When I was 12 or 13 years old, I remember switching channels to a bodybuilding competition. I’d never seen bodies like that before. I was fascinated.
They looked so strong!
I called my parents over, showed them the men on the TV, and asked them how I could get strong too.
I did not get the response I was expecting.
Both my parents looked at me in disgust, and started blurting out every cliché you’ve ever heard about bodybuilding: “That’s way too much muscle”, “what’s the point”, “you’ll get hurt”, “it’s ugly”, “you’ll be looking at yourself in the mirror all day long”, “girls don’t like it”, etc.
In less than a minute, my nascent dream of having a muscular was body shattered and my image of bodybuilders profoundly altered.
From then on, every time I’d see one I’d think to myself: “that’s way too much muscle,” “what’s the point,” “how could anyone find that attractive.”
For over a decade I never realized that I was repeating a script I’d heard from my parents and never challenged.
In my late twenties, I stumbled upon the following quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger:
A well-built physique is a status symbol. It reflects you worked hard for it; no money can buy it. You cannot borrow it, you cannot inherit it, you cannot steal it. You cannot hold onto it without constant work. It shows discipline, it shows self-respect, it shows patience, work ethic, and passion. That is why I do what I do.
As I read the quote, memories from my pre-teen bodybuilding incident started coming back to me. My curiosity was piqued. I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t listened to my parents or if they’d reacted differently and I’d started going to the gym to get strong.
I started researching what it meant to become a bodybuilder. After all, I’d never even bothered to find out what the path to big muscles looked like.
It’s incredibly difficult to build such a body.
You’d have to train for years and years to look remotely similar to the pictures above.
Your dedication would rival that of the best athletes in the world.
You’d have to do copious amounts of research to understand how to best reach your goals. Most normal humans couldn’t eat half of what professional bodybuilders have to ingest to build and maintain that amount of muscle.
NOTE: Please fall into the “it’s not hard they just use steroids” trap. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Performance enhancing drugs without appropriate exercise will just make you fat and bloated (in addition to all the potential side effects).
Here’s another quote from Arnold which illustrates the amount of precision and dedication needed. This one is from his autobiography Total Recall:
The ideal of bodybuilding is visual perfection, like an ancient Greek statue come to life. You sculpt your body the way an artist chisels stone. Say you need to add bulk and definition to your rear deltoid. You have to choose from an inventory of exercises for that muscle. The weight, the bench, or the machine becomes your chisel, and the sculpting could take a year.
Whatever we think of the pursuit of Bodybuilding, there’s no denying that it takes a superhuman amount of dedication.
Because of my hidden belief that Bodybuilding was an endeavor unworthy of my attention, I missed out on the behind-the-scenes.
I could have learned from their dedication or admired their discipline. The amount of hard work these men and women put into their passion should have inspired me, regardless of what the average human might think of them.
I’ve shifted my mindset since then.
These days, when I see a bodybuilder, I choose to see behind the body.
Which brings me to my takeaway.
In many ways, a bodybuilders’ body is their final product. It’s the end result. Most of us just look at the body and miss everything but the tip of the iceberg.
It’s the equivalent of looking at a successful startup or a famous painting and thinking to yourself: “I could do that. It’s simple.”
You’d be missing the whole point. You can’t skip ahead to the final product. The result isn’t worth anything without the years and years of experimentation and hard work needed to successfully build it.
It takes years to reach overnight success, and in those years lie all the valuable lessons.
I’d like you to take this lesson to heart. Shift your mindset from obsessing over the finalized product to building curiosity for the path that leads there. A path ridden with life lessons.
What could you look at differently that might help you grow into a better person? Share your thoughts in the comments.
* Top photo credit: Dexter Jackson, the world’s most titled bodybuilder.