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"For male action heroes, it's an arms race now."
April 23, 2014 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Building A Bigger Action Hero
posted by the man of twists and turns (72 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Last, Disposable Action Hero [NYT Magazine, 2014/02/28 ]
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:58 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Peterson points at a framed poster of McConaughey in his leather thong, signed, "Rattlesnakes and Water Moccasins," the name the two came up with to describe the sleazy, sinewy look they achieved through six months of two-a-day workouts.

That's hilarious.
posted by brundlefly at 9:18 PM on April 23


Honestly? Good. I'm happy to start hearing about the guys' routines and not just what Gwyneth Paltrow does to stay so thin. And I think in some ways it reflects the changing face of fans of movies like this--which is to say, the number of reblogs I saw of a Tumblr post that described Captain America (Chris Evans) as "heart of gold, shoulder/waist ratio of a dorito" were not coming from men. There's nothing wrong with eye candy if it's equal-opportunity eye candy.
posted by Sequence at 9:23 PM on April 23


For much of Hollywood history, only women's bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now objectification makes no gender distinctions

Well, except you can still play a male action hero after your prime (Liam Neeson, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.) where it's safe to say it's difficult to find female equivalents.
posted by Metro Gnome at 9:24 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]


where it's safe to say it's difficult to find female equivalents.

Sandra Bullock is 49. That's really reaching for 'prime'. While I generally agree with you, I think there are some examples out there.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:36 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with eye candy if it's equal-opportunity eye candy.

"Equal opportunity"? Hardly. With the exception of Michael B. Jordan and Rick Yune in the article, it's still pretty much all white people.
posted by FJT at 9:46 PM on April 23


Steroids is the "easier way"?

Honey, for the kinds of physiques in Hollywood, it is the only way.

Everyone is on steroids. Pro sports, Hollywood, everyone.

Stallone has admitted HGH use. Arnold was taking Dianabol when he was 15.

Looks like Wolverine had his own healing, err, growth factors going on.

Here's an interesting video (FF to about 4 minutes in to get to the good parts). The guy who originally put them up has taken them down from his now-closed channel, this is a mirror. It's from the "golden age" of straight gear-talk on YouTube, which has decreased since some channels were threatened with legal action and put offline (sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently) for breaking steroid kayfabe with certain individuals.

But the bottom line is: if someone makes a living from their body, pro athlete or model, you can bet your ass they're using gear. Once you learn how to tell the visual signs of someone's gear use, you'll be able to see it all over action films, pro sports, pornography.

Also: the author should've talked to a few more people about why people use insulin. Other than mass monsters like The Rock or IFBB pro bodybuilders (or some athletes looking to increase training density for performance), very few other athletes really need to use insulin. And insulin is not used to cut. Insulin when combined with HGH gets you massive size. Bodybuilders first really figured this out in the early 90s, which is why Mr Olympias post 93 or so (I'm not a huge BB fan but I'm aware of the broad trends in anabolic use) look like they are a different species from winners in the 80s and 70s.

Also telling is the author's inability to distinguish between testosterone and anabolics in general. Not all anabolics have identical effects. Testosterone is in vogue amongst most strength athletes and bodybuilders as a base for a cycle, but it's hardly the only compound used and definitely not the sole one to be used on a cycle for those concerned with aesthetics. Testosterone makes you take on water weight which makes you look all puffy. You need something like Anavar or Masteron to really cut down (the compounds which make looks like Brad Pitt in Fight Club possible). What's telling about the steroid use again with these actors is 1) the speed at which they make physique changes and 2) the fact that they really aren't that big, they're just super lean while still maintaining muscle mass. Anyone can get lean naturally, but you simply lose muscle. That's how a normally functioning body works. These guys aren't actually that big, they just look fucking huge, because they can carry extra muscle at 6% bodyfat.

In terms of "what these guys are doing" - another tell-tale sign that someone is on gear is if they describe their workouts and the volume is insane. I dunno how many other mefites were competitive athletes in college or have acquaintances who trained at olympic/pro levels, but there is a certain volume of training - past about 2 hours or so - which is simply impractical for normal non-enhanced human beings. If someone brags about how they did 2 hours of weights and 2 hours of cardio a day every day for two months to prep for a role, they're basically admitting to anabolic use. Normal human beings with endogenous hormones simply cannot sustain that sort of training volume without hurting themselves and simultaneously regressing in their physical ability.

It's funny. Go on any anabolic forum or talk to any docs or have a drink with any coach who deals with pro athletes, and they laugh at the general public ignorance about how widespread steroid use is. The only comparison is with Pro Wrestling in the 60s or 70s when a sizeable portion of the general public still thought it was "real".
posted by faceattack at 9:53 PM on April 23 [56 favorites]


faceattack: "Everyone is on steroids. Pro sports, Hollywood, everyone.

Stallone has admitted HGH use.
"

I'm kinda confused. The article is saying that people aren't on steroids all that much anymore, that they're using HGH instead. There's even this bit: "When actors ask about steroids, trainer Steve Zim tells them about the hair loss and zits, and "that usually ends the conversation in one second." Steroids also produce rounder, water-retaining muscles instead of the lean, mean bodies currently in vogue. Testosterone and HGH are far more common, particularly for older actors, since lower levels of testosterone can make it impossible to retain muscle mass."
posted by Bugbread at 10:31 PM on April 23


But the bottom line is: if someone makes a living from their body, pro athlete or model, you can bet your ass they're using gear.

I knew a few pro athletes and I believe that this is overly cynical.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 11:05 PM on April 23


You know, people really should read the book "Space Merchants", by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. This is about packaged, processed film stars, being sold to you at increasing costs, increasing profits, and decreasing substance. With hardship and health problems for your favorite stars. But of course, it's packaged to be ultra-irresistible attractive, so there. That is the point, and that is the only point. You are a mark and 'they' want your cash. The cost of the product is on the shoulders of the star.
posted by Goofyy at 11:07 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


When even the pro athletes that have been "exposed" were clearly not using "gear" but HGH, testosterone and various other performance-enhancing drugs, I think it's time to admit that widespread ubiquitous steroid use is a thing of the past.
posted by koeselitz at 11:10 PM on April 23


(Actually, I do not know what I am talking about. Please ignore my last comment.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Depressing on so many levels.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:24 PM on April 23


It'll become cost-effective to CGI the bodies they want soon enough. It was pricey as hell to do Dr. Manhattan -- and not needing to have realistic skin tones and shading and the fact that he didn't quite seem to belong in the setting actually suited the character all helped, I'm sure. But that was at least a good two or three generations of CGI ago. See also the inverse visual effects trickery for the "before" version of Steve Rogers (Captain America). I'm guessing that long before Hugh Jackman is too old n' busted to get ripped in the gym, he won't need to.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:24 PM on April 23


(At which point, of course, the distinction between live action films of this type and cartoons will have entirely disappeared. They'll all be cartoons. And maybe then we'll get to the end of it and realism will come back into fashion.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:42 PM on April 23


What about the rare natural? Shouldn't they get special recognition? Not every ripped man requires drugs. Some have the genes (remember genes?), some have unrealistic levels of natural testosterone. If they also happen to be inclined to work at it, they bulk up beautifully. It's that latter point I tend to be lacking, but I'm a work-in-progress.
posted by Goofyy at 12:05 AM on April 24


This seems like a place I can mention Cockmasters.
posted by Mezentian at 12:44 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have have insight into the actual programs that a trainer like Gunnar Peterson uses on his leading men (not guesses)?

Internet dudes have a weird love affair with Starting Strength, but even after following Starting Strength diligently to put on a lot of muscle, followed by a serious cut to ~10% body fat, your average gym goer doesn't have the beginnings of leading man proportions; he just looks like a weirdly disproportionate jacked dude.

Any help, anyone? And I don't mean "Dude, get on the gear".
posted by surenoproblem at 1:30 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I expect there's some gender equity there, too, surenoproblem: I can't use diet and exercise to look like Gwyneth, either. Hollywood is the place for the winners of the genetic lottery. That said, I really am curious about the specifics, too, not that I want to look like that but because the results are clearly pretty impressive.
posted by Sequence at 2:19 AM on April 24


The problem I've seen with the action heroes nowadays (well, since the 80s, basically) is that most of them still can't do stuff. Sure, they look like my Masters of the Universe figurines, but your average Slab Bulkhead has to rely on CGI, shaky-cam and stuntmen when it comes to action scenes (and I'm not talking about Thor battling ice giants here).

Or do we have something on the level of Burt Lancaster or even the vaudevillian veterans (e.g. Gene Kelly) on the silver screens? I haven't even seen a really good fencing scene in recent years...

I guess that's the reason why martial artists rose in popularity when the big 80s heroes came out, a trend which still continues (MMA guys and gals, currently). But, well, that's a whole other coordinate set in the acting/looking/doing triangle...
posted by pseudocode at 2:28 AM on April 24


Things like this bug me for the same reason that the foray of make up into male fashion bothers me. I mean, yes, if women "have" to do something, then its only fair that men "have" to do it as well, but wouldn't it be better for us if neither felt a compulsion to do it?

That said, I can sort of see the argument that unlike society in general, being a model/actor implies that your body is somewhat a commodity, and how you look does matter. The consequences of that view seems very unpleasent, however.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:14 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


HGH and testosterone supplements are epidemic to the gay male dating world as well. It's would be easy to say "oh those bodies don't really exist, etc" except all those guys are at my gym every day and despite being in the best shape of my life I am always the most out of shape, lumpy person in the room. It also doesn't help that guys are way more blunt abut telling you this.
posted by The Whelk at 4:44 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I mean, yes, if women "have" to do something, then its only fair that men "have" to do it as well, but wouldn't it be better for us if neither felt a compulsion to do it?

I am a bit here and there, but when I read about Jackman's starvation/dehydration to get "that" look for Wolverine I was "ick" because that is so insane.
Aside from "be thin" are there similar horror tales for women in Hollywood?
I assume so.
posted by Mezentian at 4:45 AM on April 24


where it's safe to say it's difficult to find female equivalents.

Sandra Bullock is 49. That's really reaching for 'prime'. While I generally agree with you, I think there are some examples out there.


Yeah, of course there are some, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.
posted by The Michael The at 4:46 AM on April 24


I mean, yes, if women "have" to do something, then its only fair that men "have" to do it as well, but wouldn't it be better for us if neither felt a compulsion to do it?

This is an interesting point - women have more disposable income and social power in the modern day. Hollywood is just catering to the tastes of its paying demographic. For most of the past hundred years, this meant objectifying women and holding them to unreasonable standards of beauty, while male character actors were getting meaningful roles well into their fifties.

Now that it's profitable to objectify men and hold them to unreasonable standards of beauty, showbiz will do that, too. But the flip side is that Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock are big, big box-office draws because they're engaging and talented actors - women identify with and like them the way men identify with and like Paul Giamatti and Tom Hanks. More women in showbiz will have reasonable career arcs going forward, where they're not defined by their sex appeal.

So, I think we're getting closer rather than further in the aggregate.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:28 AM on April 24


What's interesting is that these "jacked" body types are not all that appealing to most women, if you look at how Hollywood and advertising target women ... the point of super-muscles is not so much to read as attractive or sexy, I think, but to read as powerful and difficult to attain. When you look at "sexy" men in advertising or media geared towards women, you see a softer or leaner look (perfume ads, 100 sexiest men, whatever). The muscles are for men in male-targeted movies.

I suppose all of this intense Hollywood focus on unattainable body types is part of what has led to the current golden age of TV dramas, as you have a much larger pool of acting talent when they don't all have to meet completely unrealistic body ideals, and you have to keep them healthy across a 22-episode season (and then several seasons), not one big-budget movie.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:32 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


Yep, very few women I know like the super jacked up body type but a lot of men I know only like that body type.
posted by The Whelk at 5:35 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Relevant.
posted by cthuljew at 5:43 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Yep, very few women I know like the super jacked up body type

I felt near revulsion when I saw one of the actors in the latest Captain America movie because there was clearly some chemical enhancement likely involved. Reports of his flying off the handle at PR events leading up to the movie's premiere pretty much convinced me. Sure it was a major role but it's sad that the actor had to do that to himself.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:52 AM on April 24


The muscles are for men in male-targeted movies.

I think this is absolutely true: Chris Evans is all about wish fulfillment for straight men. It would be interesting if they examined the moral choices of the Captain America serum in the movies, but that would be going right to the heart of the Cap mythology.

I think this is a major part of analysis that is skipped over or ignored. Gendered presentation in films (etc...) is often not for the opposite sex, but for the same (cis) gender as aspiration or wish fulfillment. Less about sex-appeal, more fashion disease. Bodybuilders and anorexic models are both firmly in this category, IMO.
posted by bonehead at 6:14 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I'm a dude though, like many guys I know, I seemed to come into the world as a natural feminist--old-school egalitarian feminist, that is. So I didn't need much convincing about most of the points.

However, I don't think I ever really understood what it was like to be female in the U.S. on this particular point--that is, being bombarded by pictures of basically unattainable more-or-less-paradigms of physical attractiveness that you naturally compare yourself to. It's not, like, some major thing in my life, but it *is* something I notice, and something that doesn't exactly make me more content...

It kind of sucks, but I think it's been kind of a good thing that guys can see what that's like. I mean, you might reasonably say that there's a mindless emphasis on symmetry that says that it's better for everyone to be less happy than it is for half of everyone to be less happy...but OTOH, if more males see what it's like that might help push us toward mitigating the problem for females...

On a related note, movies have, IMO, become utterly absurd in this respect. Commonly, even the nerd takes off his shirt at some point to strut his striking physique...couched in a context that suggests that he's embarrassed about his physical in adequacy...and rightly so by comparison to the super-hulk non-nerds in the movie... Everybody huge, bro. Even this geek. What's your problem, puny viewer?

On another fascinating note, before things went totally over the top in this respect, by my lights there was real aesthetic progress. When I was a kid, the paradigms of male beauty seemed to be guys like Burt Reynolds, hairy, undefined and physically unremarkable so far as I could tell. I remember thinking "wow, I'm sure glad I'm not a girl...I could never find that attractive." (The obvious alternative did not occur to one at the time...) When dudes started shaping up, I suddenly thought "oh, hey, I get it! Males are not inherently unattractive! I'll be damned..." Then, of course, good wasn't good enough, and now we have etc. etc...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:20 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I am 95% sure that if you gathered the Marvel leading men in a room with no reporters present, the conversation would take about three seconds to turn to swapping recipes for protein shakes and comparing workout regimes and complaining about how much they miss beer.

Which is pretty funny, if you're me, but I guess a little bit sad at the same time, because in the next room the Marvel leading ladies are probably having a very similar conversation, minus the bodybuilding.

I feel like there was a point at which non-ridiculous but reasonably attractive male bodies were the norm, and then we blew past it to this cast-of-Teen-Wolf waxed-chest craziness.

It's also interesting because while the bodies of male comic book characters are borderline achievable in real life, the bodies of female superheroes patently aren't. So at least Scarlett Johansson isn't being pressured to have a waist smaller than her thighs, a spine that bends the wrong way, and gravity-defying boobs the size of her head. Progress! Sort of!
posted by nonasuch at 6:34 AM on April 24


It's also interesting because while the bodies of male comic book characters are borderline achievable in real life

I guess we're not talking about Liefeld then (or, heck, Kirby)? But the head-to-body ratio of comic heroes is different from real world anatomy, so that kinda puts a damper on most attempts, even for the artists more grounded in realism. Or Greg Land.
posted by pseudocode at 6:44 AM on April 24


Well the central metaphor is there in the article, arms race. Do you not want to get hired cause the guy next to you is 5% more jacked? You can take a brave stand and be unemployed. Actresses have been dealing with this since ...forever, as soon as one thing becomes the norm the standards rise again cause what constitutes a high value body keeping going up. It's like ballet, no one in 1910 would expect a " banana foot" but as the pool of livable jobs for ballerinas shrinks, the standards for performance get increasingly strict and strange cause buyers market.

And in life this is complicated by the fact that working out and dieting is the one thing we all agree, as a culture, is Universally Good. It is always good to be exercising, it is always good to be watching your food, it is always good and never bad and has no drawbacks ever and it's all we should talk about ever.

At least Chris Pratt is pretty upfront about how grueling and boring it all is.
posted by The Whelk at 6:46 AM on April 24


the bodies of male comic book characters are borderline achievable in real life

What if movie Captain America had the body of comic book Captain America?
posted by Foosnark at 6:47 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid, the paradigms of male beauty seemed to be guys like Burt Reynolds, hairy, undefined and physically unremarkable so far as I could tell.

Burt Reynolds was a linebacker or something for the Florida Gators, wasn't he? Granted that was back in the 60s, well before his movie-star days. But fur aside he always seemed like a pretty muscular guy.


What's interesting is that these "jacked" body types are not all that appealing to most women, if you look at how Hollywood and advertising target women ... the point of super-muscles is not so much to read as attractive or sexy, I think, but to read as powerful and difficult to attain. When you look at "sexy" men in advertising or media geared towards women, you see a softer or leaner look (perfume ads, 100 sexiest men, whatever). The muscles are for men in male-targeted movies.

To a certain extent I think that's true, but the article goes into great depth about how many of these actors aren't going for crazy jacked but instead for lean and ripped a la Brad Pitt in Fight Club. That is a look which has definitely been appealing to the actual women of my acquaintance. And Magic Mike, another of the films mentioned, was definitely aimed specifically at women. I don't think we can get off the hook and say it's only men objectifying men in this way.
posted by Diablevert at 7:10 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have have insight into the actual programs that a trainer like Gunnar Peterson uses on his leading men (not guesses)?

Not quite what you're looking for, but Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike, Sabotage, Carnegie Mellon) put out a training book Evolution that purports to detail some of his workouts. (He says he doesn't do any steroids/HGH/etc.)
posted by inigo2 at 7:35 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Some updates after second read (and a night of sleep):

@diablevert I think the main people responsible at this point are the people who cast films. But they're definitely drawing from a larger cultural change/vibe.

@foosnark Rob Liefeld is terrible. But, to your point, most comic heroes these days are drawn to ridiculous IFBB HGH monster proportions. Liefeld is still terrible though.

@thewhelk I too am a gay and yes, there is plenty of gear in the gay world. Gay men probably get the worst of it in terms of male body-image marketing, what with the internalization of the male gaze and everything (i.e. men are pigs, if you're a man you know exactly how predatory other men are, then you project that perception onto how you think you look). Guess you gotta stick with the bears? Not that that will keep you out of the woods (badly chosen metaphor) but IME they're more down with natural physiques.

@surenoproblem Sad to say if you don't have the genetics to be a leading man it doesn't matter who your trainer is. You can always put on more muscle, and any of the old-school 5X5 programs (Reg Park, Strong Lifts, SS, etc) are a great way to get started. But most of what makes a movie star, pro BBer, elite athlete is genetic. Hard work is also involved (sometimes/usually), but even with the best training & drugs, your average joe would look remarkable but extra-in-300-level at best (on camera, anyways).

Notes on the article:

The author is a true jabroni. Putting testosterone in a different category from other "synthetic" steroids is stupid. If you're pinning it into your butt, it's exogenous, it has a different carbon isotope ratio from your endogenous testosterone, guess what? You're on fucking steroids. Period. Dude has bought into the bullshit of so many lifters who'll say "yeah I'm not running anything right now" but if you dig a little deeper they'll turn around and say "well I'm cruising on 300mg of test per week but that's not really on on, you know?"

Re: HGH. HGH (and precursors/peptides like GRP6, IGF1, CJC, etc etc) is a bit weird because it has 3 main (alleged) uses.
1) in smaller doses it helps connective tissue and general recovery.
2) in slightly larger doses it can help retain muscle mass on a caloric deficit.
3) in ridiculously high doses, especially when combined with insulin (and the right genetics), it creates freaks like this.
There's some controversy among gear users, some who swear that HGH burns fat in higher doses, others who swear it doesn't. The use of it to spare muscle during big caloric deficits seems pretty widespread, which isn't exactly the same as fat-burning but in the end has a similar effect.

Then there's other stuff these guys are probably using, fat burners like clenbuterol, T3, etc etc. Not quite steroids, definitely PEDs. There's also diuretics that BBers will use and I'm sure for some "extra ripped scenes/photography" some of the on-camera talent in various aesthetics-heavy industries use to get the driest possible look.

In terms of the general culture: what disappoints me about articles like this is that there is an arms race out there in terms of aesthetics, and the fuel (or weapons, to stretch the metaphor) is PEDs (mostly steroids, some HGH, other substances). There's an intelligent discussion to be had about this stuff, and you can see parts of it in movies like Bigger Stronger Faster. Part of what's bullshit about the whole culture of selling people unattainable bodies is that it's a product of
1) genetically gifted individuals
2) photoshop/aftereffects/photographic trickery and
3) STEROIDS (& associated physique-enhancing PEDs).
Especially when you get into the supplement/workout/"fitness" industry, so many people's sales pitch is "use this thing that I'm selling and you can look just like me!" while omitting just how much gear they're on (not to mention the fact that how they look in a photoshoot is probably not reflective of how they look year round. Just check Arnold - still cruising strong - in his off-season).
posted by faceattack at 7:48 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


To a certain extent I think that's true, but the article goes into great depth about how many of these actors aren't going for crazy jacked but instead for lean and ripped a la Brad Pitt in Fight Club. That is a look which has definitely been appealing to the actual women of my acquaintance.

Yup, this isn't massive, bulky bodybuilding, this is fit and lean - ripped, not bulked. (The "swimmer's build" is how an artist I know who illustrates all her male characters thus describe it to me.) That look has a definite appeal to many, many women I know, where the Arnold/Stallone beefy build is a turn-off. (Same artist seems to equate fat and hypertrophic, which is weird to me as a guy.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 AM on April 24


I believe /fit/ calls it "ottermode".
posted by cthuljew at 8:00 AM on April 24


The article is saying that people aren't on steroids all that much anymore, that they're using HGH instead

I suppose the better term would be "performance enhancing drugs". Testosterone is a steroid, though I guess in these trainers' minds they're not grouping it in the same category as Dianabol or Anadrol.

What's interesting is that these "jacked" body types are not all that appealing to most women, if you look at how Hollywood and advertising target women ...

I dunno. I know a lot of women (including myself) who were very much a fan of Thor/Captain America/Falcon with their shirts off, and Magic Mike was specifically geared towards women.
posted by schroedinger at 8:07 AM on April 24


Dude has bought into the bullshit of so many lifters who'll say "yeah I'm not running anything right now" but if you dig a little deeper they'll turn around and say "well I'm cruising on 300mg of test per week but that's not really on on, you know?"

Heh, I love this rationale. Along with the guys who hit 28 and run to the doctor for "supplements" for their "low test levels".
posted by schroedinger at 8:12 AM on April 24


schroedinger: "I dunno. I know a lot of women (including myself) who were very much a fan of Thor/Captain America/Falcon with their shirts off"

No true Scotswomen...
posted by Bugbread at 8:13 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


But the bottom line is: if someone makes a living from their body, pro athlete or model, you can bet your ass they're using gear. Once you learn how to tell the visual signs of someone's gear use, you'll be able to see it all over action films, pro sports, pornography.

The body weight exercise book Convict Conditioning Taught me two words: 'roid gut. When you juice, all your muscles body wide get all swole up, including the abdominals. Once I knew what to look for, yeah. Every big muscular guy in porn has this mad distended belly.

Re are all professional athletes juicing: watch the docu Bigger, Stronger, Faster.

Hate to break it to you, but your professional athlete buddies are juicing. How long did Lance Armstrong proclaim his innocence to the world?

They're ALL juicing, and the ones proclaiming loudest that they aren't have the really top-shelf stuff they think won't get them caught so they can keep on lying in public and cashing those paychecks.

Because your "all-natural" buddy is competing against the end of the pack, struggling their hardest to keep up and keep that paycheck rolling in. The ones who don't wanna go back to flipping burgers are gonna juice like CRAZY.

People have this kumbaya fantasy of all-natural athletes driven by noting but sweat, determination, and clean living reaching the top and smiling down on all the kiddies with a "You can do it to!" Message of inspiration from the cover of the Wheaties box.

BSF is about pulling aside the curtain on that fantasy and waking up, about what happens when the kid who tried to play it straight & work hard finds out all his supposed clean-living heros were on the juice. And how nobody cheers for the all-natural schmoe who isn't standing on the winner's podium w/ the jacked-up winners.

My hero is Jack LaLanne. Because Jack said as long as the emphasis is on winning, you're gonna have steroids.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:28 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Eugen Sandow (1867-1925). What an action hero looked like before protein shakes and 'roids.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:33 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Many people seem to approach the topic of performance enhancing drugs in a black-and-white kind of way. Coffee and aspirin are performance enhancers; plenty of athletes use caffeine, for example, and no one seems to mind that. So obviously a spectrum exists, and the issue isn't a binary one, and puritanical attitudes toward it are thus unhelpful at best.

What does that spectrum look like? It's probably related to how damaging use is to health, and how familiar (or not) the public is with the substance in question (lots of people seem to think creatine is basically a steroid b/c it sounds exotic and they are unfamiliar with it, but it's legal and safe and occurs naturally in red meat and fish and its effects aren't that dramatic anyway). I wonder how much of it is also to do with body-policing - words like "disgusting" or "freak," which inevitably surface in these discussions, carry with them the implicit statement "this person has chosen to make their body contrary to how I believe bodies should be, and that is unacceptable" - if it's not immediately pathologized ("these people are sick in the head!"). Also, I always wince when the argument turns toward "how could anyone think that's attractive" or "women don't like men who look like that" or whatever, because maybe these people aren't making these choices to please you?
posted by erlking at 8:47 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I watched No Way Out a few weeks ago while running on the gym treadmill. I was stunned at how slender Kevin Costner was.
posted by srboisvert at 8:53 AM on April 24


(also what up with "protein shake" being code-word for space-age voodoo-chemistry? I've encountered that like a million times over the years, it seems - like if you shake up some whey after your workout you are entering shady territory. Protein shakes are not a performance enhancing drug. They are a food product. Protein is, along with fat and carbohydrate, one of the three types of food energy our bodies can use. Whey protein, the basis of most protein shakes, has been around for ever. It comes from cheese-making. It's what Little Miss Muffet was eating, for goodness sake).
posted by erlking at 8:53 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much of it is also to do with body-policing - words like "disgusting" or "freak," which inevitably surface in these discussions, carry with them the implicit statement "this person has chosen to make their body contrary to how I believe bodies should be, and that is unacceptable" - if it's not immediately pathologized ("these people are sick in the head!"). Also, I always wince when the argument turns toward "how could anyone think that's attractive" or "women don't like men who look like that" or whatever, because maybe these people aren't making these choices to please you?


I see the point...though, to the extent that it's an aesthetic one, I'm not sure that it's always wrong to acknowledge one's aethetic judgments about people's bodies. Of course there are ways of doing this that make you an asshole...but it's not clear that it always does. It's also, of course, not in any way obvious that such judgments are entirely subjective. I find massively overbuilt people (I mean the way, way over-the-top ones) really, really gross. And I find it baffling that anyone would aim to look like that as an end in itself. By making an aesthetic judgment about Smith's body I am not assuming that Smith is aiming to please me any more than by making an aesthetic judgment about a tree I am assuming that the tree is aiming to please me. I can think someone has made themselves look bad without "policing" them. I don't see why my opinion should matter to them--but I do have, as they say, a right to it...

Of course in most groups there is some orthodoxy about which kinds of people you get to make aesthetic judgments about and which you don't... Places like MeFi will probably be cool with being critical about what bodybuilders do with their bodies, whereas the principles that govern discussions of other topics might naturally be extended in such a way as to make such criticism verboten... I see that point. OTOH, I don't think that it follows from the fact that we might want to be judicious about which of our aesthetic judgments about other we make public...that it is never permissible to make and share such judgments.

But I agree it's a complicated set of questions.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:02 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, protein supplements. BSF has a segment on that scam as well.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:03 AM on April 24


In "we're not gonna talk about our drug-use" circles, "protein shakes" is often code for "shitloads of drugs."

God, that one trainer in the article. "95% of my athletes are clean". Sure, buddy. That, and there's a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

Also, you don't need protein shakes to put on muscle. You just need to exercise sensibly for your goals and get your diet in order.
posted by faceattack at 9:14 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


(He says he doesn't do any steroids/HGH/etc.)

Not now perhaps. I'd bet cash money that when he first showed up on True Blood there was some kind of chemical enhancement going on. His upper body had that puffed up, cooked hot dog look. In subsequent seasons he had a more natural-looking physique, like ASkars.

I watched No Way Out a few weeks ago while running on the gym treadmill. I was stunned at how slender Kevin Costner was.

He was only 32 at the time (1987). Are today's naval officers required to be more buff?
posted by fuse theorem at 9:17 AM on April 24


Also, I always wince when the argument turns toward "how could anyone think that's attractive" or "women don't like men who look like that" or whatever, because maybe these people aren't making these choices to please you?

Well, the original article was discussing aesthetic standards for leading men in movies. In which case I very much think what they're doing to their bodies is meant to please me. That's the gig they're being paid millions for, embodying a fantasy of perfection, of power and sex. I'm sure there are some people spending hours in the gym just because they like the challenge. I suspect that if all humanity was struck blind tomorrow they wouldn't have much company, because lots of people are spending that time to become more sexually desirable.
posted by Diablevert at 9:20 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Steroids in Hollywood.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:42 AM on April 24


I suspect that if all humanity was struck blind tomorrow they wouldn't have much company, because lots of people are spending that time to become more sexually desirable.

My point was moreso that sexual desirability is not an objective quality that exists outside the individual, rather that it varies hugely from individual to individual. There seems to be a tendency, in these sorts of discussions, to assume a limited and normative sexuality is the only sexuality at play, and that it should be the only one at play, and I resist that.
posted by erlking at 9:42 AM on April 24


Not now perhaps. I'd bet cash money that when he first showed up on True Blood there was some kind of chemical enhancement going on. His upper body had that puffed up, cooked hot dog look. In subsequent seasons he had a more natural-looking physique, like ASkars.

FWIW, he talks a bit in the book about what he was doing before that first season to get ready (but I don't have the book in front of me). Definitely seemed like he had a singular focus (whether that included extra stuff or not, he denies it), in part bc it was his first real gig in awhile.
posted by inigo2 at 9:46 AM on April 24


Didn't Chris Evans fuck himself up doing the "before" stage of Steve Rogers?

I saw (and laughed at) the dorito comment, but it was immediately followed by a bunch of posts drooling over male TV stars with a variety of body types-- still conventionally attractive but showing a fair amount of variation in height, muscularity and scruffiness. They might not be action movie stars, but there are jobs for actors outside the ridiculous shoulder width set. Few women have that luxury.
posted by NoraReed at 9:55 AM on April 24


also what up with "protein shake" being code-word for space-age voodoo-chemistry?

It's usually due to the shaker-bottle, which is indeed used to shake up protein shakes from mix - and also creatine, which it turns out is harmless and effective. And caffeine-creatine-HMB mixes for energy which is also mostly harmless, and ephedra when caffeine isn't doing it, which is less harmless. And there are walls and walls of supplements in powder-mix form at the GNC, some of which are clearly designer drugs skirting the law or marketed as such, and packets and packets of stuff that ain't even skirting the law from significantly less savory sellers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:56 AM on April 24


NoraReed, that was mostly CGI, not drugs.
posted by bonehead at 10:02 AM on April 24


Also good to NB that for you Yankees (I'm up in Canada where supplement laws are much more stringent), there are often over-the-counter supplements which are basically steroids.

e.g. Mark McGuire's fave Androstenedione, I think there are some places you can still get M-Drol/Superdrol OTC? And then there was that Craze pre-workout shit that it turned out was kinda like meth. Sometimes they get banned and yanked, sometimes they don't.

So there may be some actors - not always the brightest in the bunch (and people who use PEDs aren't typically scholarly) - who might be buying stuff OTC and saying "I'm not on steroids! I'm just using these pills I bought on the internet! That's OK, right?"
posted by faceattack at 10:21 AM on April 24


My point was moreso that sexual desirability is not an objective quality that exists outside the individual, rather that it varies hugely from individual to individual. There seems to be a tendency, in these sorts of discussions, to assume a limited and normative sexuality is the only sexuality at play, and that it should be the only one at play, and I resist that.

Human sexuality is a rich tapestry, desire a complicated thing, and, you know, Rule 34. The Human Dorito or "ottermode" as alluded to above are not the only looks people find desirable. But every culture has its aesthetic ideals, the look that aligns with what most people find desirable. Greek gods, Roman gladiators, Igbo heads, Rubens paintings, Gibson girls. It's silly to pretend that it doesn't exist, when it's so powerful in shaping people's hopes and dreams --- and expectations of each other.
posted by Diablevert at 10:27 AM on April 24


Not to mention biology, which is even more important. Not to mention other stuff that probably transcends biology, even--e.g. considerations of symmetry, proportion and harmony.

Still, despite all the similarity, there's a lot of disagreement.

Which is cool.

Though I suppose I should be all ironically critical and stuff, this conversation has just made me resolve to get more serious about my workouts... Kinda wish there was a place to get advice from MeFites on this...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 11:33 AM on April 24


Kinda wish there was a place to get advice from MeFites on this...

Fuck it, I'll have a go with the caveat that we're talking nerd-fit here, not leading man-fit:
>15" cold flex biceps and sub-12% bodyfat are easily achievable well into your 40s without killing yourself even if you come from a traditionally endomorphic family.

My current regimen is 90 minutes of lifting every 3 days, an hour of cardio one of the other two, and some light abs work on my day off if I feel like it (abs are not about bulking). 2 protein shakes on lift day, 1 for cardio. Optimum Nutrition is one of the few whey companies not lying their ass off and I recommend their "Gold Standard 100%" (actually 63%) Whey. Body Fortress is absolute shit (~40%) but comes with so many useful additives (Creatine, BCAAs) that I 50/50 the two. Otherwise my diet is mostly lean meat (chicken/turkey), veggies, and candy to cover any psychological fallout. Macro nutrient target is a fairly typical 30-35% protein, 45-50% carbs, and 20% fat. Here's my basic nutrition spreadsheet which implements the Harris-Benedict equation for both men and women. Includes a protein-intake warning if you're approaching hurting yourself based on the input values, although the danger can be mitigated with good hydration (which, naturally, runs counter to looking cut).

I have - once and briefly following an absolutely brutal breakup - achieved something bordering the Brad Pitt in Fight Club look (sub-7% bodyfat without significant muscle loss). My regimen back then was insane, based on dangerous ignorance of nutrition, and frankly made me feel like shit. I would not recommend it to anyone whose livelihood does not involve taking their shirt off on-camera.

99% of us do not need anything beyond the aforementioned target of 15" biceps and sub-12% bodyfat to receive a steady stream of unprompted (and highly motivating!) compliments. It's just not that hard to do when compared to what any remotely-correlating woman is required to put herself through - my marathon-runner girlfriend was kind enough to tell me in plain English that she likes some muscle on her nerd, and I feel like I owe her that much at the very least. It's literally nothing next to what she puts herself through, even if that's not for my benefit.
posted by Ryvar at 12:29 PM on April 24 [16 favorites]


I've been thinking that the tendency to push body types like this - men have to be more and more built up, women skinnier and skinnier - is actually a product of illusion of control. The sucess of a film (or tv show, clothing line, advertising campaign) is based on so many factors that it's actually almost impossible to reliably predict which ones are going to be a hit. What is the audience responding to? the actors? the plot? the makeup or clothes? the cinematography? release date? something else? Some of those things are very hard to quantify - is there a graph you can draw up that shows if you have a good story? not really. So producers focus on the things that they can control like the appearance of the actors, or number of explosions, thinking that those are the things that will make money for their movie, and lose track of the factors that they can't pin down. So we end up with a lot of dumb movies where everything explodes starring alien-looking humans, which then do poorly, so the next film must have more! explosions! I actually worked on a film once that the producers insisted had to be cut down to a certain specific length, to the minute, because they had had another film be very successful at that length, so they had to do it again. which is insane! Do audiences really like their actors to look that way? does it really influence how well it will do at the box office? hard to know, but like a gambler that throws the dice harder when they want to roll higher numbers, by god they are going to try.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:46 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Fuck it, I'll have a go with the caveat that we're talking nerd-fit here, not leading man-fit


Holy crap, dude. Thanks!

Nerd-fit is the really the best I can reasonably hope for...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:53 PM on April 24


Depressing on so many levels.

I found it elevating. I like things that involve the human physique at a pinnacle, be it Olympic sport, dance, or Hollywood beautification. It's something I aspire to in myself but long ago decided the price (in time and sacrifice) was something I would only meet part-way and enjoy the not-pinnacle results. And... not very far towards part-way either :)

I already knew that the regime necessary for a Hollywood body was a lot more sacrifice than it was worth to me, but I didn't appreciate just how costly and faked and destructive it is to create the illusion that those bodies exist. This article made me feel that the decisions I've made were even better than I realized, and that even the actors who pay such a massive price never really gain those physiques (because to me, being able to obtain that look for just a few minutes for the shot, and even then only for a few unsustainable days before reality rapidly catches up... that isn't attaining a physique in any sense that would be meaningful to me in my non-immortalised-in-film life)

I like that Hollywood works so hard to present humans at their physical peak, and I like that the cost to do so is out of my reach, because it means I don't have to wonder if I should be setting my aspirations based on what Hollywood achieves :)
posted by anonymisc at 3:13 PM on April 24


They touch on some dangers of HGH (and steroids), without mentioning what would bother me - if you're accelerating your cell growth, but your cells can only divide a limited number of times before reaching the telomeric limit (whereupon you die of old age), then surely using the stuff is prolonging youth by stealing from the good years of later life?

What is the expected (or observed?) results of that? Does it mean you end up as fragile at 70 as you otherwise would have been at 90? Is it more like five or ten years instead of 20? Does it mean dying young of heart disease? Arnold Schwarzenegger still seems healthy.
posted by anonymisc at 4:03 PM on April 24


If one is interested in the male human body pumped to INSANE levels of strength and size (and the toll that kind of work takes on a person), check out Vice's The Giants of Iceland
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:17 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, dude. Thanks!

Happy to help!

Further reading.

My spreadsheet is basically just the formula the first link walks you through, but there's a ton of additional & essential nutrition understanding in those posts.

They touch on some dangers of HGH (and steroids), without mentioning what would bother me - if you're accelerating your cell growth, but your cells can only divide a limited number of times before reaching the telomeric limit (whereupon you die of old age), then surely using the stuff is prolonging youth by stealing from the good years of later life?

This is specifically why I have a somewhat lower-cardio approach to fitness; if we're all just slow-burning chemical fires, fanning the flames of a high metabolic rate seems like a bad idea.
posted by Ryvar at 4:39 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


The long-term effects of steroid & HGH use are still question marks. There aren't a whole lot of epidemiological studies out there on their long-term effects, and their legal status makes doing that sort of work difficult.

Generally speaking, if you carry around a lot of muscle mass your heart is going to have to work harder, and so some sort of cardiovascular malfunction further down the line is probably more likely. This is increased in populations that use both steroids and party drugs which are hard on the ticker: witness the number of former pro-wrestlers and bodybuilders who die in their early 50s.

Arnold is an interesting example of someone who used steroids from an early age and throughout his life who is still doing relatively well - he had heart surgery in 1997, but I don't know if that was for a congenital defect or not. Also, he's had plenty of kids - even some unintended ones. One of the worst-case side-effects of anabolic steroid use/abuse is infertility. Certainly looks like he dodged that bullet.

In terms of HGH, probably better to look at Stallone. I bet Arnold is probably using a bit of it, but Sly is an absolute monster on the stuff. Even though both have had plastic surgery done, Stallone almost looks like a completely different person from who he was in his 20s: his forehead and jaw have kept growing, a telltale sign of HGH abuse.

In terms of long-term effects, it's hard to tell. Most of the knowledgeable sources I've heard talk about anabolic use equate its effect on mortality to be somewhere between drinking or smoking cigarettes - and much of that depends on your genetics. I believe the effects of HGH are a bit more of a question mark, though it gets used in "anti-aging clinics".

In terms of the wider question of longevity, life-extension types usually cite studies of mice who are underfed and tend to endorse lower calorie (and, subsequently, lower activity-level) lifestyles to optimize their lifespans. So the converse of that would by implication be sensible: burn it up quicker, it doesn't last as long.

Which all leads to the big question: what do you want to out of your life? Professional athletes are by definition unhealthy people. Even collegiate athletes have their share of injuries, which often significantly decrease their quality of life (I know I have some). Things in life that are fun and exciting tend to use up your lifespan and your body. Plenty of people I've known who have done things to shorten their lifespans look at it as using up "diaper years" - if you can live out some fantasies while you're younger at the expense of what will (in their view) most likely be lower-quality years at the end of your life, that's a cost-benefit tradeoff that some are willing to make.

And there's always the biggest question mark of all: there are no extra points for the ultra-lean vegan who gets hit by a bus at 32. There's always the stories of the teetotaling jogger who keels over of a random heart attack at 43, and the whisky-guzzling chain-smoking grandpa who lives into his 90s. It's hard to tell exactly how many years we have. So some people look at the odds - not always closely - and just figure YOLO (&etc).

Of course, that can lead to abusing anabolics and cocaine and other dirty party shit and being hospitalized for multiple heart attacks before you're 25. YMMV.
posted by faceattack at 10:08 AM on April 25 [9 favorites]


In terms of quality-of-life maximization regarding physicality, I think there's a fairly clear set of principles that can be generally applied.

- Steroids and HGH generally are not worth it, but supplementing low testosterone may be.
- Having enough muscle, flexibility, and coordination/technique to reduce the chances of injury will definitely improve QoL. For example, knowing how to lift a heavy object properly and having it well under your maximal effort or being able to take an impact/fall.
- Pursuing muscle mass or strength levels beyond a certain point will reduce QoL. For example, pushing 400+ in a bench press is really going to increase chest and shoulder injuries.
- Maintaining flexibility and balanced strength will reduce injuries and improve QoL.
- Concentric movers should always be maintained as stronger than eccentric movers. The worst-case scenario if your concentrics are stronger is trouble fully extending a join. The worst-case scenario if your eccentrics are stronger is hyperextension and joint injury.
- Strength should never be increased rapidly - muscle can outpace ligaments, tendons and other connective tissue, leading to serious injury and potential long-term loss of QoL.
- All pursuit of physique should be done in a manner which is sustainable, non-damaging and enjoyable. You should still enjoy eating while bulking, cutting or coasting, and working out should be a pleasurable activity not simply a tortuous means to an end.
- Activities should be chosen with a proper risk-reward, considering enjoyment and potential long-term QoL loss/death. High-impact sports, barfights and motorcycles are no-go, nice cars, alpine snowboarding and hiking are great (for my personal calculations).

Or maybe I'm just an absurd Min/Maxer.
posted by Neuffy at 5:44 PM on April 26


I seem to remember an article within the last 5 years (Salon.com was it?) about how A-list leading men like George Clooney, Denzel Washington, & others in that age bracket were getting roles where they could be a bit tubbier by Hollywood standards, and was this a shift in the Zeitgeist of accepting the beefier (if a bit more insulated) leading man?

I think the verdict seems to be "No. Hit the gym silverback, because we got more 23 year olds with rippling 6-packs than we can process, at least a couple of them have to be able to act, and one of those is probably well-hung and willing to shave his junk and go all Game of Spartacus for the camera."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:00 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


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