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This is SOLO Fitness: Pride, Productiveness, and a Good Pump
Submitted by Craig Ceely on Sun, 2006-08-20 05:54
Summer time is here, in the Northern Hemisphere, though almost gone, and the warmer weather means that for many, outdoor recreation has been on the calendar. Another baseball season is here. Wherever you look, people were throwing Frisbees, climbing rocks, and riding bicycles. Americans everywhere were wearing lighter, more revealing clothes, and spending time on beaches and lakefronts. This is good stuff.
We could, as a special tribute, remember bodybuilding great Steve Reeves, who died on May 1, 2000. Or SOLO Passion could just designate May (or any of the summer months), for example, as Muscles Month.
Think about it: sports are popular because we enjoy the physical skills on display, the unusual excellence in action, the overcoming of obstacles. Sports are a means not only of enjoyment, but of inspiration. And every sport requires some sort of muscle use.
But you can enjoy that same excellence in your own body.
Ayn Rand was emphatic with regard to the importance of the mind in human life: mind, not muscle, moves the world, and even in the caves it was probably always so. A poetic example is given in Atlas Shrugged, when Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart are driving through Wisconsin. They witness the degradation of muscle that occurs with the removal of mind:
"In a distant field, beyond the town, they saw the figure of a man moving slowly, contorted by the ugliness of a physical effort beyond the proper use of a human body: he was pushing a plow by hand."
Indeed, the crucial importance of mind is the primary theme of Atlas Shrugged.
But that book is a hymn to life on this earth and to the proper pleasures to be derived from it. This description, for example, is of John Galt, in his first explicit appearance in the novel:
"It seemed to her for a moment that she was in the presence of a being who was pure consciousness--yet she had never been so aware of a man’s body. The light cloth of his shirt seemed to stress, rather than hide, the structure of his figure, his skin was suntanned, his body had the hardness, the gaunt, tensile strength, the clean precision of a foundry casting, he looked as if he were poured out of metal, but some dimmed, soft-lustered metal, like an aluminum-copper alloy...."
Elsewhere in the book the reader is told of Francisco d’Anconia’s flat stomach and of the “gaunt strength” of Rearden’s arms. Dagny Taggart herself is described as having “showgirl legs.”
Your muscles are your own mind, your own pride and self-esteem, on display.
One might ask, what good is human muscle today? It is no longer needed for pushing or pulling most of the tools of industrial processes — and, as in the plow example cited above, it is inappropriate for modern agricultural tasks as well. What we call the Agricultural Revolution occurred ten thousand years ago, right? And there's been an Industrial Revolution since then. What are muscles needed for anymore?
My answer: Muscles provide pleasure. It feels good to move one’s own muscles, and the sight of finely-honed muscle brings pleasure to the viewer.
But, pleasurable though it may be, well-defined muscle comes only from work. I'm speaking of more than just serious athletes here, too. Singer Tina Turner is well-known for her shapely, strikingly beautiful legs, which she attributes to years of dancing onstage. That’s muscle.
Muscles represent strength; a well-muscled physique speaks of pride. Anyone can be born genetically predisposed to being big and beefy, but it takes thought and effort to create a sculpted physique. Such thought and effort brings satisfying gains, is worthy of admiration -- and is fun.
We needn’t care about contest competition or about professional bodybuilders. We needn’t take anabolic steroids or human growth hormone concoctions or concern ourselves with looking like Dorian Yates or Tom Platz. I don’t do any of that: I don’t follow professional bodybuilding at all, and I have never used human growth hormone or taken insulin or a diuretic for training or esthetic effect. I have used many supplements, two which were later declared to be steroids by the FDA, but that's it (and they're not necessary for our purposes here at Solo Fitness).
But — why not simply be the very best, physically and esthetically, that we can be? Is that not motivation enough? Isn’t it rational to want to feel better and look better?
I say it is.
Building an excellent physique is an expression of productiveness: it involves translating an idea into a realization. It requires thought and — obviously — effort, physical effort. As a musclebuilder (Dave Draper's term) myself, I know that I must plan my workouts, recovery periods, and diet in order to achieve the results I want. I must then have the discipline to put in the hard work. Every bodybuilder, amateur or professional, knows this — knows that muscle depends on the mind. Every other serious athlete knows it, too.
Your muscles depend on your mind. Rather, the appearance of your muscles depends on your mind. They are your mind on display.
So the corrupt contractor Ben Nealy is horribly wrong when he tells Dagny Taggart that “all it takes to build anything in this world” is muscles. Building anything — including muscle — takes mind, and its proper application to the task.
Of course, the results are worth it: I am proud of my muscles.
I planned them. I built them. They’re mine.
I have good separation and vascularity, and I'm naturally pretty lean. I have good proportions and symmetry. To a great extent, that's all a result of genetics, so I can't take credit for all of it. But I like the sweep and flare of my thighs, my lats, my biceps, and for that, I do take the credit, because I did it, I created that sweep and flare. What I do not yet have, although I’m deliberately growing and gaining weight, is substantial size. But I’ll get there, because I know what I’m doing.
And I am getting there: most of my dress shirts, for example, will need to be replaced before Christmas. My suit jackets are an inadequately, though gratifyingly, tight fit across the shoulders and chest. Actually, they probably no longer fit at all. And I've related, here, how I inadvertently destroyed what was, at the time, my favorite pair of jeans:
"On Monday of this week, on my very last day working with some of my fine military clients at the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, I decided that I needed to exit a Black Hawk helicopter. So I did.
"Normally, I just hop out. Most of us do. Or I take a very low step -- the Black Hawk deck is not particularly low to the ground, but not particularly high, either.
"But for some reason I stepped out backwards. Don't know why. I also don't know why I kept my left foot well inside the cab, and flat on the deck of the cab, as I extended my right leg back onto the runway.
"All was well as the ball of my foot touched the tarmac...but when I found myself with left foot flat on the deck of the Black Hawk cab at the same time my right heel touched that Fort Hood blacktop...I lost my favorite pair of jeans.
"That's right, my black Levi's 501s gave way, suddenly and violently, and not in the ass, either, but in the thigh bicep area. Quite frustrating to lose them, but also gratifying in a way...
"I do believe I'll continue heavy squats and deadlifts.
And so I shall. Now, in that blog piece, I wrote that I'd probably begin wearing looser-fitting jeans...but the hell with that, I still wear the nice, tighter 501s. Why? Well, for the same reason I'm doing squats and deadlifts in the first place: I want to look good and I want that muscular development to be seen. So my thigh development makes it more of an effort to get into those jeans, whereas with my formerly skinny legs it was no effort at all. I know which situation I prefer.
Did I mention fun? I enjoy the triumph of completing a set of squats in good form and, as the Olympic weightlifters say, "ass to the grass," all the way down and all the way back up. Or of learning the Olympic lifts themselves, as I've recently done with the clean and jerk, "the king of lifts." Quite motivating -- and another reason so many of those shirts need to be replaced.
And nothing compares to deadlifting a new personal best, whether it's a greater number of repetitions at a heavy weight, or increasing the lifted weight itself. Nothing.
Trainers, powerlifters, and bodybuilders occasionally speak of the "knock-off" effect of those two exercises, the squat and the deadlift. I can attest to it myself: I do no direct work on my neck (and with my neck, trust me, I'll never want to), and for a long time no direct work for my shoulders, or biceps, yet I've seen gratifyingly regular increases in all three areas. Squats and deadlifts are taxing, which is why many lifters don't like them -- or don't even do them. But they produce results and I'm sticking with them. The old-time strongmen were known for tearing phone books; I want to do that, too, but meanwhile...well, I've torn denim.
I feel satisfaction when, after I’ve lifted, my arms are so pumped, so swollen with blood, that I cannot bend my arms back to wipe the sweat from my own face. Those arms are on their way to getting bigger.
In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote: “Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man’s values, it has to be earned….that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul….”
I would add: we are also beings of self-made physique.
Building an excellent physique is a great source of pride: I did this, it’s mine, and it’s good. It is also an expression of pride: I’m worth it.
And you are.
So it’s summer again. Consider that it is good and appropriate that we like to look at good bodies, that it is good and appropriate that we are drawn to strength and health and vitality. Consider, then, that it’s only good, only appropriate, that we create something worthy of a look.
Looking is pleasurable, and being looked at is pleasurable. We all enjoy seeing muscles move, whether we're sports fans or not.
Remember Tina Turner’s legs (or Dagny Taggart’s). Give thought to Jennifer Lopez’s most celebrated feature, and bear in mind that it is a muscle, the gluteus maximus, which is directly amenable to work. And how many women, over the past forty years or more, have found Sean Connery sexually attractive? He, too, was a competitive bodybuilder (in the Steve Reeves, pre-steroids era) before finding success as an actor.
SOLO Fitness will be about pride, productiveness, and a good pump...and about strength, health, and vitality, and how to go about getting good exercise and choosing good food..and it is damn sure going to be about looking at girls in short skirts.
Plodding along a treadmill is not an expression of the "the total passion for the total height." Diet fads and fasts don't cut it, either. Doing your best to be your best, is. Check out the information (and the links), try what's discussed here, see how it all works for you. I look forward to your responses.
Warm-weather fashions in America (and elsewhere, with the exception of Saudi Arabia) include golf shirts on men and short skirts on women. Why not take advantage of this? Why not look good in whatever you’re wearing?
And by all means take pride in it, too: after all, you will have created it.
(The original version of this piece, edited by Andrew Schwartz, appeared at The Atlasphere on April 26, 2004. I made some changes and posted the result at The Anger of Compassion on June 5, 2005. This version has been re-edited, updated, and customized for SOLO Passion.)
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The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand