Are Bodybuilders Dumb?

July 22, 2007

Let’s take a look around my gym early on a Saturday morning. You have to figure that the folks showing up before 9 a.m. on the weekend take the activity seriously enough.

We’ve got one guy wearing dark sunglasses, in this windowless gym prone to power failures. Another guy, dressed in a Barney-the-dinosaur purple running suit, is doing squats with his feet spread about a football field wide. A third guy, who got me thinking about this topic, at least looks relatively normal. However, he’s got the seat on his lat row machine set so low that he pulls almost completely with his rear deltoids, not his lats.

Do bodybuilders deserve their meathead reputation? Judging from this sample: you bet. However, none of these guys will ever accomplish anything in the gym. I’d argue that ironically, the guys packing the most beef also possess the biggest brains. At a minimum, the successful bodybuilder has a command of kinesiology, anatomy, and nutrition. Depending upon what’s inside the plain packaging with the Chinese postmark, he’s probably quite knowledgeable about chemistry, too.

On the other hand, within the fitness universe, the biggest dumbbells must be the folks in charge of gym management.

You would think, for example, that I could get in a decent pull-up somewhere in my gym, with three separate pull-up stations to choose from. Well. The first pull-up station is located directly under the indoor running track, so that any pull-up ends abruptly in a collision between skull and concrete. The second station is centered almost perfectly under a long sprinkler head, eliminating the necessary overhead clearance. In the part of the gym with the lowest ceiling, you’ll find the third station. Here, as you reach the top of your pull-up, you have to ram your head through the ceiling tile, reaching peak contraction somewhere in the crawl space. I guess I should just be happy there’s no permanent injury.

Body Paint

July 14, 2007

Joe Weider’s 1980’s bodybuilding bible, at 528 pages, gets it wrong for only one single paragraph. Weider points out that while bodybuilders literally carry their sport around with them, they should never under any circumstances wear shirts so tight that the shirts seem painted on. I think Weider’s aim was to discourage lifters from making a mockery of the whole endeavor.

In my opinion, however, if you’ve earned it, you can wear it. I don’t care if your shirt is so tight that when you bend your arms you tear your sleeve – like Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins. I mean, how cool was that?

Then again, the two guys I saw walking along the beach this weekend were absolutely ridiculous. Shirts off, they were undeniably muscular, but not really cut. They displayed clear evidence of gym membership, but also proof of too many Irish creams. Mostly, what made them look big was the way they held a permanent flexed pose as they strolled down the street. They spent so much time looking down at their own bodies I was worried they might accidentally walk into traffic.

In the end, I don’t think this kind of buffoonery – shirt or no shirt – is a reflection on the sport of bodybuilding. I’m pretty sure it’s only a reflection on them.

Over The Top

June 24, 2007

There is a whole class of people that have been ignored by this blog but deserve better: the compulsive overexerciser. I’ve even lived in my own denial for years, but I think I finally reached the acceptance stage.

I have always been careful to finish my run before sunrise, especially in summer. But because of a scheduling mishap, I found myself strapping my headphones on today around noon. I’ve long been fascinated by joggers who manage to pound the asphalt under a brutal sun. Well, it turns out that heat stroke’s numbing effect can carry you quite far.

In fairness, training under extreme conditions is way macho. Olympic athletes sleep in oxygen-deprived tents to simulate the effect of high altitude. And who can forget Rocky Balboa’s courageous workouts in the Siberian wilderness prior to knocking out Ivan Drago? Now don’t tell me that’s just a movie. I have a relative who ran his last marathon on the North Pole, and we’re convinced his next race will be 26.2 straight up Mt. Everest.

What’s not funny is the collection of injuries that follow from this kind of regimen. Long-distance runners suffer from the same joint problems as professional football players. They sometimes find blood in their urine. And triathletes occasionally show scarring on their hearts – exactly what you’d expect from any severely overtrained muscle.

There are also those folks who aren’t trying to swim the English Channel, but still freak out over taking a day off. I know someone who fit in a workout on the day of her mother’s funeral. In the same bloodline is also a guy who often claims he “didn’t like” his first workout, and promptly heads back to the gym.

Speaking of which, I’ve had a big lunch. I think it’s time for a brisk walk.


May 19, 2007

My grandfather always told me if I hung on to old clothes long enough, they’d eventually come back in style. And generally, this fashion phenomenon is harmless: wide neckties give way to thin ties which are replaced by wide ties.

However, after being exposed to one man’s gym attire yesterday, I’m here to sound the alarm about the return to short shorts.

Short shorts used to be the preferred look in the NBA. Not only are these bottoms ridiculous in their own right, they also become particularly unappealing when mixed with the stretching and straining of a gym workout.

Let me be clear: My concern here has nothing to do with sexual orientation or embonpoint. Short shorts are an eyesore, and simply not a good look for a dude.

Let’s hope this is just a one-man trend.

Larry Bird

Child Care

April 22, 2007

Whenever I see a dad drag his 11 or 12 year old son to the gym, I’m reminded of the dog owner who forces his golden retriever to join him in a three mile jog.

I really do feel bad for each kid. Every time, he looks bewildered and intimidated, as if he’s joining his dad for a night at the theatre. I guess the dad thinks he’s showing off when his son spots him on some heavy lift. But you’d think plain common sense would stop the dad from pushing his child through a workout meant for grown men.

The science of weightlifting for children and teens is pretty clear: Heavy lifting can cause changes in the way bones develop and stunt growth. It also doesn’t take a brain surgeon – or a physiatrist – to realize that kids aren’t physically ready for serious bodybuilding.

Of course, there’s also the basic issue of more bodies cluttering the gym, particularly those that have no experience with gym etiquette. Kids tend to camp out on equipment they’re not using, getting in the way and making themselves a nuisance. I really can’t blame the boy for taking a mid-workout snooze on the incline bench – he’s signaling dad that he’s had enough, and he is truly wiped out. But still, we’ve got enough of a challenge getting the adults to behave, why add kids to the mix?

Then there’s the parent who has her seven year old tag along. This is generally rare, but does happen on holidays when the gym daycare is closed. Needless to say, a small child rolling around on the gym floor is a major disaster waiting to happen.