you're reading...

Anabolic masochism.

For those of you who might be interested, here’s my current list of injuries or physical ailments; the following body parts either hurt or ache in one capacity or another.

  • Both shoulders.
  • Both thumbs.
  • Left middle finger.
  • Left pinky.
  • Lower back.
  • Hips.
  • Both knees.
  • Various places on my arms.

The thumbs and shoulders are definitely the most bothersome.  My left arm, from shoulder to fingertips, goes numb intermittently throughout the day and constantly aches.  I imagine I have some sort of nerve impingement in it.  The right shoulder is just plain sore.  Everytime I move, my body resists.  I’m full of tension and feel like an old man, which I shouldn’t.  I’m 23, my body is supposed to be spry and agile, not stiff and slow.    I know that if I stretched and ate better, my body would feel better.  But, I don’t, so I’m suffering for it.  I’m going to LA Fitness tonight to train my friend, and they have foam rollers there, so I plan to do some of that on my legs and back. 

It does make me wonder though, at why I do the things I do.  Why do I lift?  Why do I take part in an activity that has the potential to cause irreparable harm to my body?

In truth, there is no clear answer.  I do it for myself, and that’s that.  Yeah, part of me wants to look good naked, but that’s pretty insignificant in the face of wanting to be a more physically useful human being. Mark Rippetoe said it best when he stated, “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general,” which is a statement I fully agree with. 

In my mind, there’s no reason why an adult male should ever be consciously or intentionally weak.  I say “consciously” and “intentionally” because outside circumstances (injuries, illnesses, disabilites, etc) might prevent someone from engaging in strength training.  I know the guys at 70’s Big would agree with me.  Their take on strength, size and masculinity–“Adult Male > 200 lbs” 

I once had a conversation with my friend and former housemate Adam about our potentially respective roles within a regressed, Hobbesian society or state of nature.  According to Wikipedia, the Mecca of information, Hobbes wrote that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man” (Leviathan, ch. XIII).  In this state any person has a natural right to the liberty to do anything he wills to preserve his own life, and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” 

This conversation somehow stemmed, I believe, from a discussion of size and strength versus intelligence and wit.  Adam, who despite his efforts, is not the largest of men, was frustrated because as he saw it, he would be at the physical mercy of those individuals larger than himself.  He used an example pertaining to berries–if he went out and collected berries for himself, what would stop a larger, more aggressive man from simply taking Adam’s berries by force? 

As anyone who has ever watched Animal Planet or The Discovery Channel knows, nothing in nature (existence outside of human civilization) is fair.  Animals, regardless of their rank or station along the food chain, are opportunists and will steal from others without any hestitation.  In nature, the less effort one must exert in order to survive, the better.  Ideally, inputs (food, rest) would be greater than outputs (effort, time spent finding food).

So, to return to Adam’s plight–I, for one, would prefer to be big and strong enough to take what I wanted with minimal effort.  If we remove all sense of morality and ethics and examine existence from a purely survivalist perspective, I’d let Adam do the work (gather the berries) and then simply take them from him. 

In the natural world, the strongest almost always wins.  The saying idea of “survival of the fittest” is not lacking in its merit.

Obviously we don’t live in a state of anarchy, or of pure nature, and thus there are external stressors affecting the role and importance of size and strength in our culture, but I believe the above example is clear enough to illustrate my point. 

Just like a tarp or a set of chains, I’d rather have it (strength) and not need it than need it and not have it. 

A large, strong male is less likely to suffer physical harm, or at the least, is able to bear and recover from it more effectively than a smaller, weaker male.  Our muscles are our armor, in a sense–they protect our internal organs from harm, thus, the bigger, stronger, and thicker one’s musculature, the heavier and more protective his armor. 

Traditionally, males have served as the protectors and warriors because of our strength, and thus have expressed a greater need for physical development.  Our society has, for the most part, departed from this perspective, which is not an issue I’m going to argue or address.  Gender dynamics is not the focus of my discussion.  I will simply state that any man who believes himself prepared to start a family should have the physical capacity to protect that family if the need arises.  Those who cannot should reevaluate priorities.

As a generality, males are built for size and strength–it is part of what we are.  For every guy who reads this, think for a moment of your childhood hero.  If you read comic books, chances are you wanted to be like Superman, Wolverine, or the Hulk.  These characters, ficticious and outrageous though they may be, personify the ideal of male strength.  Yes, Superman is an alien boy scout, Wolverine was an experiment, and the Hulk is an uncontrollable embodiment of chaos, but still, they exemplify what it means to be strong.  Each possesses a powerful physique, complete with bulging biceps, thick pecs, and corded forearms.  In both aesthetic and functional capacities, they express strength.

Or, if you’d like something less fantastic, think of your father.  What little boy didn’t look at his dad and think, “My dad is the strongest man in the world”?  Chances are many of us had fathers that were/are physically strong and capable, and, consciously or not, we looked up to and respected that. 

Our primary hormone is Testosterone, which grants us the aforementioned physical qualities, and there is no logical reason I can see for us as males to not utilize what we have at our disposal.  We have an inherent, genetic predisposition to grow muscle and develop physical strength which, for many, serves as the calling card of our sex.  I understand that not every male has Testosterone surging through his veins, and that not every one of us has the ability to develop alarming levels of strength or muscularity–not all of us are capable of achieving Mastodon-esque proportions, but by God we should all try. 

Coupled with courage and virility, physical strength has been a traditional measure of a man.  Plus, it’s just straight-up awesome to find something heavy and pick it the hell up, if only to prove, even to just yourself, that you can.

By now, some of you are probably asking, “So what are you trying to say, Jim?”

What I’m trying to say is that I do this, I lift, in order to be strong.  I lift because regardless of how much I hurt after, I’m getting stronger, and to me, that’s not just important, but vital.  I lift because I have no reason not to.  A man who chooses to be weak, who chooses not to better himself physically, is depriving himself of one of the defining advantages and opportunities of manhood and masculinity. 

I lift because I can, and because I believe I should.

I am not the strongest of men, and in my mind, have a long way to go before I’m satisified.  There are things that I need to improve and correct, but that’s what makes lifting so great–reaching one’s full potential is so difficult to do and requires long term dedication, thus allowing for (hopefully) consistent progress and improvement.

It’s all about the anabolic masochism.

Stay yoked, get loked, and ask yourself why you do the things you do.

About Jim

Jim is a semi-competitive powerlifter, strength and conditioning coach, and all-around nice guy. He loves flannel and IPA's.


7 thoughts on “Anabolic masochism.

  1. “Why do I take part in an activity that has the potential to cause irreparable harm to my body?”

    Potential, sure, but actually weightlifting has the fewest injuries compared to most sports:

    Also, my dad is a fat pussy. I lift so I can prove I’m not like him.

    Posted by Liam | March 31, 2010, 3:51 pm
    • Haha, well good for you, Liam. Interesting table, too.

      Posted by Jim | April 1, 2010, 8:10 am
      • I should add that he is good at fixing horns on trucks. So that’s one of his redeeming qualities.

        Posted by Liam | April 2, 2010, 2:44 pm
      • I agree. I was thankful beyond words for his help…even if it made me feel like an idiot because it was something so simple. I agree about the deadlifts. Now there’s a man’s lift. Nothing more simplistic than that.

        Posted by Jim | April 2, 2010, 4:54 pm
  2. Damnit, you can’t link images in the comment apparently. I wanted to put this in:

    Posted by Liam | March 31, 2010, 3:51 pm
  3. You’ve summed it up well! Anyone who’s spent any significant amount of time under the bar-or performing any physically strenuous work- recognizes himself in your words.

    Posted by Tim | July 31, 2013, 3:51 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 45 other followers


%d bloggers like this: