Are you ready for your post-lockdown fitness campaign?
This week, I’ve started my post-lockdown fitness campaign.
To be honest, lockdown wasn’t the reason my fitness went off the rails, but the reopening of gyms in London has removed the last of my excuses
I’m not trying to be an underwear model, but I know that I’m not getting enough exercise. My body is telling me that loud and clear. What I see when I look in the mirror doesn’t fill me with joy.
I used to have a lean and defined physique. I know what it takes for me to achieve and maintain that.
Thanks to fashion, movies, and porn, it’s the lean and defined look that most gay men see as aspirational, and sexually attractive.
Contrary to the promises peddled by fitness magazines and Insta influencers, it’s not just a case of doing a few sit ups to “Get rock hard abs in seven days!” But also it’s not rocket science — it requires a fair bit of structured exercise and a tightly controlled diet.
When you say it quickly it sounds easy, but for me this meant working out in the gym pretty much every day plus three sessions of water polo training each week.
Exercise is important, but diet really is the key — for years I didn’t eat any processed carbohydrates, avoided sugars, didn’t drink beer, ate a lot of meat, drank a lot of protein shakes, and took a lot of supplements.
My most extreme diet regime was in 2010, just before the Gay Games in Cologne. I was eating five meals a day and with each meal I would take a fibre supplement and eat a raw red chilli. It was fairly painful and unpleasant on all fronts, but I looked really lean and defined so in my mind it was totally worth it.
In retrospect, it was probably all a bit masochistic — not necessarily an addiction, but definitely an obsession. I wouldn’t say that I was unhappy at that time, but I was very self-focused.
It can be good for your self-esteem to get compliments on your body, but if all you’ve got to talk about it is how much you lifted at the gym and what you can’t eat, then you’re not going to be much fun to date. I was not much fun to date.
The last few years has seen things swing to the other extreme. I broke all of my fitness habits when I was travelling a lot and working fairly intense hours.
Since then, I’ve managed to find lots of excuses why I haven’t had time to go to the gym, and haven’t had the time to eat sensibly. I’ve rediscovered my love of beer. I really like beer.
It’s not surprising that one of the key pillars of our self-esteem is our perception of how we look.
Whether or not you feel confident or good about yourself as a person is likely to be strongly influenced by whether you feel that you look good and, perhaps even more importantly, whether you feel that other people think you look good.
As gay men, we’ve set this bar fairly high for ourselves.
There’s always been a high proportion of our people who are prepared to put the hours in at the gym in order to stay lean and strong. Additionally, the ripped physiques of our porn stars make it hard to imagine having sex with someone who doesn’t have huge arms, massive legs, and a butt so tight that it could crack a walnut.
All of this has been heightened in recent years by the wave of location-based dating apps which rely on a killer profile pic in order to initiate contact — consistently reinforcing that your appearance is what gets you noticed, that your appearance is what attracts others guys, and that your appearance defines who you are.
It’s too simplistic to glibly say: “Don’t worry about it!” “You need to love who you are!” “You’ve got a beautiful soul!” “You’re so funny!” None of that makes you feel any better if you’re struggling to find the intimacy and sexual connection that we all need. None of that makes me feel any better.
If you’re spending another night alone, it’s almost impossible not to assume that things could be different if you looked more like the porn stars that fuel your fantasies.
I miss the old me. I miss the physique that I used to have. But the new me isn’t so bad.
While it would be nice to be able to see my abs, I don’t want to be that extreme with my exercise or diet that it takes over my life again. However I do like the feeling of being healthy and energetic – I like the positive feeling that regular work-outs can give you. Let’s be honest, I could also do with some more intimacy and sexual connection.
This week, I’ve started my post-lockdown fitness campaign.
Gay gym myths – busted!
What exactly should you be doing in your workout?
While it’s important to try and stay up-to-date with the latest fitness thinking and health developments, it’s easy to be confused by the huge range of magazines and online experts all purporting to offer the miracle work-out. Even your friends, your work-out buddies, and your Instagram crushes are likely to have competing views as to what works and what doesn’t.
In the interests of research, we sat down with a couple of strength and conditioning coaches to drink green tea and quiz them about what we should really be focusing on in order to get the buffed-up beach body that we’re aspiring to.
Myth: I need to do sit-ups to get great abs.
Busted: Sit-ups are actually a waste of time . The reality is that everyone has abdominal muscles, but unless your diet and exercise regime enables you to be lean, you can’t see the definition.
Tip: Incorporating interval training into your work-out three times a week will help you drop body-fat and get you on the way to revealing your abs in all their glory.
Myth: I want to look leaner so I need to do a lot of cardio.
Busted: Consistent aerobic training is actually counter-productive for burning off fat. Excessive aerobic training is likely to increase cortisol levels – a stress hormone that contributes to abdominal fat.
Tip: Interval training – whether it be sprints or incomplete recovery between resistance exercises - will ensure you achieve an anaerobic state during your workout. Anaerobic training is intense enough to cause lactate to form. Anaerobic training is far superior for dropping body-fat and increasing lean muscle.
Myth: Exercising on a Swiss-ball will help improve my core strength.
Busted: While a Swiss-ball can be a useful tool when integrated into a training programme, you’ll get much better results by training your lower back muscles.
Tip: Your lower back is an extremely important foundation of your core strength – focus on deadlifts, good-mornings, and hyperextensions for instant results.
Myth: I want to build my upper body so I’ll spend less time on my legs.
Busted: If you want to develop a great upper body you’ll get the results faster by training your lower body just as hard.
Tip: Training the big powerful muscles in your legs will push your body to increase testosterone levels - testosterone is a male-dominant hormone that is essential for muscle gain. Grab some dumbbells and get lunging and you’ll soon start to see improved results from all those bicep curls.
Myth: I want to get lean so I need a low-fat diet.
Busted: A low-fat diet may actually be hindering your attempts to drop body fat. Essential fats, such as those high in Omega three - such as fish, olive oil, and avocado – are extremely important for switching on fat-burning cells and switching off fat-storing cells.
Tip: Ensure you’re following a balanced diet that includes plenty of ‘good fats’ but make sure you avoid the trans fats found in highly processed foods. Cakes, biscuits and yellow non-dairy spreads are out!
Myth: Protein shakes are bad for you.
Busted: While protein shakes have had some bad press, quality products are fine and are still the best way to support the body during post work-out recovery and to maximise muscle gain.
Tip: Look for products that use natural whey from grass-fed cows, and that are sugar and aspartamine free. Post work-out protein shakes can help to increase natural growth hormones, assist in replenishing glycogen stores, and support cell regeneration and muscle growth.
Myth: I need to be in the gym every day in order to stay in shape.
Busted: Allowing your body to rest and recover is just as important as pumping iron. Over-training can limit your body’s development and lead to injury.
Tip: Mix it up to keep it interesting. Limit your resistance and weight training to three sessions per week. On the other days focus on sprints, swimming, or get on the bike and go for some interval cycling.
What’s the deal with steroids?
What are steroids?
When we’re talking about steroids, we’re referring to anabolic steroids.
You may hear steroids referred to as roids, gear, sauce, or juice.
They’re a synthetic version of testosterone. Testosterone is the male hormone that we naturally produce. Steroids are the manufactured version of that.
While the power of testosterone has been known for centuries, human trials of a synthetic version – which we now know as steroids – begin in the 1930s. Research continued in the post-war period.
While there are legitimate medical uses for steroids, because of their benefits in building muscle, they soon became associated with gaining an unfair advantage in sports and bodybuilding.
Are steroids legal?
You need to check the laws that apply where you are. In general, it’s probably not illegal to possess steroids, but is illegal to supply steroids.
How common is steroid use?
If you’re talking to gay men who are into their fitness, the use of steroids is surprisingly common.
It’s generally from contacts at the gym that most gay men obtain their steroids.
Do you need steroids to build an impressive physique?
No. Not everyone with an impressive body is using steroids. Muscle bulk and building a lean and strong physique can be achieved with a controlled diet and plenty of resistance training.
Steroids are a way of accelerating the process. It’s a short cut.
What’s the relationship between porn and steroids?
Gay erotica has long celebrated a hyper-masculine physique. The work of Tom of Finland is an obvious example.
Erotica and porn visually articulates the way that the complicated relationship we have with sexuality and masculinity shapes what we find desirable.
In simple terms, gay men seem to have a tendency to associate a muscular and hyper-masculine physique as being desirable – that’s what gets people’s attention, and that’s when we feel validated.
How do you take steroids?
Steroids can be taken as pills, or as a liquid that you inject into your body – usually into the muscle of your butt.
Most guys take steroids as cycles – you take them for a period of weeks, then you come off them to rest your body, and then you begin again.
What are the risks with steroids?
Because it’s generally illegal to supply steroids, you’re obtaining your steroids on the black market – it’s unregulated. There’s no guarantee of what you’re getting.
Different types of steroids can deliver different results.
For example, there are animal or horse steroids – these deliver enormous muscle growth but have huge health risks associated with them.
Before you even contemplate taking steroids, you need to ensure that your body is healthy. You should have a medical check-up to ensure that your liver, heart, and kidneys are all functioning properly. If you’re taking steroids, you should have regular medical check-ups so that you can detect any negative side-effects you may be experiencing as a result of the steroids. Negative side-effects could include liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, risk of stroke, water retention, digestive problems, high cholesterol, prostate problems.
If you’re taking medication to manage your HIV, make sure you get advice from your doctor before trying steroids.
When you’re taking steroids, you need to increase the amount of water that you’re drinking – you need to help your body flush out the additional waste products that are being created as a result of steroid use.
When you’re using steroids, you’re likely to have acne-like spots on your back. You may experience permanent hair loss, and you may have difficulty sleeping.
Steroids will mess with your sex drive. At different points of the cycle you may have a higher sex drive, but generally your sex drive will be lower. You may have difficulty maintaining and erection and you may find it difficult to orgasm.
It’s likely that your balls will shrink.
Steroids can be addictive. You are likely to experience mood swings, including outbursts of aggression. Use of steroids may trigger mental health issues, such as depression. Steroids can contribute to body dysmorphia.