Muscle Building is Like a Video Game
Like gaming, bodybuilding is also often misunderstood and even criticized by people who don’t get the appeal. So, if you’re having trouble explaining to your friends and family why building muscle takes up so much of your time and energy – or if you just want to delve into the “why” behind your hobbies – read on!
As humans, we naturally want to progress, to become better versions of ourselves. Video game developers have capitalized on this desire for decades, designing games that allow you to reach new levels, get better gear and rack up achievements. These characteristics are clearest in RPGs and adventure games, where you’re constantly improving your character and striving towards some story-driven goal. And, even in most first-person shooters nowadays, your improved skills are rewarded with achievements based on kills, accuracy and overall efficiency.
Bodybuilding is exactly the same! When you begin, you’re a smaller, weaker version of the person you want to become, and through your own efforts you can inch closer and closer to that goal. As you get better, you can look back at your former self and gain immense satisfaction from the progress you’ve made. At the same time, that progression is addictive, and your mind becomes consumed with the quest to become even better!
So much is uncertain in life, especially in a time with a shaky economy, fast-paced job market and social media-influenced interactions. What should I study in college to get a good job? Why do I have to play social mind games in my office? Why is everyone so friendly online and so weird in person?
In bodybuilding and in video games, none of these annoying questions pop up. Whether you’re playing a simple sports game or a complex, multifaceted RPG, the rules are clearly laid out, and you know what you have to do to win or make progress. These rules are pre-programmed, too, so you can rest assured that with continued effort you’ll achieve even greater rewards.
Likewise, bodybuilding has the “rules” of the human body. Your body is complex and even unpredictable at times, but the basic principles of building muscle are the same – year after year, workout after workout, meal after meal. As long as you keep adding weight to the bar and food to your plate, you’ll keep getting bigger and stronger.
In addition to increasing your skills with the controller, most games encourage progress through an addictive leveling system. Every new level you attain offers greater abilities, a new appearance or access to previously inaccessible parts of the game. No matter how good you get, there’s always another thing you can do to earn more.
Training, dieting and supplementation all work the same way. Just as you can’t dive right into high-level tasks or throw on the best gear at the beginning of a game, you’re not going squat 500 or bench 405 the first time you step into a gym. Every milestone takes work, and each one you attain opens the doors to even more possibilities.
For example, once you finally pull your first 585 deadlift, 700 might not seem so out of reach. Likewise, when you put on your first 15 or 20 pounds of muscle, you won’t just be able to eat a whole lot more – you’ll have to! The same is true for belts, straps and other gym gear, as well as advanced supplementation. You don’t “get” to use any of that stuff when you start out, but it will be crucial to your progress once you reach a certain level.
Most playable characters can level up, but games themselves also progress through stages. Some are completely linear, taking you from one mission to the next. Others are more open, granting you access to more and more of the game world as you complete different quests.
While the lines between “stages” are blurry, lifting is much the same way. Unless you have an advanced athletic background, you start off as a beginner. With little muscle mass, training experience or body awareness, everything is new. Your technique is shaky, you haven’t developed a great mind-muscle connection, and you just can’t generate the intensity of an advanced lifter. On the plus side, you recover quickly, and as long as you eat well and train hard, you can make the fastest progress of your life!
Things get more interesting – and more challenging – once you’re an intermediate. You’ve developed a base of muscle mass and strength, your technique is good, and you can finally start plowing away at the next-level workouts that take lifters from good to great. On the flipside, recovery and progress are slower, and it may take a few years before you can reach the next level.
Ultimately, if you stick with bodybuilding for long enough, you can become a truly advanced lifter. Your size and strength turns heads, you have a deep mind-muscle connection, and every set and rep you do is extremely effective at achieving the desired result. As with everything in life, though, the better you get, the harder it is to make continued progress. The workouts you did as a beginner wouldn’t even qualify as a warm-up now, and to get bigger, you’ve got to train harder and smarter than almost everyone else in the gym. However, you also get to enjoy all of those advanced training, dieting and supplementation techniques that are just overkill or unnecessary for smaller lifters.
Finally, if there’s one thing that eludes both bodybuilders and gamers, it’s balance. Gaming and bodybuilding are addictive, all-encompassing pursuits, and the better you get at either one, the more time and effort you have to spend to progress further. Gamers might go from playing a few hours per week at their leisure to dedicating long, pre-planned time slots to raids or multiplayer matches. Likewise, any competitive bodybuilder has progressed from lifting a few hours per week to spending every day focused on training, eating, cardio and posing.
Are those lifestyles really for you? Everyone will have to decide for themselves, but most older lifters preach balance – and rightfully so. Bodybuilding and gaming both become kind of pointless if you don’t have “the rest of life” in order, and you can’t spend every day of every year obsessed with your craft. As you get better, be deliberate about how much time you’re spending in the gym, and how much energy you’re spending worrying about what you eat. There may be times when you have to knuckle down and dial everything in, but those intense periods have to be balanced with periods of rest, recovery and a focus on other things in life. Even the best bodybuilders in the world take some downtime after a show, and they’re getting paid to be huge! Enjoy your muscle building journey, but don’t take it so seriously that your career, relationships or overall quality of life take a hit.