I grew up reading FLEX magazine. I know bodybuilding gets a lot of hate from the functional fitness crowd, but I going to put it out there that for 99% of people, looking strong is just as important as being strong. There’s a reason why booty shorts, sports bras and “skin it to win it” exists, and it’s not to “increase work capacity across broad times and modal domains”.
Anyway, a teenager reading bodybuilding magazines signals the beginning of his ascent into Manhood. Tribes in Africa have rites of passage that involve ritualized scarring, burning, and other things that will nearly kill you. Here in America, pubescent boys do bicep curls and read magazines full of huge, veiny dudes wearing man-thongs.
In FLEX, about every three pages or so there’s a full page ad for “legal steroids”. Stuff like this:
The schtick is that this pills are almost kinda maybe like actual steroids because the company gave them names that are just a letter or two different from real steroids. Anavar, testosterone, winstrol, and clenbuterol are all steroids (and illegal) but these supplements are almost kinda maybe like like those because, like, just look at the spelling.
A couple letters different is probably like two molecules different, so they must be, like, pretty much the same thing.
Even sound the same.
Let’s assume they work (they don’t, but I’m setting up a literary device here, so go with me). Just like actual steroids, along with the positives come the possibilities of some pretty serious negatives.
Somehow these businesses manage to deceive people into dropping $200 for substances that carry hefty cost/benefit consequences using ads that are blatant lies.
And people still buy them.
People will say the allure of PEDs come from the possibility of money, fame, ultimate achievement, etc. But I think the pull of PEDs is people’s insatiable desire for progress.
We want to be better at our jobs, our relationships, our hobbies. Not just be good, but always becoming better.
To always become better, we need to always make progress.
Framing this as feeding the addiction to progress, it easy to see why drugs are the *ahem* drug of choice. Regardless of consequence or effectiveness, they make people feel like they are making more progress faster and that is a powerful, powerful thing.
To the point, I’m not selling you drugs. But I will say that I see two very legal PEDs being used and misused almost every day in my gym. Chances are good that if you take a careful look at the people at your gym, most of them are using them correctly and incorrectly, too.
Just Tell Me What the Drugs Are So I Can Buy Them Already
Have you ever been frustrated? I’m not talking about being annoyed, or perturbed, or inconvenienced. I’m talking about the blind rage of being hopelessly stuck, confused, or disappointed. The kind of frustration that makes you unable to think about anything else, the obsessive rush that makes people punch walls and slash tires and burn down houses.
Said another way, the kind of frustration that gives focus and energy.
A focus and energy that you didn’t already have.
You might say….a performance enhancer.
It comes concealed in a negative and uncomfortable emotion, doesn’t cost $200, doesn’t come in a bottle, or have a chemically-sounding name.
But frustration gives us the focus to know what needs to happen, and the energy to make it happen.
But just like our steroids/pseudo-steroids, along with the good comes the possibility of the bad.
Being frustrated with a bad workout, a bad day, or an unsuccessful cycle can add reps to a score or weight to the bar. It can lead someone who always gets beat to begin to refuse to be beaten. Watching someone who’s “had enough” get under a bar and win is one of the best battles you can witness.
But the frustration can also lead us into a blind panic. Everything is wrong, nothing is right, all weights are heavy, I am always to slow. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE BETTER RIGHT NOW OR I’M GOING TO BE VERY UPSET.
This is trying to use a shotgun to get a headshot from three miles away. The gun packs a punch, but there isn’t any energy left by the time it gets to the target (if it gets there at all).
Frustration can cut through the crap and get to the answer, which is usually something like, “you’re not working hard enough.” You’re simply not giving enough effort in and/or outside the gym. Sometimes it’s the force that allows you to make necessary changes – you need to go back to basics, refine technique, improve your mindset, reevaluate your goals, get a new coach, etc. This can be the catalyst for the most epic progress of your life.
It can also lead to despair. I’ll never be good, be better. This isn’t worth it. I can’t work any harder.
All this self-talk leads to a loss of effort, a loss of love and eventually…..we quit.
Frustration is a giant chainsaw of gainz. It can cut down a tree and you will be a lumberjack or it will cut your arm off and you will die a slow, agonizing death in the woods alone. It will take a great deal of mindful practice to know how to wield it, especially in the moment, and a great deal of consistent practice to make using it in a positive way a habit.
Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics had an awesome quote about this yesterday on Facebook:
Being pissed off that you’re not doing as well as you want to be is not the same thing as having the motivation and will to do what it takes to improve.
Are you pissed off? Great. Are you lazy? You’re screwed.
Frustration is a powerful drug, as long as it comes with the focus, energy, motivation and will to turn it into progress.