Evolution of a New Breed: The Hybrid Meathead

It was a beautiful spring night in Charlotte.  After a two-hour feast with my buddies, we looked down at our plates that now resembled an elephant graveyard.  Sort of like the elephant graveyard from Lion King, but I get distracted.  Anyways, my buddy Ethan declared it was time to leave, so we headed to the bar for a couple drinks.  While at the bar, we happened upon a group of girls who looked lonely (that’s what we told ourselves at least), and so a few of us went over to investigate. Well five minutes later I roll my eyes and stroll away from yet another disappointing conversation.  A conversation that presents itself often, as a matter fact, and unfortunately seems to always go the same way.  The conversation I’m talking about is one we’re all familiar with.  It happens whenever you meet someone new, and usually occurs within the first five minutes.  It’s the “what do you do for a living” conversation.

To say the conversation is disappointing may not be the most appropriate way to put it, but rather frustrating, and here is why.  When I first graduated college I took a job with Bank of America in a leadership development program.  I had no idea what I wanted to do and that seemed like a solid option at the time.  This is when I first began to notice the reaction one receives when the “what do you for a living “question pops up.  More times than not, when I name dropped Bank of America it got a pretty good response.  You could see it in their facial expression and the way they responded to the question.  They were categorizing me in their head as someone important, educated, good at what they do and all that jazz.

Well, it turns out the banking gig wasn’t for me.  I left that to pursue my true passion of being a strength and conditioning coach/personal trainer/performance coach.  I can vividly remember being out with some friends after this career change (which was 100% the right move for me by the way) when we met some new people and the question came out:  “So, what do you do for living?”  For the first time I gave the response that I’m a strength and conditioning coach, and the reaction was very strange.  Contrary to the reaction I had been receiving when telling people I worked for a bank, this one was much less welcoming.  That’s not to say the person wasn’t nice, but you can tell a lot by how people react, and in this case, I knew I was once again being categorized.  The same level of respect was not given and it felt like I was almost being looked down upon, and here’s why I think that was happening:  I was being categorized as a meathead.

Yes, a meathead.  The phrase we’re all so familiar with and love to poke fun at because of pictures and videos like the one below (thank you planet fitness):

Or even better, let’s take a look at urbandictionary.com’s number one definition for a meathead:

“An enormously muscular guy who cannot hold a conversation about anything other than weight-lifting and protein shakes. Gets upset very quickly when he cannot complete his own sentences and thoughts. Can be found at nightclubs wearing shirts that are 10 sizes too small (if at all). They are by far the most closely related human beings to that of apes, chimpanzees, and other primate. They are evolutionary hindered and are less capable of following directions than my dead hampster.”

With stuff like this floating around, how can I be surprised by the assumption many individuals have made upon hearing my profession.  They think back to these videos, quotes, and probably real life experiences to craft a mental image of a strength coach as somebody who just works out for a living.  Not to mention if you look bigger or happen to fill out what you’re wearing.  Apparently it’s not possible to have some muscle mass and still have a functioning brain.

Contrary to this popular view of a meathead, however, is the newly evolved meathead:  a sort of hybrid if you will.  A person who enjoys lifting heavy things, grunting from time to time, getting a little bicep pump on, occasionally checking himself or herself out in the mirror, and, wait for it….studying.  Yeah, I said it.  The “dumb jock” who is way stronger than you also enjoys reading and studying.  Like a lot.  You’re just as likely to find him or her immersed in some form of research, as you are the gym.  A frightening concept, I know.  Not only will they blow you out of the gym because they deadlift twice as much as you, but they’re also way smarter.  Anyways, it’s about time people start recognizing this new breed and respecting the immense power it will wield over the coming years:  The Hybrid Meathead.

The birth of the hybrid meathead has simple roots.  Like anything else, it has evolved over the course of many years, and owes its current status to those who came before it.

In the beginning, a meathead spent the vast majority of his or her time in the gym.  In other words, they just wanted to lift heavy weights and get freaking huge.  According to Chris Wren, a natural bodybuilder, author of the website thefitnessarchetype.com, and all around cool dude, the beginning meathead was: “the ultimate bro scientist, someone who used primarily anecdotal evidence at the expense of dismissing science.”  Granted, many of you out there may be shaking your head to hear the word scientist and meathead in the same sentence, but in all honesty that’s what they were.

With the weight room as their laboratory, they constantly experimented.  They played with volume, intensity, tempo and many other variables in pursuit of the ultimate muscle building and strength gaining routine.  If they tried something and it did not work, they would trash it and try something else.  They would constantly share ideas and spitball with other meatheads to find out what they were experimenting with in an attempt to hone their own routine.  In the words of Teiko Reindorf, owner of Encore Personal Training and co-author of the website mightytrainer.com, the traditional meathead didn’t so much “care about knowing every single thing about the science and just wanted to lift.”  Ultimately, this is where it all started, and there’s a lot to be said for this approach:  bust your ass, lift heavy shit, and get strong.

In fact, I’d make the argument that this is where most people start.  Most people start lifting because they enjoy lifting.  I know I did.  I didn’t really care about all the sciency stuff; I just wanted to lift, get strong, put on some muscle and have fun doing it.  That’s why I enjoy learning from meatheads who came before me.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather listen to somebody whose spent years under the bar busting his or her ass than some person who apparently knows what they’re talking about because they sat in a classroom.  I’m not saying education isn’t important, but if you don’t train I have limited interest in listening to you talk about training because you don’t have a frame of reference.

For this reason, I have been and always will consider myself a meathead.  At my core I’ll never get rid of my innate love for lifting heavy things, having muscles and occasionally working out with my shirt off (sorry I’m not sorry).  That doesn’t make me, however, an uneducated baboon like the current stereotype holds.  It just means I enjoy lifting, just like you may enjoy getting hammered on the weekends and staying out until 3 in the morning.  Side note, I’ve never understood why this is apparently “normal” and lifting isn’t but whatevs.

From this bro-science foundation, we’ve seen some members of the meathead clan evolve over the past decade or so into the hybrid meathead.  Sort of like in Dragon Ball Z (I’ll be mentioning more later on how the hybrid meathead tends be a little nerdy) when Goku evolved from a moderate badass to alpha badass by becoming a Super Saiyan

Photo Credit

In short, here’s what I’m getting at.  You had a group of individuals who were passionate about lifting heavy stuff, but at the same time wanted to know all the science.  They were just as likely, if not more so, to be found with their noses in some form of research as opposed to the gym.  They wanted to know about anterior pelvic tilt, scapulohumeral rhythm, levers, and all that jazz because it allowed them to do their job better than ever before.

In my endeavors I had heard rumor of this new and fascinating breed, but failed to witness it first hand until I made a trip out to Hudson, Massachusetts to visit Eric Cressey and Cressey Performance.  To say it was sort of an epiphany would be an understatement.   Here I was standing in front of a guy who could (and still can) deadlift over 600 lbs, but at the same time was talking to me about anatomy, posture, muscle imbalances and a whole bunch of other stuff that flew over my head.  I felt like I had met this strange combination of a doctor/physical therapist/strength coach.  Tony Gentilcore, one of the cofounders of Cressey Performance, says it perfectly:

“We’re equal parts meathead-in every sense of the word-in that we’re dudes who like to lift heavy things (and yes, sometimes, get our bicep pump on, and equal parts research nerds).  We like to think we’re able to get people strong, but do so in a scientifically backed way.  Where else can you train at a place where coaches can deadlift 500+ lbs and name all 17 muscles that attach to the scapulae without blinking an eye?”

Since this first encounter, I’ve been seeing the hybrid meathead everywhere I go.  It seems that almost everyday I’m running into awesome dudes and dudettes (not sure if that’s spelled right but you’ll get over it if it isn’t), who get after it with their training, but also enjoy nerding out.   I really like the way Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness (if you live in New York City be sure to go check him out) put it at a workshop I attended several months ago.  He called it geek training, or this idea that people who relate to Star Wars, Star Trek, or superheroes, just to name a few, represent the new wave of up and coming coaches.  One day they’ll go to a superhero convention, the next day they’ll deadlift 500lbs, and then the day after that they’ll give a lecture on biomechanics, posture, and correcting muscle imbalances.

Ultimately, this is what the future holds.  The days of just lifting heavy stuff are slowly trickling away (that’s if you want to make it a profession), and a new age of coaches is coming to the forefront.  These new coaches are the hybrid meatheads, the people who are blurring the lines and helping to bring together strength coaches, physical therapists, and doctors.  This is important for a multitude of reasons, but none more so than keeping people healthy and getting them awesome results.

Thus, I request you do a little reframing of the topic in your mind because it’s about time people move beyond their incorrect and outdated notion of a meathead.  In fact, I’m willing to bet these hybrid meatheads will be the most important part of our healthcare system within the next 5 years.  BOOM!