Bodybuilding When Men Become Balloons

Pumping Iron movie suddenly made a bodybuilder man famous and dramatically changed the image of men. At the same time, a new illness developed: muscle addiction. It is men’s anorexia.

Your muscles are really plump, like your skin is going to explode every minute, and they are really plump – it’s like someone is pumping air into your muscle. It puffs up and it feels so different. It feels fantastic on.

In the Pumping Iron movie, you can watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cavernous body, which at the time was still 120 kilos, having sex with a 150 kilo barbell. “It is as satisfying as an orgasm,” Schwarzenegger describes the feeling when blood flows into his biceps, exposing his cute tooth gap. “Like having sex and coming with a woman. Can you imagine how heavenly I feel?”

Probably few men can imagine that, least of all me. When I click iron in the gym, I see it as a compulsory exercise. I enjoy it, yes, but I don’t want to have a semi-erotic relationship with the metal devices. I’m not so sure about one or the other colleague who turns into an animal on the neighboring device.

A male image beyond reality

Before 1977, sweating, screaming men with muscles like balloons were still looked at without understanding. That changed with “Pumping Iron”. The film made the then quite unknown bodybuilding world famous in one fell swoop. In the bodybuilder scene, it is considered a cult film. In the mainstream he may have been forgotten (wrongly, he is extremely entertaining and Arnold, the politician in particular, makes wonderful politically incorrect statements), but his influence should not be underestimated. He was the vanguard of “Rocky”, “Conan”, “Rambo”, “Terminator” and “Predator”, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and others created a male image that no longer had much to do with reality. So millions of men suddenly saw themselves to adjust the reality of the canvas. The billion dollar fitness industry came into being.

The new muscle fashion also spawned a new disease: muscle addiction . In the 1990s, Harvard psychologists Harrison Pope and Roberto Olivardia, along with Katharine Phillips from Brown University, came across bodybuilders who, despite their huge muscles, were still dissatisfied with their bodies . As if they were obsessed, they spent all of their time training even more muscle mountains, often with anabolic steroid support . The deeply unhappy men no longer had a private life, relationships broke up, partners and friends did not understand the obsession with the body. Often these men also had eating disorders and were very ashamed to talk about it – in their eyes it was a woman’s disease.

In fact, muscular addiction is “the anorexia of men”, as Roberto Olivardia confirmed in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE . Both ailments are based on a disturbance in the perception of your own body: anorexics still feel too fat when they are little more than a walking skeleton. Muscle-addicted 110-pound bodybuilders feel like linnets. The problem is that their suffering cannot be seen. “It is difficult for people to feel sympathy for a 110-kilo man with six percent fat – even though he is going through the same thing as an anorexic,” says Olivardia.

Limits to growth

Fortunately, the bodybuilding hype has abated, but the scene is still active and swallows more steroids than ever. “You have to assume that the majority of the ‘real’ hardcore bodybuilders take anabolic steroids,” said the President of the German Society for Sports Medicine Klaus-Michael Braumann in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE . Even Stallone and Schwarzenegger have publicly admitted their consumption.

In my gym, there are some that have muscles that you can’t normally reach – no matter how much you exercise, because there is a genetic limit to muscle growth. They are just the extreme end of a mass trend that has remained after “Pumping Iron”: We are all addicted to muscles. “More and more young men and women place great value on having a well-defined body and do strength training – without wanting to look like a bodybuilder now,” says Klaus-Michael Braumann.

And so the path to the perfect six-pack will probably remain on the covers of “Men’s Health” and “GQ” in the future – just like the good old Brigitte diet since 1969.

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