Pumping Iron: When Gods Wore Sweatpants

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The 1977 doc stimulated starrings out of lifters like Arnold Schwarzenegger and turned the gym into a destination for millions. But there was a price: Gym clothes went upscale.”>

Of all chronicles of Herculean villainy, Promethean strength, Cerulean eyes, and Tyrolean accents, the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron is the prima inter pares . The cinema chronicles the 100 days leading up to the Mr. Olympia contest in Pretoria, South Africa. But largely what it concerns itself with are the bodies and the minds of a cadre of human statues called bodybuilders.

Casthe now claims self-castas the villain is Arnold Schwarzenegger, then a young, handsome Austrian with biceps the size of a small country and an ego the size of a superpower. The underdog hero is played with inchoate dignity by Lou Ferrigno, a Brooklyn kid who works out in his fathers cellar. Theres also Mike Katz, heart-breaking as the perpetual loser; Ken Waller, his sallow, dead-eyed tormentor; and Franco Columbu, the small but charismatic Italian.

The film was stimulated before bodybuilders were movie stars. In fact, the film constructed bodybuilders movie stars. This of course recursively resulted droves of pigeon-chested citizens to take to the gym en masse to gain mass and thissuch is the nature of the free marketled to increasingly specialized fitness wear.

Now, on the eve of the cinemas 40 th anniversary, we might do well to reflect upon what the garments those men wore thenand what garments humen wear todayto the gym says about our bodies, our selves.

Today we live in a world of breathable fabric and technical garments. It isnt uncommon, as one daubs oneself with a scented eucalyptus towel at an Equinox, to notice ones fellow worker out wearing obscenely bright compression socks with an ultra-wicking, similarly bright Dri Fit top and shorts made of a cloth so light it seems a light breeze might dissolve them as it would a wisp of smoke.

What a relief it is, therefore, and with what nostalgia do we gaze upon the muscular forms of Messrs. Schwarzenegger, Ferrigno, and Katz. For these men became divinities wearing sweatpants.

But the charm and the takeaway from Pumping Iron isnt simply, primarily, or even vaguely about laughing at how dated the street manners were in 1977. The resonant aspect is how small the deviation is between the street fashion and the gym wear. Now, this isnt athleisure, that rightfully derided portmanteau which seeks to ameliorate sloth by cloaking it in the functionality of performance wear. Merely because one wears a breathable fabric doesnt mean one is an athlete.

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