Friday, May 9, 2014

Dammaged View: Fitness Hipster

While talking about developing a wellness committee in the office, a co-worker called me a "fitness hipster".  You know, someone who says they did something before it was cool?  This of course, faux-infuriated me beyond belief and I had to go into Credible Hulk mode. Working out is one of those weird things, to me, you either have it or you don't.  In the office, it has to be non-threatening so small steps like learning how to sit Ergonomically, doing some stretches, getting up from your desk and taking the stairs or some quick body weight exercises so no one feels ostracized or self conscious.  Not everyone is inspired by Arnold or Van Damme and that's just fine.  I was a chubby, awkward youth and wanted to change.  Thanks to guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane and a supportive high school coach/teacher, I hit the weights after school three times a week along with some Tae Kwon Do lessons.  In high school you're just lifting blind, doing what the football and track coach tells you to do with no plan for eating or progression.  In college, I had nothing but time.  Seriously, the first two years of college are a joke, if you have time to underage drink, you have no excuse for not being in shape as well.  Anyway, I started reading more about nutrition and work out plans from the greats and started to refine my methods.  In time of course, I gained strength and lost weight, easy as that.

I've always liked lifting weights but working out regularly gave me a stigma.  I was the weird guy who woke up before 7:00 AM to go to the gym and had inspirational pictures of Arnold and Van Damme around instead of some half naked woman which made some people think I liked guys.  There's nothing wrong with liking dudes, I just love women and can appreciate other men.  That's called being evolved.  When I moved to L.A., the steroid jokes started to come out and I didn't really know how to take them.  I've never used anything more than whey protein regularly.  No fat burners, no creatine, no cell volumizers, no nothing.  Why?  Because I was poor as shit and I've never been close to making money off of being in shape so why get on a bunch of stuff then have to deal with the emotional and physical stress of coming off later?  That's what happens to "steroid" users, their ego and self confidence balloons with their inflated muscles then crashes when they come off.  It's basically a lion versus a house cat mentality.  As you get older you realize people are jealous so they try to cut you down.  But thanks to the examples from JCVD, Arnold and Zane, I've learned how to handle it.  From Jean-Claude: believing in yourself, knowing your body and who you are.  From Arnold, the same things but also, how to throw ANYTHING back in people's face, with a smile of course so they can't call you a jerk.  Zane's calming poetry and outlook on training proposes a symmetrical approach that goes up and down with the seasons, reminds us that the body needs time to recuperate and that nobody, no actor, athlete or whoever is in shape all the time.

One of the ideas for promoting office wellness was a group Mud or Spartan Run, you know those weekend warrior events where you get a tee shirt after completing an obstacle laden course?  That sounded fine to me but I wouldn't be participating.  Why not?  Because I don't train so I can wear a t-shirt to work on Monday that loudly proclaims I train.  Asked to expound on that and I explained how since say 2006's 300 and the rise of Crossfit and Mud Runs, fitness is just in your face now.  People who Crossfit are fanatics about it and make sure you know they do it.  A guy who did a Spartan Race wore his unwashed, still creased, completion award shirt to work on Monday.  Me?  I don't need this kind of validation.  I do things because I want to and could give a shit if someone else likes it or approves.  Then there's a "whole life" challenge going on the office as well that basically tells you can't have X, Y and Z but I haven't heard what you can have which is the problem with most diets, they're exclusion based and more about a quick fix than a long term solution or lifestyle.

There was an interesting article on Men's Journal recently talking about the need for leading men to be in shape these days.  From the ads for Arrow showing off a shirtless Stephen Amell to Hugh Jackman being allergic to shirts during Wolverine to Russell Crowe Tweeting his workouts, being Hollywood fit is now nearly a requirement for leads young and old.  During 2004's The Punisher, Thomas Jane had to punch a card that showed he attended a training session to get his full salary.  Former schlubby funny man Chris Pratt basically changed the course of his career by getting in shape to play a NAVY Seal in Zero Dark Thirty which helped him land the lead in Marvel's latest big budget offering Guardians of the Galaxy, due out in August.  Same for Taylor Lautner who was about to get recast in the Twilight saga before packing on the muscle and got paid for another four flicks.  Naturally fit Ryan Reynolds went from comedy to action sidekick when he beefed up for shitfest Blade:Trinity and Wolverine before landing the lead in Green Lantern (I like Reynolds but maybe he should reassess a little, those are three horrible movies).  Messrs Chris Evans and Hemsworth's muscles always get their moment in Captain America and Thor while part of the marketing campaign hinges on these easily exported fresh faces, pumped up physiques and huge, explosion filled, dialog free action set pieces.

But what is it about this crop of "skinny mass" leading men that helps them land plum roles but not fat paychecks?  Rich back end deals are reserved for sure bets like Robert Downey, Jr. while many of the Avengers are left in the cold.  There are plenty of famous faces today but not many movie stars.  Back in the 80's and 90's, Arnold and Stallone commanded huge sums upfront AND got a piece of the back end deal.  Arnold famously received a slightly used private jet worth $14 million bucks as part of his salary on Terminator 2 while Stallone's FIRST divorce cost him $12 million in the mid-80's.  Van Damme turned down a $36 million dollar/3 picture deal with Universal because he was burnt out and wanted to make Jim Carrey money.  Not only were they stars in America but worldwide, where 1/2 to 2/3 of grosses awaited, they were even bigger.  Arnold, Stallone, Van Damme and Steven Seagal had their own cottage industry of action films based on their physical derring-do and for the first three, their action star physiques created from boxing, weights and karate helped spark a new masculine ideal while instigating a new fitness and martial arts craze.  As I've explained their appeal many times, a joke written for American audiences can fall flat in other countries but a punch to the face is a punch to the face anywhere you go.  Not that I'm calling Stallone, Arnold and Van Damme ahead of their time or luminaries, but yeah, you can basically say that since the rest of the business has finally caught up to their understanding of foreign markets, self branding and using their muscles to help sell their cinematic badass skills.

After 300's success, WB's next foray into the swords, sandals, sand and sorcery genre was 2010's Clash of the Titans.  Star Sam Worthington refused to work out extra for the role stating that he was only being paid for one job, transforming his body would be a second undertaking and thus require additional compensation.  The movie's watchability didn't suffer from any lack of shirtless scenes and did nearly $500 million worldwide.  So while we're once again in this fitness and film craze, as usual, when it comes to Hollywood, nobody knows anything.  And when it comes to your own personal fitness, set goals and work towards them.  Don't worry about the latest fad those Don'ters are doing because they'll probably forget about it by tomorrow.

Do muscles really make the man?  Not at all.  Working out is a form of body armor.  People who get into training are usually shy and insecure and use the muscles as a visual defense mechanism to hide internal fears.  But through constant training, self confidence is born and you have now become a better, more well rounded person.  Sometimes, being in such good shape highlights how not tough or bland some of these guys are.  Arnold was a funny, charismatic bodybuilding champion while romantic dreamer Van Damme used karate, weights and ballet to make himself unique but what does Vin Diesel do?  Grunt and fix cars?  Stephen Amell is in terrific shape and plays a nice guy extremely well but his tough guy, hero voice and acting leaves much to be desired.  It's easy to forget but important to remember that our bodies are just an envelope and it's up to you to fill the contents.

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