The other day I was driving back from the gym, after going very hard in the weight room. By “very hard,” I mean lifting until muscle failure, which means there’s involuntary grunting going on, shaking legs, etc. After each set, you know you are making a difference when you temporarily cannot move the muscles in question, then suddenly feel a surge of energy all over.
Driving back, having chugged some whey and whole milk and caught my breath, I turned on the radio. The “classic rock” station was playing Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” I turned it up, bopped around a bit, turned it up more, found myself bopping with even more energy, and finally cranked it full blast. I felt a surge of positive energy.
That’s not a particularly aggressive song (especially compared to what I was listening to when I was actually lifting). And Freddie Mercury is not exactly the most, ahem, traditional man. But it’s certainly peppy, assertive, and has a driving, unapologetic beat, if you will. I used to listen to “classic rock” all the time when I was in high school, working out very hard five days a week on the crew team. Part of that was being a white, teenage male in the 1990′s in the United States (going through a Led Zeppelin stage, for instance, was a bit of a rite of passage where I grew up, whether or not you were an athlete). But as I listened to Queen on the way home, I realized just how closely linked the weight lifting and my current enjoyment of that song were.
If I had been on my way home from McDonald’s, or a movie about how horrible white people are, or some other such poisonous activity, I would not have enjoyed that song in that moment. I probably would have changed the station, or I might have let it play at a low volume, letting it be a buzz of mindless background noise. But lawdy, in my current amped-up state I was really cranking that stuff and enjoying it with a big smile.
Now, enjoying Queen songs is pretty value-neutral, if you ask me. Lifting weights isn’t good because it makes you crank the classic rock music. It’s good because it’s very good for your health and your psyche. It increases muscle mass, which is very closely linked to overall longterm health; it increases testosterone which is the natural miracle drug of male bodies, and it makes you a more physically capable person in everyday life. (Dennis Mangan is my favorite non-meathead proponent of weightlifting. Some of the meathheads are pretty great too, but I’ll let you find them on your own.) But I submit there is a real link between extremely rigorous, rippingly painful exercise (plodding jogs don’t count) and the sort of sunshiny aggressiveness I was feeling in my car that day.
And I’ll go a step further and say that a healthy man in his prime should feel sunshiny aggressiveness. Not all the time, of course, but it should be common and almost a baseline. A lot of modern life is designed to make us into mopey, self-loathing cogs. Eaters and spenders. When you break out of that mold and feel how natural and positive it is to have your testosterone flowing, it’s a bit of a revelation.