Tuesday, May 31, 2011

muscle men

i wanted to share a recent article that appeared in the LA Times. it's a multimedia piece regarding the prevalence of muscular men as heroes in current cinema. the article observes that this is a resurgence of the male ideals that were common in 1980s action movies, and makes a number of observations as to why this is happening. it involves a selection of movie excerpts and pictures, making a presentation of the article text incomplete, and so i'll direct anyone interested to check out the multimedia at the following link:
what caught my attention were a couple of specific points made in the article:
  1. ideals of masculinity are cyclical, with cinematic images of male ideals varying according to perceptions of power--in times when men feel they are losing financial or societal power, the ideals of manliness shift to increased muscularity, strength, and physical size. this suggests that the current wealth of massive male heroes in summer movies reflects a level of insecurity in men (or possibly the larger populace) regarding their power in society.
  2. the current ideal of size and muscularity contrasts with reality, with the average American male being dramatically different from the heroes presented on screen. i've included a picture from the article above, which shows that the average American male is 5 feet 9 inches tall, with an average weight of approximately 195 pounds and average waist size of approximately 40 inches.
these points are not controversial; they've been made frequently enough that i think most everyone agrees with them, or at the very least have heard of them. their appearance, however, in a news media piece focusing on masculine ideals in something as so high-profile as the summer movie slate gives them a spotlight in the public consciousness inciting greater attention to the issue of physical ideals for men--something which is not typically associated as an issue for men.

my responses to these points are as follows:

first, it's interesting to see that there is an academically recognized pressure for men to meet a male ideal in popular culture for size and muscularity. this runs contrary to the common stereotypes of men as being oblivious to concerns for their own body image. the article suggests that the current summer movie slate reflects an increase in pressure for men regarding their self-image, and quotes academics asserting that men increasingly want to improve their bodies by trying to emulate the massive male physiques they see on-screen.

second, it's interesting to compare this increase in pressure regarding male body image from cinema to the pressure i see in sports. the male ideal for athletes tends to vary depending on the sport. some sports, like rugby, American football, wrestling, or powerlifting, place a premium on maximizing mass, and so correspond to the observations the article is making. much like the actors discussed in the article, i know a lot of athletes in these kinds of sports who obsess about gaining weight and increasing their muscularity.

other sports, however, especially endurance sports, emphasize less size. in fact, endurance sports actually finds mass a detriment, with the preference being instead for less mass and more attention to other characteristics like aerobic and anaerobic efficiency or power-to-weight ratio. for these kinds of sports, the pressure is for athletes to be lean, light, even skinny. i know a lot of athletes in endurance sports, even among the men, who obsess about losing weight and lowering body fat.

third, it's really interesting to consider all of this in relation to the profile of the average American male given by the article. when i first saw this, my initial reaction was disbelief (with the instinctive response being a question: "what American population are they looking at?"). but then i considered the obesity epidemic in the U.S., and the profile became much more believable.

i think my initial disbelief was a function of the bodies i see in my regular life, and it reminded me of perhaps how skewed my immediate surroundings are relative to larger American society, and serves as a signal of just how much our perceptions of body image can be warped by what we see on a daily basis. given my involvement in endurance sports, i am constantly surrounded by people with body types that run towards lean, to an extent that the male bodies i regularly see conform to an average profile radically different from the one given by the article (consider this: i am 5 feet 10 inches tall and am currently 160 pounds with 7-8% body fat, and yet in my circle of athletes this is actually considered a little heavy...i am, in fact, considered in my current state to be somewhat tubby).

it doesn't help that i live in Southern California. if you want to feel pressure regarding the state of your body relative to a physical ideal, you will find an abundance of it here--and this goes for both women and men. the competition level in physical perfection on the beaches of Los Angeles and Orange counties rivals that of the beaches in Miami, the French Riviera, Saint Tropez, Rio de Janeiro, or any other hotspot of carnal obsession. what may be considered an average for American males is seen as horrifically whale-class on the shores of Malibu, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and any other location on the coast.

the main reason i am bringing all of this up is to raise the issue of body image, and to observe how subjective it can be. despite all the statistics and data of medical and sports science, the definition of an "ideal" body ultimately is a function of perception. and "ideal" does not necessarily always mean healthy, but instead can sometimes go to extremes (e.g., from super-muscular massive to compulsively anorexic).

which makes identification of an "ideal" body difficult, even as it may be valuable: we certainly recognize that the current state of the average American is NOT healthy and NOT ideal, but then what is? can we really say that Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson's body in Fast Five is ideal? can we say that the body of an professional marathon runner is ideal? is the criteria size? symmetry? body fat? strength? speed? endurance? who decides?

this matters, because based on what i see at the beach and in training, and based on what this article is saying, men are increasingly driving--figuratively, killing--themselves to meet these "ideals." it's not just women anymore. it's everyone.

Friday, May 27, 2011

videos: racing weight

well, here in the U.S. we're heading into Memorial Day weekend, meaning that we're encountering what is traditionally seen in American culture as the unofficial start to the summer. for most Americans, this means summer vacation season, with students off school and families taking holidays and everyone doing their best to take advantage of the warm weather and extended daylight to spend a lot more time outdoors in the sun.

as idyllic as this sounds, it also involves a sudden realization that season-appropriate and activity-appropriate demands call for attire that is not particularly discrete--and so not particularly flattering--when it comes to hiding our bodies. it also involves an additional, often horrifying, realization of the true state of our bodies...and invariably that state is not as good as we'd like it to be.

especially when the reality of it is made clear to us the first time we pull on a swimsuit and look into the mirror. especially when we realize that reality is going to be what everybody sees when we take that initial foray to the beach. especially when we realize the true magnitude of what it feels to have our muffin-tops, love handles, waist tires, cellulite butts, and jiggly wintery whales suddenly open, exposed, and utterly naked for all the world to see in our glorious blubbery infamy.

as the common joke goes: what kind of shape are we in? round! that's the kind of shape we're in.

some of us (me included) would like to deal with our beach body issues in sufficient time to take advantage of the summer. and so for us our weight is a preoccupation. an obsession of activity and nutrition and body mass index and body fat percentage. to the extent that it's a neurosis.

well, for those of us caught in this situation, i offer the following find:
it's a video series called "Racing Weight" hosted by Competitor (the same company that publishes Competitor magazine). the videos are from Matt Fitzgerald, the writer of the book "Racing Weight," and they deal with a range of topics associated with weight control. there's currently 8 videos, although it looks like an ongoing series, so presumably we can expect to see more in the future.

i should note that all these videos are oriented towards athletes, specifically endurance athletes, and so are more focused on topics relevant to sports performance. but they do cover the full spectrum of athletic life, which makes sense considering that sports are tied to active lifestyles with the key word being lifestyles, meaning that an athletic life is a full-time year-round life-long endeavour and very much a way of living. as a result, i consider them useful for anyone interested in trying to get into better shape--and that certainly means better shape than round.

i agree with everything these videos say and i've followed pretty much everything they suggest, and so i can vouch for them and say that they definitely work...if (and this is the catch), if, you follow them. which can be hard, given all the bad habits most of us acquire over the winter.

but just think about the summer. and think about the body you want to show off during the summer. and then think about the body you have now. and then commit to making the change. and then just do it. you know how. and you can.

you can start by checking out the videos. they're highly recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2011

my exercise videos

people always ask me what kind of exercises i do for strength training. especially the kinds of movements i've been doing to deal with my various core and stabilization issues.

it's been hard to give an answer. i have a lot of exercises that i've learned over the past few years, all of which i've found effective, but they tend to be pretty hard to describe. i've tried to find videos on Youtube that demonstrate the exercises, but it's been hard to locate them.

as a result, i decided to just suck it up and make videos of all the exercises myself. i figured a video was worth a thousand words. that, and i figure i should finally do something with my Youtube channel, and this is about as good a use for it as any.

you can see all the exercises at my Youtube channel:
these aren't super high-production quality videos. nothing fancy. friends and i made them just using a handheld point-and-shoot digital camera. but i figure they're enough for people to get the idea of what to do.

these are most, although, not all the strength training exercises i've been doing. while they target different muscle groups in the body, they all involve core and stability strength to some degree. in addition, they also train motor coordination and balance, using compound multi-planar movements to engage the neuro-muscular and balance systems. overall, they improve body structure and functional strength useful for athletics--not just specifically for triathlon or endurance sports in particular, but for all sports in general.

i've picked up these exercises from physical therapists, dancers, pilates instructors, yoga instructors, martial arts teachers, sports trainers, coaches, and fellow athletes over the years. i've started to collect these, in a way. originally, i learned them in an effort to deal with body structure issues responsible for my lower back problems, but i've come to take them as really good training tools and an integral component of every athlete's conditioning regimen. that, and they're just a really good challenge, and in a perverse way, actually quite good fun.

here's some of my favorites:

single ball pike leg twist: http://youtu.be/FaGTuzkRePc

swiss ball glute ham curl single leg: http://youtu.be/QnvY2x22dN4

glute ham curl: http://youtu.be/oLRE_dYoinQ

construction crane: http://youtu.be/k_0wJ3276aQ

i should note that the videos on the Youtube channel are not complete. there are other exercises that i do, and no doubt there will be a lot more exercises that i'll learn as time goes on. so i'll be adding videos to the ones you see eventually. but these should do for now.

please feel free to provide comments. and also please feel free to share any exercises you may know. i'm always interested in learning more--there's nothing quite so pleasurable as knowing we're all sharing something excruciatingly fun. yaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

hope this helps. cheers!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

a good kind of hurt

life isn't always what we want it to be. it isn't always pleasant. it isn't always easy. it isn't always fun. and there isn't always a way out. life, unfortunately, as much as we'd like to wish it otherwise, is not without pain.

and that pain isn't always minor. it hurts. sometimes in ways beyond the mere physical. sometimes in ways we can't describe and in ways we can never get over. in ways that leave us fundamentally, completely, profoundly different than what we were before. held together, but not complete. functioning, but not well. living, but not whole. a mirror to the nature of our own mortality.

as sobering as this may be, it does not have to be entirely tragic. there is something we can do to make of it something constructive. we can recognize that pain is something we feel and that hurt is something we experience as creatures of this creation. we can realize that our response to both is something that we choose as minds of an independent design. and we can release ourselves by making the choice that comes as souls of a better truth.

and that comes by knowing this: if we don't feel pain and if we don't hurt, then it means we're not human. or we're dead. or we're both. all of which are problematic.

ironically, in a strange way, this points us to the alternative. pain. hurt. for all that they do to us, for all that they mirror of our mortality, in the end are what we decide them to be.

and that, if we choose, can be this: reminders of what we are. affirmations of life. markers that we are here to see another day...and that we're lucky to know it, because it means we're still around to be what we decide ourselves to be. alive.

and that's a whole lot better than the alternative.

Friday, May 13, 2011


bridges are built to span divides. sometimes, they are wonders, reaching across what seem to be insurmountable canyons between two sides in breathtaking leaps arcing across the sky.

bridges, however, as much as they may be wonders, are not natural. they do not arise by themselves. they do not exist on their own. they are constructs, products of engineering, testaments to the will and work of humans to bring them into existence, involving the personal sacrifices of long hours of careful thought with hard labor in meticulous detail with great commitment reaching outwards from both sides towards a rendezvous located improbably in the midst of absolute thin air. from imagination to idea to hope to plan to survey to foundation to beam to tendril to suspension to span to arch to bridge. all the product of people.

so why do people put so much of themselves into such connections?

because for all the work involved, we understand the imperative to bridge the barriers dividing us. we know that for all the expenditures of labor and resources that are required to span a gulf, they are nothing compared to the untold costs of time and effort involved in traversing the chasms that sometimes exists between people. bridges expedite crossings, and thereby liberate our energies so that they may be better spent on following whatever journeys we are undertaking--including journeys across the abyss, where we may be enriched through mutual interactions with those we meet on the other side allowing us to grow in ways we would have never known given our past divides.

and as much as we may never use a bridge, it's still good to know they are there. because invariably we will encounter times when we'll need them, invariably times most dire requiring great haste when we won't have the ability to make the canyons on our own, when they will serve to be the routes of safety and conduits of aid that comfort us and, if necessary, carry us beyond our afflictions to the havens of new companions where we may learn in truth that no travels are ever really taken alone.

with bridges, our journeys are made easier, faster, richer, safer--all things paramount to our experience in the races we have undertaken in our lives. and while they do not solve everything, and while they are not guarantees of our performance, they do serve to make things better as strive to go on all our ways.

which is why it's important to respect them and honor them and to do our best to maintain them, even if only as metaphors. not for their breath-taking leaps across the sky, but for the connections they represent in our spirits and the message they leave with our hearts: a mutual expression of a common desire of a benefit beyond the mere physical to be shared for all on our collective paths through this strange existence we call life.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

a wrench in the works

life sometimes has a way of throwing a wrench in the works.

you'll have things going in a groove. like a smooth-running, well-oiled, perfectly timed machine with all its parts in synchronous order. gears shifting, axles turning, valves actuating, levers lifting, in unison, with all activity working together towards a common purpose: a constant, powerful, effortless, inexorable, steady motion forward. at those times it will seem like you're unstoppable.

but then life has a way of throwing a wrench in the works.

call it chaos, call it accident, call it malice, call it intentional. destiny. serendipity. willful wanton mayhem. from unseen gods and demons or creatures of the corporal earth. from strangers or friends, or even family or yourself. something happens that knocks you off your groove and sends your machine suddenly careening to a screeching, thundering, shuddering, crushing, shattering, crunching, utterly disintegrating destructive halt. and all you'll have left is a pile of parts smoking in ruin, with your world completely stopped.

your responses in these times are pretty simple:

you can do nothing. give up. surrender. call it a day. go home. or away. anywhere but here. leave. and let things stay as they are. hopeless. which is pretty much what you're conceding: a state without hope. a state of utter despair.

but know that if you choose to do this you're leaving the problem as it is. and problems have a way of not going away. they don't fix themselves. no one fixes them for you. they stay. and in some cases, if left alone, they grow. which is a problem if you're under a delusion that you can run away or that you can eventually come back, because you'll find all you've done by doing nothing is to enable things to continue or to make things worse.

alternatively, you can do something. stay. figure out what went wrong. why things happened. when and where and how events unfolded. and next figure out a solution to either rectify the cause or prevent it from happening again. and then finally reassemble all your pieces with their workings in accordance with the solution. with the hope, the belief, the will that the machinery will get back up and running again. forward.

this isn't easy. it takes time. it takes work. it takes thinking about the problem, facing the facts, and being honest. often alone. it can be brutal. but it will get you moving again. and it ensures that the problem will not continue and that the problem will not become worse. for you or the world around you.

make no mistake, both of these choices hurt. a lot.

but the difference is that the former will last a whole lot longer, because it perpetuates destruction. the latter is a whole lot shorter, because it engages in construction. one allows the world to become a worse place and the other acts to make the world a better place.

and there's already too much of one and not enough of the other; you don't need to add to the misery that's already out there.

you see, life always has a way of throwing a wrench in the works. it's inevitable. it's invariable. it's life. it's why so many things are the way they are.

you, however, can choose want you want your life to be. you can choose your destiny. you can choose your response to the way things are: you can choose to make your world worse or you can choose to make your world better.

you can choose to make things better.