nuggets of core training principles. If you’re a competitive person, the endurance sports are going to be much more rewarding and healthier in the long run since you will be far less tempted to hop on anabolic steroids so you can grow a pair of “deathstar delts” just like Derek’s. Pumping iron in general needs some kind of intense training plan to get it all back on track.
I don’t precisely know how the ideal image of male fitness should be defined, but this ain’t it, chief…