I did it better than you did!!!
Slay the Dragon: the study of an online bodybuilding community
The internet is filled with message boards and discussion forums about every known topic, product, or interest that anyone could possibly have. T-Nation is dedicated to bodybuilding and performance training, and this would not be unique, if it weren’t for how the site is set up. Testosterone Nation is more than a place where “meat-heads” come to compare strength feats, argue about how much protein to consume, or debate training routines; it’s about way more than that.
A T-Nation contributing author characterized the role of T-Nation in a bodybuilder or strength athlete’s life by comparing it to the Greek mythology of Thesus and Ariadne. Thesus was the Greek boy who volunteered to go into the Labyrinth to attempt to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne provided him with a ball of thread that he could fasten to the door of the labyrinth and then when Thesus had to come back out, he could follow the string back to the place where he entered.
The T-Nation author, known as ‘TC’ says, “That’s T-Nation’s job, to help people like us find their Ariadne thread, to help guide them through this journey that we have all chosen. It’s also T-Nation’s job to help you defeat the dragon, or Minotaur, as the case may be.”
When you arrive at T-Nation, you are met with a menacing but mesmerizing image of a gigantic physique, with a black background and deep red and bright white text. Part of the mantra goes, “…Testosterone Nation is a philosophy, a way of life. It’s where there are no excuses and no apologies; where men are free to be men. It’s where the noble aspects of Testosterone rule.”
And while this would seem extremely “meat-headed,” it is backed up by a huge cohort of chemists, scientists, nutritional theorists, exercise physiologists, and world-famous trainers. “A Place where new ideas are born, where false and outdated dogmas are destroyed, and where truth and intellect rule.”
It’s not just for bodybuilders either, it’s also “home to powerlifters, mixed martial artists, and athletes of any kind who stand to benefit from increased size, strength, power, speed, or endurance.”
Once you enter the main part of the site, there are statistics that keep track of the number of published articles, forum threads, and the number of user published posts to those topics. As of right now, there are over 3,430 articles, 108,000 threads, and over 1.4 million posts. To say that T-Nation is a bustling underground of mind and muscle activity would be an understatement.
The site is formated like most news sites such as CNN or the New York Times, with the most recent articles on the front page and then a sidebar for accessing the forums, older articles, specific authors, and the company’s store. You see, T-Nation is a subsidiary of the high-tech sports supplement company known as Biotest.
Biotest Laboratories, LLC is a sports supplement company and T-Nation has been around since 1998. Biotest produces its own line of protein powder supplements, testosterone boosters, stimulants, fish oil, branch chained amino acids, fat burners, anabolic agents, and multi-vitamins.
For the most part, Biotest is considered a high tech company that produces some high quality products at fair prices. In my opinion, some of their products are better than others, and they don’t have a totally unique monopoly on any specific product. Usually, the members of the forum will buy their supplements from Biotest out of loyalty, but nearly identical products can be had from a multitude of other companies.
The site is a brilliant business scheme, in that it brings its customer base right into its store, by letting them in through the virtual backdoor of their message-board forums. T-Nation authors publish articles about nutrition, exercise regimes, and all sorts of scientific approaches to creating the ultimate physique, and then the site members discuss those articles or just post their own threads on an array of topics from headings like “Building a Better Body, Supplements and Nutrition, The Over-35 Lifter, Off Topic, Steroids,” and many more areas of interest.
This is where it gets interesting: where the record needs to be set straight. The T-Nation subculture needs to be properly understood, because they (bodybuilders/weight lifters) are so badly stigmatized and sometimes even demonized by a society that increasingly cares less and less about such “caveman” ideals. As I further investigate this site, it is becoming more apparent to me that the bodybuilding community is not stupid; in fact, it’s alarmingly brilliant and ahead of its time in many ways.
The authors that post articles cite major University studies as their backing, and the authors are mostly M.D.s or graduates of top schools themselves with industry-respected certifications, which lends a lot of credibility to what they say. There are really intricate breakdowns that explain the complex science behind specific claims or the reasoning behind the routines or supplements that they prescribe for specific purposes.
Luckily, even with the site’s huge following, the contributing authors do not shut themselves off from the public like some celebrities do. Information is free-flowing and the ability to contact people is pretty transparent. I can email the authors, forum members, send private messages, call some people, or even talk to these people face-to-face (as some of them are members of the very gym that I have a membership with).
I made a post (in 2005) in which I asked members to assess my workout routine, and boy did I learn something: these people take their training seriously and will “flame” anything that they see as “newbie” and outdated. At first, I felt like I was being unfairly attacked, but as I began to let what they were saying sink in, I realized that these people were right and that I needed to reevaluate my plan.
The good in all of this is that they helped me formulate a training plan that actually helped me to produce goal-oriented results. The goal? I needed to be able to do 20 dead-hang pull ups to obtain a perfect score for my military physical fitness test (PFT). The result? I can now do 25 dead-hang pull ups, and my overall PFT has improved from a 268/300 to a 285+ (depending on the day). T-Nation has information that can help people perform better, and that’s why I have embraced it.
Sometimes when reading T-Nation, you get the feeling that people there have one-track minds, and that everyone else besides big, strong weight lifters are somehow less worthy as individuals. I never really have desired to get huge but just to be what I would call “whippet-like” in the ability to run fast for a long period of time, lift a lot of weight in comparison to my own bodyweight, and look good in the military’s uniform.
For some people, it’s just impractical to be enormous, and for others they are downright genetically limited. T-Nation members (not authors) do not take kindly to that mentality and instead seem to believe that hard work can overcome anything, including genetics.
“Shut up and lift!” That sentence and statement captures the overall attitude of the T-Nation membership. The Internet is loaded with weight lifting forums and supplement companies, but T-Nation and its members are of a more strident breed. If you’re going to post on the forum, expect to be attacked and critiqued in a politically incorrect and upfront manner.
I have been the victim of Professor X’s (a very vocal forum member) verbal assaults, as have many first time posters, but that’s T-Nation. A place where you come to either stay for the long haul or get scared and run out of town almost as soon as you show up. There are no excuses for mediocrity and there?s no tolerance for those who want anything less than a Herculean physique. It?s a wonder that the message board even exists (in fact, there are currently problems with the message boards, but I?ll come back to that later). Talking just interferes with possible training time.
However, people do talk, questions are asked, and constructive discussion is fostered; though mostly due to the postings of articles by gurus which leads to the ensuing discussion. I have seen the future of nutrition and body performance at T-Nation, and it is scientifically intricate, yet comprehensible. T-Nation contributor Dr. John Berrardi recently stated, “Athletes know that the difference between medaling and placing off the podium can be the difference of hundredths of a second?any little edge they can get over their competition will likely lead to more successful performances.”
This is not advocating illegal performance enhancing drugs at all, as Berrardi goes on to explain the benefits of branch chained amino acids for athletic purposes. If T-Nation had three main components they would be: scientific-based, attitudinal, and training-parameter based approaches to improvement.
I?ve literally seen fights break out about the proper way to rid of “stomach fat.” The forum member kmac5855 posted a thread with that title, explaining that at 6’2 and 180 lbs he is, “pretty lean everywhere except for the stomach,” and asked, “though I don’t eat that cleanly, how should I go about trying to rid of this trouble area?” Here comes Professor X; who said, “This isn’t anorexia.com, eat cleanly and train harder.” Essentially, shut up and lift.
People seem to stress over minutiae, such as “how many eggs can I eat per day?” or “are beans considered carbs?” and even one that particularly captures the physique-obsessed culture of T-Nation, with, “Is a rest day important?” The site is packed with motivated individuals, no doubt, or those seeking guidance, but at times it feels as if the forums are used as a crutch or a place to complain. If a whining attitude is suspected, a “shut up and lift” response is sure to follow quickly.
I find myself caught wondering about the overall intent of the site. At times I feel that it is a helpful place with invaluable, cutting edge information and resources. Then I remember that T-Nation is just an affiliate for Biotest, which seems like a conflict of interests, when it comes to the site’s forum membership. Are we just being sold to Biotest (when there are product placements within articles that claim scientific backing)? I think that there is a mixture: there is blatant product-placement and also sincere and truthful information being disseminated.
The articles are free, and they’re undoubtedly paid for by the resulting product purchases that will sometimes coincide with the topic of the article. T-Nation doesn’t always post articles that are just guised ads, either, as often times they’ll be completely training routine focused. So there’s a bit of give and take, but the business strategy is clear: give the people good information, and give them good products. That’s just it! If the products didn’t deliver, people would openly complain about them on the message boards. Thankfully, Biotest delivers quality products, which lessens the significance of overt advertising.
As of this time, there are major changes taking place within the structure of the site. The contributing authors were getting angry at the way some posters were picking apart their articles and making personal attacks and insults, so TC Luoma (one of the co-founders of T-Nation) posted an article in which he suggested that it might be “time for some drastic changes” and that it could also be “time go gut the forum.”
TC apparently talked to Bitoest CEO Tim Patterson about the issue, because the authors have been so attacked by a minority of mean-spirited posters that the authors began to contribute less frequently, and something needed to be done. TC suggested ridding of the forum entirely, but this caused a backlash; and many posters came out and claimed that this move was being made by Biotest to further control their marketing messages.
However, Tim Patterson decided to just eliminate the ability for posters to make comments directly under the contributing authors’ articles. There is now a separate section on the site to discuss the articles, which keeps the originally posted article free of clutter and personal attacks. I’m glad that the articles aren’t allowed to be directly responded to because it removes the ability of vindictive posters to corrupt an otherwise well-intentioned article.
T-Nation is a valuable resource, and at first I thought the change was going to be more drastic and would censor what was an open community of knowledge. Thankfully, the T-Nation site was made better by this change.
T-Nation is the electronic equivalent of participating in a Rocky training montage, the Q-unveiling of new James Bond gadgets, and the parliament of a third world country. You get to talk training and read articles that express the necessary attitude that you must bring with you to your training, you’re privy to Biotest’s latest and greatest supplements, and then you can bicker about anything relative to these things. There are factions within the subculture, which helps to identify people in the community.
If you are a “Chad Waterbury guy,” odds are that you’re following a routine that involves a 3-4 day per week training regimen, with each day based around completely different set/rep parameters. You’ll also most likely eat a diet that consists of 33/33/33 (33% of your calories coming from each macronutrient).
If you adhere to John Berrardi’s nutritional protocols, you may follow his Precision Nutrition guideline or the concepts outlined in a book titled “Nutrient Timing.” A Christian Thibaudeau believer might punish their body with his “Violent Variations” program, which entails training to failure and through all sorts of unconventional hypertrophy-inducing protocols. The idea is that you’ll find someone who gives structure to concepts that make sense to you, so you?ll be able to implement a well thought out plan for yourself.
That’s one of the major selling points to T-Nation for me. I tend to take everything with a grain of salt, as I just sift through mounds of information (there are almost 10 years worth of articles, all accessible through the site’s search engine), and as I compare and contrast and ultimately apply these things to my life and training; I find what works and what does not, then do it all over again. Cy Willson (Biotest employee and article contributor) once said, “your body is your playground, experiment!” Along with just shutting up and lifting, Cy’s statement might also rank right up there as a T-Nation lesson to live by.
This brings us to a troubling aspect of the T-Nation community: does it and the community encourage somehow, even inadvertently, the use of illegal substances for performance enhancement (anabolic steroids)? Biotest does not currently sell any products that contain illegal substances, however, in the pre-Government ban days of the prohormones era, Biotest did supply a product to fill that category: MAG-10.
MAG-10 was the equivalent of a full-blown anabolic steroids’ younger brother, falling just scientifically short of being an illegal substance, but its effects were no less potent. This gave MAG-10 a huge user following, and to this day, T-Nation has a forum for Steroid discussion and many people reminisce about their “cycles” (the time spent using the drug) of MAG-10.
I would say that the general atmosphere of T-Nation could very well lead to the inadvertent interest and pursuit of steroids and accompanying information and potentially, use. This is not a redeeming quality of T-Nation, but I’d argue that any passionate subculture will have people who will go to extraordinary and (some might say) crazy lengths to achieve dramatic results.
For some areas of interest, it might be a “tricked out” car with road-illegal parts, for example. Whatever the case may be, it seems that when some individuals become passionate about something, they will engage in questionable behavior. I cannot demonize T-Nation because a particular group chooses to engage in steroid use.
T-Nation is certainly a lively and interesting community, where motivated minds look for answers about how to transform the body. You’ll find a store with products, stressed out trainees who “need” to know how much broccoli to eat per day, endless advice on how to train, and forum members both looking to help or to engage in flame wars.
It looks like a state-of-the-art but well-used gym, it smells like hard work, it’s loud with conversation, and it has the feel of having the privilege to enter Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. For anyone desiring to arm themselves with the knowledge to go about properly transforming their physique and the way they think about nutrition and training for a specific goal, T-Nation contains the necessary information to be successful.