Men's physique may be the worst thing to happen to bodybuilding. But drug-tested competitors are actually working against their own benefit most of all!Read More
Head Coach and Next Level founder Christian Matyi – a/k/a "XN" – gives notoriously complex answers to even the most simple of questions. He'd always rather you "think more" than "know more." So you can only imagine what'll happen when there wasn't any question even asked . . .
You never know what his many years of coaching will inspire him to claim as "relevant" to your progress.
You might already have what it takes to have a competitive physique. This graphic will show you.Read More
The thrill of the commitment can be invigorating, but like any well, it can run dry. We mustn't keep trying to draw from it just because the first sip was so refreshing. If you want to "have it easy" and "just let it flow as it will," then you have to accept that it can flow right into the gutter.Read More
So many people talk to me with great concerns of winning. And I often respond flatly and simply, with: "Well, if everything goes well, and you do indeed win, so what? Then what?"
Smaller-minded people are quick hear this as me bashing the idea of winning. But because folks like us want to focus on improvement over time, it is apt to let this comment be the launching point for any plan you have that you want to succeed.
if success is a concern for you, please have a listen. And please leave comment below with your thoughts and responses!
PLEASE SHARE THIS TO ANY COMPETITORS YOU THINK MAY BENEFIT FROM IT.
AND PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW!
At this year's Arnold Sports Festival strongman Competition, one of the biggest points of success for Nick Cambi was a failure. It offers us a reminder we all need, even beyond the world of lifting.Read More
Why are you competing? No really, why? I mean, if you're not competing in a contest any time soon, this question may not seem to apply to you. Unless, of course, you're instead trying to get a better job. Or a good grade. Or jockey for attention of a mate. Yeah, most of us are kind of competing.Read More
There is no end of pride I had for Gina Melnik as she competed at the 2014 Strongman Nationals in Reno in October. And as I was impatiently awaiting news and photos to celebrate on the site, one nifty (Gina's pet word) little dispatch came through about a wondrous experience she had.
No it was not a PR. Nor was it some massive victory. In fact, it was a moment that had nothing to do directly with her competing. It was a side moment that so many competitors experience, yet we so often overlook as valuable.
Let me share it in Gina's words:
Why is this so remarkable? Well, all of us who work in physique sports are subject to being representative of many different symbols. Our bodies and strength represent everything from strictness to delight, from doughiness to dignity. And while can't control how people "read' us, nor what symbols they ascribe to our work and looks, we can meanwhile at least contribute to what we would hope would be perceived, understood and absorbed. When we are in situations where our muscle or power is being directly observed – as opposed to those uncontrollable, everyday moments – we can choose to do, say and represent things to couple with our image. Couple an idea with a symbol enough times and eventually a few people might connect the two. And if the idea is a good one, man, can that symbol be a powerful took for good!
This is especially true among children. It's called "imprinting." Children mimic, admire, investigate and generally pay a boatload of attention to us adults. What we connect with out image stays with a child a lot more potently than with it does our peers. In short, those of us with exceptional qualities (which, in some arguments, may just be everyone in the world) have a brilliant opportunity to use those qualities to influence positive or productive attitudes to children.
In Gina's case, just think of the message, and how profound it is. A young girl – old enough to be aware of her world yet still young enough that she is putting it together – sees a friendly, happy woman who is damn strong. Not only that, the woman has big muscles, and that is somehow an admirable thing. The message is clear and so needed in today's world: a girl can become however powerful she wants, and it can be a fun and beautiful thing.
Did Gina change the direction of this girl's thinking? Add to it? Influence it at all? Of course we will never know, but seeing as the girl went out of her way to send the grateful comment, I think we have good insight to the answer.
This – THIS – is why we shouldn't hide our successes! The imprinting upon others – especially young ones – is profound. When we belong to a marginalized population – say, women in strength – our fully-present self-representation holds deep and valuable messages that far outweigh any accolades or winning positions.
Too often I see competitors "focus-for-a-competition" and turn overly myopic. We too often forget our "real roles" as athletes in society. Via our sports we're just more visible, and being humans, we spend far more of our time in regular society than we do in the tiny, microcosmic fishbowl of our sports communities. So it is these simple yet phenomenal and heartwarming moments that can serve to remind us: it is not how well we did it that makes our work vital, but just that we attempted to do it at all.
Sure, the wins and championships hold value and weight. And we are psyched Gina kicked butt. (3rd place on a national level is not too shabby so soon after having her first daughter!) I would never insinuate that great feats in competition and big wins don't have weight – or even that they shouldn't. Our wins damn well should be seen as awesome and even important.
But it is not the wins that make a competitor great. It is what a competitor can do with them. It's my proverbial coaching question to athletes gunning for a win: "Well, that'll be great, but then what are you planning?". Having an answer to that question makes our efforts hold so much more weight than just some self-entertainment or an ego-stroke.
Your best work represents something. And a good job represents an idea well. making what you do important. Just continuing the work – with great responsibility towards how it can be perceived – is beyond a win. It is a genuine, vital contribution to the whole world.
PLEASE RESPOND WITH COMMENTS BELOW!
We love hearing your thoughts!
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are aware that many "before & after" images you see of people's "incredible transformations" are faked. They are often taken within days or even hours of one another, with manipulations in lighting, skin tone (tanning), a little grooming, a lot of flexing and occasionally even a touch of photoshop photo editing. Yes, it's easy to "fake" a before and after shot. And the best way to prove that it's easy to fake is to show how it's done.
In fact, showing how to fake a before & after has become a new micro trend that has popped up for trainers trying to market their skills. Creating "intentionally faked" before and images of their own bodies is a a way for trainers to try to send warning to potential clients; "do not trust all you see in the marketing of promises and products!" Showing how easy it is to fake these images allows a trainer to show he or she is savvy, and thus "ups their cred." It is a useful ploy to win clients and educate people interested in changing their bodies.
But while the intention behind the creation of these images is a self-righteous attempt to jab at the fitness industry's penchant for falsehoods, they inadvertently show something that is perhaps far more compelling. These faked before and after shots actually illustrate the basic principle behind the sport of competitive bodybuilding. Not the "fake" part, but the ability to dramatically change how one looks instantaneously. It is not just a trick; the ability to create imagery and aesthetics using your body "as it is" is a complex skill. And that skill is the foundation of the sport of bodybuilding.
Contrary to what many think, while casual bodybuilding is often just about getting big and lean for one's vanity, the competitive sport is not at all about that pursuit. Getting thicker muscle and less fat is only a personal quest. Bodybuilding is actually a sport of skill. The problem is that the skill seems, at first, a ridiculous one: who is the best at making themselves look a certain way using only what they have right now? Relying only on what you have right now, can you look big? Using only what you have right now, can you look lean?
Via careful control of your body (in a word: posing), you can make yourself appear dramatically different than you look while "just standing around." And like all skills, some people are better, some are worse. Thus, it can be made competitive. Now, obviously, if you already are relatively lean and muscular, this job becomes easier; a bigger, leaner bodybuilder requires less skill in this competitive sport because they are closer to looking that way while they are, in fact, "just standing around." So while trying to get your body big and lean is an edge for winning in bodybuilding, it is meanwhile a bad representation of the real skills involved – and those skills are far more dignified than one might suspect..
Now few would guess that bodybuilding is a "skill sport." It is not a beauty pageant, as it's detractors often want to decry, where your just "show off work that your already did." The work is happening in real time, and moves at a subtle yet incredibly deliberate pace. It is one part refined and careful movement (the posing), and another part having a clear idea of your body without a bunch of self-judgmental clutter.
Being able to know your body in it's fullest right now is unto itself tricky. Most of us only know our body as a list of criticisms; a compendium of "parts we like" and "parts we dislike." Those opinions are very different from a true inventory of our physical properties. In essence, a "skilled" bodybuilder has a healthier perspective on himself than his less skilled "show-off" counterparts. A skilled bodybuilder does not wear down his psyche with criticism, self-doubt and demand; he merely holds the facts of his body's properties in his mind. It's a simple list that describes the "equipment" he must use to get a job done.
It's funny to imagine that the best bodybuilding "skills" rely on a bodybuilder having a far less ego-driven way to consider his body than what we would guess. Because of the incorrect idea that bodybuilding is a "pageant," people thus assume that the participants are madly egotistical. And many are; the unskilled bodybuilder is often just a bundle of insecurities and aggression. They have foregone relying on skill because they think their body is "just shaped that way." Many bodybuilders go into competition with this attitude and are thus wildly unprepared; they are just banking on a hope that their physique's appearance is "good enough" to win. And with that mindset, these less skilled athletes – in spite of their remarkable "standing around" bodies – often fall by the wayside. Those that don't master the skills either ascend in competitive rank far too slowly – or not at all – or else get too frustrated. They say the frustration is "the sport's fault"; that the sport is unfair, too biased, etc., etc. And while they can often substantiate their claims with facts, the truth to their discouragement is actually more often that their own ego is not being validated.
These unskilled yet remarkably well-built examples of discouragement are the ones that often get promoted as what defines bodybuilding competitors. Meanwhile, those competitors who are not so ego driven and capable of mastering the subtlety of the presentation skills – including keeping the calm mindset – are often overlooked. And with a giant industry interested in capitalizing on people's frustrations, the stories of frustrations are far more often mobilized than are those of remarkable talent.
Which is why those faked before and after shots actually do more to promote a skill than they do to promote a fallacy. These "regular people" who create these shots are actually doing what competitive bodybuilders do. In fact, they are showing how "anyone" can compete in bodybuilding because – like all sports – it is actually about a skill, not about having the best equipment. They are, in two shots, showing what competitors do, and showing how accessible the sport really is.
And they are encouraging us all to let go of our ego-driven judgements about ourselves; our criticisms and frustrations. And not just let go of them; replace the space those self-critiques took in our brains with skills of purpose and dignity. Through the faked before & after image we are all encouraged to believe we can create beauty using just what we have right now. That is a powerful message.
And that message is the root of competitive bodybuilding skill.
It is easy to use the fake before & after image to show the fitness industry's insidious agendas. But it is perhaps more inspiring to see the other evidence these images offer; evidence of positivity, less egotism and a kinder, more rational opinion of one's body.
The kind of opinion a skilled bodybuilder holds. Both before and after you see him.
I originally had no interest in bodybuilding. Absolutely none.
When I discovered lifting, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the process. I fell in love with the results. (Duh.) I was fascinated by the culture. I admired the practices of physique athletes. But even with all that love, I had none for the competitive sport. In fact, I never really understood the sport, and so beyond just disinterest I also had a bit of revulsion.
Scratch that; I had a lot of revulsion towards it. Bodybuilding, to me, seemed weird. And I'm weird. So if a thing seems weird to me, it seems ESPECIALLY weird.
And still does.
And yet I am now a competitive bodybuilder. I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite. So shame the fuck on me, right?
But "normal folks" have to interest in the sport of bodybuilding either. It is fringe. It is quirky. It is esoteric. So my shame is mitigated; I was in the majority; my take was the common take. And while many people admire the look of a sculpted, muscular physique, only a few find the pursuit of it to be much beyond a frivolity; certainly not important for the "big concerns" of life.
This morning, I discovered my attitude has not much changed in the over two decades that I have become a competitor, a coach, a reference in the sport. it was proven to me win I learned that an icon of the sport's American history had passed away. And I thought: "Holy crap, XN! You didn't know? Shame the fuck on you!"
Now, again in my defense, the name Larry Scott is not hardly a household one. Th average person on the street will more than likely not know the name, and if they do it is just random trivia – certainly not known for some relevant place Mr. Scott holds in the cultural fabric. And, if we really push the issue, he wasn't super-relevant unto himself.
Larry Scott was a footnote in a much larger and more complex cultural history. He was the first to ever have the title which is now at the center of a media propaganda empire: Mr. Olympia. And while endless discussions and accounts can uphold muscle culture and bodybuilding as a major cultural shaper (pun intended) in the American pop landscape, The Mr. Olympia itself is merely a detail; it is a "proof of concept," but not the concept itself. And thus Mr. Scott will forever be a name on a list rather than character of heritage; he was a player of the game but not nearly the rulemaker.
But this is not to say he was not important to many pool in his career in the sport. Since the 1965 Olympia title he won, he has been idolized by many who admire muscle, and even more by those who seek to craft their own. He was "The Golden Boy." He was a legend within a sport's culture. He was a hero. And I am force to admit this because that is how I learned of his passing. I am not someone who spends much time groping about the internet and newsstands for the lats bodybuilding news. However, being in a central spot of a big community, I learn fast when big news goes down.
The death of Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, is try big news. If you are in any way connected to muscle culture, it is like the loss of a star; like the passing of a rock star for music fans or the passing of an actor for movie buffs.
And so with such passings, the culture that praises the star pours out with eulogies of solace. Countless posts about "what this great athlete meant to me." (Such posts on social networks were how I learned of his death, actually – not to mention was reminded of who he was in the first place. I know, I know: shame the fuck on me.)
That was where I paused.
So often when there is the passing of a significant person in culture, the eulogaic commentary waxes slightly hypocritical. Folks want to exult their response to the death, and really prove that their sadness is not only valid but significant to the loss. Everyone takes to comments of what the person's work meant to them. And often these comments are beautiful. Yet they are also too often hollow. Too often, people claim a sadness for the loss, and yet indicate no interest in learning from what the deceased offered in the form of gain.
Let me get more specific: being amidst strength athletes, I am seeing many comments about what a loss the death of larry Scott is, and how much he was admired. And yet so few of these admirers have stepped up to compete, as Mr. Scott did. They admire his drive and passion, and yet emulate none of his resolve. They sing his praises as an important influence, and yet have not taken his example and stepped up to compete. And I am speaking here of strength athletes and lifters with a long personal history of muscle-building and the basic equipment to take on a bodybuilding challenge with high rewards. The guys who seem dented have rarely been competitors, yet have often been loyal, hard-working and driven athletes. See the hypocrisy? How can we learn what Mr. Scott had to teach us if we do not at least dabble in his example? Shame the fuck on you!
Now, this is not to say his influence is strictly across a parameter of competitive bodybuilding. Of course he was also iconic, and his imagery held profound encouragement, motivation and positivity towards many exceptional pursuits far beyond bodybuilding. These aforementioned lifters certainly did validate the examples of Mr. Scott in many ways. I am really just questioning why they wouldn't also validate his work by walking in his shoes?
Many of them have great explanations. Life and family and business are valid. A time-consuming desire to accomplish more in the sports they already engage is solid. Disinterest in the sport's details – the trunks, the posing, the diet, the dye – certainly has merit. Heck, they sound like what I used to sound like. I didn't want the added burden either. I was happy with what I was doing. In fact, i was beyond happy; my practice was rewarding and peaceful and I wanted for nothing within it. Compete in bodybuilding? Why bother? I was fine without that addd pressure, thank you. Who needs the added burden of the weight of something they may be cut out for, but just have no interest in pursuing?
The answer is found in the try practice lifters engage week in and week out. The very quality of the work they love holds the answer to: "why add the pressure of something on doesn't like?" It is the try quality of their hands on the iron that tells the truth: has any great endeavor in physique sports been accomplished by aggressively de-loading the pressure of added weight? Dos lifting less improve a strength athlete? Does obeying the excuses of preference and heeding the avoidance of inconvenience make someone powerful and strong?
As Chris Corey once told me: "shame the fuck on you?"
Oh, did I mention Chris Corey yet? No? Well, Chris Corey is a man whom I consider my own, personal Larry Scott. It was nothing short of the brief influence of this man who got me started and everything and – I mean everything I have ever accomplished since, in bodybuilding and beyond – has been influenced by the lessons he taught me. The Next Level, The PhysiQademy, The PhysiQulture Collaborative, The Big Inside, even my branding & design business Scorpio Creative have all been touched, indirectly or specifically, but the lesson that Chris taught me which put me into a bodybuilding contest.
Now most people don't know my origin story. That is partly strategic – as a coach it is good to play one's cards close to the cuff, pulling aces only when needed – and partly respectful – I some parts are only understood after other parts are completely comprehended prior. And fewer that have heard my origin stories know who Chris Corey was. He was the man who was the single most resonating influence on my work, and to whom every single athlete I have assisted, peer I have collaborated with and dreamer I have inspired owes a huge debt of gratitude. Similar, I guess, to how people hold gratitude for Mr. Scott. While Mr. Scott was not the main hero, his influence certainly helped inspire those who would act heroically in his legacy.
But Chris was no levitating demigod; he was merely a peer. He was someone whom I went to college with at Carnegie Mellon University, and knew at first mainly through artistic endeavors rather than athletic ones. Chris was bright. Chris was whipsmart. Chris was funny and highly intelligent and creative. He was many remarkable things, but his stature in people's opinion was always elevated by what Chris possessed not only from the neck up, but also from the neck down. You see, Chris was built. I mean crazy built. Like, "how the heck did that guy get such an awesome roll of the genetic dice?!" built. Of course he had an incredible work ethic, and attacked the gym with a passion and playfulness that only made his exceptional genetics shine all the brighter. He was a military man as well, which added to his disciplinary abilities and expanded his physical talents.
The guy was pretty incredible. Yet to those unaware of his soulful heart and heightened intelligence, Mr. Corey was, by anyone's concept, the epitome of a bodybuilder. It worked against him often, obviously, because you could to "see through" his exceptional mass and shape try easily; the muscle was unavoidable. The very ways he moved and presented himself declared physical confidence, an enviable aesthetic and a fascinating self-awareness of the influence of his own image.
It came as no surprise to anyone that, after laving the service, he took on his first bodybuilding contest. It was even less surprising that he loved it. Well, less surprising to everyone but me. I was still skeptical, remember? I still didn't see the point; to me it was just added pressure towards something I cared little for. And I challenged him (as I am now known for doing) on his point; I wanted to see and comprehend just what was really in it that such an artistic, creative and influential young man would go for it. And in response to my questions, Chris had many answers. But the one that really stood out was the one he concluded with:
"If you had the ability to do something," he told me. "But don't do that thing, well, shame the fuck on you."
Wow. That one hit me. I had reasons for not doing it, and they were good ones. I had explanations why I wasn't going to, and they were well-conceived and sensible. And I had opinions why I was not interested, and they were logical and rational. But I also had the ability. There was no doubt I possessed the ability; there was really nothing stopping me. All the reasons, explanations and opinions could be recreated as easily as they had ben originally create. The only thing stopping me was thoughts and ideas. In other words, the only things stopping me weren't real at all, in spite of how I treated them that way.
"I am an artist," is what I roughly recall of all the things he told me on so many occasions. "I have the heart of an artist, and I personally believe everyone does. We just forget that when we start thinking and planning and explaining our world to ourselves. The art goes away, and we become monotonous and stuck. It's a risk to let that all go, but when we do we are following our heart, so the risk always pays off. Which is why, when we can do a thing, we should just risk it and get going. Those who don't and get stuck in their thinking are the problems in this world. And this world needs less problems. So shame the fuck on them!"
And it made sense. A lot of sense. And then Chris had an opportunity to go on a trip to Bali. Just an excursion to explore the Far East. And it was a dream come true, and his artist's heart sure as hell wasn't going to be unable to do it. And so he planned to prep for his next contest after he got back from the trip; day one on his return from Bali was all bodybuilding contest-prep mode.
And he got on the plane to come home from Bali and the plane crashed and he died.
And that was the end of Chris Corey's bodybuilding career. The end of one of the most perfect physiques I have ever seen. Now all just a memory. Just an inspiration. He could never compete again. And here I was – alive and well and with all the ability in the world to arrange it – still dismissing it.
Shame the fuck on who, now?
The lesson only sunk in after his death. Which is what has made it so poignant to me. Even after two decades, it still feels like fresh lesson. I suppose that is because it is true. If you have the ability to do a thing, but don't it is rather shameful. It's entitled, self-indulgent and wasteful. It gains you only temporary comfort, but ultimately helps almost no one. And it was how I was regarding bodybuilding.
Mere months after Chris dies, I was in my first contest, and I was very much thinking of him in thankful prayers the whole event. In fact, when I execute the pose "abs and quads" pose, Chris' name is invoked, with gratitude. The pose requires an athlete to exhale completely and hold – literally without breathing. It is like being underwater; you are literally trying not to suffocate to execute it properly. It is a moment in competition where you need as much strength as you can muster. And when I execute it, many have seen me mutter something – just my lips moving – right before I breathe out. I am saying a quick "Thanks, Chris; stay with me." Literally, over scores of contests, I still thank him every single time. It reminds me of the lesson: I have the ability and will not shame myself by ignoring it or doubting it. My role model no longer has the ability; I do. So forward I go.
Which is why the passing of Mr. Scott, the Mr. Olympia, reminds me so much of Mr. Corey. The lesson, in a nutshell, was simple yet clear: "You are alive and well, and have the ability, so if you turn away from your callings, then shame the fuck on you!" We all have talents, and just because our talents don't match our interests does not mean we should therefore squander our talents. Of course we can not do everything at once, but that does not mean a pursuit of a talent does not make it to the to-do list, the bucket-list, or the long-term-planner. It is not the same as saying "maybe one day"; the goal needs to be an absolute agenda. This is what truly shows that a hero influenced us; when we elect to not only learn their lessons, but walk the path on which they learned them.
So many of the people mourning the passing of Mr. Scott have no specific plan to compete in Larry Scott's sport of choice. Sure, many of them say "maybe one day," but no gains were ever retrieved through maybes. No one puts on strength by saying "maybe I'll lift heavy things." No one gets faster by saying "maybe I'll sprint some day." No one gets wiser by saying "maybe I'll look into it." Maybe is useless. Mr. Olympia knows no maybes, so Mr. Scott knew no maybes. And neither did Mr. Corey. Because maybes are a little shameful. And stack too many maybes up, and you got a big ol' shame-the-fuck-on-you headed your way.
So when you look at the death of Inaugural Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, also meanwhile look at your well-crafted rationals for not competing in Larry Scott's sport. Look closely at your explanations, and even closer at your opinions. Because I guarantee you will find you totally – absolutely – possess the ability; no explanation you offer will diminish that fact. You possess the ability.
So don't just honor your heroes in words; learn their lessons in deeds. Nurture your talents as they did, not just with eloquent rhetoric but also by agenda'ed action.
You possess the ability to compete. And if you turn away, "just because," well, on behalf of Mr. Olympia, Mr. Scott and my beloved Mr. Corey: shame the fuck on you.
Please post thoughts, opinions, reactions, responses and any thing else below, or hit me up, as always, via email.
Our community is your community; we need your help to grow:
Look, I get it:
you gotta make money.
You gotta pay your bills support your kids, and you got a girlfriend you love to treat. Or a boyfriend. Or a car payment, or two cats, or a sick relative.
You got things that demand you keep working to make money. And rightfully you should. The obligations we have in live are an extension of that which we love.
Or are they?
Well, while I do not think we should all quit our jobs to pursue our passions without having a game plan in tact, I do think we rarely bother with drawing out that game plan. We talk about it in vagaries; we say "I wanna someday." But we rarely make that someday today.
And I am just talking about the game plan. No one here is suggesting you jump ship tomorrow, but I am asking: "Have you even looked over the railing to see how deep the water is?"
So many athletes look at competitors with awe and excitement. Yet they describe their own aspirations as "far away" from where they are right now. They gotta first do this, then gotta do that, then gotta and gotta and gotta.
Likewise, so many athletes who love, love love strength and physique sports don't dream big enough when it comes to their livelihood? Who said you can't make profit off of being a great bodybuilder? Who claims that obsessing over lifting techniques can never feed you? All it takes is some careful planning to make what you love into a carter you adore. And yet, so few of the men and women who are accomplished in athletics ever bother to draw up that plan - many in spite of being phenomenal planners with their athletics!
And cartoons are easy. Easier than big life choices, anyway. Which is why I liked it; it illustrates simply the concept of not getting bogged down in your "gotta's." (Obviously. I also made sure the cartoon got posted over in the Almanac, because it's nice and wisdom-ey!)
Stop waiting on the game plan. No, you may not be able to change it all right away, but knowing WHAT will need to change and HOW it will happen is essential.
Stop dreaming. Start planning.
The conditions are perfect, right now; today.
You don't gotta jump overboard to figure out how to jump in.