NO STRAIGHT ANSWERS • HEAD COACH XN'S BLOG

​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. 

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Bodybuilding's noblest skills defined in one misleading image

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.

There are literally 5 seconds of time elapsed between these "before and after" pictures of Coach Stan Dutton (a buddy of ours).  Stan merely flexes to create an aesthetic of muscle mass and leanness – which is exactly what bodybuilders "do" to create theirs.  
The lesson is clear: good, competitive bodybuilding is not about ultimate size but about skills of presentation.
Photo courtesy of Stan's Instagram feed.  Contact Stan Dutton at TFW Boston.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

We are all encouraged to believe we can create beauty using just what we have right now. That is a powerful message.

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.