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Full Range of Motive: The Psychology of
a book by Dr. Kevin Vost
The following is a chapter from the latest addition to our recommended book list, Dr. Kevin Vost’s Full Range of Motive (BODYworx, 2001). If you read "The Vost Visit" (article No. 50), you know that Kevin is both a doctor of psychology and a lifelong lifter. What’s more, he’s a member of Mensa, the organization for high IQ individuals devoted to the study of human intelligence.
Convinced by George Reeves’ portrayal of Superman on television that this was life "as it should and ought to be," Kevin decided when he was a second grader that he would become and always be a lifter. Over 30 years, hundreds of muscle magazines and thousands of workouts later – including forays into Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting and more recently Highland games weight throwing events -- he’s now married with two strapping sons, ages 14 and eight, and an adjunct assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Springfield. What better qualifications could one have to author a book on the developmental psychology of weight training?
Other books have been written on the subject, but most have focused on the more odd and obsessive aspects of the bodybuilding and weightlifting world. The notable exception is Not Just Pumping Iron (1989) by Edward W. L. Smith, a clinical psychologist with a deep personal involvement in the weight sports. Like Dr. Smith, Vost focuses on the positive rather than the negative aspects of lifelong lifting. Vost emphasizes "not how low we can go, but how high we can rise."
Being a psychology major myself, I can verify that most psychology books are pretty dry reading. But not this one. Kevin has a terrific sense of humor, which comes through loud and clear in his book. His writing style is conversational and personal combined with sound psychological theory – and plenty of puns. It’s fun to read along with being full of interesting and insightful information.
The title of the book, Full Range of Motive, is an example of Kevin’s keen wit and subtle use of words. The title, of course, is a play on the idea of training a muscle over its "full range of motion" – from full stretch to full contraction. He uses "full range of motive" in two ways: 1) the wide range of motives people have for training, and 2) the many changes in an individual’s motivation that take place over time.
Another interesting and unique feature is the effective use of responses elicited from a psychological questionnaire Kevin submitted to members of the International Association of Resistance Trainers (IART) seeking information on how training has contributed to their self perceptions and many other things. You’ll see that in the following chapter, which deals with the changing aspirations lifters experience as they confront the harsh realities of their genetic potential.
(Reproduced with permission from the author and publisher)
We know what we are, but not what we may be.
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Sc 5.
Do you recall your adolescence? Remember feeling that you and your thoughts were somehow unique in this world? Do you recall believing that you had a special destiny, and that no one else could quite understand you? The adolescent has burgeoning thinking powers far exceeding those of childhood, yet he lacks the experience of adulthood. Is it surprising that he may become intoxicated with his potentialities and exasperated with those who just don¹t understand? As psychologists Sigelman and Shaffer (1995, p.187) have noted, "the adolescent who is in love for the first time imagines that no one in the history of the human race has ever felt such heights of
emotion. When the relationship breaks up, of course, no one least of all a parent could possibly understand the crushing agony". Would this apply to one's love of weight training?
This phenomena of perceived uniqueness common to adolescents has been called the personal fable (David Elkind, 1984). Of course, we all actually are unique individuals, but the adolescent experiencing the personal fable is especially egocentric he or she tends to see the world from his own perspective, while having difficulty understanding that everyone else also has their own unique perspective. As adults considering our uniqueness, we are more likely to acknowledge (even if grudgingly), the same uniqueness to others. The accompanying sense of invincibility characterizing the personal fable may also play a role in the risky behaviors that peak during adolescence, including reckless driving and sundry other delinquent acts. Perhaps this also sheds some light on adolescent steroid abuse.
So how does the concept of personal fable relate to the legions of
steroid-free adolescent resistance trainers? It was my hypothesis that there may be a nearly universal personal fable specific to hard-core
resistance trainers, namely, the belief that after years of hard effort, one would indeed someday sit at the top of the lifting world, either as Mr./Ms.
Olympia, a world champion lifter, or perhaps even both, if one was so
Please bear in mind the extreme uniqueness of this particular belief. Find
any group of 6th graders on their school basketball team. Ask for a show of hands from those who seriously believe that they will, one day, play
professionally in the NBA. Chances are you will see lots of hands. Of course, current NBA stars number in the hundreds while U. S. junior high basketball players number in the millions. Odds are very good (>10,000:1)
that most of those youngsters are wrong! But for the aspiring Mr. Olympia, the odds are far worse (let's see Scott, Oliva, Schwarzenegger, Zane, Columbu, Dickerson, Bannout, Haney, Yates, & Coleman did I forget
anybody?) Only 10 men in history! Do these ten men, all still living on a planet with a population over 6 billion, realize they are each a 1 in 600 million phenomenon?
Why did I presume such a preposterous notion that most of the respondents at
one time would have believed they would become Mr. Olympia? Partly, because I held it myself for a least a few years. Indeed, it supplied the
motivation for hundreds of grueling workouts and dietary discipline since unequaled. Was I really as unique as I thought I was or was my dream but a
panel in the tapestry weaved by legions of kindred adolescent spirits?
Let¹s go to the survey to find out, shall we?
The great majority of participants did, indeed, relate adolescent personal fables, many complete with visions of Mr. Olympia titles dancing through their heads.
Dr. Kevin Fontaine recalls that in his youth "I thought that anyone could become a champion if they worked hard enough."
Striking an identical note, Trevor chimes in "I thought that ANYONE could be a Mr. Olympia. All you had to do was keep lifting."
Marching to the beat of that same drummer, says IART President Brian Johnston, "I held the belief that I would be a pro bodybuilder until into my early to mid 20s (believing I would be Mr. O. during my teen years.)"
Echoes Kurt, "When I began bodybuilding I believed I could achieve Mr. Olympia type status."
To Ali's mind, "the possibilities of what I could accomplish when I first started to train were limitless to an absurd degree." "I thought of myself as an outgoing, muscle-bound stud who was going to become the next Mr. Olympia."
Elijah believed "that if I ate enough and trained enough I could get as big as Arnold was in his teens."
Per Kevin Dye, "all the champs attributed hard work and years of dedication for getting them where they were. I too believed I could become one of them with just enough training under my belt."
Chris remembers "two times" in his training career that he "wrongly thought [he] could be a world class competitor." The first was soon after starting training in his late teens, and the second "in the midst of a growth spurt at age 21."
All these being personal fables of grand proportions, it is perhaps
Charles who takes the title (complete with imaginary Sandow trophy) for the grandest:
"I even carved my goal to be 10 time Mr. Olympia in the tree in front of my parents' house." (How would the rest of us get a chance with
Charles perched atop Mr. Olympus for a full ten years?)
Personal fables of world-class success being the rule, there were a few
exceptions, but even these must be qualified.
Per Tobias, "I never thought this because I had even at the beginning a scientific view on training." Nonetheless, he was not completely immune to the personal fable virus. "But I wanted to be a professional guitar player and I thought I could be one if I would just work hard and long enough."
Tobias' statements call to mind another theoretical perspective from which one can view the Mr. Olympia personal fables. These can also be considered from the framework of vocational or career choice theories. Ginzberg (1972), for example, describes Fantasy, Tentative, and Realistic stages of vocational choice. The Tentative Stage unfolds primarily during the teen years (11-17) with an early focus on one's interests. Later in this stage, capabilities come into the picture. We'll address this more thoroughly in a bit. For now let me grant that the personal fables of Mr. Olympiahood might seem straight out of the Fantasy Stage of childhood. But, I plead, that even in my own case, there is a qualitative leap towards psychological maturity and realism when one's projected occupation evolves from, say, Superman to Mr. Olympia. At least there really is a Mr. Olympia. Indeed, as we will also see, many participants have developed their love for training into actual career paths (albeit as writers, trainers, and entrepreneurs, rather than reigning Mr. Olympias).
| Richard represents another partial exception. He never thought he could
be Mr. Olympia, "but I did think at one time that I would quickly become
stronger than any of my friends who didn't weight train...before I realized that......" (For extra credit, can anyone guess what Richard realized?|
There is one big bugaboo that reared its ugly head to burst the personal fable bubbles of almost all of us, and it's not steroids. Don't let me forget to reveal the answer later.)
|Heather, our only female participant, of course had no dreams of replacing Arnold upon his retirement, but she said she could imagine herself an Olympic swimming champion at one point in time.|
|Mark never saw himself at the top of the lifting or bodybuilding worlds, but he did not start training consistently until well past adolescence at the age of 28.|
|Fred provides the clearest exception. His dream was not of the Mr. Olympia title, but as a world caliber powerlifting champ. When asked if he ever thought he could become a world champ, Fred, 31 at the time, replied, "Yes...I think I could've and still think I can." He then noted his powerlifting total has been within a couple hundred pounds from qualifying for the US Nationals.|
But wait a minute. Who is to say that every adolescent's personal fable of world class greatness is always just a fable? A very small handful of very large resistance trainees do make it to the top. Fred Hatfield II, who we heard from above, witnessed his own father, "Dr. Squat" Fred Hatfield, setting a world record squat of 1014 lbs. His father is one of the all-time greats in the "world's strongest sport" of powerlifting. Though no participants in this survey have become world champions to date, some top bodybuilders and lifters have recounted their adolescent perceptions of their future destiny. These are folks for whom their personal fable regarding resistance training was also a reality! Arnold Schwarzenegger, (1977), for example, "knew" at age 15 that he would he the greatest bodybuilder in the world, and by damn, he was right.
Most of us who have "known" the same thing have been flat-out wrong, of course. What happens to burst our bubbles and reveal our personal fable as fables? What happens after our personal fables have been revealed as "fractured fairy tales?" (Anyone remember the old cartoon program of that name lampooning classic fairy tales with humorously altered tales?) Next we will consider the second half of the fourth question, examining what put an end to participants' personal fables.
This brings us back to the "bugaboo" (an evil or unfortunate source of concern) mentioned earlier. The reason Fred II may have the most realistic chance of making it to the top in a weight sport, and the number one reason the adolescent personal fable of most participants went up in flames like the famous Zeppelin, are one and the same, namely, GENETICS! Who says so? Both Kevins (all three if you include me), Ali, and Trevor are among the respondents who specifically addressed the discovery of the role of genetics in setting the limits of one's potential.
Brian Johnston squarely addresses this extremely important, but neglected issue time and time again in his writings. Other reasons respondents abandoned their personal fables included the discovery of the use and abuse of steroids by bodybuilding champions, the realization of the time and other lifestyle commitments required of a champion, and simply realizing that after a period of time their Herculean labors in the gym were not producing Herculean bodies. Charles notes, "My daydreams ceased when I stopped my subscriptions to the muscle magazines."
Speaking of those ubiquitous (present everywhere) muscle magazines, some of us spent countless hours of our youths pouring over the glossy muscle magazines detailing the "bombing and blitzing" of our muscular heroes. How surprisingly little was and is said about individual differences in genetics and the world of difference they can make. I have since cultivated an interest in learning about both species heredity (what we as humans share in common) and individual heredity (the unique combination of genes that make us different from others), because they are so important to an understanding of human psychological development. Species heredity is studied in fields indebted to Charles Darwin, like sociobiology, which looks for the adaptive evolutionary roots of human behavior. Individual heredity is examined most specifically in psychology in the field of behavior genetics, indebted to some degree to Darwin¹s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, who first studied how certain traits like intelligence tend to run in families. (It obviously ran in theirs.) Their modern tools include research such as the study of identical and fraternal twins.
Both classifications of heredity are as relevant in the physical realm as in the psychological realm. Still, they are virtually ignored in the muscle magazine industry, probably because marketers cannot sell gene supplement powders and candy bars (yet). Comparing and contrasting the two, it is probably the species heredity humans share that produces the tendency to experience the psychological phenomena of the personal fable in adolescence (growth in cognitive ability coupled with lack of experience, physical growth and sense of well-being). But it is individual heredity (what we are given by our particular parents), that determines whether or not the fable of a Mr. Olympia title is even a remote physical potentiality.
In fact, the muscle magazines contribute to an outright denial of the limitations of individual genetics, for example, by implying that you can
drastically alter not just the size, but the shape of the muscle. Having
enjoyed the writings of Darwin, Galton, and their modern successors, I must admit that I first obtained a grasp of the importance of genetics from bodybuilder Mike Mentzer at one of his seminars, and later from his books. Recall his photo in Heavy Duty (1993) comparing the short biceps attachment of Franco Columbu with the long attachment of Larry Scott? The long and short head attachments of the biceps are preset in the factory (i.e., womb). They are not options that can be upgraded after delivery. But what do the magazines say? Scott created his biceps by doing preacher (later "Scott") curls! Undoubtedly curling contributed to his beautiful biceps mass, but not their manner of attachment.
Note how the magazines imply that the stars with unusually fantastic body parts must be the experts in their development, ignoring the genetic link. Now let's see. If I do Mike Katz¹s chest routine, Tom Platz's leg routine, Arnold's biceps routine, Mike Mentzer's triceps routine, Franco Columbu's lat routine, and so forth, I should be able to produce the ultimate physique, right? (Or maybe an alternative would be Dorian Yates' routine for every body part?)
This appears in powerlifting also. John Doe with his wide clavicles and short arms is the world's greatest bench presser, so let's follow his bench routine. John Smith with his short torso and long arms is the world's greatest deadlifter, so let¹s do his deadlift routine. (Hmm, I wonder why Mr. Doe isn't as knowledgeable about the deadlift, and Mr. Smith is not so hot on the bench. Maybe they just need to read each others' routines?)
Moving right along, the other common bubble burster among the participants, and most likely lifters in general, was the discovery of the prevalence of steroid abuse among champions and even run-of-the-mill competitive bodybuilders. Trevor, who at first thought "ANYONE" could become Mr. Olympia, later realized "that genetics and drugs played a huge role." Brian Johnston notes that after 10 years of training "I understood and knew the relevance of anabolic steroids and what they could do to a physique, knowing full well that I didn't have a chance in hell in placing in an amateur contest, let alone a professional contest." So here lies the rub. World caliber success requires both the right genetics and a willingness to take the physical (not to mention legal) risks of anabolic steroids. Even among trainees with some knowledge of genetic limitations, it is hard to know your true limits. Perhaps steroids will reveal the latent Mr. Olympia within? It is not likely, unless they unleash some kind of mutation straight out of the X-Men comics. And speaking of genetics, again, let's put them to work along with some steroids:
|Species heredity: Steroids work. They make humans bigger and stronger
(with strings of potential side effects attached.) Hear Brian again: "The
effect is nothing short of profound. Even with the same crappy|
training...people put on 20-30 pounds and look hard and vascular."
|Individual heredity: Even with the extra hormone-produced beef, with two "juiced up" competitors, the guy with the "most muscular" DNA profits most and brings home the trophy.|
To go much further into the issue of steroids would take us too far afield. No survey participants were using them. Listen to Tobias: "My father is a medical doctor and he says steroids are a bunch a crap, so I never touched them." Millions of steroid-abusing teens, however, were not as fortunate to have had that kind of guidance. I direct readers to a good discussion by Pope, Phillips and Olivardia (2000) in The Adonis Complex. They examine the statistics of steroid abuse, as well as the difference between what is
physically possible with and without steroids, with a call toward rejecting unnatural development possible only with steroids, and with a nice shot of classic movie Hercules Steve Reeves depicting an appropriate model of
natural muscular perfection.
Still, with adolescent dreams deflated, these respondents and millions of like-minded adult lifters remain hard at it, pumping iron. Per Trevor,
"I wasn't discouraged though, because the changes I made and the benefits that
came from them were enough to keep me in the game." What benefits are these full-grown noncompetitive resistance trainees gaining to keep them "in the game?" We'll look at that in more depth in later chapters. For now, let's take another look at the rise and fall of the adolescent personal fable from the perspective of psychological and biological development.
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