Six days a week in the gym? Check.
Spent Sunday prepping meals? Check.
Tight Dri-FIT shirts washed and ready? Check.
Preset Instagram captions and selfie ideas for my workout ready? Check.
And thus the standard male workout ritual, revealed.
Trust me; I’ve been there–290lbs, 6’1 , 22-year-old, going to the gym two times a day ( yes, you have to cut class for that ), cooking every Sunday, and generally looking like a weirdo as I roamed through college with a gallon of water in my hand. But there was an end goal; I did it for football.
I’ve since retired but I couldn’t leave it alone; I still workout consistently. I guess, once an athlete, always an athlete. But as I think about what led me, my past teammates and other men to the ‘athlete’s life,’ and can’t help but think about what keeps us there, long after the last game was played. So I’ve been wondering, “Why do men workout ? ”
* Looks at fellow gym rats drop their weights and stare at me in confusion; they think I’ve gone against the brotherhood.*
Here’s my theory; we don’t go this hard at the gym hard for ourselves (unless you’re a trainer and your look recruits clients ) we actually do it for everyone else. I know most men couldn’t tell you the last time they got a check-up but sure know what their one rep max is for every exercise. They may not know their girl’s favorite flower, but do know that girls like big biceps and maybe most important, they know that nothing gets the ego going like another man platonically envying your physique—that last one alone may be enough to make sure that dudes are on the bench press line every Monday like clockwork.
Buy a Benchpress, Get the Girl Free
The name of the game is simple; the bigger the arms, the more girls like you. My arms come at 20 inches but…that’s neither here or there. Gents, we know that 90 percent of the things we do are for the sole purpose of attracting a member of the fairer sex and working out is no different. If your frame makes your clothes look good, she will want to see what it looks like when the clothes disappear. So basically, if you commit to getting your heart rate up in the gym, you increase your chances of getting your heart rate up in…ahem…other places. This trade off seems more than fair.
“Based on evolutionary principles, women seek men who will ensure that their offspring will be healthier, so this may be a case of that. But, it also may just indicate that men who are healthy on the inside are hotter on the outside, which, in our unscientific opinion, is generally true. “—Allison Becker
Now that we have a concrete reason for you to schedule a training session with me, let’s put things into perspective; most men only workout their chests, arms and shoulders (because that’s the first thing women notice) and completely neglect everything else about fitness including the other 60 percent of their body like legs and core, nutrition, and even overall health. This approach goes back to the 80s, the era of California’s muscle beaches and cartoons depicting the muscular guy taking away the girl from the puny one. But those images have an adverse effect on Mr. Muscle Bound–he’s lost sight of what’s important. Afterall, he wonders, ‘who cares if I’m eating right, have twigs for legs , or even risk over training… because that young lady staring at me sure doesn’t.’
“I’m better than you… “
If you think ladies make a man want to work out, wait until you see the effect that male envy has on other males. You see, the alpha male (and insecure beta males) have to make sure their chest pokes out more than yours. So they ration, ‘If I bench press more than you then my level of masculinity is higher than yours.’
So, in essence, it seems like guys are not working out for the attention of women but rather the attention, admiration, supplication and envy of OTHER MEN. Specifically, to intimidate other suitors, or at least throw other guys off-balance and get the advantage. Like a gorilla beating his chest, the dude who’s got the best physique is sending a message to other men to watch themselves. Weirdly, I get way more attention from males about my workouts, approach to fitness and how I manage to do pull-ups at 265lbs. Although I gladly engage, I do leave those conversations concerned that we’re only paying attention to the things that culturally are ‘important’ and overall health clearly isn’t one of them.
Maybe it’s not all bad; as you know, I fundamentally believe that when you pair one person’s envy and another’s bold-faced narcissism, you actually can inspire self-improvement. So, is it really horrible that men inspire other men to get to the gym? While it’s not my call I will say that Muscle and Fitness magazines are not selling millions of copies a month because women care to see bulging veins and 6-pack abs.
“…Or am I?’
But what really makes a man want to change himself, literally work to a point of obsession towards the perfect aesthetic and call it ‘healthy?’ Most guys who are in the gym for the ” gains” are really feeding their addiction to glorification. What if you looked in the mirror and no matter how much muscle you saw, it was never enough? YOU were never enough? Low-key, most gym rats aren’t actually trying to gain muscle; they’re actually trying to gain self-esteem. And, when they see that the muscles get them all that they need (and cannot seem to self-generate); love, respect and a commanding presence, why would they ever stop? After all, it seems way easier to pick up something heavy than, you know, feel and process actual feelings.
I’m actually talking to a younger version of myself in the mirror. I was once thought perception was all that mattered. I figured that if I looked big and strong (and by extension, commanded respect, love and fear), I wouldn’t necessarily have to develop the other parts of yourself that actually command those things, no matter how big your biceps are. And so, post-football career, I found myself wondering, ‘If I’m not ‘Irv, the Biggest Guy in the Room,’ then who am I?’ But I’m older and wiser. And I allowed myself to lose about 25 pounds because I don’t need them anymore. I still love the gym. Still love and need to work out. Still crave the all night sessions and sometimes, I indulge. But the desire for it comes from a different place because I know I can be the biggest guy in the room for reasons that have nothing to do with my reps ( I’m also still 6’1 and 265 pounds so in most rooms, I’m still winning ‘The Biggest Guy in the Room’ contest by far).
To be clear, I’m not saying this to discount the idea that some guys really just love working out. I’m only saying that for some, lifting that dumb bell means more than what we see on the surface. We’ve all fallen victim to benching or running towards another person’s approval at the gym and in life. So gents? Let’s stop living in the cage of external affirmation—its bars aren’t as wide as we think and it isn’t doing a very good job of concealing insecurities and envy towards others anyway.
In short; Stop caring and keep lifting.
* jumps into a bicep contest in the bathroom of my gym …..once again I win *
What can I say? Old habits die hard.
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