Smile Politely

Stop Lifting, Start Running; Or, Bring Back the Hot Pants!

Efrem Winters may, or may not be the all-time career leader in the often under reported Illinois Men’s Basketball impressive leg muscles category. These days, it’s hard to tell. You can’t actually see the athletes’ legs anymore.

Since the mid-90s, college basketball has endured the thrall of a restrictive, totalitarian regime which requires athletes to hide their bodies in baggy, bulky, flowing robes.

It began when Michigan’s Fab Five Freshmen — none of whom, to this day, is a Muslim woman — introduced the sweatburka, much to the relief of fashion conscious chubsters everywhere. Like so many immature adolescents, the Fab Five were embarrassed about their bodies, and chose to hide them.

Since then, America has ballooned into a nation of fatties, vainly hoping to conceal our rotundity in casual wear. Coincidence?

Probably, it is coincidence. America also stopped smoking and preparing its own meals—two contributing factors to its new found girth.

At around the same time, everybody got involved with weight training — lifting weights, and injecting boob juice. Gyms formerly peopled exclusively by Napoleon Complex sufferers now find themselves filled with fitness-minded twenty-somethings, soccer moms, horny singles, horny marrieds and old guys on HGH.

Our athletes all caught the bug, too. It was most obvious in baseball, where skinny guys with porn ‘staches ballooned into pimply, hyperactive SchwarzenHulks with frothing-at-the-mouthstaches.

But there’s definitely an emphasis on weight training in basketball, too. Weight training, once thought dangerous to the skill sets in finesse sports, is now ubiquitously ruining the skill sets in finesse sports. Moreover, it’s requiring slender, fit guys to eat like pigs.

Building muscle requires a lot of eating, as well as a lot of exercise. And because exercise burns calories, it can be difficult to develop musculature while maintaining a high level of aerobic activity, as one does in basketball.

So guys like Mike Tisdale have to eat three times the recommended daily allowance to build muscle. And players are not the only ones affected. Coach Jerrance Howard has to eat 8,000 calories a day to maintain his physique.

Tisdale must grow his muscles for the same reason that Reagan had to grow our nuclear arsenal — to keep up with the competition. When the enemy is defeated, Tisdale will have a lot of extra weight on his frame. Ideally, his knees will not give out. But in his case, the added weight is not such a bad deal. He truly was a beanpole when he arrived on campus.

For other guys, weight training will lead to being overweight when the training stops and the weight’s still there. Few adults have the free time to maintain the level of athletic activity of Division I collegians. I asked one Big Ten trainer, “How many track & field athletes put on 35 pounds within 5 years of graduation? A lot?”

His response:

“That would be an interesting study to say the least. In regards to actual weight, I’m not sure. But if you were to look in the change in percent body composition, I would bet the numbers would be extremely significant. Also, it would vary some between males and females. But overall, yes, I would say there are some significant changes in body composition, and probable weight gain following the exit of intercollegiate athletics. I mean realistically, once you hit the real world, who has time to work out for two or three hours a day, by just moving to a sedentary lifestyle, your body is going to change. Then factor in eating habits, diet changes, desire to be sedentary, etc, and there can be some drastic body composition changes.”

(He preferred to make his comments anonymously.)

So is it a good thing that basketball players do a lot of lifting, and a lot of eating? I’d say that the most successful players today are no bigger than they were 30 years ago. For evidence to support my contention, here’s a picture of Perry Range & Derek Holcolmb from 1981.

They look pretty ripped, but also fairly thin.

In the 90’s, Illini coaches began recruiting musclebound players — Bryant Notree and Sergio McClain, for example. McClain demonstrated little capacity for scoring potential at the college level, but he was good at clearing people out of the lane. Notree was recruited as a scorer, but he couldn’t shoot. His muscles were always too swoll from lifting. Instead, skinny tag-along Kevin Turner became Illinois’ go-to hot-hand.

There’s pressure to train for strength and competitiveness. But there’s also an added social pressure to get beefy. And bizarrely, there’s that additional social pressure to hide one’s impressive physique once it’s been attained. Is it because Range and Holcolmb looked ridiculous in those hot pants? Of course not. It’s because children are fickle for fads.

Bell bottoms were cool. Bell bottoms were a hilarious anachronism. Bell bottoms were retro cool. But hot pants are not bell bottoms. They’ll need to overcome a major disapprobation before we see their return to the courts of America.

We live in an age of strange contrasts. On the one hand, you can swing idly in your backyard hammock while having a conversation with a guy standing at an intersection in a city 8,000 miles away. On the other hand, people remain afraid to talk about sex & sexuality — one of only three things required by the human race for survival. People get freaked out by each other’s bodies. Two middle-aged women get married in California; and an entire cottage industry springs to life in Kansas, to oppose their very existence. Why? Because it makes Kansas uncomfortable to think that two women, somewhere, are gently bickering about whose turn it is to mow the lawn.

Discomfort with our bodies is also stifling the golden years of our elderly.

The Greatest Generation is currently being shipped off to death warehouses, in which all of life’s pleasures are stripped from them — for the convenience of others. Incessant beeping, no privacy, meal scheduling designed for the practicality of the feed industry —and not to do with gurgling stomachs. And the big new debate in the waiting-to-die business: should we allow our parents and grandparents to do it?

Odd, because we wouldn’t exist without them doing it. But now that we’re here, we want them to stop. We’re embarrassed about it.

I hope we’ve gotten over ourselves by the time I’m shipped off to the dying farm. In the meantime, I hope the running community — myself included — can persuade others that athletic shorts are short shorts. You just wouldn’t believe how much better it feels on my knees to keep them cool. So there’s a functional aspect to my plea. But I really just want everyone to stop being so hung up.

Why are we still so embarrassed about our bodies? They look nice. Let’s not make them any swoller, or fatter. Let’s not be so embarrased about them. And yet, even as I write these lines, I remind myself — let’s stop telling people what to do with theirs.

And one more thing: Bring back the hot pants. Let’s show ‘em what we got. (Also, chicks dig it.)

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