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“The Musclehead”: Not a moniker for which to be particularly proud

Last weekend, I finally saw the movie The Wrestler, starring Mickey Roarke. What a terrific acting job he did in this touching flick with a tragic storyline. It reminded me of how talented I’d thought he was back in the mid-1980s as I enjoyed his movies when I was a wide-eyed kid in the U.S. Navy.

What really accentuated the poignant ending of the movie were the lyrics for the song ‘One Trick Pony’ by Bruce Springsteen. It drove home the realization that Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Roarke’s character) had been, indeed, a one-trick pony. He’d prematurely destroyed his body with the excesses of what he’d thought it took for him to become a popular wrestler and he had nothing else to fall back on professionally. And this could be called merely salt in the wounds caused by what he’d done to his personal life; sad but well done movie.

Allowing oneself to become so one-dimensional also occurs within the bodybuilding arena and can lead to a bodybuilder being labeled with “the musclehead” moniker. Despite what some might believe, being called “the musclehead” is not a compliment. It connotes being a sort of dumb-ass physical specimen that’s nothing more than… well… a one-trick “musclehead” pony; capable of impressing with appearance and (possibly) feats of strength, but not much in the way of exploits with the gray matter between one’s ears.


Bodybuilder Torso _Academic Tools Getting "The Musclehead" label pinned on you is a sure sign of imbalance. Build a strong body and build a powerful mind to go with it.

Yet falling under “the musclehead” label is a long way from what some very impressive individuals in bodybuilding have done. Arnold Schwartzenegger comes to mind as someone who’s never been a “musclehead”; he’s always pushed the limits of his comfort zone well outside the context of his bodybuilding achievements. 

Although Arnold is a pretty good example of a bodybuilder who dissimilated “the musclehead” characteristics of a stereotypical bodybuilder, I personally can think of an even better example. The late Ray ‘Thunder’ Stern was a bodybuilder who had been a professional wrestler as a young man. What many don’t know is that he was an extraordinary entrepreneur who was nothing less than a pioneer in the gym business. He was also a real estate developer and started and ran an aviation business. He was an intellectual who believed that a bodybuilder should build his or her mind as much as the body. In fact, despite his impressive strength and muscle mass, you could say Ray Stern was the antithesis “the musclehead” stereotype in bodybuilding.

I distinctly remember reading an interview of Mr. Stern in the late ‘90s. In it, he revealed that he had modeled his self-education after the example of Roman soldiers. He said that Roman soldiers were expected to display both physical AND intellectual strength. Of course, this revelation itself demonstrated his interest and depth-of-knowledge of history – itself an intellectual pursuit. He mentioned in his autobiography that at some point he decided “I will build my mind and body until the day I die.” What a powerful vow to make; a pledge that pays dividends not just to oneself – but to loved ones as well.

So… what do you do to build your mind as well as your body on a regular basis?

I’ve recently become somewhat addicted to the critical reasoning problems within both the LSAT and GMAT study guides. The LSAT prepares a person for law school, the GMAT for B-school. Yet even if you’re already a lawyer or MBA – or you’re neither and not planning to be either – these problems are of great exercise for your mind. They’ll train your brain to think with more reason about the seemingly complex and to make sense of the world around us. They demand exercise of your logic muscle and teach you to see issues critically. Oh sure… going through these self-tests can be maddening at first. But most of the books contain explanations of the answers so you can go over and improve on missed questions.

I simply dabble with a few critical reasoning problems on the weekends when I have a bit of time. The rewards are obvious, with improved reading comprehension and the ability to critique an issue logically being of foremost benefit.

So if you’re in danger of being labeled “the musclehead”, I recommend working on becoming as much an intellectual powerhouse as a physical one. And if you’re already a heavyweight in the mental arena, you might want to work on that mind/body intelligence that will make you as well-rounded as Roman soldiers were purported to be.

Let’s try to make the one-trick-pony thing as only a fiction for movie scripts and ‘the musclehead’ moniker a forgotten stereotype.


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