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I'm always interested in how bodybuilders are perceived by others. I'm used to the sour grapes routine, wherein pencil necks all say that they don't really want big muscles. Now, however, I find my character in question. Jim Gavin, author of the book The Exercise Habit, says, "The
easiest way to stick to an exercise program is to find a sport that complements you." Gavin also says, "It is possible to alter your personality somewhat by adopting a new sport that lends itself to the psychological traits you want to develop."
To that end, he lists several sports and their related psychological characteristics. Weightlifting is one of the sports listed, and I was curious as to what Gavin had to say. Here's how we rate in the seven traits Gavin discusses:
Sociability - moderate
Spontaneity - very low
Discipline - very high
Competitiveness - moderate
Risk taking - moderate
Mental focus - moderate
Aggressiveness - very high
A very high rating in aggressiveness? Damn right I'm aggressive-and I'm going to be aggressive right here as I rip into Gavin's assessment. The only other character trait we agree on is the very high rating in discipline, but that's a no-brainer. No other athletes have to continually drive their bodies through the pain zone day after freakin' day, month after freakin' month-staying with a set of squats when the lactic acid is burning a hole in your shorts, squeezing out a few ballistic curls when your biceps are screaming for mercy. Hell, what takes more discipline than that? The discipline oozing out of every serious gym in the country would make the toughest New York S&M club look like a Brownie meeting. So let's get to the character traits we don't agree on.
First of all, take sociability The gym is full of social people, and that's not even counting the pencil necks whose main purpose in the gym is to follow thongs around-or the thongs whose main purpose is to ignore the pencil necks and follow good-looking bodybuilders around.
Bodybuilders are sociable. Have you ever heard of a bodybuilding hermit? Besides, who's going to be unsociable to his or her spotter when a heavy bench set is coming up? Sure, we have some assholes in weightlifting, but no more than you find in any other sport. And how about that "very low" in spontaneity? I've seen some very spontaneous, creative movements in the gym, especially when some idiot spills some plates or gets caught under a bench press bar he can't lift off his chest. Seriously, all veteran bodybuilders are creative within their seemingly structured programs. We're always looking for new ways to excite muscle tissue, and sometimes we find them in the middle of a rep.
Competitiveness, moderate? No way! We're a very competitive bunch. Bodybuilders know who has the best pecs, biceps, chest and legs, and they're always trying to catch up or stay ahead. There's always that contest down the road. What's more, not only are we competitive with each other, but we compete with ourselves as well. We're always trying to beat our own records: one more rep than the last time, one more set, one more plate, another five pounds of muscle mass. It's the competition that keeps bodybuilders, powerlifters and Olympic lifters going.
Obviously, Gavin has never attempted a heavy squat or a one-rep max on the bench. Otherwise he'd never have given us a 'moderate" in risk taking. To be successful, a bodybuilder or power- lifter has to take risks. (Not stupid risks, mind you, but calculated risks. I'm certainly not condoning such chancy behavior as taking steroids or trying to lift too much weight.) Anyone who says bodybuilding isn't a risky business has never seen the photos of Dorian Yates' torn biceps.
Our risks are not just in the gym either. For example, I had to take a risk when I changed my diet to the high-fat/high-protein program advocated by Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D. It flew in the face of what the so-called nutrition experts were telling us. That risk paid off with better gains and good cholesterol numbers. And talking about putting it on the line-if walking out in front of a crowd of people in a skimpy fluorescent-yellow posing suit isn't taking a risk, I don't know what is.
The topper, of course, is the 'moderate" grade we received in mental focus, 'yeah, right. Like I'm going to think about my wife's birthday present while I'm doing heavy squats-and, of course, those leg extensions give me all kinds of time to daydream about my next vacation. Really,! can't think of another sport that demands more mental focus than weightlifting. Tennis and golf are two sports that rate "very high" in mental focus on Gavin's scale, but I'll tell you what You lose focus in a tennis match, and it's love-15. Lose it in golf and you three-putt a green. Big deal. Lose focus on the bench press and you're off to the doctor.
I'll tell you another what. It takes a hell of a lot more focus to head for the gym than it does to head for the tennis court or golf course. Any bodybuilder who isn't focused is no bodybuilder at all. What's more, how in the world can we score "very high" in discipline and 'moderate" in mental focus? Don't the two go hand in hand?
The bottom line is, I think Mr. Gavin ought to take another look at his list. Serious weightlifting, as practiced by serious bodybuilders, powerlifters and Olympic-style lifters, should rate "very high" in every category. More than that, we de-freaking- errand the highest rating in every category In fact, we further demand that Gavin make up 10 new categories arid grade us "very high" in all of them too! Or am I just being too aggressive and competitive?