Saturday, June 1, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron - Part Two


In the early days of "strongmen," the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the focus was on an exciting, if not breathtaking performance. The successful strongman had to be versatile and a good showman in order to sell tickets. These early strongmen typically would capture their audience by performing a variety of stunts, lifting an assortment of spherical barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells in various one or two hand lifts, as well as lifting various and sundry heavy objects such as large animals, automobiles, anvils, cannon, and platforms loaded with people. They also bent and broke metal objects such as spikes, horseshoes, and chains. These feats of strength were punctuated with poses and muscle flexing, leading up to a grand finale, often involving a dangerous stunt, or at least the stunt which appeared to be the most difficult of the show. Such was the image of the modern day strongman, a versatile man of muscle who looked the part and could demonstrate his strength. Undoubtedly, it was this nineteenth century strongman who was the inspiration and the model for the burgeoning interest in weightlifting.

With growing interest in the new "physical culture," and the new popularity of dumbbells, came the beginning of specialization. The all-round strongman image began to change with several historically important events. First, came the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. That year there were two weightlifting events, a one-hand lift and a two-hand lift. Dropped from the list of events in the 1900 Olympic Games, weightlifting was reinstated in 1904, only to be dropped again in 1908, and again left out in 1912. Thanks to the Kaiser, the world was too busy for play in 1916, so no Olympic Games were held that year. Weightlifting was restored as an Olympic event in the 1920 games. That year three lifts were contested, the one hand snatch, one hand clean and jerk, and two hands clean and jerk. In 1924, five lifts were contested, the two arm press and the two arm snatch being added to the three lifts used in 1920. As of 1928 the Olympic lifts became the two arm press. the two arm snatch, and the two arm clean and jerk, and remained so until 1972 when the press was discontinued. (Gaudreau, L.: Anvils, Horseshoes and Cannons: The History of Strongmen, Vol. 1.)

With the specific designation of Olympic lifts, other lifts which were contested from time to time came to be called "odd lifts." And then, is the early 1960s, three of the "odd lifts" emerged as a frequent threesome to be contested, the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift. With that, "powerlifting" was established in its own right. The first U.S. national championships were held in 1964.

Thus, competitive lifting emerged and evolved. The other branch of the old strongman show, muscle flexing, was launched as an independent endeavor by Bernarr Macfadden in 1903 when he put on the first physique contest at the old Madison Square Garden as a promotional device for his magazine, Physical Culture. In time, then, physique contests and Olympic lifting emerged as the two branches from the trunk which was the nineteenth century strongman show. Each of these branches has evolved considerably, and competitive lifting, in its evolution has branched again, with powerlifting.

Bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, and powerlifting are the contemporary forms which grew from the strongman shows of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Not only do they share a common historical root, but they share a common behavior, that of lifting weights. Some have suggested the terms weightlifting to designate competitive lifting and weight training to designate the lifting of weights for improvement of strength and physique. This distinction calls attention to yet another use of the lifting of weights, one not involving either lifting competition or physique competition. That is lifting weights in order to gain strength to in turn improve one's performance in some other sport. This use of lifting weights is sometimes referred to by the scientifically descriptive phrase "progressive resistance exercise."

There is one more realm of lifting weights, which is physical therapy. Given that progressive resistance exercise is proven to be the most effective and most efficient way to develop muscular strength and muscular size, it has naturally found application in the rehabilitation of those needing such work. Whether through birth defect or muscular atrophy following injury or disease, progressive resistance exercise is the treatment of choice. The goal in this realm of lifting weights is to bring a person who is below normal in muscular strength or size to a normal level of strength and size. So, the goal may be the practical one of getting a weakened muscle group strong, or the cosmetic one of getting a withered muscle up to normal size. I mention the physical therapy realm for two reasons. First, it is in this context that many people have been exposed to lifting weights. And second, there are a number of people who, having started with lifting for the purpose of rehabilitation, have decided after attaining their original goals to continue lifting in the sports realms.

I want to draw a distinction, then, between "softcore" and "hardcore" lifting. Softcore lifting includes physical therapy, physical fitness, and weight training to improve one's performance in non-lifting sport. For the softcore lifter, the weights are usually merely a means to an end. He or she has a goal and lifting weights is a way to facilitate getting to that goal. In the case of physical therapy the purpose is to go from below average in muscular size and strength. For the person who lifts for physical fitness, the purpose is to go from average to above average in muscular fitness. And for the athlete who uses weights as an adjunct in his training, the goal is to jump higher, throw farther or faster, hit harder or farther, run or swim faster, and so on. With such pragmatic goals, the softcore lifters rarely find great enjoyment or devotion to the lifting endeavor, per se. Such lifters may recognize that they have to lift in order to get what they want, but they probably won't feel any love for lifting.

Hardcore lifting, on the other hand, includes the weight sports: bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and odd lifting. In the weightlifting sports there is a real intimacy with the weights. There is a focus of personal encounter with the weights, as well as an identification on the lifter's part with weightlifting as his sport. And, in each of these the lifter is training for competition, or at least the possibility of competing at some time.

The several sports of hardcore lifting share a great deal, as suggested in the preceding paragraph. Still, each of them involves some unique quality. Let's examine what is unique to each type of hardcore lifting.

The most obvious distinction is between bodybuilding and weightlifting competition. In Olympic lifting, powerlifting and odd lifting, one trains to accomplish the heaviest lifts possible in the respective events. In contrast, the bodybuilder lifts in order to develop his muscles for an esthetic end. So, in one case it is how much you lift that matters, while in the other case it is how you look as a result of lifting that is important.

Even among the competitive lifting sports we can see some interesting differences. All of them place a premium on strength, to be sure, but beyond this are some differences in emphasis. Odd lifting is the least organized. For the most part it consists of local events sponsored by a community gym or YMCA, and without any sanction from a governing body. The lifts which are contested are themselves not standardized in many cases, and often at the whim of the sponsor. Not only do some of the events neglect standardization of the lifts, but the rules for judging an odd lift are generally left to the discretion of the person sponsoring the contest. Any weightlifting exercise, potentially, can be contested, and anyone can create a set of nonce rules for judging a fair lift. For example, I have competed in arm curl contests sponsored by local gym owners, a YMCA, and private promoters. Sometimes there were three judges, sometimes two. And, sometimes the rules were strict (e.g., knees locked during the lift, elbows extended fully at the start of the lift, bar remaining parallel to the floor throughout the lift, lift starting at the front judge's signal), sometimes lax (e.g., get the bar up any way you can as long as you don't move your feet or touch the back board during the lift, start the lift when you are ready). I have been in contests where the distance from the heel mark to the back board was four inches and where it was six inches. Even the equipment varies. I have competed with both a straight bar and a cambered bar. What is implied by all this is that odd lifting competition is mostly for fun. It is not "serious" competition. I would be surprised to find that anyone trains just for odd lift competition. In my experience odd lifters are bodybuilders and powerlifters who on fairly short notice get together for some "friendly competition."

Since the 1960s, when powerlifting became organized and claimed the bench press, the deadlift, and the squat as its main events, the two arm curl has probably been the most frequently chosen odd lift. In the case of this lift, the basic requirement is strength. With reasonably strict rules, there is little opportunity for technique variations. Therefore, coordination is not a big factor. In a 1985 IronMan article I expressed my opinion that the arm curl contest is a mini-version of powerlifting. Although not as glamorous as its big brother, it doesn't involve the degree of risk of injury which is true of powerlifting. For this reason, ti clearly has a place for those lifters wanting an experience in a contest of raw strength, but for whatever reasons are not up to powerlifting competition at the time. 

Powerlifting, in terms of the number of participants, is clearly the most popular form of lifting competition. In spite of its much shorter history as an organized sport, powerlifting has eclipsed Olympic lifting in this country, and in others. No doubt it has won many lifters who in earlier years would have been Olympic lifters, using deadlifts and squats only as training lifts in the service of their snatches and clean and jerks. It is the epitome of the display of raw, brute strength. And herein, may lie much of its appeal. Terry Todd, an indisputable member of powerlifting's royal court, has opined that its "primitive, artless quality" is one of the characteristics which is responsible for the rapid growth of interest in the sport. In addition, I suggest that powerlifting has been aided in its growth by its sharing its competitive lifts with bodybuilders and Olympic lifters, each of whom uses some combination of bench pressing, deadlifting squatting in their training. At least the deadlift and the squat are common to bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, and powerlifting. The bench press is shared at least by bodybuilders and powerlifters. The thing which is unique about powerlifting is that it involves competition in those three lifts. What this means is that anyone who has tried bodybuilding or Olympic lifting has some familiarity with powerlifting. This does not work the other way around quite so well, at least in the case of Olympic lifting. It is quite rare for a bodybuilder or powerlifter to practice snatches or clean and jerks. My guess is that many powerlifters have evolved from an earlier introduction to bodybuilding, and some from a start in Olympic lifting.

Powerlifting requires all around muscle strength. When doing the three powerlifts as exercises, using light to moderate weights, one feels them in the muscles which are prime movers. For example, the day after doing deadlifts with this intensity, muscular soreness is usually experienced in the lower and middle back, sometimes the buttocks. Similarly, with the bench press, it is in the pectorals and shoulders. And, with the squat it is the quadriceps and the buttocks which are visited by next day soreness. When these same lifts are executed with near maximum and maximum poundages, the stabilizing muscles and synergistic muscles are also stressed sufficiently to become sore. I remember, clearly, my surprise when I started training with heavy weights at high percentages of my maximum and experienced soreness in my biceps! There are even cases of powerlifters who have torn their biceps doing that ultimate of back lifts. 

In Olympic lifting the elements of speed and coordination figure prominently, in addition, of course, to strength. Comparing any powerlift to a snatch or a clean and jerk makes a truism out of the above statement. In addition, Olympic lifting is unique in so far as it involves lifting weights overhead. The snatch and the clean and jerk are lifts which must be practiced. Any normal adult could perform the powerlifts or most odd lifts the first time they tried, given a light weight. Not so, with the Olympic lifts. These two lifts reflect a greater degree of refinement. Another way of saying this is to say that the Olympic lifts are not movements which are likely to be carried out in the usual course of living and working physically. A case could be made that they are in this way different from the powerlifts, in that the latter involve more natural movements of physical work. Basic movements of lifting an object off the ground, pushing, and carrying an object on one's back are expressed in the deadlift, bench press, and squat, respectively. The snatch and clean and jerk have precious little application in real life.

Bodybuilding differs dramatically from competitive lifting. I use the word "dramatically" in both of its meanings. Not only is the contrast great, that is dramatic, but competitive bodybuilding is a performing art. No less an expert than the venerable Sigmund Klein has declared that bodybuilding is a "very serious performance of art." Similarly, Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that posing is pure theater. Bodybuilding is athletic training with an esthetic goal. That is, the training involves the lifting of weights, but the purpose is to produce a visual effect.

The bodybuilder is a sculptor, operating upon himself as the medium. The tape measure and the mirror mark progress for the bodybuilder rather than the poundages lifted. In fact, the way of going about lifting weights in bodybuilding is different from the way that they are lifted in training for competitive lifting. The bodybuilder lifts in a manner to produce a "burn" in the muscles and a maximum "pump." He wants to feel the burning sensation and the full engorgement of the muscle with blood. these are the two major body sensations  that guide his efforts. This biofeedback is the major source of information that guides the bodybuilder during the actual performance of an exercise. The tape measure, quantifying the degree of muscular tumescence, and the mirror, giving visual evidence for the pump, serve as feedback as to the effectiveness of the training session. So, the bodybuilder lifts weights in a manner which produces a burn and a pump, in order to achieve growth in muscle size.

The competitive lifter, on the other hand, lifts in a manner which leads to maximum muscular strength. The training routines used by these two types of lifters will, therefore, differ markedly. The amount of weight used, the number of sets of an exercise, and the number of repetitions of the movement within the set, as well as many of the exercises themselves, will differ. The competitive lifter, wanting to lift as much weight as possible, learns to lift as efficiently as possible. But, the bodybuilder, in his seeking a burn and a pump, may intentionally lift inefficiently. That is, the bodybuilder may lift from a posture or with a movement which increases the difficulty of the lift in order to create the desired burn and pump. Consider, for example, the difference between the standing barbell curl, used in competition, and the "preacher curl," in which the specially designed bench immobilizes the upper arm at an angle which greatly increases the stress near the insertion of the biceps.

Another interesting difference in the way that competitive lifters and bodybuilders compete is in the nature of the judgement of the contest. In lifting competition, the judgement is relatively objective, the outcome being determined by how much weight was lifted. One competitor totals 450 pounds, another 460 pounds, and the latter is the winner. Granted, there is a degree of subjectivity in judging if a lift is done in accordance with the rules. But, this is simply a pass-fail judgement, and once the lift is passed, the criterion of winning is the poundage. Compared to that, judging bodybuilding competition is highly subjective. A panel of judges will be rating each contestant on numerical scales for several attributes such as muscularity, symmetry, definition, and posing ability. These several scores, from several judges, must then be averaged to determine an overall score. An additional complication arises in that not all contests are based on the rating of the same set of attributes. For instance, some contests do not consider posing ability, while other contests weigh this heavily.

Bodybuilding competition is peculiar in that what one may be judged on is one's accomplishment as a sculptor of his own body, relative to a more or less agreed upon "ideal" look, and one's ability to display that sculpted body in a manner judged pleasing. The more or less agreed upon ideal look has changed over the years. In earlier days of bodybuilding competition a smoother look was popular, whereas in recent years the highly chiseled or "cut" look (highly defined muscles) and high "vascularity" (prominence of veins, indicating an extremely small amount of subcutaneous fat) have been valued. In women's bodybuilding competition disagreement as to the ideal look continues to divide judges, competitors, and spectators. Two ideals, the "muscular" look and the "feminine" lookj, as they are usually labeled, vie for greater popularity.

The several personal paths of lifting weights include, as one dimension, the types of lifting which I have covered in the above discussion. The second dimension is that of motivation to lift. I believe that one can approach lifting weights from any one of four motives.

The first motive is one of compliance. The person so motivated believes that he "should" lift. The "should" comes from outside the person. In other words, this lifter lifts because of doctor's orders, pressure from family, friends, or society. Lifting is a sort of moral choice, so that by lifting this person believes he is being "good," and, conversely, not to lift makes him feel "bad." This lifter is living by someone else's standard, and feeling good or bad about himself based on his degree of compliance. What this means is that the person who lifts because of a "should" is doing so to avoid disapproval. Therefore, this person will probably only lift when he is watched and will tend to get out of workouts when not under the surveillance of the author of the "should." This lifter identifies himself by saying things such a this when leaving the gym. "I'm glad that's over. Now I can say I worked out today."

Lifting weight as a means to an end is the second motive. The lifter who lifts for this reason does so because of the following contingency: I "have to" lift in order to get what I want. So, this lifter is goal oriented. He wants something, and lifting is the way to get it. Lifting is the price on has to pay. The lifter who lifts from this "have to" motive probably doesn't like lifting per se, and continues only as long as doing so seems to bring the goal closer. Once the goal is reached, this motive no longer serves. This is the motive of the person who lifts until the muscles, weak from disease or accident, are restored to normal, or until he has gotten into the desired shape to play a favored sport. It is also the motive of the person who competes in the weight sports in order to feel successful, to be popular, to win trophies. The key to understanding the "have to" motive is that the lifting is not done for itself, but for the attainment of something else.

In the case of the third motive, lifting is done for the experience itself. In contrast to the two motives discussed above, "I should lift," and "I have to lift," this one is "I want to lift." Lifting is done for the pleasure inherent in the act itself. The act is a process, and this lifter enjoys the process of lifting weights. The two earlier motives are easier to understand, perhaps because they are more common in our experience. But, even of one has never experienced the pleasure of lifting, it may be more nearly understood by one's remembering of other situations where one played very hard, yet enjoyed the "hard work" of that play.

There can be bodily pleasures in lifting weights, undeniable to anyone who has ever experienced it. Lifting can be experienced as sensual, enlivening, and even sexual. It can also be playful. A workout can be fun and recreational.

This third motive to lifting is an intrinsic motive. It comes from inside one's self and is based on the fun and good feelings which attend a workout. The person who lifts from this motive may lift for a long period of his life, and is likely to look forward eagerly to training sessions.

I want to identify one more motive for lifting weights, one which is less common than the others, and is rarely acknowledged. What I am referring to is lifting weights as a path to personal growth. By "personal growth" I mean more than physical development. I mean the growing which includes one's entire being. It includes those areas sometimes distinguished as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In other words, I am suggesting that lifting weights can be chosen as a way of holistic development. Using the lifting of weights as the medium, one can explore one's self, come to know one's self more intimately, confront one's conflicts and fears, and grow beyond these points of conflict and fear. It can be a way of encountering one's self at many levels, and even of confronting and working with unsolved psychological issues.

I see lifting weights as a path for raising one's consciousness. The idea that sports may serve such a process has been suggested by many others. This idea is, for example, central to the work of George Leonard as he expressed in The Ultimate Athlete, ". . . sports and physical education, reformed and refurbished, may provide us the best possible path to personal enlightenment and social transformation in this age."

The four motives to lifting weights are, then, "I should," "I have to," "I want to," and as a "path." I see a developmental order to these motives. Each one reflects a more highly developed consciousness than the previous one. Consider that "I should" reflects a position of lifting because someone else wants me to. "I have to" because I want something that lifting can lead to, and "I want to" because of intrinsic joy and pleasure. And finally, lifting weights as a path is a way of personal growth.

These four motives for lifting weights do not always operate in pure form. In fact, it is not uncommon for a given person to lift out of some combination of two or more of these. It may be that for a given person of mixed motives, only that combination of motives provides a strong enough impetus for him to lift. In other cases of mixed motives it may be that there would be adequate impetus to life even in one or more of the operating motives were not operating. In this situation the mixed motive is more than sufficient, and to use a psychological term, the lifting behavior is "overdetermined." Even in cases where there are mixed motives, overdetermined or not, we can look for the dominant or major motivation.

Now, to develop a typology of lifters we can combine the various ways of lifting weights discussed above with these dominant motives. Taking the three softcore an three hardcore forms of lifting: physical therapy, training for another sport, physical fitness, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting, and cross-referencing them with the four basic motives for lifting: I should, I have to, I want to, and as a path for personal growth, we see 24 types of lifters, theoretically.

Often, people speak or write as if "lifting weight is lifting weights, is lifting weights. This assumption of uniformity is a myth, held mostly by people who are not veterans of lifting. I have shown in the present chapter that there are four major motives for lifting, occurring alone or in combination, and that there are basically six kinds of lifting activity which may be engaged in, one at a time or in combination. 
In reality, some combinations of motive and type of lifting may occur rarely, it at all. For example, in lifting for physical rehabilitation the usual motive would be "I should" or "I have to," and it would be more unusual to find such a lifter lifting because he or she "wanted to," let alone as a growth path. What does sometimes happen is that the motive may evolve, and the type of lifting then changes in response. So, if our lifter in this example evolves to a position of lifting out of an "I want to" motive, or as a path of growth, it is probable that he would change to another style of lifting.
Let me return to my point. To regard all lifting as having the same meaning is an error. In place of this "uniformity assumption myth," I am suggesting that a "psychological specificity" attends to each of the 24 types of lifting identified above. Exercise psychologists for years have been aware of a phenomenon which they term "physiological specificity." What this means, basically, is that a given physiological response results from a particular physical activity. Doing a particular activity leads to a particular physical conditioning, and that conditioning has a certain specificity. As muscles are used for one activity they come to adapt to that activity, but if one changes the activity of those same muscles, they must adapt again. An example within the realm of lifting is switching to a different exercise. For example, changing from leg extensions to a power squat. The need for adaptation and resultant soreness will be readily apparent.

I am suggesting that there is a psychological specificity which is analogous to physiological specificity. Each of the 24 types of lifting provides a specific experience, and each of those experiences has a specific psychological impact.
The implication of this psychological specificity is that what one gets out of lifting weights will depend both on the MOTIVE out of which he lifts and the STYLE OF LIFTING done. Lifting as a "path" is the motive which holds the greatest potential for personal growth. It is to lifting, "as a path," that the following chapter is devoted . . .   



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