Monday, June 10, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron - Part Twelve

Case in Point:
Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago

In the movie "Rocky IV," the Apollonian and Dionysian approaches to training were beautifully and graphically depicted. It was not hardcore lifting which was involved, to be sure, but it was hard, serious training for competition which included strength building. In the film, Rocky Balboa trained from a Dionysian orientation. The contrast between his Dionysian inspired training and his opponent's Apollonian guided training is most explicit.

Visualize the two training scenes. Rocky trained outdoors and in a barn. His opponent, Ivan Drago, trained in a high-tech laboratory/gym. In order to develop endurance, Rocky ran through knee deep snow, jumped rope, and ran up a mountain. Ivan ran on an indoor track, stepped on a climbing machine, and ran on a treadmill. During all of these he was wired with electrodes in order to feed physiological data into a computer for analysis and input to his trainers. Rocky worked his abdominals by doing situps while hanging from the barn loft by his knees, his trainer holding his lower legs. He also did standing twists while holding a heavy ox yoke on his back. Ivan did abdominal crunches on a machine. While Rocky used a speed bag, Ivan used a machine which looked like the pedals of a bicycle, rotating them rapidly with his hands. For leg strength, Rocky made himself a beast of burden, pulling a sled full of people along a snow covered road, and carrying a heavy timber on his back. In his laboratory/gym, Ivan used a sled machine. Rocky used chin-ups to work his back and biceps. Ivan sat at a curling machine, carefully isolating his biceps. Rocky strengthened his upper body by chopping down a large tree, cutting it into logs with a hand saw, and splitting the logs into kindling with an axe. He rigged an overhead pulley with a net full of rocks on one end for doing "cable" triceps extensions. And, finally, he loaded a two wheeled cart with people and did presses by the wagon tongues. Meanwhile, Ivan was performing heavy power cleans and military presses with a gleaming, chrome-plated Olympic bar.

Surrounding Rocky was a motley crew of trainers, including the crude but likeable imp of a man, Pauly. They joked, kidded, and fussed with each other. In contrast, the training laboratory of Ivan Drago was peopled by serious, rather coldly intellectual people wearing while lab coats and wielding clipboards. The societies of the two training facilities showed marked contrast.

Not only were the facilities, equipment, and training personnel in contrast, the training attitudes were also widely disparate. For Ivan and his trainers, training was a serious job to be performed with a scientific efficiency. Training proceeded without emotion, aimed at the molding of a fighting machine. This was strictly "masculine," the linear pursuit of a goal of mastery. Rocky, although committed to defeating the Russian, took a more playful approach. He was emotional, feeling the remorse of his friend's death in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago. He felt hatred for, and fear of the Russian machine. As ironic as it sounds, at first, Rocky's approach was more a manifestation of the "feminine." Both his training and his relationships with his trainers were thoroughly infused with emotion. Rocky was a colorful, feeling, playful human. He trained through inspiration, guided by his intuition and the feedback of his immediate experience. His physical pain and exhaustion were his guides, not digital readouts from a biofeedback computer. His entire quest was that of a romantic, giving it his best shot in the face of uncertainty, and surrendering to whatever outcome.

In Rocky's corner was the power of the eros principle. He was the personification of the romantic artist. Ivan Drago, the classical scientist, took his power from the principal of logos.

From the graphic example given to us by the folk hero, Rocky, we can recognize the manifestations of Apollonian and Dionysian orientations in the world of lifting weights. First, in terms of style of training, the lifter with an Apollonian view would tend to look for the latest scientifically based routine, and follow it carefully. This lifter wants results, wants to define a goal clearly and move toward that goal with maximum efficiency. From the training research come the principles of scientific training. So, this lifter makes those principles into rules, and trains by the rules. He wants to be master of his body and to mold it into the desired form. Training is serious, and is undertaken as hard work to be done. When not lifting, considerable time may be devoted to studying the relevant books and latest studies. This lifter eagerly open the newest publication to see what the latest research shows, what the latest training method is, or what exercise is being hailed as highly efficient. In the gym he can be seen between sets recording in detail in a notebook his  sets, reps, weights, results, degree of difficulty, diet, rest, etc. 

Liking the bring order and precision into the lifting endeavor, the Apollonian lifter will tend to keep careful records of progress. For the competitive lifter this means recording maximum lifts. For the bodybuilder it means recording carefully taken measurements and studying photos. The measurements may be entered into formula ti derive an overall score, such the Willoughby Anthropomorphic Sex Differentiation Formula (The Complete Guide to Muscular Measurements, Willoughby and Weaver, 1947). The improvement of such a formula derived score may be the training goal.

Just as the lifter of Apollonian vision studies the books and research for newest breakthrough in exercise methods, he will also seek out nutritional advice. This lifter will tend to strictly follow a precisely defined diet. Calorie charts and food scales carefully calibrated in grams become mealtime companions. And, no food tastes too bad or is too exotic if it is endorsed by a trainer or champion. In his larder, food supplements abound.

In terms of aerobic exercise, this lifter will gravitate towards a high tech machine which may give a digital readout or a computerized voice calling out current pulse rate, calories being used per unit of time, adherence to pre-selected aerobic training range, elapsed time, and time remaining. Apollonian oriented lifters are likely to be familiar with punching in their data on a computer keyboard as they mount a Lifecycle machine and start pedaling. They delight at the sense of control and precision afforded by the high tech machines which they pedal, row, tread, or climb.

By now the trend is clear. It will come as no surprise that with regard to lifting equipment itself, it is the Apollonian orientation which leads one to high tech machines. The developers of these machines and the instructors who have these available proclaim their efficiency in muscle conditioning and growth. These promises of efficiency mean maximum results for one's efforts, based on the use of scientifically designed and tested equipment. Beyond these verbalized promises, the machines, themselves, present an image of state of the art technology. The epitome of this image, at this time, is the machine which monitors the lifting and "coaches" either through an electronic readout, a computer monitor, or a computer generated voice. All of this appeals to those who have an Apollonian vision.

For the lifter who takes a Dionysian view, the lifting experience is quite different. Such a lifter tends toward "instinct" training. Although this term is frequently used, actually it is a misnomer. An instinct is an innate impulse or propensity. What we are talking about, here, is not inborn. When "instinct" is used to describe a training approach, what is meant is training guided by immediate experience and intuition. Rather than following a prescribed exercise routine, the "instinctive" trainer does what feels right. With no predetermined exercises, sets, repetitions, or weights, he enters the gym to lift as his inner voice says. He will intuit what to do, and allow his intuition to be informed by the feel of the lifting as it happens. "Today, I feel like working my legs, hard. I think I'll start with squats . . . That weight feels light; I bet I can get 10 more pounds . . . I'm tired; that's enough for today. I'll be sore tomorrow. Good workout!" This is the way the process of working out is for the man of Dionysian view. Workouts are not by the book and they are not pre-set in stone. No two workouts will be alike. Workouts evolve as they go along, guided by hunches, intuitive impulses, and the feel of the weights. This training approach tends to be playful. The play may be hard, but nonetheless it is play for this lifter. Given this playful quality, and the willingness to follow hunches and intuitive impulses, some workouts unfold as highly imaginative and creative. Exciting discoveries can be made. "I wonder what would happen if I superset donkey calf raises and lunges. I have a hunch that might work for me. I'll try it."

The Dionysian inspired lifter may come to experience a mystical quality to his workout. Focusing on the moment to moment experience of lifting brings one into an intense and intimate relationship with one's self and between one's self and the exercise equipment. Objective realities -- poundages, repetitons, goals -- fade into a pale background as the physical sensations of the moment leap into a bright, vivid figure of perceptual awareness. The here-and-now experience -- the heaving of one's chest in grabbing for air, the burn in one's muscles, the heat in one's entire body, the overall sense of strain, the sense of focus and singleness of purpose of getting the weight up -- can be one of ecstasy. There is certain esthetic pleasure realized here. The bar and I, in motion, our dance, create an esthetic experience. The bar and I come into an intimate relationship, a level of psychic relatedness emerges. In this moment, emotion is strong and I surrender to an experience beyond words.

I have had the experience of ecstasy and surrender often, while lifting. Most often it has been while performing a maximum or near maximum lift. As best I can describe it, it is as if the rest of the world fades away, and all that matters is the immediate experience of myself with the bar. We are, for a short time, the center of the cosmos. Barbell-and-I are one, in motion. (I will discuss this further later on, where I will address the use of a trance state in the enhancement of lifting performance.)

In expressing the product of lifting, the bodybuilder of Dionysian persuasion will prefer to pose. It is the free-form display of physique which thrills him, not objective measures of the tape, body calipers, and scales. Those are cold. This bodybuilder wants something warmer and more inspiring of emotional response. In a phrase, this bodybuilder seeks an emotionally moving esthetic experience.

The training table of the lifter inspired by the Dionysian view is not in accord with any precisely planned diet. It is, however, met with a hearty appetite. Just as this lifter approaches his workouts intuitively, he also eats with intuition as a guide. Hunches and cravings dictate the timing and content of meals.

For aerobic exercise, the lifter of Dionysian vision is most likely to jog, swim, or play some active game. Rather than gravitating to high tech aerobic equipment, he will do something more playful, preferably outdoors. Again, the "feel" of the activity will be the feedback for deciding when enough is enough.

The obvious conclusion to this portrait of the lifter of Dionysian orientation is a preference for free-weights. It is free-weights which allow the variety of lifting this which this lifter seeks. The number of exercises and variations which are possible with an adjustable barbell and dumbbells truly staggers well as creatively challenges the imagination. Free-weights offer freedom and almost limitless possibilities, just what the Dionysian lifter needs to indulge his playful, intuitive, imaginative approach to lifting.

If the lifter of Apollonian vision seeks an efficient, scientifically based training with high tech equipment, his brothers of Dionysian vision seek the romantic experience of quick lifts in the backyard on a sunny day near its end, followed by a quart of milk. Both visions are valid, both "work." Either vision, extreme and not blended with the other view, has limitations. Both the hyper-serious work of the extreme Apollonian and the too casual play of the Dionysian fall short of the balanced, integrated world view which would best guide the lifter to realize his potential. Both efficiency AND ecstasy have value in human experience.

Persons often tend to pursue one or the other of these two visions. This leads to a misunderstanding of lifters of the other view, and, perhaps, a lack of appreciation of the value of the other view. To the lifter of Apollonian vision, the lifter disposed to the Dionysian view may seem to lack seriousness, to be frivolous, to lack in technical knowledge, and to be inefficient, if not ineffective, in his use of antiquated equipment and routines. From the opposite view, the lifters of Apollonian orientation may seem too serious, dull, too rigid  in adherence to plans and routines, and too uptight about efficient results from those ridiculous machines that they strap themselves into, to perform strict, mechanical exercises lacking in romantic appeal.

Perhaps bodybuilding is in essence a pursuit of a Dionysian vision. Dionysus, as god of metamorphosis, instructed mortals in the miracle of transformation. He also offered instruction in fantasy. The bodybuilder pursues a vision. It is his fantasy to undergo dramatic metamorphosis, to evolve from physical ordinariness or a withered condition to a dramatic extra-ordinariness of physique, a condition of exuberant aliveness and physical abundance. In this incredible metamorphosis the bodybuilder follows the lead of Dionysus. Remember, though, Dionysus not only could usher in a state of merriment and heightened courage, but he could bring men to destruction through their drunkenness. So it is with the bodybuilder. Dionysus was god of excess. Too often, the bodybuilder becomes drunk with his sprouting forth and runs headlong down a path of excess. The results can be physical grotesqueness, through excessive muscular hypertrophy, permanent injury, or even death. These results can accrue from the foolish use of steroids, the contemporary grape of destruction. It is at the point of joyous ecstasy and growth that Apollo is welcome. He, being the god of reason, moderation, and limits, can temper the basically Dionysian pursuit of bodybuilding and bring a balance.

So, if bodybuilding is basically a response to the call of Dionysus, then Apollonian values serve to keep reasonable order in the answer to that call. A balanced world view allows merriment and metamorphosis, within the light of reason, exuberance, and abundance, within the boundaries of balance . . . ecstasy with efficiency.

Next: The Meaning of Pain, Injury, and Competition   

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