It’s been a while since I’ve shared a workout. Since the my last published workout, I’ve done both heavy and hypertrophy regimens, both of which were built around my training and show schedules. For example, when I was only training on Saturday and/or Sunday and doing shows on Friday and Saturday, I could work a muscle group to complete exhaustion Monday through Wednesday and still have time to recover. Although I’ve got back to heavier lifting days, I carried over one particular element from my pervious hypertrophy program: tempo lifts. After 12 weeks of assorted hypertrophy exercises at various tempos, I not only saw muscle growth, but slowing down my lifts also made me more conscious of my range of movement and thus a better lifter.
Note about neck exercises: I learned this simple, three-way neck exercise regimen from CMLL Profesor Tony Salazar. It’s a means through which to safely strengthen your neck without the potential for spinal compression—a problem that traditional neck bridges can often cause. Essentially, there are three basic movements: nodding “yes,” shaking your head “no”, and a circular motion. The workout is as follows:
Lay on your back in crunch position, with your knees up, feet tucked near your bum.
Once you start, do not rest your head on the floor until after you have completed all reps from all three exercises. That means once you start, you will not rest until you’ve done all. Of. The. Reps.
Lift your neck about 1-2 inches from the floor.
In a controlled manner, nod your head “yes” 20 times.
After completing 20 reps, shake your head “no” 20 times. Again, do not touch your head to the floor between reps, nor after you complete all 20 reps.
After completing 20 reps, move your head in a circular motion to the right. STILL Don’t touch rest head to the floor—you’re almost done.
After 20 reps, move your head in a circular motion to the left. Once you finish all 20 reps, you can rest your head on the ground.
Depending on your current neck strength, you can add reps as needed. I was advised to perform the exercise at least twice per week, and to add 10 reps to each exercise every two weeks (meaning +10 to “yes,” +10 to “no”, +10 to circles to the right, +10 for circles to the left for a total of 40 additional reps) until you hit 50 of each. Adjust accordingly, but 20 reps of each should be an easy baseline for anyone who fancies them self a pro wrestler.
For those of you who follow my adventures, you’ve probably noticed a distinct descrease in posts over the past few months, something that I would like now to address.
For me there seems to be a inverse causal relationship between doing and thought: the more I’m doing something, the less time I have to think about it abstractly. Conversely the less I’m doing a thing (e.g., when I first started Rex N Effect), the more time I may spend exploring it intellectually. Beginning back in January, Lucha Volcánica has had monthly shows in Seattle. We have scaled back our training regimen from daily, to 3-hour sessions on Saturday & Sunday. This schedule affords me more time to focus on weight training and conditioning, as well as to train for stunt work. However the increased frequency of shows also means that I’ve been spending more time preparing for shows than I have previously, which in turn, seemingly leaves me less time to ponder the sport in which I am participating.
While I never set a particular scope for Rex N Effect, I did pride myself on writing a non-wrestling wrestling blog of sorts. Further, I never wanted this blog to merely a newsletter of my activities, but now that my activity level within the sport has increased, it may mean that I will need to take a different approach to how I share on Rex N Effect. Although I still intend to explore lucha libre through writing, I will likely be diversifying how the exploration occurs, including more photos, videos, and perhaps (maybe) the resurrection of the mythical podcast.
I recently had the pleasure and honor of being a guest judge at the 2015 Annual Piñata Bash in Seattle, Washington. A day or two preceding the event, a random individual posted on the Bash’s event page on Facebook, asking if we were partnering with any Latino organizations, and (not so) subtly accused the Bash of co-opting Mexican culture. Initially I was only put off by the condescending—yet blissfully ignorant—tone of the post. However through 30 seconds of Facebook stalking, I was instead offended by the fact that the perpetrator was white. And by “white,” I don’t mean just physically white in appearance, I mean clearly in no way a Latina. Chicana. Mexicana. Hispanic. Whatever nomenclature you prefer.
Which of course, brings me to the focus of this discussion: white people, please stop trying to tell us how to conduct our culture.
Before you assault me with angsty retorts in the comments section (I’m looking at you, recent liberal arts graduates), let me clarify two things: I’m not saying that you ought not to align yourselves with historically oppressed peoples, as we love and appreciate your support; I am *also* not trying to speak on behalf of oppressed peoples everywhere. What I *am* saying, is that not everything which vaguely resembles a thing that you understand as a tenet of a specific culture is a potential battleground against cultural appropriation.
Let’s take the case in question: the Piñata Bash is, in fact, organized by a group of white individuals. Never mind the fact that less than a minute of research would have revealed that the event was being sponsored by Lucha Libre Volcánica, which is owned by a Mexican and is an exhibition of a Mexican folk art. The point of contention for this person seems to be the central theme itself: the piñata.
This is one place where her critique breaks down: another minute (I know! So much time…) of research yields that the piñata may originate in China well before it ever became a Spanish tradition. For those of you who are unaware, China is not in fact, in Mexico. Further, Spain (if you’re following, happened to have adopted the Chinese tradition) was an imperialist occupier of Mexico. Essentially this means that the piñata is at least two-steps removed from Mexico—Spain’s cultural imperialism notwithstanding, of course. This is where I encounter a second problem with the critique: at what point do we judge something as cultural appropriation?
But beyond assaulting papier mâché (spelling and accents courtesy of the internet) with a stick, this misguided inquiry provoked further questioning about how authenticity and culture are policed. Where would such a conception of cultural currency put a luchador like me: a half-Mexican adoptee who was raised functionally lacking of any relationship to Mexican culture? What about my white colleagues in the sport, who are sometimes better performers than their Mexican counterparts? What about my friend La Avispa, who is white but speaks way better Spanish than I do? Do her language skills have more cultural currency than my skin tone and Mexican blood? Does it matter that she’s a white woman performing within an arena that is traditionally occupied by Mexican men? Sex and gender aside, how ought we to go about quantifying one’s ethnicity, and at what point does one lose the “cultural privilege” of being “ethnic?” Did I even technically qualify as a “supervisory Mexican” for the Bash? Did she know that I am adopted, and that’s why she insisted that we partner with a local Latino non-profit to “legitimize” the event?
I am the byproduct of a Mexican immigrant father and a white (mostly German, with a hint of French, and tidbits of Native American) mother; I was later adopted as an infant by a white family. During the course of my life I’ve been told by several (usually white) adults that I should “connect with my culture.” As a child I was completely unclear as to what that meant, short of learning Spanish or eating exclusively Mexican food. As I have become an adult, I am not any less confused as to what it means to “connect with my culture”: I am unclear as to where culture ends and begins. Regardless of my “connection” (or lack thereof) to Mexican culture, I grew up as a person of color. The quality of being Mexican is always already thrust upon me by a culture that identifies white as normative, and thus my “authentic” Mexicanness is largely irrelevant to my life experiences as a brown male. Regarding the Bash, this particular individual was out of her depth in the attempt to level a critique about the event. And although frustrating, I found myself asking more questions about cultural appropriation and who has the right to officiate public events involving (not white) culture. While I do not have the answer, I know for damned sure it was not this particular person.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been the subject of an upcoming lucha libre documentary which is being produced under the working title “Lucha Doc.” During a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, I had a drink and a chat with my friend Erich Von Tagen, the Director and Producer of Lucha Doc. We discussed (of course) Lucha Doc, La Avispa’s most recent blog post, Erich’s experiences watching wrestling in Mexico and Japan, and our upcoming trip to Mexico City together.
On a side note, there are two obviously censored moments within the interview wherein Erich accidentally mentioned luchador’s real names. Also, moving forward I’ll be publishing podcasts here, but I will eventually archive them on the iTunes store for all of you iPhiles.
We’re in the last quarter of 2014, meaning that it’s once again time to change the exercise regimen!
As I have mentioned in previous installments, changes to my routine are usually more of an ongoing, gradual, organic process instead of drastically changing my workout. If you’ve been following my workout updates you’ll notice that changes are often as subtle as increases or decreases in the amount of weight, a change in the number of reps or sets, to swapping flat bench press for dumbbell press. Ideally this would help me continually make gains in both size and strength whilst simultaneously changing enough to avoid plateaus. As always I avoid working until complete exhaustion, as I still train lucha libre in between my lifting days.
Noteworthy changes in this installment: moving into the holidays, us luchadores at Lucha Volcánica tend to miss more practice days. Accordingly I’m using this time to work on heavier gains, which is noticeable in the increase in the number of overall sets, and low-repetition, heavy-weight sets. Because of the increased number of sets, I’ve also shaved off a few isolations in the interest of time conservation—after all not everyone can or wants to spend several hours at the gym. That being said, the entire program is a circuit, ergo employing active rest in between sets.
I’ve outlined the workout below, but have also included an Excel spreadsheet which gives a little more coherence to the circuit.
Low rep/high weight
High rep/no weight
3×3, 10-15 reps
Handstand walkovers (2 sets, 15 feet), tuckup into handstands (2×10)
Mixed swim workout, ~ 20-30 minutes + Lucha training
4 varied sets, 80-120 contacts
2 sets plyometrics, 2 sets box jumps (5x max height)
Balance: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercises (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
Weights: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercises (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
High-rep: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercses (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
I’ve been pretty open about my lack of interest in American pro wrestling. I am however, a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and I recently listened to his interview with former WWE star CM Punk, who at the end of his interview stated how he often feels fat and out of shape. Not that I enjoy the misery of others, but it was affirming to know that I shared an insecurity with another—although significantly more prominent—pro wrestler.
I want to make clear that this is not a covert public confession to an eating disorder, something with which I am not affected. If anything this could be considered an admission that for years I struggled with insecurities regarding my physical appearance. More broadly it is an attempt to illustrate that such insecurities are not uncommon, and further, are exacerbated by aesthetic ideal conceptions of masculinity proper. In doing so we will look at a series of case studies that will illustrate how the physicality of pro wrestlers bear signs which adhere to particular conceptions of the otherwise complex milieu of social constructs such as race, class, gender, and so on. That being said, it should be immediately obvious that it would impossible to give such a topic a proper treatment within the average blog post length. Consequently this will be the first of a series of installments: this discussion will primarily set up the theory within which I understand the aesthetic and physical expectations of the masculine body; subsequent additions will examine case studies such as the Ultimate Warrior, Viscera, and other pop-culture icons.
Further it should be noted that this is not an attempt to equivocate the physical and aesthetic expectations of men’s and women’s bodies, but rather to explore the social and cultural expectations of beauty that are particular to male performers—and perhaps men in general, although such a broad claim is well beyond the scope of this discussion.
The dominant cultural presupposition holds that body image issues are inherently a women’s problem. For example the phrase “manorexia” is clearly a verbal play on the eating disorder anorexia: the addition of the “m” masculinizes the word thereby distinguishing it from “anorexia.” But this action presupposes that anorexia is inherently a female disorder, and thus the anorexic man is an anomaly as he is suffering from something that is thought to only afflict women. While this example is specific to a particular condition, it indicates a broader cultural understanding of body image issues as being exclusive to women.
My interest in this topic was rekindled by ESPN’s decision to feature professional baseball player Prince Fielder on the cover of their annual Body Issue, which subsequently fueled a public discussion about men’s physique. Despite the fact that Fielder is a professional athlete, his perhaps “husky” appearance incited public criticism of his “less than ideal” physical appearance—in other words he wasn’t svelte enough to conform to the masculine ideal aesthetic that we’ve attached to athletes.
Such aesthetic expectations are omnipresent in sports, and given the hyperbolic, theatrical nature of professional wrestling, such aesthetics tend to be overrepresented. But the representation of ideology within the body is not new, and is in fact a somewhat intentional and integral part of pro wrestling sport. Despite the athleticism of pro wrestlers, it differs from sport proper in that pro wrestling is simultaneously steeped in theatre. This theatrical nature gives professional wrestling a sort of license to intentionally draw upon ideological conceptions of beauty, heroism, and masculinity.
In his famous essay The World of Wrestling, Roland Barthes states “What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and places before the panoramic view of univocal nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.” In other words professional wrestling distills otherwise complex intersections of—among others—race, class, gender, good and evil, and reifies them as physical signifiers within the body of the wrestler which in itself constitutes a basic sign. These signs are constructed to resonate with and conform to dominant ideologies of the audience, and thus are simplified and hyperbolized so that there is no need to connect the signs to what they signify—they are immediately readable.
Barthes also helps us understand the importance of the appearance of the body in pro wrestling. Unlike most sports wherein a particular body type is produced from repetitive movements and actions, pro wrestling’s theatrical nature means that the body of the professional wrestler is crafted in order to fit an ideal aesthetic: a continuous cast of Spartans.
While Barthes wrote specifically about wrestling, he wasn’t the only academic to understand how the human body is used as a conduit of signs. The late French philosopher Michel Foucault noted that “the body is directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it; mark it, train it” and force it to “emit signs.” The signs themselves are a product of “an overall effect” of the “strategic positions” of hegemonic power. By using Foucault’s and Barthes’ ideas as lenses through which to view professional wrestling, we understand the body of the wrestler as a hyperbolized sign which functions as a signifier for pre-existing ideological conceptions of race, class, gender, good and evil, and national identity.
But how does all of this theory relate to body image issues? Given that their bodies are a central feature to the sport, wrestlers are often hyperaware of their physical appearance. The narrative structure within professional wrestling—from long-form storylines of the WWE to the minute narrative of a single match itself—are constructed upon these very ideological conceptions. When these popular conceptions break down there is a sort of ideological disruption. The most relevant and obvious example lies in the aforementioned Fielder case, wherein Fielder’s masculine form failed to conform to the ideal athletic body.
I am specifically interested in a variety of things: if the theatre of pro wrestling functions as a sort reflective field of ideological conceptions, it can be used as a means through which to gain perspective on how a particular culture understands itself. What do I mean by this? In case studies—which we will examine at length later—we will look at Hulk Hogan’s (Terry Bollea) super-patriotic gimmick from the 1980s. I argue that his “American hero” character would have been unsuccessful if, for example, Hogan had been a man of color. This claim, of course, is an historical one and thus cannot be divorced from the context, a context that we will examine in order to illustrate the conversation around race and national identity during Hogan’s run as the “Real American.” Thus we can use this information to gain a particular understanding of how viewers perceived American identity itself—i.e., American identity proper—during that time.
Peripherally I am also suggesting is that these “ideal” masculine forms are hyperbolized and distilled within pro wrestling in such a way that drives wrestlers to aspire towards an unrealistic—and often times unattainable—physique. Repeated failures to achieve such perfection undoubtedly lead to a sense of inadequacy, and many wrestlers end up altering and sometimes destroying their bodies striving to such ends.
As someone who has to continually fight back impulses to try semi-promising fad diets or health supplements from body building websites in order to drop to an unhealthily low body-fat percentage, I often find myself contemplating this fleeting sense of inadequacy. While some of the aforementioned theory may seem obtuse on its face, it can be instructive to help trace a sort of metaphysics of masculinity, as well as a broader means through which to inductively unpack cultural self-identity. I find both of these ends to be simultaneously intellectually and personally fulfilling, and the former can be a theoretical framework with which one can confront their own body image issues.
We’ll continue the discussion with a series of case studies. This is an open-ended project, and thus I cannot enumerate subsequent entries. However anticipate a multifaceted analysis including not just pro wrestling photos, images, videos, and excerpts from interviews, but also social and political history where contextually relevant.
Barthes, Roland. “World of Wrestling.” Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. 23-32. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.
Creative performance is my driving inspiration. As a professional luchador, I become a character through my performance: my very persona is created by the nuances and broader actions within the ring. Ave Rex then is the end product of that which I create: it is the individual words I choose and the consistency of my actions which give shape to my identity and breathe life into the performance.