It has always surprised me to hear people say that lifting weights, a purely hedonistic pursuit, builds character, mental toughness, or is even all that difficult. I used to be addicted to lifting. At 160 lbs I squatted twice my body weight, barefoot, and deadlifted 425 lbs with ease.
For a long-legged, lanky dude, my squat numbers weren’t bad. You’ll never see a competition lifter with a body like mine. I’m good at boxing, sprinting, and table tennis. Not squatting up and down. In fact, having long legs is a disadvantage as it creates a greater moment arm, which basically means you’re doing more work despite lifting the same amount of weight. Ever see those stumpy-legged Chinese lifters squat upwards of 500 lbs with ease? Yeah, anatomy matters in sport.* Check the first lifter here.
*It’s important not to make excuses. But it’s also important to understand your limitations. I ran cross-country once in high school and hated it. I ran 5 miles once in my life at the age of 16 and it felt terrible, although, now I could work up to it, at the expense of the other training I do. We hate things that aren’t good for us, that is my belief. Once I began lifting heavy (powerlifting, not bodybuilding) and sprinting, I fell in love. And although having long limbs and a short torso is a disadvantage for weightlifting, you can still put on muscle and lift a lot of weight. But most likely, you’re strengths are elsewhere. Look at the thumbnail for the lifters above. Not a single ectomorph. Only mesomorphs. I trained a mesomorph once. He put on more muscle in a month with me on his arms than I ever had in my entire life. And we only did basic compound movements like rows, pullups and lat pulldowns.
Anyway, lifting weights was the easiest thing I’ve ever accomplished. The rush of testosterone and adrenaline after workouts became addicting. Sometimes I listened to heavy metal while training for an extra boost of energy. I had my workouts planned out in advance and invented hundreds of unique exercises. I was at 10% bodyfat and I worked as a personal trainer. This was while I was in my early twenties in college.
The truth is that one’s interest in exercise training is purely genetic. Some people enjoy high-intensity physical activity, like me. My 23andMe profile shows that I have a genetic mutation shared by power athletes, something that is quite obvious as the sports I’m best at involve more anaerobic (short duration high-intensity) than aerobic (long-duration and lower intensity) training. I didn’t need that report to know this about myself. In fact, I received no new interesting information that is relevant to my life from it.*
*Here’s my referral link anyway for 10% off. You will get an ancestry report, health report, as well as information about distant relatives. It’s worth it unless you’re afraid of your data being used…
I trained a guy once who didn’t improve much at all in any metric from 3 months of training. His glutes were still weak, he hadn’t built much muscle mass, and his form was still mediocre. He wasn’t gifted athletically and although exercise training helped him in some ways, I think if I were to train him now, I would simply tell him to try hiking and other low-intensity activities rather than the high-intensity ones which I prescribed. Now, it’s not that I’m a bad trainer, it’s that some people simply do not respond to exercise. They are called non-responders.*
*Now some may think that this is impossible. But it’s a fact of life. Even when it comes to supplementation, some people don’t respond. Even when it comes to aerobic exercise, some people’s lungs do not respond. See this article for an explanation of non-responders to sprint training.
For that client, training didn’t help him become more masculine. For me, it didn’t either. What was there was already there, and cultivating it required an internal focus, not an external one. Yes you can probably do both but usually lifting weights doesn’t cultivate that internal focus I’ll talk about shortly.
How about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Did lifting weights make him more masculine? No not really. He lifted weights and loved it because he was already masculine. He didn’t become more masculine through lifting weights.
What about testosterone levels? Do they not increase from training? Yes transiently, but they can also decline from overtraining (not enough rest and/or nutrition to recover mentally and physically). Your testosterone can be maintained at a healthful range without going to the gym.
Where Masculinity Actually Comes From
The truth is that masculinity is a state. If you have it, you just have it. If you don’t, bodybuilding will help you seem like you have it, but everyone will be able to tell you’re weak on the inside. Let’s explain why that is and what we can do to cultivate masculinity internally. A type of masculinity that women are naturally attracted to. Oh yes, I just said that to motivate you. Feel free to watch my currently censored YouTube video on the subject before continuing to read.The truth is that masculinity is a state. If you have it, you just have it. If you don't, bodybuilding will help you seem like you have it, but everyone will be able to tell you're weak on the inside. Click To Tweet
In the above video, we see a bunch of Indian men at an event in India held by a famous bodybuilder and ‘motivation’ guy screaming like they’re a bunch of girls at an Ariana Grande concert. It’s hard for an American to understand what the hell they’re watching. But since I know a thing or two about Indians what’s really happening is that they’re being extra dramatic on purpose (it’s a cultural thing) and secondly, they are desperate to behave in more masculine ways, and thus, have an exaggerated reaction to someone seeming to be doing just that.
I’ve noticed lately on Instagram and on stock image sites there are more Indian men trying to appear attractive to meet Western standards of masculinity. But for the most part it’s cringe. Imagine guys holding up the peace sign and smiling while flexing their thin moustaches, puffy cheeks, and bowl haircuts. Or malnourished looking skinny Indian men trying to look super cool but just end up looking desperately alone with the help of their photographer friend.
Even the bodybuilder in that video has cringe pictures. Look at his face and how he carries himself. It’s not masculine and he could improve in a few areas (mainly in his facial expressions). Masculine swag and charm can be seen easily and felt instantaneously. The sad part is men are now equal to women in an image-centric society. In a society that values images of people rather than their character in person, men who wish to look more muscular are doing the same thing as Kylie Jenner by getting a face lift.
In other words, they cannot feel whole and complete unless they look good enough in a shirtless picture so that no one can criticize them. That means being shredded and not looking small. That does earn you instant respect from the masses because you don’t look like you can be fucked with. That is exactly what motivated Zyzz, who grew to fame by living the dream: having muscles and getting girls. In one video, he mentioned how when you’re big, people let don’t think they can walk all over you, so you end up with more freedom in a way. More power.
Sadly, this isn’t masculinity. It’s consumerism. We consume images, and think we need to be shredded. We consume sexual activity and think that our sex lives would be better if we were shredded. Sex is like eating pizza for many. One of my friends even told me that sex is equivalent to food and water. This is only the case when you are sexually active as a man and watch pornography. You think you need it more but your sex drive at this point is 95% driven by your mind rather than hormones.*
*My belief is that sex drive is purely psychological.In a society that values images of people rather than their character in person, men who wish to look more muscular are doing the same thing as Kylie Jenner by getting a face lift. Click To Tweet
So what do we do? We create an image that people can consume (women want to ‘date’ you, or rather consume you, rather than be in a relationship with you which is a longer form of consumption*). We do not create a persona that people can feel. It’s an image. Any persona conveyed from the image isn’t real anyway as it’s mostly your projection. It’s not the masculine energy flowing freely off a grounded, content, masculine dude’s demeanor. That type of energy isn’t created by lifting weights in a gym.
*One could argue that a long-term relationship is consumption. But it isn’t the same thing. When I say dating appeals to consumerists now (addicts), rather than intact and whole human beings, I imply that we date people like we buy things. If we consume our dates, it means the date is now a commodity. This doesn’t apply to people as generally you cannot consume people. But if you believe in dating multiple people simultaneously so that you can find the right person, dating has turned into shopping. Intact, whole human beings who understand the human experience don’t behave this way. We know what we like. Dating isn’t a numbers game for us. We meet people and stick with them. We don’t use them for our own gratification and to feed our ego.
To play devil’s advocate yet again let’s ask a question. By going to the gym to increase the size of our muscles, are we engaging in masculine behaviors? Well, I can think of a few here that might apply:
OK that’s pretty much it. Women don’t look as intense when they lift weights. So when they do it, it’s more feminine. Lifting weight itself isn’t masculine or aggressive. It’s whose doing it that matters and how. Feeling aggressive, and like you’re ‘crushing it’ can help you feel calmer and healthier after a workout as a man. I need to hit a heavy bag, sprint, or lift some weights to feel calmer. Releasing that aggression is one of the best things for a man’s health.
In that sense, bodybuilding is a great outlet for the masculine energy you already have. But does it cultivate masculinity? That’s the question here. Let’s look at other aspects of masculinity then and come to our answer (this is an incomplete list):
Is it a risk to lift weights? Not unless you do something stupid. Does it take courage? No. Is the instinct to protect others, especially your woman and children, cultivated from lifting weights? Nope. Lifting weights is for the self not for your family. Is there an element of conquest? If you are trying to get famous on Instagram maybe. But that’s debatable. Dominance? Yes most definitely. The quest for dominance is generally there in gyms. What about fighting and war? Yes that is there too.
So there are a few aspects of masculinity that are channeled through bodybuilding. But you don’t become better at any of them. You don’t become better at being more dominant. You can go to the gym and get bigger and still not be a dominant male. The dominance here is exerted by looking at others while you walk around in between sets, but not through any acts of real dominance. So whoever is the biggest male is the most dominant in the gym, but not in real life where it matters.
One way however bodybuilding could help men exert dominance better is by calming them down. Instead of being super aggressive, they can learn to be at peace and forge relationships with others. Spotting another male for example can build friendships. Going to the gym regularly creates partnerships and this is important because you build a tribe. Together with your tribe, you can do meaningful things.
How Is Masculinity Cultivated Then?
Some may say discipline is one area I left out. But it doesn’t take discipline to perform hedonistic and highly rewarding activities, where progress is unidimensional (all you have to do is keep lifting, taking rests, and eating–it’s easy to figure it out and do it if you have the time).
The type of masculinity you cannot cultivate from the gym is that inner strength, stoicism and badassery that exudes off your face when you walk around. It might just be my personality, but people notice it off me whenever I’m out and about. Well, it’s definitely my personality as my ascendant is in leo, which astrologers say creates this effect. For example, the other day at the gym, another brown dude (‘brown’ refers exclusively to people with Indian ancestry when used in this manner) was checking me out. He does it all the time because he’s weak and wants to be like me. I can tell he’s lacking masculinity instantly. I don’t have to look.
His physique is good. But when he sees another brown dude who just has it, he wants to know how to be like that, because his physique didn’t help him get there. Can you think of other men who have high muscularity but don’t have that masculine spark that makes them immediately respectable, or even formidable in some ways? I’ve seen it on numerous occasions. The physicality of a tough guy must be backed up by his emotional and mental state. He must be able to make others crumble in competition. Crack. Mentally. This could be cultivated by playing chess, where there is far more mental warfare going on than with bodybuilding.
The main way this is quality is cultivated is through conflict. There must be significant internal and external conflict in a young man’s life for him to become a masculine dude. It could even happen after having a child and taking the call to provide for his family. And the way this man looks varies tremendously. Many masculine men might not seem like ‘alpha’ males but once you see their work ethic and accomplishments, you see the beast inside of them. The masculinity I’m discussing has literally nothing to do with the physical. It’s all mental. And when you have it, you could be a skinny 5’10” Indian dude, but have an entourage around you and girls lining up to be with you. I’ve seen that before, and although this guy is one in a million, anyone can learn how to be like that. You just have to shift your focus.
Remember, masculinity is nothing like what movies portray. Hollywood has turned you into a consumer. Fitness celebrities have turned you into a consumer. Masculinity has little to do with looks. It is a mindset. It’s the soft killer, who people love, but also fear, because of how much respect they have for him.