20 May Generation Iron: Lessons From Modern Bodybuilding

Phil-Heath-Generation-ironEverybody wants to build muscle and lose fat.  If that’s true, you could say we all want to be bodybuilders, at some level.

With that said, let me tell you about the movie, Generation Iron.

Generation Iron is amazing film.  A visual masterpiece with a powerful story about the sport of modern bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding is a different kind of sport and Generation Iron is a different kind of film.  From the stories, to the scenery and filmmaking, to the drive, desire, and passion of all the athletes, this film is a journey.

This new modern day bodybuilding documentary recently became available on DVD and it’s already a classic.

Narrated by Mickey Rourke and no matter how you feel about bodybuilding, the movie is insightful, inspiring, and humanizing.

Even if you don’t know anything about bodybuilding, you’ll be engaged, entertained, and ‘awed’ by today’s new breed bodybuilder.

What is today’s new breed?

Well, things have evolved quite a bit since the day’s of Arnold Schwartzenegger and Lou Ferrigno going head on in the previous bodybuilding classic, “Pumping Iron.”  Today’s new breed is entirely different from the bodybuilder of the 70’s. It’s a new generation.

Today, it’s about how much dense, ripped muscle mass can be packed on the human body.  Symmetry still matters, but these athletes are truly “big beyond belief.”

Generation Iron opened up with a really powerful, but usual scene. An enormous bodybuilder wearing a mask posing artistically in a subway. Spectators stopping and marveling at the striking, muscular bodybuilder who gracefully moved through his series of poses.  The vision of a hypertrophic physique was captivating.  After the posing session, the hooded bodybuilder ascended from the depths of the subway.

The bodybuilder was Kai Greene, the hungry, driven, hard working challenger for the Mr. Olympia title. The build up in the film was the 2012 Mr. Olympia, the top bodybuilding event in the world, known as the “Superbowl” of bodybuilding.

The next scene featured the current Mr. Olympia, the massive Phil Heath (pictured above), sitting on the top of a scenic mountainous region discussing his quest to stay on top of the bodybuilding world and defend his title.  Already, there were similarities between “Pumping Iron” and “Generation Iron” and what was shaping up to be an epic battle for the title of Mr. Olympia.

Is it talent or is it hard work? Which one wins?  That’s the debate between Phil and Kai, but what is common is the passion, the intensity, and the insanity, as these are the elements in the life of a championship bodybuilder. One thing they all clearly have in common is the psychology of winning and the championship mindset. They all exude extreme confidence and they must.

There’s no such thing as the perfect body” explains Phil Heath. Instead, what it’s about is getting better. “Striving to be 1% better everyday.”  These are the important lessons we all can learn and apply in our own quests, whether it’s strength, health, performance, or body composition.

There were many other powerful stories and lessons that can be taken away from this film, as well.  For example, another battle is the one between Ben Pakulski and Branch Warren, two other top bodybuilders preparing for the Mr. Olympia.  They have 2 completely different training approaches and styles.

Ben takes a scientific approach, training in the lab getting DEXA scans to measure body fat, performing wingate tests on a bicyle ergometer, and getting EMG work done while performing bent over barbell rows working with PhD sports scientist, Dr. Jacob Wilson.

Branch, on the other hand, trains “hardcore” in the old, classic Metroflex gym in Texas with Johnnie Jackson. He’s battling through injuries, (recent and past) that had could have easily set him back.  He’s “doing everything he can to win” and he trains hard and heavy.

The battle here is between the scientific approach and the more traditional “old school” approach.  Again, it leads you to ask the question, which approach is better?

No matter what training approach or philosophy they have, they all share that “fierce drive to become a champion” as Lou Ferrigno put it.  Lou was in the film and so was Arnold.

Another powerful character story in the film was Victor Martinez and you had to feel for this fallen competitor.  A former bodybuilding champion who, at the time of the documentary, was just coming out from being incarcerated.  Victor had to spend some 6 months in prison and needed to come back to bodybuilding to reclaim his life. As Victor put it “My entire life is like the stock market. And, right now I’m in a recession.” Clearly, a good guy, who’s fallen to some hard luck in his life and one of the most humanizing athletes in the film.

The passion for bodybuilding is intense.  It’s consuming and there’s a deep drive unlike any other sport.  Bodybuilding is all consuming and it’s a 24 hour, 7 day a week sport because there is no rest from training, nutrition, the discipline, and the mindset.  You have to be consumed with the sport to be successful. And, you must have the desire and dedication to become a champion.

Generation Iron shows us this drive, passion, motivation, and commitment to become a champion in a very unique sport.

Generation Iron tell the powerful stories of these men striving to build and sculpt the human physique to it’s fullest potential and beyond. One thing about bodybuilding is that it’s not about performance. No one ever said it was. It’s about aesthetics and pushing to the brink of human anatomy and muscle physiology.

As Phil Heath explained…

“We’re able to do what 99.8% of the people on the earth can’t do, which is lose fat and gain muscle.”

To the extent shown in the movie, he’s absolutely right.

This is a battle of champions leading up to the modern day competition.  A film I’d recommend to anyone and everyone to see and understand what the sport is all about and also learn lessons about what it means to become a champion, whether or not you’re a bodybuilder, athlete of any kind, or simply a passionate fitness enthusiast.  

A brilliant and captivating film that will inspire and “awe” viewers.

There were many great quotes from the movie, but I’ll leave you with these 2 powerful lines.

“No one’s going to give you anything, you’re going to have to work for it.” -Kai Green

“I’m a bodybuilder until I die.” -Hidetada Yamagishi

The quote by Hidetada is why I wrote this, as it’s a part of my own background, my DNA.

The bottom line? This is an awesome movie.

But, you have to be open minded and think about what lessons you can learn from it.

While my own personal methods, techniques, and training principles are very different today than when I was a “bodybuilder”, there are things to be learned and the drive and desire to excel never dies.

Again, we are all “bodybuilders” at some level.

Check out Generation Ironnow available on DVD.

Scott Iardella writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff!

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  • Joseph
    Posted at 12:50h, 21 May Reply

    hi Scott, please take a moment and watch the short video on how Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers works out. I’d like to hear your feedback on this approach…

    “The best weightlifters were the worst athletes.” Marv Marinovich – NFL’s first strength and conditioning coach

    • Scott
      Posted at 21:49h, 22 May Reply


      Thanks for sharing, I love to see different ideas and perspectives.

      You have to remember, there are many different qualities of strength (max strength, explosive strength, strength endurance, speed strength, strength speed, etc.)
      What Polamalu and his coach are working on is ‘some’ explosive strength and strength endurance (to a degree) and he’s trying to tie in other things (movement, flexibility, proprioception, etc.)
      From what I saw, he is training “light” and so the higher level explosive strength and a percentage of max strength aren’t there. I think the approach is somewhat limited. Personally, I would have him lifting “heavy weights” very strategically, in addition to this “low level” explosive strength training. I don’t think the approach covers all the bases, IMHO. Explosive kettlebell and barbell lifts would help, for sure!

      The quote, “The best weightlifters in the world are the worst athletes” is taken WAY out of context. For example, is he referring to “weightlifters” (those who are skilled in Olympic weightlifting, which I would find hard to believe, just look at Dmitri Klokov, for example) or is he referring to those who engage is strength training, in general. The “typical” athlete who benches and squats and have probably never been shown proper technique and don’t necessarily train for explosive strength, movement, and mobility? So, who is he referring to? It sounds like the athlete who trains exclusively for max strength and “general” S & C.

      You can train for all the qualities that Troy wants and needs as a pro football player by training with heavier weights (certainly heavier than 20 pounds!!!) and get the same or better results. The key is doing the right techniques, training principles, modalities, etc.
      And, training “heavier” doesn’t necessarily getting “bigger and slower.” This is inaccurate. Strength training protocols and hypertrophy building protocols are VERY different. So, his point about “bigger is better, it’s slower” is not really appropriate because you can train for max strength and not necessarily get “bigger.” All depends on the training variables and programming.

      There are different types of muscle tissue, as well. I written about “functional hypertrophy” vs “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.” Really a lot I could continue to write, but I think the approach is limited.

      That’s basically my take on it. Thanks for sharing and I love to “think”and analyze this stuff.


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