The last time I regularly went to a gym (not counting the occasional two week trial to this or that gym which I cancelled before their rather exorbitant fees kicked in) was in grad school, where I had free access to the school’s gym. And by “free” I mean it was funded by a non-waivable, $700 athletic fee attached to my tuition.
Gym culture at that college gym was not noticeably different from other gyms. Women in yoga pants on exercise bikes reading trashy romance novels while pedaling away. People on ellipticals watching the chyron scroll on muted news channels. People on stair steppers wondering what caused their life to go so horribly wrong that they’ve resorted to using the single lamest exercise machine there is. And then there were the weightlifters.
I always thought the weight lifting guys were insufferable. They seemed to spend their time stacking impossible masses of weights and making exaggerated grunts while lifting these ungodly burdens. This seemed designed to impress the ladies and outdo the other bros. Then they’d dramatically remove their shirts and pose with their Adonis-like abs exposed, also to show for the ladies and show up the guys. It was a strange cross between male dominance games and preening peacockery, with maybe a dash of roid rage. Vanity and frat boy antics were never my preferred method of getting the ladies, so these kinds of guys (meatheads) always struck me as obnoxious.
And my entrance into the online health-o-sphere (a word I just made up which is not an actual thing) didn’t improve my impressions. Meatheads pose shirtless on Twitter, take videos of themselves deadlifting and squatting and whatever, and occasionally post pics of the massive steak, eggs, and bacon meals they eat. Ok, that last bit isn’t so bad. But combined it all seems like an elaborate projection of virility. Or penis size. Or compensation for lack thereof.
But as with everything else I’ve discovered while getting into shape, math overrode many of my prejudices and preconceptions. Lifting weights is good exercise. It’s great exercise. I’ve been able to burn a good 350-400 pounds in a forty minute set. Which is about as good as a run. Except that I don’t have to venture out into the blistering Florida heat to do it.
There’s another benefit to meatheadiness. Bigger muscles make the normal workouts more effective. It’s basic science. Moving a larger mass burns more energy than a smaller mass. And as the muscles become bigger, the burn just gets bigger for the same work. And having more muscle mass means I even burn more calories at rest. So even if I’m watching football with the boys, binge watching Game of Thrones for the umpteenth time, or being forced by my wife to watch This Is Us, I burn more calories than I did previously.
Also, I’m growing back into the clothes that no longer fit. By adding good weight where there was once bad weight. Which appeals to my accountant side, which hates spending money, and my man side, which generally hates all forms of shopping that don’t involve the purchase of automobiles, sporting goods, or electronic devices. I can keep the old clothes as I keep the fat off. And also delay heart disease and death and stuff.
But these are all secondary concerns. The primary benefit is to mental health. Not the positive mental health that comes from generally being responsible and taking care of yourself. I’m talking about the huge increase in mental health that comes from shameless vanity. I already achieved the most important goal of weight lifting. I can move my pectoral muscles independently. Euphoric levels of testosterone enter my body every time I blatantly flex. I now understand what all of the musclebro preening was about. It feels good.
Now, I know there are more than a few people who are a tad suspicious of testosterone. They see high testosterone guys as barbaric lunatics who live to crush their enemies, see them driven before them, and to hear the lamentations of their women. This is not the result of testosterone. It’s the result of psychopathy. High testosterone doesn’t necessarily make men crazy. I mean, off the charts testosterone is bad (it can cause a few health problems) , but a healthy, relatively high level is good. Low testosterone, on the other hand, can make men irritable and depressed.
The truth is a good testosterone level makes men happy. We should all want men to be happy. Because happy guys build things and buy things for their wives/girlfriends and generally do good things. Unhappy men are the ones who burn villages to the ground and rob little old ladies. So a healthy level of testosterone is generally a public good. So by lifting and preening, I’m literally making the world a better place. You can’t convince me otherwise. Your argument is invalid.
Testosterone is apparently also good for fat loss, at least for men. As our levels go up it’s easier to build muscle and keep the fat off. At least, that’s what the fancy schmancy lab coat guys are saying. And being in a good mood also helps us get motivated to exercise. So, increased levels of man juice can lead to an upward spiral of health and happiness. Meanwhile, the low testosterone guy is going to go into a downward spiral of depression, stress eating, and greater weight. A hole that is hard to get out of. And usually leads to premature diabetes.
Having said all of this, I’m a little leery of testosterone treatments. Call me old fashioned, but I think I should increase my levels naturally. By working for it. Not by taking supplements. Not by getting needles stuck in me. That’s totally cheating. Also, there’s the off chance that some quack sticking needles in me will cause me to grow tentacles or a tail or webbing between my toes. Medical accidents like that produce super villains, so I’ll take a hard pass.
Now there is a problem with going to the gym. Because I’m an accountant. That means I don’t like spending money. And it means I really don’t like other people. Misanthropy is probably the main reason people go into accounting. Fortunately, my general hatred for humanity doesn’t prevent me from partaking in weightlifting. I can have weights at home. I can avoid the gym (and the cost) and avoid the annoying presence of other members of the human race. Including the more irksome of the muscle men.
But even though I still see the most meatheady musclebros as unbearable, I no longer look down my nose at them. I know that lifting can be a transformative experience. I remember the euphoric feeling as I gradually lifted and lifted, and the huge dopamine hit of finishing, knowing I’d accomplished something. It was even better than the runner’s high, except without the chronic knee damage that running was causing me. Whatever snide thoughts I’d had of weightlifters vanished. My prejudice against them was gone.
Sometimes this feels like I’m selling out my fellow nerds. Standing around and rolling our eyes at the sweaty, overly buff dudebros of the gym is one of our favorite pastimes. But the jocks know something we don’t. There is something to this weight lifting stuff. So now I’m a lifting fool. I apologize to my fellow white collar dorks. But riding a desk and gradually expanding my waistline is a thing of the past. I’ve seen the value of engaging in blatant physicality. Forgive me, but I’ve become a meathead. And I like it.
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