Getting Big : How body transformation is no joke

Society doesn’t seem to have much time for well-muscled people. The Ancient Greeks and Romans had all sorts of time for admiring men who valued low body-fat ratios and cannon-ball delts, but since the seventies, body builders have been derided.
The insults are pretty standard: these people are muscle-heads, obsessed freaks who work out because they have no purpose for their empty heads. At worst, they are aggressive, hyper-masculine steroid junkies.
This complex net of reactions – from admiration, to wariness, to condescension- surely has some psychological root cause, but generally speaking, the body builder is a misunderstood being.
Getting big is no joke. It takes a level of dedication that few can match. It intrudes on every aspect of life, to the extent that any given body-builder conducts him or herself in the same fashion as an elite sports person.
Arnold Schwarzenegger –body building icon, ex-governor and star of 80s blockbusters- encapsulates the effort required. When people in the past said, “I would never want a body like yours”, he would reassure them by saying: “don’t worry, you never will.”
Getting big, really big, requires research and reading on a PhD level of commitment. Diet, sleep, exercise and body knowledge are all components that must be addressed if shirts are to be torn and veins are to be popped.
All body-builders are acutely aware of the fact that getting big is 70% about diet. To build muscle, the body must enter a calorific surplus. The numbers are staggering, and also very specific. While many less dedicated lifters will ball-park it, the true dynamos will hit the exact number of daily calories with the precision of an Olympic archer on the range.
These people can be heard talking about “macros” as they munch their way through their third portion of tuna, broccoli and brown rice mush. They can take one look at a plate of food and know the precise number of calories it provides, and can even break it down into proteins, carbohydrates and fats. They seem to have some oscillating pie graph in their heads.
Choosing the right number requires a mathematic formula that accounts for age, size, weight and body type. The average male who is engaged in this body development will eat between 500 and 1000 more calories than his body requires. When we talk elite, this number can go up. Significantly.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, perhaps best known for clenching his muscles to shatter a plaster cast after a broken arm in Fast and The Furious 7, eats about 5000 calories per day.
And while eating to excess sounds like fun, The Rock has to be constantly vigilant against gaining fat. His 5000 has to be clean. He eats seven meals per day. Three of them include steamed cod. All have green, starchy vegetables.
Each day he eats about 1.5 kilos of meat. And a dozen eggs.
The Rock can afford to pay others to make and supply his meals. But there are plenty of body builders who don’t have this luxury. They can be found cooking their meals weekly, investing heavily in huge amounts of food. The time commitment is significant, and shows just how much work is required to achieve the desired results.
That other 30% is no joke either. Designing a work out programme is very involved. Another Arnoldism highlights the difficulty of this life: most gainers’ biggest problem is that they do not have a clear body goal. Body type plays a huge role in how to exercise which body part and when. Add to that the fact that the work out industry needs to constantly reinvent itself and you are faced with a daunting range of moves and approaches.
Do you pyramid your lifts, moving from light to heavy weights with ever reducing repetitions? Do you break your sets into five, four or ten?
All the different muscles have different requirements. The shoulder alone is nuts, containing a range of smaller muscle groups which require very different moves. It would seem it is not enough to just lift super heavy weights.
And this pain occurs before you even step into the gym. Once there, the time commitment is as serious as a heart attack. To achieve significant results, at least three days should include a massive gym session. Times vary from the bare minimum of 45 minutes to a couple of hours. Lifting needs to be fairly excruciating to have any real effect. Many lifting procedures require failure, meaning that the muscle is fatigued to the point where it cannot function.
Obviously pushing two 40kg dumbbells into the air until the relevant muscles can no longer hold them is a recipe for a caved in cranium, which factors in danger to the sport. For this to work, a spotter is vital. And not everyone has a friend who is committed enough to stand above a sweating and spitting, puce-coloured body builder. However, without this service, it is difficult in the extreme to make the gains.
Injury of all kinds is a constant threat. Certain joints – I am looking at you, wrists – simply cannot take the weights that the big compound (i.e. moves that require more than a single joint to move, such as the deadlift) need. Again, plenty of shoulders pop during big moves. One shoulder going puts the whole scheme in peril, as there aren’t many upper body moves that don’t need it.
There are plenty of other challenges faced by the amateur body builder beyond the expense, the logistic nightmares, the constant and mindful eating, the pain of the workouts and the risks to life and limb.
Minor ones include the difficulty of finding clothes that fit. Another is the fact that this body is not sustainable. After a couple of months off, a footballer can still kick a ball. A body builder will find their body consuming itself as the caloric surplus becomes a deficit and they deflate like a discarded balloon left at a children’s party.
These are minor inconveniences compared with some of the other dangers. Steroid abuse is real and has lasting consequences. With the pressure to make all these sacrifices tangible, many are drawn to the quick fix that comes with an injection. Less common but equally dangerous, body dysmorphia (called “biggerexia” in gyms) has been known to kill. Like anorexia, victims create an incredibly vivid mental image of what they look like, with some hugely-muscled hulk only seeing a skinny dweeb in the mirror.
Behind all the muscles, body builders are singularly determined, well-read and focused individuals. Their sacrifices should be admired for more than just the gun show and rock-hard abs.