Do You Even Lift?

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WORDS Regina Featherstone

Put your brown rice in the cooker and read on to find out the facts and myths of the body building world. 

Body building has grown in popularity of in the last few years with YouTube, fitness magazines and web forums created specifically to educate people on what it takes to bulk, shred, pull and press themselves into a more desirable physique.

From a healthy lifestyle to looking ripped at Stereosonic, each individual has a different goal in mind when they walk into the gym. There are negative perceptions of the sport being filled with vain, meat-head-ish men and little-to-no women. But here’s where we take every pre-conceived notion of bodybuilding and throw it out the window with our collective scrawny arm.

[quote]So unless you want to head to Snap City, realising your limits and training properly are crucial steps in beginning to body build…[/quote]

Tearing, repairing and building muscle is a long process that must be accompanied by a strict diet to see results. Law student Oscar Mairs started body building roughly five years ago in an attempt to gain confidence and put on weight, as his arms looked like “strands of instant spaghetti”. The change didn’t happen overnight. To achieve certain targets, ex-MacWarrior Robbie Frame says it can be “laborious and monotonous, but it’s the application of these habits on a day-to-day basis that reap [sic] the results”. Your body type also plays a huge role in your progress. You may be a lanky ectomorph and find it difficult to put on weight, or an endomorph and find it difficult to cut excess fat. You may be a genetically blessed mesomorph and find body-building a tad easier than some of your friends. It wasn’t until Robbie matched a stricter diet to a more intense routine that he saw better results. So unless you want to head to Snap City, realising your limits and training properly are crucial steps in beginning to body build.

The diet of a body builder is expensive. Robbie and Oscar estimate spending around $150 – $200 per week just on themselves. An average day consists of five to six meals with a work out and whatever other commitments. Eating portion controlled meals with low fat proteins and slow digesting carbs is the cornerstone of body building. So while it may seem like all body-builders do is eat, their eating is very precise and at the opposite end, during cutting phases they can go through extreme hunger to achieve that Adonis body. “I’m sure a lot of what I eat would disgust the average person,” Oscar says, “but to me taste is irrelevant now. I simply eat for function, and I derive more pleasure from the results that the food has in regards to my performance and condition.”

The commitment to diet and training gives body-builders a stereotype of being extreme. Oscar admits that there were about two years of his life where he didn’t go out with friends, but later made up for it and partied too hard. He struggled to find a balance without compromising his goals. “Giving yourself time to have fun motivates you to then work harder, it refreshes you and renews enthusiasm,” says Oscar.

What’s that you say? Alcohol kills gains? Well, balance is the key and Robbie suggests that there are times when you can go out with friends and not drink and … still have fun! Really! When you think about it every sport requires commitment to achieve certain results so body building is not alone in its strictness.

[quote]It’s inevitable that when appearance is tied to a disciplined sport that requires a personal commitment on a day-to-day basis people will assume that body builders are ‘obsessed’ with themselves.[/quote]

It’s hard not to associate body building with guys hovering around the mirror in an attempt to catch a glimpse of their glorious selves. Internet personality Zyzz was famous for encouraging others to look better because he himself used to be unhappy with his body. Initially, for many men and women, it is about wanting to improve their aesthetics. It’s inevitable that when appearance is tied to a disciplined sport that requires a personal commitment on a day-to-day basis people will assume that body builders are ‘obsessed’ with themselves. Most body builders do admit to there being an element of vanity involved, but become consumed with the desire to progressively improve their physical and mental states. They begin to view their body objectively. However, Robbie adds that body building leaves you solely accountable for the results you produce so the obsession is less with yourself but more with the process required to achieve specific goals.

The University of Boston recently conducted studies that found lifting weights amplifies the adaptive signaling response in the muscles. The process tunes up an out-of-shape nervous system all while improving the coordination of muscles working together. Resistance training requires an upsurge in brain usage and helps to balance out the blood sugar level – with more muscle demanding glucose, the risk of diabetes is reduced.

Mentally, body building allows you to set goals and push past your self-imposed limits. You are constantly redefining your capabilities and boosting your self-worth. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said: “Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.”

There is no doubt that weights training is perceived as a male activity. Twenty-year-old power lifter Katherine Hartley began training eight months ago and aims to be strong, not just to look good. Initially, she felt she needed to prove her worth to workout with free weights, which she now recalls as silly. On feeling unworthy she says: “I think the males who don’t participate in the sport are more judgmental of female weight-lifters than the men who do lift. Onlookers do not understand the effort and commitment we (women) put in to lift as much as men. I find men in the gym very encouraging and supportive.” Hartley started lifting at a time when she felt emotionally and mentally weak and found a correlation between the increase in physical strength and her mental health. Weighing only 60 kilograms, she proves that women and weights are a good combo, being able to squat her own weight and deadlift 105 kilograms.

[quote]It has enriched my life in every aspect. My training is a meditation, time to free my mind and transcend all my worries and troubles[/quote]

As for the stereotype that body-builders are meat-heads and there are a lot of steroids involved? Well yes, that happens when people try to reach goals too fast without serious dedication. Oscar combats this stereotype by discussing Aristotle’s ideal life or ‘eudiomonia’, that being a state of well-being and flourishing as a person in the pursuit of all-round excellence. “Lifting has become such a deeply pervasive activity,” Oscar goes on to say, “it has enriched my life in every aspect. My training is a meditation, time to free my mind and transcend all my worries and troubles … It’s not just about wanting to look good, it’s about being proactive in facilitating positive change in your life. At its core it is all about personal development.”

Body builders will continue to hold past Mr. Olympia’s like Ronnie Coleman or Jay Cutler on re-enforced, titanium pedestals as models for excellence. They showcase that the way to build muscle is commitment, training and diet. In reality, ‘Do you even lift?’ should be more like, ‘Do you even improve insulin sensitivity and assimilate carbohydrates into bodily glycogen stores?’ This sport is a science, with the men and women involved being extremely dedicated to achieving their goals. Although it is very consuming and disciplined, their passion for something so positive is enviable.