A Day At The Arnold

In winter, one can fall into a seasonal affective disorder funk. If not a full mood, the grey skies can remove the pep in the step of any gym rat. If one were to look for inspiration, one could do no better than attend the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio.

The Arnold Classic is billed as a sports festival, but it is more like lifting prom. It is a multi-day event, but one can enjoy the energy and find inspiration with just a single day pass. The positive vibes begin to flow as you get closer to the convention center. Outside the Arnold statue stands with anywhere from five to fifty people waiting to pose along with the legend in bronze. Entering the main convention space, the energy hits you like a wall. You smile because you know this is a room of people all sharing one goal: getting fit.

Lifting prom is a fair description because like a prom, people have lifted and worked out to look their best for the event. No matter the temperature the outfits will look all alike. There is a video game element to it where a customize your character mode has made it so women all come in spandex pants with a crop or tank top and the only alteration is skin tone and hair color. Men are wearing the athletic cut t-shirts to show off their hard work. Everyone is carrying some bag or buying something quickly to have a bag to shove the free samples into as they cruise the floor.

This is a missed point in American clothing as the t-shirts sold at the convention are all athletically cut to highlight v-taper physiques, which was standard American cut until our obesity epidemic began. If you grab your dad or grandfather’s ’70s butterfly collar shirts, you will notice the tapered cut. If you’re fit, this helps you, but sadly, America is full of misshapen men. As a fellow attendee stated, it is the polar opposite of Ohio’s anime convention where everyone is obese and avoids eye contact. Everyone at the Arnold is fit and giving head nods to one another. The communal bro energy is off the charts.

Is this to say it is a convention of gorgeous people? No, but the power is real. There are women who could crack walnuts with their muscle butts. Many women have lifted a bit too much and passed that point of good looking. If you are one of the last leg men, you can enjoy the day for the yoga and squats contingent. There are enough muscular men with acne on their neck and upper back that gives away the game. You will hear voices warped by chemicals. If you are ugly and fat, lifting can make you fit and ugly.

Is that not what this is mostly about? Some people are lifting to pursue the virtue of strength while others are following the line from American Beauty of “I just wanna look good naked“. The entire marketing pitch in muscle magazines and on websites is to lift to get the hot chick that is right next to the genetic jackpot winner buff guy right next to the tub of a new and improved supplement. Twenty years ago, Cori Nadine straddled the line to be both a fitness and Playboy model, which was adopted for some supplement advertising. It did not catch on as the aesthetics of women working out went in a different direction (and the yoga explosion), but the subtext is there in all advertising. Lifting will get you access to women belonging to a better dating pool. Everything in life is doing something to get access to better looking mates.

This plays into another element of the convention, which is the ridiculous nature of the supplement booths mix of science and sex. It is a perfect representation of Scott Adams’ idea of the Confusopoly. A confusopoly is a group of companies with similar products who confuse customers instead of competing on price and quality. Booth after booth offers the same results and similar products but wraps their product in science lingo to confuse you.

Forget the science, the marketing is classic buy new with glossy presentation. There was a booth touting the ‘half granola-half protein bar’ that I had been waiting for. I had not and neither had any of my friends, but this booth was telling me how this solved a long-standing problem in a novel way like every third booth. A lot of fitness food products have improved. Bars are palatable and even tasty. Protein mixes are far easier to drink now and mix with anything. The industry has even figured out protein cookies that taste normal. There is a lot of pizazz and splash.

I had the good fortune of walking the floor with an actual neurologist and another STEM graduate. Fun was had when one of my friends questioned a booth babe on her product’s ingredient enough to have her call in the ‘science guy’, who then was stunned to discover per my friend that his ingredient was legal in Canada but illegal in America. Free samples were given to us. Another booth said they did not use sugar in their product, but my other friend said sure, but Google ingredient eight on this label and you will see it is nutrasweet.

This year’s new con was the proliferation of CBD products. There were oils for relaxation. CBD creams for muscle aches. CBD gel roll on applicators like biofreeze (except biofreeze really works). There were at least a half dozen CBD booths with other booths also offering CBD products as part of their suite of goods. The science sounds shaky because everyone I know using CBD is a Boomer, and Boomers will buy anything with good enough marketing.

The sex adds to the confusopoly. One can see the synergy between these companies and the hordes of Instagram workout thots. There were three different egg protein or egg white protein product booths. All had different booth babes. All have had their product undermined by recent government authority declarations that egg yolks are okay again. One particular booth had fantastic packaging and spent big money on their presentation per my marketing friend who was walking the floor with me. We heard their pitch and chatted with their booth babe who was not muscular at all; just a cute, buxom brunette. She now is a 1-in-100 looking cutie but twenty years ago every sorority had a dozen like her. When we pointed out a problem with their product, she performed the squeeze ’em together and lean in soft voice explanation, which made us laugh. It did not work on me, but gave me flashbacks to dimly lit after-parties.

This does not get in the way of inspiration though. There are American Ninja and Spartan race obstacle courses for you to try. A friend sailed through the Spartan course in jeans and a t-shirt. There are double amputees walking the floor with physiques that could make BAP’s Handsome Thursday. There are dwarves with six packs. There are grey haired men with shoulders of NCAA linebackers. My group stopped and watched a one legged man pull a deadlift of 600 pounds. What is your excuse? Inspiring one beyond the visuals around every corner are the professional strongmen.

The Arnold Classic has its featured events on physiques but a growing sport is the Strongman Lifting Competition circuit. The sport has come a long way from the battery hold but the basic tests of strength remain. The training alone makes it a test of surviving the training and competition. This is a sport to watch because it enjoys tailwinds in the weightlifting industry.

The first is that pure strength is something all men can shoot for as opposed to the genetic limitations that physique training places on an individual. Genetics will limit one’s strength maximum but the idea of testing oneself each movement each year is possible. As former World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall has said, what matters is how much weight do you pull. It is not size of thighs or the shape of one’s delts, but measurable strength. There is an animal pull to the idea of just lifting a stone.

Equipment manufacturers like Rogue have realized the money to be made in catering to this crowd and less to the casual gym attendee. It is easier to sell to the obsessed specialist than the casual individual. Those equipment pieces also allow for greater margins as what other companies are manufacturing that specific equipment? This is also a consistent user of equipment compared to the spring breaker in search of the winter fix for abs season.

Helping Strongman is the star of the sport right now, Hafthor Bjornsson, whom readers may know from Game of Thrones as The Mountain. I stand 6’1″ and from eight feet away I felt short. The crowd responds to him with a pop like a pro wrestler. He swept last year’s Strongman competitions, and by the time I arrived on Saturday had a dominating lead where everyone else was fighting for second place. Bjornsson’s serendipitous first name of Thor adds to his appeal. The branding is too easy. When combined with his savvy social media use, the sport has an English speaking champion with an eye on building a fanbase. If Hollywood were not run by deviant leftists, they could remake Predator with Thor, Rob Gronkowski, Michael B. Jordan and J.J. Watt and earn a billion dollars. Thor’s rising competitors are a young American and Polish duo that promoters can build around. With equipment manufacturers churning out normie versions of the competition equipment, the fanbase can buy to create the Strongman identity.

The strongman events are odd tests of strength but the magnitude of what they are doing is always known. A new addition to the feats was turning a replica of the Wheel of Pain from the Conan film. Last year, a stone lifting event was added where a 400 pound stone had to be lifted to one’s shoulder. After several competitors failed to get it to their chest, my group wondered if anyone would lift it. As a newcomer hoisted it up with ease, the crowd realized what they were witnessing and went bonkers. After his fourth lift of the 400 pound stone, the ovation was a roar through the convention center. This was such a crowdpleaser that they moved it to primetime this year.

These are hulking men and with their strain, you understand the primal nature of the competition. Can you lift this? There is a game of chess that goes on with effort when standings are known and points can be calculated. The events are so grueling that there is strategy on going for more or saving energy for an event later in the day. Is the effort to move from 4th to 2nd in one event worth potential injury or strain that hampers a competitor in an event later that day?

My group witnessed the Austrian Oak lifting event this year. This is a 435 pound faux log that needs to be lifted from the ground, brought to the chest, pressed and held. Some competitors could not do it. Others got it up once. Each time the log is raised the crowd goes wild because all know. All know that when they get a one plate overhead press up (135 pounds) they feel it is an accomplishment. This is 435 pounds.

As the last competitor for that event, Thor knew he had to do two to tie first and if he got a third, he would win the competition there. He got the first one up so fast the crowd knew three was in reach and they responded. Thor’s second attempt went up smoothly and my group looked at each other and despite the limited time remaining for Thor, we all said, “He’ll go for a third“. Thor got the Austrian Oak to his chest and went for the third as the crowd roared. He got partially extended and then set it back down. The crowd would have to wait for the evening.

That was it for me. My group meandered to some booths we had missed and grabbed the t-shirts we wanted to get. Everyone walked out pumped and ready to tackle the 2019 lifting season. When one leaves the expo, one realizes the answer to what is your excuse is that there is none.

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