What’s this dude’s Fran time?
I’m not sure what got me thinking about this topic. It might have been seeing old Bill “feels like Deca” Phillips on an early morning infomercial promoting his new book. Or, it might just be that I think too much…
This was originally going to be a somewhat humorous post. I was going to be as objective as possible, but I was planning to poke some fun at the globo-gym style of bodybuilding and training. I felt like I was on the right track when I saw the cover of this month’s Flex Magazine and when I found this Phil Health video where he talks about how he wears a lifting belt during all his training and then proceeds to do overhead presses with about 50% range of motion. (BTW, I’m in no way trying to take anything away from Big Phil. I know what kind of dedication is involved with getting to the level he’s at.)
I continue to be blown away when I realize that people still read stuff like Flex Magazine and swallow all the crap they print. In fact, I’m still shocked when I pass a globo-gym (like the Powerhouse Gym we jog or do log carries past when training at CrossFit USA) and see that there are actually people there. I forget sometimes that the whole world hasn’t seen the CrossFit, Kettlebell and Functional Strength light and abandoned the “weights and cardio” nonsense and the isolation exercises and machines. As Stuart McRobert would say, there’s a new crop of young men (and women) who get sucked into the bodybuilding and fitness world year after year, usually after seeing a magazine cover. (Now it’s more like a blog or YouTube vid.) And this new crop serves an important purpose – to replace the old crop who are dropping out due to no results or becoming disillusioned when they learn the truth about the drugs and the lifestyles.
I shouldn’t be completely cutting (pun intended) on bodybuilding. Some of my best memories EVER are from about 12 years ago when I was bodybuilding almost full time. Training at Mike Katz’s World Gym in Branford, CT was great times. This was back when Bill Philips was a bodybuilder and not a self-help wannabe guru, ephedrine was cheap and legal and Hammer Strength machines were getting really popular. Hotskins spandex shorts were also popular – and, yes, I had several pairs…
But, this was all we had. It was all there was. There was no CrossFit. There were no kettlebells that we knew of (Pavel was still in Mother Russia, I believe). There was no MMA or UFC either. At least not as we know it today. If you wanted to be hardcore, you were a bodybuilder. It was extreme, it was counter-culture and it was cool. At least to me.
It’s interesting that, for most of it’s history, bodybuilding was the anti-establishment counter-culture thing. I remember training at a gym that catered to soccer moms in Guilford, CT for a while back in the day. You should have seen the weird looks and comments we got as we piled plates on a bar for deadlifts or squats. Now, CrossFit is the counter culture and even the bodybuilders are somewhat of an “establishment” to be mocked and made out to be less-than.
I think we’ve gone wrong here though…
Bodybuilding – depending on how we define it – might not be all that useless
I started doing some research so I could do an in-depth post here and I was surprised to find some really interesting stuff. Among other places online, I found my way over to a newer forum called Anabolic Society. Like another bodybuilding forum I spent a lot of time on back in the day, this one is full of intelligent, cool guys who love to train. Yes, there is a lot of drug talk and information, but there’s a lot of other stuff too. In the Powerlifting/Strength section there was a ton of good stuff about The Westside Method. And this got me thinking…
There’s a lot of value in the “strength” community. I think, as CrossFitters we have a tendency to dismiss something glossy and ridiculous like mainstream bodybuilding and the mags that cater to it. In fact, we’ll dismiss just about anything mainstream that’s related to health and fitness. But we’re also intelligent enough to know when something has value and adapt it to our own evil purposes – The Paleo Diet, The Zone, Olympic lifting, Strongman, etc. And CrossFit has brought together some of the best and the brightest from so many different disciplines. I think it will continue to do so and this is what attracted me so much to the community – the pragmatism.
The best CrossFit cert I’ve been to yet was the Powerlifting cert taught by none other than Louie Simmons himself. Those guys aren’t CrossFitters. In fact, a lot of their methods are quite bodybuilder-like. They train a body part split, they do isolation exercises to some extent. These guys are powerlifters and powerlifters train in a more traditional “gym rat” sort of a style. And you can’t argue with the results Louie’s guys get. They also do some “CrossFit-esque” constantly varied (or at least regularly varied) movement and there’s some functional training in there too.
Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Strongman – Let’s call it the “Strength Community”
There actually has been some real training going on in the bodybuilding world. It may not be functional training and there “might” be some evidence of drug use, but you can’t watch Dorian Yates training in his prime and say he isn’t strong or he isn’t working hard. Dorain was a lot of what inspired me to train when I was in my 20s.
And there are all the guys from Arnold’s era and before. These were some STRONG guys. And some still crossed over and competed in World’s Strongest Man competitions. I think Arnold’s day was about the end of the “realistic” bodybuilder bodies though.
This was the cutting-edge of hardcore training at the time. These guys trained hard and were strong. They probably wouldn’t have had a very good Fran or Helen, but that’s another story. Still, they were strength athletes and they were the best at what they did. And I STILL feel inspired when I see a picture of Arnold in his prime…
There is ONE thing Bodybuilders can do better than anyone else
Put your preconceived ideas aside for a minute and just think about this. Does anyone, anywhere have the in-depth, practical knowledge of body and hormone manipulation that the bodybuilding community does? If I was looking to figure out how to use chemistry to enhance my performance I’d go to the bodybuilding underground. Not Flex magazine but the underground and the internet. There are some smart, smart guys out there who will never appear in a newsstand magazine or have a column in one. As a matter of fact, I’m already looking into some stuff in this community that could have some really positive implications with adrenal fatigue. Don’t worry, it’s legal…
My point is, if you want to talk about nutrient repartitioning, blood sugar levels, nutrient timing, practical protein chemistry, insulin sensitivity, carbohydrate tolerance, etc., the bodybuilding community is the place to go.
If you want to talk about performance enhancement though chemistry, these are some of the smartest and most experienced people out there…
Powerlifting and Strongman are making inroads into CrossFit
As more and more CrossFitters – people have come from highly diverse athletic backgrounds – continue to be exposed to things like Powerlifting and Strongman within the CrossFit community, I think boundaries will continue to break down and more and more of the good, useful stuff from these disciplines will start to infiltrate the community. I also think some of the pharmaceutical and supplement stuff will come with it. And that’s not necessarily a completely bad thing.
I’m not mad at you anymore, Bill…
Actually, I should be happy that my anger with Phillips has finally faded. That only took 12 years. How could anyone be mad at someone who has helped so many couch potatoes transform their miserable lives? Well, once upon a time, Bill ran the best hardcore bodybuilding magazine out there. Muscle Media 2000 (MM2K) was awesome. It was a hardcore, hands-on magazine that had tons training, supplement and even steroid information. It was the real deal and totally cutting-edge. They even jumped on The Zone bandwagon early (this was the mid-90s) and regularly interviewed Barry Sears and published diets and info that went against the low-fat hysteria that was rampant at the time. That magazine was years ahead of it’s time.
It was timely that Seth Godin said this on his blog recently. It made me think of the old MM2K:
“If just one player enters the field and works to make people smarter, the competition has a hard time responding with a dumbness offensive. They can obfuscate and run confusing ads, but sooner or later, the inevitability of information spreading works in favor of those that bet on it.”
This is what Muscle Media 2000 did. They educated their audience, brought supplements that actually WORKED to the market and made the whole drug issue common knowledge. Bill’s company, EAS, was the company that ORIGINALLY brought creatine to the market. They also introduced stuff like HMB and CLA to the market. This was revolutionary stuff at the time. Even though there was no internet then, they had the “social media” thing going on pretty well too. I wrote to Bill a few times and got a personal reply every time. He even sent me some free stuff once.
Then, almost overnight, the magazine completely lost its edge. Bill dropped the very people who got him to where he was and started doing a really watered-down mainstream magazine. It collapsed shortly thereafter. T.C. Luoma, the editor-in-chief of the old MM2K actually describes some of the craziness that went on over there behind the scenes in this audio. Incidentally, T.C. is the guy who originally started T-Nation when he lost his job at MM2K.
Realistic physical role models
One of the things Bill became more and more vocal about when he was on track was the craziness inherent in the hardcore bodybuilding lifestyle. And they published some pretty funny articles that detailed the exploits of the steroid-loaded male AND female bodybuilders and those who liked to be around them. He also spoke out frequently against the hypocrisy of the Weider empire, the side-effects and health implications of steroids (they ran both sides of the issue) and excesses of the bodybuilding sub-culture. For a while, Bill was promoting a “new” bodybuilding that was more about supplements, intelligent training and cutting edge nutrition than drugs and excessive practices. They weren’t completely against using drugs – they promoted an intelligent, conservative and educated approach to using them if someone chose to.
Something that apparently has stayed with me all this time is a push for the realistic physique role models that MM2K started. I think Bill saw the writing on the wall and started moving the magazine toward a more realistic and mainstream “bodybuilder.” In the end, he seriously over-shot the mark. But he was on the right track for a while.
One of the guys that got a lot of exposure was Danny Hester:
Danny was in DAMN GOOD shape! And he had an appealing look that was muscular but not freakish. Two other guys who got a lot of press in the old MM2K were Bill’s brother, Shawn Phillips and Joe Lazaro.
As a matter of fact, Shawn Phillips was one of the first adopters of HIIT training. At least the first that I had heard of. I remember he had this program with stair sprints done in intervals. Sounds a lot like CrossFit, huh?
Here are some of the current CrossFit bodies. Achievable, realistic, healthy AND they perform…
Another trend regarding role models that Stuart McRobert promoted in his magazine HARDGAINER was the use of pre-60s era bodybuilders. This was before steroids came into widespread use and these were much healthier and more achievable bodies.
A BIG thank you to www.oldtimestrongman.com for the pics!
I wonder if CrossFit, the Paleo movement and kettlebells will combine with stuff like Strongman and Westside to create a sort of hybrid “bodybuilder” who looks great, performs great, values health and maybe even dabbles with some of the less accepted stuff that goes on in the strength community.
Here are my predictions for the coming years in the CrossFit community and Physical Culture in general:
- We’ll continue to see people leave mainstream and globo-gym fitness. More so, I think we’ll see people from other disciplines like bodybuilding, powerlifting and strongman adopt CrossFit methods to make their sports and training better. CrossFit methods work.
- In the CrossFit community I think we’ll continue to see the drive toward specialization and sub-niches, particularly in the strength disciplines. I think there are going to be some CrossFit strength (Oh! I better brand that!) sub-niches springing up as things like powerlifting and strongman continue to infiltrate CrossFit.
- I think the kettlebell community will remain relatively fractionated and unchanged. And most CrossFitters will continue to swing kettlebells ALL WRONG. I, for one, plan to get more Kettlebell Sport into my training this year and see where it takes me.
- Within the next year or two, I think there will be more experimentation with supplements, gray-market pharmaceuticals and more in some CrossFit niches. Most notably, these will be the ones with a strength bias and a lineage that traces back to established strength sports.
- Paleolithic diet and lifestyle are going to really take off and get big. Owing in part to CrossFit and part to the poor health that’s getting more and more prevalent around us, Paleo is going to get really big and popular. It will be interesting to see how anyone REALLY capitalizes on Paleo since you can’t really sell a supplement to people who eat a primitive diet.
- I also think Robb Wolf’s new book – The Paleo Solution – will be one of the main factors in bringing the lifestyle mainstream. His style and attitude are so accessible and “un-guru-like” that I think he’ll break down a lot of barriers without even trying.