When people discuss the current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, I don’t think about training, muscles or aesthetics. All that comes to my mind are his juvenile posts on Instagram praising Gucci garbage and custom sneakers made for clowns. This thinking often leads me to a critical question – how does bodybuilding fit into the modern world which thrives on buying things?
Are bodybuilders hardcore materialists too?
Is going to the gym the equivalent of shopping for muscles?
Subconsciously shopaholics hope that the things you buy develop your personality for you. When I was a skateboarder I witnessed a similar phenomenon. We were obsessed with various brands, and many of us were convinced that better gear makes you a better skater.
Provided that your board is not bought from a toy store and made out of plywood, your talent, efforts, and environment will be the decisive factors. I can say with a hand on my heart that I didn’t become a pro skater, not because of my board, but because I didn’t have the talent, the desire and the knees for it.
Lifting is not super dependent on material possessions. Any semi-decent gym will do just fine. Moreover, the fight against gravity should be by definition anti-materialistic because you are developing your personality externally and internally through physical effort and patience. Good, right? Technically, yes, but this is not really what happens in practice. Lifting is not as pure as you may think. It can serve as ego food too.
When you go to a supplement store, the atmosphere, the labels, the promotions and the Photoshopped posters make you feel like you are at a place selling muscle fibers in bottles. I have known how the game works for many years, and yet I am pretty sure that if I visit a big supplement store today, I would feel something similar. That’s how strong the magic is.
Once upon a time, I saw a semi-intelligent teen and his father in a supplement store. Apparently, the father had fucked up somehow because he was buying his son a massive bucket of protein powder vanilla flavor. I guess the son had caught his dad dick-injecting the wrong woman and was blackmailing him. That’s one of the very few possibilities that actually make sense.
They were just about to leave the store when another bucket of protein powder stole the attention of the kid. I don’t remember the flavor or the brand, but it was pink and more expensive than the rest of the dust there.
His father said: “I will buy you this one next time.”
“Awesome, dad,” answered the kid with muscle greed in the eyes.
As you can see, the world of muscle has also been largely affected by the system which uses purchases as an engine.
Bodybuilders spend a lot more money on food and supplements than regular people, although such actions are rarely justified when you are natural. Therefore, one could form the wrong impression that bodybuilding is all about living in the present and improving yourself instead of accumulating things. Sorry, this is not really the case.
Remember: bodybuilders are muscleholics and protein vampires. They see the extra food as a way to buy muscle mass.
Another characteristic that exposes modern training as a segment of the materialistic net is the overuse of drugs. If people were lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights rather than external appearance, anabolic steroids would not be as popular.
Muscle building and shopping have more in common than one may think. The purpose of both is to give you a short high. You buy something, enjoy it for a little while, then you get used to it and no longer appreciate it. The same is true for muscle mass. You build some, and then you want more and more. Some get caught in the trap and dedicate their whole lives to the pursuit of bigger muscles at all costs. Trying to get bigger and bigger is similar to buying new clothes, phones and other things supposed to change your personality for the better.
In an old interview, the popular French bodybuilder Serge Nubret was asked whether bodybuilders are too narcissistic. He answered by comparing bodybuilding to buying new shoes and dressing well.
Where do we draw the line? Do we really need expensive shoes and the biggest muscles to feel complete and in peace? The truth is that after a certain threshold, all extras begin to lose their value. Once the initial thirst has been satisfied, you forget how much you love water. The excess just stretches your belly and chains you.
Cool, but where do we draw the line? Do we really need expensive shoes and big muscles to feel complete and in peace? The truth is that after a certain threshold, all extras begin to lose their value. Once the initial thirst has been satisfied, you forget how much you love water. The excess just stretches your belly and chains you.
Lifting wouldn’t be facing its current problems if catalog bodies weren’t the only goal. We have an endless amount of muscle media constantly reminding us how we are supposed to look. The magazines and the websites are selling an image that we are consuming. This mechanism started the use of phrases such as “look like you lift” and “do you even lift”.
Who determines how a person that lifts should look like in the first place?
I don’t look like I lift according to the magazines even though I have been lifting with way more effort than others who do. On many occasions, the unrealistic expectations pushed constantly in my face were close to making me quit permanently. They failed. I am still lifting with or without muscle growth. I guess that makes me mentally ill according to people who only judge the external.
What many will have to learn, however, is that sometimes the final prize cannot be measured in gained muscle. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons about myself thanks to the lifting game, and I am sure that others have experienced the same thing. You may not realize it now because you are too disappointed by your biceps size, but one day you will know that the journey was worth it.
With that said, I understand why people feel frustrated when they are putting in the work without getting the expected results. Honestly, you will find way more happiness if you simply look at the whole journey as a way to get stronger and keep your body in condition instead of expecting that you will look like a model.
Truth be told, you could probably become a professional fitness model if that’s what you really want. Those guys aren’t that special anyway. However, you should know by now that it takes way more than dirt powder to get there.
Another major characteristic of consumerism is the unnecessary replacement of things for the sake of having new models. The most popular example is given to us by the fanboys who buy the latest iPhone model even though their previous phone is working just fine. This is called new model marketing. Since things don’t break so easily, the only way to make people buy more is to inject in their heads the idea that purchasing the latest model is essential for their proper functioning in this world. This is where the magic of marketing teams come.
Last week I decided to buy a pocket knife. I was amazed by the endless reviews on the Internet. A video of a guy addicted to a specific knife brand shocked me. He showed his collection of 6-7 knives accumulated in just 2 months. As a bonus, he said that more are coming in the mail. The knives looked the same to me and had some bugs on the blade. Ironically, they were all high quality. A knife like that could last 20+ years even if you abuse the hell out of it. Still, some people want to buy 10 or more of those because each time a new package arrives at your door, the drugs reach your veins.
Adding muscle mass is similar. You don’t necessarily need more muscle (new models) to operate at your optimum capacity.
At the end of the day, it’s not always about what you have, but how you use it. Doing is better than having.