Why elite athletes can't help you with becoming great
Plus: Bigorexia, the most enduring scam in fitness history, and a PED-less (maybe?) Batman physique. This is Links 28!
I can’t believe that GQ profiled me? I can’t believe they mentioned my newsletter, and LIFTOFF, and understood precisely what I’m trying to do with all of these things? I’m waiting to wake up from this dream, but until I do, you should check it out. The fact that the writer, wellness editor Chris Cohen, came to my house to try out a LIFTOFF workout in my little backyard gym is only scantly mentioned. But in my opinion, “on the record” works both ways. So I will disclose that his squats were lovely, AND he was sore the next day from only his 3 sets of 5 reps of the three movements (even though I told him to eat).
A few weeks ago I mentioned that it was Dinnie Stone Season in my country of origin. This week, a bunch of women attempted to lift the Dinnie stones, and 140lb Chloe Brennan actually did the damn thing!! Obsessed with this, obsessed with her kilt, obsessed with the work boots, obsessed with the multiple attempts and never giving up. Someday scientists will get to the bottom of the way that women celebrating sports achievements specifically always make me cry? I think it’s that you just don’t see women happy in that particular way hardly ever.
A post shared by Tamara Walcott 🇻🇮🇻🇮🇻🇮 Queen (@plussize_fitqueen4.0)
Another one: Icon Tamara Walcott casually deadlifted 641 pounds at the Arnold this past weekend. It’s been such a joy to see her absolutely burning up the powerlifting scene in the last few months.
Via Defector, an exhaustive and refreshingly honest 63-page PDF written by speed skater Nils van der Poel about his training regimen leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics. In this past weekend’s newsletter, I referenced Michael Phelps, and how what makes Michael Phelps Michael Phelps is not just his raw talent, it’s his capacity for all the work and discipline training takes (related: a kind Beasties Discord member linked this 1989 paper on “the mundanity of excellence” last week). And that training, as van der Poel highlights, is not just tough, but it’s monotonous; it’s lonely; it’s painful. The reasons that the determined elite athlete isn’t a fair comparison to us mortals just aBOUND, and no amount of “if you can dream it you can do it, #noexcuses, #nodaysoff” social media posts will change that. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a wide and vast middle ground of “some training” and “some eating” where we can all be happy, though, either.
This PDF also caused Defector to harken back to David Foster Wallace’s essay on sports memoirs, which includes the following passages:
“This breathtakingly insipid autobiography can maybe help us understand both the seduction and the disappointment that seem to be built into the mass-market sports memoir... Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison based achievement we Americans revere—fastest, strongest—and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way.
We want to get intimate with that profundity. We want inside them. We want the Story... However seductively they promise, though, these autobiographies rarely deliver... Great athletes usually turn out to be stunningly inarticulate about just those qualities and experiences that constitute their fascination.”
I want to dig in deeper here because I think this applies not just to talented athletes, but any highly visible object of admiration: a super-lean influencer, a suddenly-muscular celebrity. I have a couple theories about this, extremely briefly: The point DFW makes is essentially that it’s tough to be both a great athlete AND a great writer. Correct.
But also, great athletes just have no real, meaningful-to-us sense of what it’s like to be SO different from us, the rabble, because they have never been any other way. They are so much more selected by the system than we or they realize. It is a bit like trying to mentally, logically comprehend the size of the universe. In these dimensions, one person is not really like any other; there is a long, long, long tail of people behind them who are many varying degrees of less successful in that dimension. In reality, we all fall somewhere in that tail, but we often don’t understand how big that tail is, or what our reasonable mobility within the tail is.
What we want to know really is how we can be like them, but in a way that is achievable, because we in America are married to a no less than Horatio Alger level of meritocracy.1 We want it to be possible not only that any given person can aspire to any given thing, but for a thousand more gifts to bloom from that first gift, and make themselves available for leverage. Bless the sports memoir, because it disproves this very thing: Elites are fundamentally different from the rest of us, and only in the specific dimension of their greatness. And that’s okay! It doesn’t make them better people fundamentally, and as DFW points out, it doesn’t make them better with money or more sensible or more worthy of love. We deeply desire for an athlete’s greatness at tennis to have relevant lessons for us; they simply don’t. That is and should be fine for all involved. But it’s important to not mistake “potential for absolute greatness” with how valuable (and life-changing!) our individual efforts can be.
What subscribers got last week: One of my top activities in this newsletter is railing on the concept of weight loss, because it by and large doesn’t work (not for reasons of motivation or willpower, but because the way it’s designed to work specifically biologically undermines us!). And yet here I am, on my own “cutting” journey to lose body fat. How does one reconcile these two things, or more broadly, reconcile wanting one’s body to change with still liking oneself? If one is interested in these topics of one, one might be interested in reading this post.
International Women’s Day social media posts are for the birds, BUT I really really loved Rogue’s post featuring Mattie Rogers, Tia-Clair Toomey, Tamara Walcott, Kim Walford, and a bunch of other really amazing women.
This king followed women influencers’ “booty” workouts for 8 months and has the damn wagon to prove it! (As always, beware other people’s results online; I just admire the blithe disregard for genderedness.)
~Discord Pick of the Week: From surprisingly not the people who brought you “is a hot dog a sandwich?” we give you: most foods are salads.~
You may not like it, but this is what the peak male athletic form looks like.
What you guys are forgetting, is my life is better than yours.
Longtime readers of this newsletter know of my barely-committed journey to someday have any delts at all. This Allen Ye superset actually looks kind of promising.
Followers of my IG stories already know about this but big-time not-even-a-recipe protein food rec: Slap Ya Mama seasoning in cottage cheese. Eat it just like that or put it on toast. Game changer.
The men and boys of social media are plagued with bigorexia. I find it interesting how long this piece is, and yet,
Mentions of steroids: 1 (in a nearly unrelated study citation, and nearly in the same breath as the stupid-but-mostly-harmless trend of dry-scooping pre-workout, as if they are even remotely the same thing).
Mentions of performance enhancing drugs generally: 0.
Interesting, because the piece namechecks Greg Doucette, whose characteristic attribute (well, one of them) is candid discussions of PEDs. Any commentator on the fitness scene right now will tell you that PED use is rampant, and not even just among the biggest people out there; PEDs keep you shredded too, which means any guy under 10% body fat or woman under 15% body fat could be feasibly be juicing. Candid discussion is different than condemnation; if anything Doucette and lots of guys like him normalize and encourage PED use. But it’s strange to talk about how desperate guys are feeling about not being muscular or lean enough, and not talk about the role of PEDs not at all. Here’s a classic rundown of the pros and cons. But let it be said, if everyone were aware of fewer things like anything with the hashtag #teenbodybuilding, and more things like this newsletter, I admit I’m biased, but I think the world would be a better place.
Somewhat related: quotes from new Batman Robert Pattinson sparked discussion about whether he deliberately chose not to take steroids. His physique, no shade, suggests yes. (In 2020 he told GQ that, essentially, James Dean never had to do this shit, and right you are, Robert Pattinson.) He did say he engaged in other semi-dangerous muscle-definition-forward behaviors like not drinking water for long stretches of time in order to appear leaner. What works against him is that lying, especially to reporters while on press tours, is one of Pattinson’s all-time favorite hobbies. I mention this less to judge than to highlight the possible folly of taking anything he says at face value. Anything could be true!
A strange thing is that MorePlatesMoreDates made a whole video on Pattinson where he very nearly commended Pattinson for not giving into the PED rat race that Marvel stars et al. all conform to now; then he made the video private. (Perhaps he heard about the lying.) Greg Doucette made a reaction video where you can see evidence of the MPMD one. If you know more, please get in touch.
The most enduring scam in fitness history is, yes, body-weight exercises.
Another International Women’s Day bright spot: the sheer number of vapid social media posts that got deleted once the Gender Pay Gap Bot quote tweeted them with the company’s pay disparity between genders.
I often wake up around 3 AM for a few hours, and one night this week, I woke up to this post about a “bizarre alien looking creature” on reddit, where the guy filming the video was poking a weird shiny blob with a stick. I opened it expecting answers about what the blob was, and instead got dozens of comments like this one that made me cry laughing about how this guy doesn’t know how to operate a stick. I thought perhaps it was a vagary of my mindset at the time, or it being 3 AM, but now I’m laughing at that comment all over again, so let me know if I’m losing my mind or not.
We started watching The Tourist this week; excellent mystery series.
Why it all feels like too much.
That’s all for this week! I’ve received word these emails are cutting off, and I’m striving for that not to happen. I love you for reading this every so slightly shorter newsletter; thank you; let’s go—
meritocracy, a word made up literally for the purpose of satire that, over the course of time, people started just using straight and without a trace of irony! What a bonkers thing to happen.