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.
How running into a half-naked muscle brute showing off on a city street might hold a secret lesson in transforming your world into a more tolerant place.Read More
Working out is neither a right nor a necessity. It is a leisure activity. Yet still, those of us who achieve enviable goals often slack on their human courtesy. In your eagerness to achieve your gains, are you losing social courtesy in the name of social regard?
After the record-breaking snows of Boston's Winter of '15, Coach XN looks at how the hubris of the deeply-commtted takes over regardless of harm to others.Read More
Barely-known, self-made, D-tier fitness celebrity Zyzz symbolizes the "permission" for guys to fuck up via their ego-masturbation and get away with it. So why has his name persisted, even if only in small circles?
On the third anniversary of this guy's death due to excesses in partying and pride, the 22-year-old persists as an internet subculture meme and an iconic figure many young hopefuls admire – or "mire," as he termed it. Maybe it wasn't because he has a great body but rather because he represents an entry point into topics we usually are starving to discuss.Read More
The question was asked: is it the narcissistic who seek out bodybuilding? Or does bodybuilding create narcissists?
My answer: both and neither.
(No surprise there.)Read More
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.
Amazing how little the guys on steroids and recreational enhancement drugs stand for.
Yet they are so fond of their "accomplishments."
These powerful men love to have their image and their work right up in the faces of anyone who will pay attention.
They love to brag about their lift numbers, or their body's shape.
They love to win prizes and earn titles.
They love the attention.
All that they do thrusts them into our eyes.
Yet while they stand before the crowds, they meanwhile almost never stand for anything.
Maybe for vanity.
Maybe for excess.
But they rarely stand in their spotlights for anything that has substantial benefit for the vary same audience they coveted.
Sometimes they make pathetic claims that they "seek to inspire others." Yet that is just a cover story; they get people excited, but the few they inspire are really just inspired to do the same selfish trick.
And sometimes they try to claim they are beyond social judgement because it is "a personal choice," as if their use of drugs doesn't concern anyone but themselves. However, any public act is inherently not private. What you paint the inside of your house is personal; but what your neighbors see you paint on the outside affects the value of their property as well. Steroid-driven strength and size is absolutely a public dialogue. Nothing private about it. Nothing "personal" about making a public display.
So then sometimes they try to bolster their image by spouting disingenuous morality, claiming to be spokespeople for virtues. Yet these statements, are ad hoc; just ideas stapled on "after the fact." These things are not at all the basis of their choice behind using the drugs or reaching their goals.
All the while their enhanced bodies and feats build such grand audiences, they meanwhile do little to sway these audiences towards anything good, anything substantial or anything sustainable. It's all vain, petty and short-sighted. They have the power of the podium yet say little of value to the people.
The guys on steroids stand for nothing.
And this is what drives me to push all of us – even those who do not use the drugs – to set forth examples of heroism, not just examples of achievement.
We must stand for something before we act, not try to promote something after we've acted.
And so rarely do the people who use the chemicals start out standing for something greater than their own desirous lust for a goal.
Where are those who will forsake the craving for for titles, trophies, fame and adoration in the name of a greater purpose? In the name of benevolent benefit towards their fellow man?
And can a strong body with a majestic image even do any of that, anyway?
Can the mighty sway the masses towards anything other than might?
Yes they can.
Yet they don't.
And so sadly we are just inundated with examples of the opposite.
Men of might and scale who shout so much, show so much and claim so much
yet say very, very little.
Little people with big flesh.
Little minds with big objects.
Little impact from such big output.
And this amazes me.
It amazes me how little the guys on steroids and enhancement drugs stand for.
I don't feel anger towards them.
I feel shame for them.
And that reminds me of shame from my own life.
And that makes me want to heal.
And that makes me want to work.
And that makes me want to show how work can stand for something noble
not something nifty.
And I await the day the heroes emerge from the armies of the vain
and use their strength and imagery
to cause such effects
without us having to correct their homework for them.
Nothing wrong with being big.
Nothing wrong with building strength.
Nothing wrong with an image that excites.
Unless it doesn't stand for anything other than a self-indulgence.
Then it's a waste.
Stand for something.
Stand for something great and good.
Use your power to guide, not indulge.
And get off the fucking drugs.
They serve little purpose to any meaningful cause,
they serve shortsighted purposes
and they undermine your ultimate ability to be great anyway.
Stand for something.
And amaze us all.
More and more, Paleo-style dieting is seeping out of the fringes and into the mainstream. No longer just a fanatical tool in the world of athletics, Paleo, "neo-Paleo" and "carb-cleanse" diets are graduating into pop culture touchstones for fad dieting.
Which means more and more "regular people" are taking forays into this method of eating. And while I have written similarly on this topic before, I couldn't hold my tongue while watching a new wave of idiots fall like lemmings off the carbohydrate cliff. I must restate a simple and true fact of human dieting. (I'll get to it in just a second – bear with me.)
You see, what makes Paleo Dieting so convincing is that it is borrowing off of biological facts to describe it's content. Facts are hard to argue, especially those wrapped in the bright-colored sugary shell of "science." Once science becomes candy, everyone falls in love with it. And this was Paleo Dieting's marketing success to the masses: it uses simple, bite-sized scientific facts to uphold it's rationale. It basically is promoted as "how our bodies were designed to eat." It looks at our biological design and draws conclusions based on evolution. And therein lies the candying of the message: it's so yummy with facts it's hard not to dig right in.
However, as true as these facts are, they are only part of the story. If you want to talk about "how we are designed to eat" and evoke our evolutionary track, then you can't just selectively pick from the candy bins only those sweet facts that uphold your story. You have to assess all the facts when analyzing a design; anything less creates misleading conclusions.
The biggest overlooked "fact" in analyzing how we were "designed" to eat via our "evolution" is also the one that has always seemed – to this coach, anyway – the most glaringly obvious:
NO GREAT HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT
THAT LED TO THE BETTERMENT OF OUR SPECIES
WAS EVER ACHIEVED WITHOUT ADDED SUGARS.
And I mean all our greatest accomplishments. Whether it is Stonehendge or the Sisteine Chapel; open-heart surgery or the Mars rover; a Shakespearian sonnet or the internet where you are now reading this article; nothing awesome we humans have ever accomplished didnt also require tons of excess sugar to get done. Including:
THE POSSESSION OF THE SCIENCE WHICH ALLOWED US TO LOOK BACK
AND DETERMINE THE DIETS OF OUR ANCESTORS
RELIED ON TONS OF SUGARS TO INVENT.
PALEO DIETING WOULD BE UNKNOWN TO US
WITHOUT MILLENNIA OF HUMANS
INTENTIONALLY EATING NON-PALEO DIETING.
Our ancestors – the guys who ate Peleo – were the ones who invented non-Paleo, added-sugar dieting. And thank god they did! It was a boon to our evolution!
And this is a fact: to get ahead, we must use out ability to develop technology. And while there are many worrisome woes to the industrialization of food, industrialization is different from applied technology. While mass-production of carbs has caused us terrible setbacks, that is not the fault of the carbs themselves. The application of technology – the use of refined tools – to enhance our diets is not the bad guy here; we are not going to get our best performance by shoving twigs into ant holes for a mouthful of bugs. Avoiding crappily-produced (read: industrialized) foods is a good thing, but avoiding added sugars all together? Yah, that idea didn't really work out for our ancestors either.
Which is why they invented adding sugar. And then all kinds of awesome started going down.
And that is an evolutionary fact. Just as factual as the face used to bolster Paleo Dieting. Th problem is that thy are not as sugary sweet; these here are like the factual brussel sprouts to the M&M's ofd Paleo's science tray. Of course they are easy to shove aside. Way too much fiber to be any "fun."
Paleo-style dieting is a trick of logic and marketing, not a boon of health promotion or a maximization of human potential. Our potential was maximized when we used tools – one of the evolutionary traits which helps define our species – to change what we ate. Then pyramids, The Beatles, Great Wall and airplanes, not to mention Olympics, marathons, baseball and bodybuilding, among many other cool things.
Paleo is clever, but stupid. It is a useful compendium of ideas on our biology, but a lousy prescription for maximizing human performance. yes, the short term benefits have been extolled time and again through countless "after pictures." But the fact of the matter is human betterment relies on adding sugar to our diet – judiciously and conscientiously, but absolutely.
And no sweetening of facts will out-nourish the nutrients in that fact.
The image is one of those vintage magazine shots, where the muscular dude on the cover is posing like a Greek statue. It was shown to me by an athlete, and I was captivated.
"This," I thought. "This explains what The Next Level means when we say there's no difference between solid bodybuilding and solid strength lifting."
These images always captivate us when we come across them. Glimpsing the past is always fascinating. But when it comes to the retro muscle magazine images, there is another message being declared that we do not see so much in our own media any more. And this message holds an important lesson for you.
We often arrogantly consider our current standards for what constitutes "muscular body" as somehow more advanced than what came before us. Yet when we look art this dude from 1938, he looks very much like many of the guys we might see pursuing bodybuilding. Or trying to accomplish a powerful lift. Or eagerly diving into CrossFit. The thing that makes his body so compelling is not that it is better or worse than our current standards; it is that it is so much the same as our standards.
Now, this guy comes from 1938. He didn't have supplements. He didn't have gyms and training facilities and CrossFit boxes and yoga studios. Heck – this dude didn't even have our precious (hear the sarcasm?) fitness industry. He only had what all humans have: the resourcefulness of his mind and the focus allowed by his interests. No doubt he had mentors and help, but he was mostly improvisationally working; his amazing physique relied more on his observational discerning than his aggressive demand for a fix.
Now, I hate that I don't have a name for the guy. However, he is here standing emblematic of all the physique athletes of this era; more specifically, emblematic of physique development in a non-industrialized format. He didn't have mags, internets, powders and chrome machines to make this work. He had food and effort and intelligence.
This perhaps proves a point that many find radical, but that you must consider seriously. The body's aesthetics can be recreated without the supplements, brand names (sorry CrossFit – you're a brand first, a program second) the D-list, self-celebrating celebrities (read: Zyzz), the science wonks that "tell you exactly how it is scientifically, without hype" (yet isn't that statement the definition of hype?) – without any of the million trappings of the industry. His body was not reliant on anything but his own resourcefulness, open-mindedness and drive for a remarkable goal.
In short: the fitness industry is completely unnecessary for your success. It is incidental. It is an add-on. It's solutions are always ever ad hoc to what you can do of your own patience and peer-engagement.
In fact, the fitness industry has complicated the matters, hasn't it? It has created all these points of focuses, and calls them all "solutions." And each focus is refined more and more specific to an end; each point of focus is separated further and further apart from the bigger landscape from which is was derived. In the name of "clarifying," it only adds confusion. By trying to convince you of a specific direction – a supplementation program, a training regiment, a scientific application – it only makes us more aware of the clutter.
Now I am not sitting here saying "it was better in them good ol' days." But what I am suggesting is you look at how the fitness industry creates separation between practices. Yet, when you choose your practices, you need to integrate them. Diet with training; rest with work; healing with attack; you have to choose your plans and make them work together, not as discrete, separate entities. You are an integrating machine, yet the fitness industry is a separating machine. You see how the two are at odds in their end-goals?
And this is seen so often with the obnoxiously harsh delineation between the pursuit of strength excellence and and pursuit of aesthetic excellence. They have been separated far too severely by the industry – so effectively separated, in fact, that many people just believe them to be fundamentally different. They are not. They are one and the same. Our buddy from 1938 knew that. In fact, he may not have even thought that the two pursuits – aesthetics and strength – needed to be separated at all. The likelihood was that he saw it as one, integrated process, which is a perception we can barely wrap our brains around today. The two sides have been so divorced from one another by the machinations of a force seeking to industrialize profits that we are confused when we try to see them as the whole that they were prior to the industry.
Oh, quick side note: the industry is only about a hundred years old, yet the pursuit of physique excellence is at least 3500 years old – give or take a millennium. That means the beliefs that came out of the fitness industry are not only new, but gravely misleading. If man has been kicking ass for almost four millennia, don't tell me that bumper plates and neon-green powder is what we've all been missing all this time. Man has been achieving aesthetic excellence and exceptional performance as one single agenda. The only thing that cleaved that agenda into various parts was a greedy industry that figured out it could sell more if it divided and conquered.
But the data supports (adopt 3500 years of data) that the vast majority of physical achievements that bear any mark of superhuman or legendary had nothing to do with the fitness industry, and were not achieved through the separation of pursuits.
So when did you get so much smarter than the millions of awesome warriors before you who got way better results on far less? When did you realize that separating the pursuits into discrete practices of "power," "strength," aesthetics" and "performance" would yield the best results? Such separations are a distraction, friend. They will not avail you the results you want until they are combined in an integrated system.
This is actually a founding principle in The Next Level; that our teams are not just pursuing bodybuilding versus just pursuing strength sports, but rather seek to pursue physique sports as an integrated whole. You are not only inadvertently pursuing one when you pursue the other, you are made more effective in the pursuit of that one if you conscientiously integrate the pursuit of the other.
This is not to disparage specialization. Of course the demands of sports require an athlete to specialize in certain capacities. But specialization is not a "long game"; specialization is a medium- or short-range practice.
Think of it this way: just because a violinist learns a complicated tune does not mean she stops playing other kinds of music. And to play other kinds of music, she must continually engage a broad form of practice; practice that is general and allows her versatility with her instrument. Who learns an instrument just to play one song? You do not specialize in a song just to then never learn to play others. In fact, if she learned a pieces of classical music, then took a break and played a cheerful reel, she may be more agile when she returns to that original classical piece. The pursuit of all the forms makes her better when she has to specialize in just on in a concert setting.
Your body is the same way. Specializing in an area can help you in other areas. Dieting strategies and their effects on the body's hormones can influence strength gains. Unique lifting forms can help evolve movement capabilities for bodybuilding contest posing. Heavy, powerful lifts can help develop the speed and performance used in functional training competition. They are all different tunes, but the goal is not to master only one song, but rather to be a master musician.
Perhaps the musical analogy can be pushed further by comparing your work to a symphony. While you may like the sound of clarinet the most, there is no doubt that a symphony is more versatile than just the clarinet alone. The whole symphony can create more sounds, play more songs, and undulate between intense and soft better than just one of it's instruments could do alone. So it is arguable to say that a clarinet-player who is also capable of conducting a symphony would be a better clarinet player.
You want to be a conductor, my friend. You want to direct all the instruments and all their power in one triumphant symphony. What songs you specialize in is up to you, but no one masters a symphony to play just one song.
And no physique athlete can be said to have truly mastered their body if they stubbornly stick to just one pursuit. Specialization in a pursuit is not the same as isolation from any others. That is what the industry wants you to believe; that to specialize means to separate your thinking from other pursuits absolutely. Then, as you get less and less gains from your pursuits that you have mastered, they will "sell" you more of their precious "solutions."
The dude from 1938 never separated his pursuits. And that body is pretty impressive – even by today's standards. Now, he had it lucky because he didn't have an industry with an agenda preying on his passions. We do. And that industry's messages – both overt and subtle – can undo our best efforts.
Specialize from time to time, but make sure you are not neglecting other pursuits for the sake of one. Explore the options and integrate them. They are not separate by design; they are separated via marketing. Put them back together.
Let's return to 1938. It was a far more captivating time.
I hear a lot of people described their workouts as "insane." Like, I hear this term used a lot.
Now, I get what people "mean" when they use that term. However, when I hear something over and over again it kind of gets stuck in my mind; and then I begin pondering it.
Now, my work in helping people develop more meaningful programming often veers into their psychological and spiritual well-being. After all, the majority of obstacles people face are self-created; products of the mind or deficits of their emotional well-being. And because I am so often discussing people's mental states in this coaching process, you can see why the repetitive use of the word "insane" would sort of ring a bell in my mind.
Now, most of us will agree with the layman's definition of the word "insane": repeating over and over an action that causes us deficit yet each time believing we will get a different result. That repeating of the same negative behavior is what is considered "insanity" in most circles. And that is the definition I think of whenever I hear that word.
So, now go back to the original use; people describing their workouts as amazing, incredible, and challenging. Their workouts are "insane." Or so they say. Yet the first thing that pops into my mind is "So, then that work out you just had was a bad thing that you can't stop doing?"
By nature, "insane workouts" are the good ones. Our "total insanity gym time" is the most helpful, and not at all to be considered deficit.
But then I go and see what people are doing during these "insane workouts." They are so driven with the idea of being hard-core, bad ass and super intense that they often are acting quite insane. They are leaving themselves open for injury, acting like a douche bags, and doing ridiculous work that really doesn't contribute to any greater progress. And they are doing these deficit things mainly so that they can come back and report to anyone who's interested that they just, indeed, had an "insane workout."
People who want to brag about their insanity in the gym seem most often to me only interested in the bragging, which thus actually does seem insane. To keep doing stupid shit over and over and expect it to give you a good result is exactly the definition most people agree is "insane."
So, while I would prefer to be involved with work that return us to a sane version of living our lives, I actually cannot argue with the use of the term "insane" to describe workouts most of the time. So, while they may be deficit, they are at least accurately described: insane.
As for me, I'm going to stick with self challenge as a means of learning, but not as a means of bragging. I doubt anyone will be impressed when I describe my next set of deadlifts as "the most sane shit you ever saw go down in a gym," but I don't think I will mind very much.
Enter those continuing to have "insane workouts," carry-on. Nothing to contribute here.