Monday, June 30, 2014

The American Man: A Late Night at Magic Cobra Tattoo


The is the first installment of a new series from Pacific Standard called The American Man, written by Thomas Page McBee, author of the forthcoming title, Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man (City Lights/Sister Spit, September 9, 2014).

This article looks at tattooing as a male bonding ritual. His perspective in these articles (and likely his book as well) is sure to be more interesting than some other male writers on gender - McBee is a transman, and therefore has had to manufacture a sense of masculinity in ways many cis-males have never even considered.

The American Man: A Late Night at Magic Cobra Tattoo

By Thomas Page McBee • June 19, 2014

(Photo: Susan Law Caiz/Shutterstock)

Our constant exploration for a sense of belonging is just about the only thing that could bring Brooklyn hipsters, queers, and a Christian couple from California all together for tattoos in the middle of a full-moon night. That and the $13 price tag.

The plan was for the scruffy lot of us to line up at midnight on the 12th outside Magic Cobra Tattoo in Brooklyn to get Friday the 13th tattoos—an underground tradition in shops across the country where $13, tenacity, and whiskey (recommended, not required) gets you a date with a piece of flash chosen last-minute off the shop’s board: a skull with “13” for eyes, a dagger, a toilet on fire.

My two buddies and I have dozens of tattoos between us, and there was talk of all three of us getting the same one. A crown, I figured, though I’d go for the owl or a dagger maybe, too. I love my friends, I love reclaiming masculine ritual, and I love tattoos.

What could go wrong?

Male bonding traditions are strikingly consistent and problematic in many cultures: often simultaneously homophobic and homosexual, pervasive, historic, and even animal—from skin cutting in Papua New Guinea to foreskin suturing by the Romans to bullet ant-sting initiation in Brazil—they’re also stunning in their commitment to pain and power as a way to mark a masculine coming-of-age.

One dark, modern side of such rituals is hazing—of particular concern in the military and college fraternities. The Army, which defines hazing as “an activity typically steeped in tradition, bound by silence, and ritualistic in nature” that “is thought to mark a transition, celebrate an achievement, or bring someone into a social or professional circle” has a zero tolerance policy for such activities, and the “deadliest fraternity” has eliminated pledging altogether.

I think that’s wise, and the fact is, ever since I began injecting testosterone three years ago, I’ve been drawn to ritual. I didn’t have a boyhood, never stayed up all night at summer camp engaging in harmless pranks like writing “butts” on some poor sap’s forehead, and—like a lot of modern men—I walk a knife’s edge between nostalgia for a true straight razor shave and a gratitude that I can be my tight-jean, literary self without much worry. I’m turned off by the endemic sexism, violence, and homophobia peppering locker room and barbershop talk, and—since I never felt an affiliation with my birth gender—I’m 33 and, for the first time in my life, I experience gender affinity with every toll booth ticket taker who calls me “brother” or “boss.”

Men are taught that power is the key to relationships, which is where a lot of troubling behavior starts. But an instinct to ritualize bonding may come from a need for healthy belonging. Contrary to popular belief, studies show that under stress that results in vulnerability groups of men (like women) demonstrate cooperative behavior that leads to less aggression and more trust and compassion. So Friday the 13th tattoos with my buddies felt more goodtime portside sailor than, you know, frat nightmare kidnapping and death. That was the idea, anyway.

It was only right that the night started off with my good buddy’s first trip to Shake Shack. We ate burgers and talked about this horrible dude we both want to punch in the face and the women we love, tenderness and red meat and elaborate fantasies regarding this guy getting his comeuppance. Then he bailed on the idea of tattoos so he could get up early enough to meet his fiancée in Philly (“I get it,” I said, because I did), and I took the G to hold a spot in line for my other friend.

The parlor line was a culture all its own. Hardcore old tattoo dudes; Brooklyn hipsters; and a mishmash of twentysomething hip-hop heads, and wide-eyed first-timers drank beer out of coffee cups and smoked joint after joint. A kid I knew from queer dance parties showed up, read my astrological chart, and hit on the straight girl in front of us who planned to get a UFO inked on her neck. She was with two doofuses, one of whom announced that he was “just here to meet bitches,” which drew a look from pretty much everyone around him. “Sorry,” he said, but he wasn’t. Later, I felt a twinge of victory when the straight girl ordered him to buy her cigarettes and he was gone, hitting three stores and returning to her with his hands outstretched, like an offering.

My friend showed up late and got in line with someone else, leaving me with no plan and a ragtag group—the straight Queens guys up-talking peyote with blustery bravado while holding an umbrella over my head, the queer kid smoking endless kush out of a vaporizer, and the Christian California couple behind me who went and bought me beer and snacks at 3 a.m. but stared at me, wide-eyed, when the queer kid announced that we were “all gay”—which wasn’t really true, I sleep with women, but whatever, close enough.

“You people might not like this,” the Queens guy just here to hit it with the ladies mumbled to us drunkenly around 4, “but there’s this reggae dance night in the Rockaways you should check out.” Kush Queer smiled politely, while I tried to understand whose people he thought I was exactly—gay ones, I guessed. It occurred to me that, as usual, I straddled the world in which I passed and the one in which I didn’t.

I can always bond, but never commit, to one way of being a man: I belong everywhere and nowhere at once.

Maybe that’s the reality of a lot of my brethren. Younger men aren’t as hampered by social constructions of masculinity, and though we may hunger to reclaim some aspects of it with our boxing clubs and barber shops, we have less of a need to codify what being a man means in primal, no-pain-no-gain terms. Generation Y men do more housework and are more engaged fathers than any generation before. Despite the need to be better feminists, many of us—contrary to what Pharrell thinks—use the term to define ourselves.

I caught sight of my friend after he got a knot tattoo on his arm, and we hugged and then he took off. I’d decided to go my own way with the log cabin, but by 4 I’d lost steam. It had been five hours, someone said the tattooists were drunk, and I felt a little hungover. When the rain kicked up, I told my new friends I was out, collected pounds from all of them, and hopped in a trolling cab.

It was the ride home that, surprisingly, offered me the fraternity I’d spent all night seeking. The driver, a Nigerian man with bad hearing and alarmingly erratic steering, couldn’t find the bridge to get me back to Manhattan. After a few minutes circling the same three blocks, I asked if we were lost. “Yes,” he said, pulling over, actually holding his head in his hands. It was 5 in the morning on a Friday, the salmon sunrise making everything a little sparkly. “I’m so ashamed,” he said.

“It’s all right,” I told him, because it was. He’d turned off the meter, I had nowhere to be, and the rain made the light look magic.

After getting back on the road and asking another cabbie for directions, my man turned around and faced me. “Have you ever been lost?” he asked, his eyes pleading, and I knew that what I wanted was this: a kindness to sand the edge off days filled with tiresome bravado, electric moments of near-violence, shit talk and flexing and avoiding a mysterious fight on Canal with a guy who accused me (wrongly) of “taking pictures of his car.” This moment wasn’t a ritual or a test, but when I answered the cabbie, I felt fraternal.

“I’m always lost,” I said, and we both laughed, two strangers in fragile bodies, connected in our liminal crossing of the bridge, under the sun that just kept on rising over our journey home.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The American Man is a new semi-regular series from Thomas Page McBee that features gonzo reporting from barbers shops, boxing gyms, frat houses, and other bastions of masculinity in an effort to define what makes a modern man.

Thomas Page McBee is the author of the forthcoming book Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man. He has written about gender for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Vice, Salon, and the Rumpus, where he pens the column “Self-Made Man.” Follow him on Twitter @thomapagemcbee.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection - The Art of Manliness

This is an old post from The Art of Manliness, but it's so cool I thought I would share it again. These pictures remind us that it was not all that long ago that men could be affectionate with each other and it meant nothing about their sexuality.

It's sad that we have lost the freedom to be close to each other both physically and emotionally because we are afraid to be called "gay" or "fag."

This is a good reminder that with all the progress we have made as a species in some realms, in other realms we have lost valuable traits and freedoms.

Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection

Brett and Kate McKay
July 29, 2012

In my unending search for just the right vintage images for our articles, I have looked through thousands of photographs of men from the last century or so. One of the things that I have found most fascinating about many of these images, is the ease, familiarity, and intimacy, which men used to exhibit in photographs with their friends and compadres.

I shared a handful of these images in our very early post on the history of male friendship, but today I wanted to share almost 100 more in order to provide a more in-depth look into an important and highly interesting aspect of masculine history: the decline of male intimacy over the last century.

As you make your way through the photos below, many of you will undoubtedly feel a keen sense of surprise — some of you may even recoil a bit as you think, “Holy smokes! That’s so gay!”

The poses, facial expressions, and body language of the men below will strike the modern viewer as very gay indeed. But it is crucial to understand that you cannot view these photographs through the prism of our modern culture and current conception of homosexuality. The term “homosexuality” was in fact not coined until 1869, and before that time, the strict dichotomy between “gay” and “straight” did not yet exist. Attraction to, and sexual activity with other men was thought of as something you did, not something you were. It was a behavior — accepted by some cultures and considered sinful by others.

But at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of homosexuality shifted from a practice to a lifestyle and an identity. You did not have temptations towards a certain sin, you were a homosexual person. Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century. At the same time, it also may explain why in countries with a more conservative, religious culture, such as in Africa or the Middle East, where men do engage in homosexual acts, but still consider homosexuality the “crime that cannot be spoken,” it remains common for men to be affectionate with one another and comfortable with things like holding hands as they walk.

Whether the men below were gay in the way our current culture understands that idea, or in the way that they themselves understood it, is unknowable. What we do know is that the men would not have thought their poses and body language had anything at all to do with that question. What you see in the photographs was common, not rare; the photos are not about sexuality, but intimacy.

These photos showcase an evolution in the way men relate to one another — and the way in which certain forms and expressions of male intimacy have disappeared over the last century.

It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words, so while I have provided a little commentary below, I invite you to interpret the photos yourselves, and to ask and discuss questions such as: “Who were these men?” “What was the nature of their relationships?” “Why has male intimacy decreased and what are the repercussions for the emotional lives of men today?”

Men as Friends


From the Civil War through the 1920′s, it was very common for male friends to visit a photographer’s studio together to have a portrait done as a memento of their love and loyalty. Photographers would offer various backgrounds and props the men could choose from to use in the picture. Sometimes the men would act out scenes; sometimes they’d simply sit side-by-side; sometimes they’d sit on each other’s laps or hold hands. The men’s very comfortable and familiar poses and body language might make the men look like gay lovers to the modern eye — and they could very well have been — but that was not the message they were sending at the time. The photographer’s studio would have been at the center of town, well-known by everyone, and one’s neighbors would having been sitting in the waiting room just a few feet away. Because homosexuality, even if thought of as a practice rather than an identity, was not something publicly expressed, these men were not knowingly outing themselves in these shots; their poses were common, and simply reflected the intimacy and intensity of male friendships at the time — none of these photos would have caused their contemporaries to bat an eye.

When the author of Picturing Men, John Ibson, conducted a survey of modern day portrait studios to ask if they had ever had two men come in to have their photo taken, he found that the event was so rare that many of the photographers he spoke to had never seen it happen during their career.


When portable cameras for the amateur photographer became more widely available, they allowed men to photograph themselves in a greater range of more spontaneous situations, and the practice of sitting for formal portraits together waned in the 1930s. The snapshots usually were developed by someone else who would have gotten a look at all of them, so again, these pictures were not likely purposeful expressions of gay love, but rather captured the very common level of comfort men felt with one another during the early 20th century.

One of the reasons male friendships were so intense during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is that socialization was largely separated by sex; men spent most their time with other men, women with other women. In the 50s, some psychologists theorized that gender-segregated socialization spurred homosexuality, and as cultural mores changed in general, snapshots of only men together were supplanted by those of coed groups.

In all male environments, such as mining camps or navy ships, it was common for men to hold dances, with half the men wearing a patch or some other marker to designate them as the “women” for the evening.

Forming pyramids on the beach was a popular pastime for men through the 30s.

There's more at The Art of Manliness.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fitness Friday - Fitness News and Information You Can Use

It's Friday, so it's time for a recap of the best fitness articles from the last week. Headlining this week is another good article from Charles Staley at T-Nation - this one on seven mind hacks to excel in the gym.

Following that, we have another T-Nation article by Eric Bach on the art of the hang clean. There's also an excellent primer by Mike Robertson on push-ups, and then a two part blog from Tony Gentilcore's blog on maintaining athleticism as we age.

7 Mind Hacks for Gym Dominance

by Charles Staley   

Here's what you need to know...
  • Experts talk about strength training theory, lifting technique, and periodization, but very few talk about the psychological skills needed for weight-lifting dominance.
  • While your physicality can be likened to the size of your engine, your psychological aptitude is analogous to running on all cylinders. It determines how much horsepower you can get out of the body you've already built.
When I view the intellectual landscape around the subject of resistance training, it strikes me as significant that so little time is spent discussing the mental skills required for high-level lifting. There are a few possible explanations for the absence of this type of info:
  1. We don't think such skills are important.
  2. We think these skills are important, but not "teachable." In other words, either you have it or you don't.
  3. We understand the importance of the mind's role in lifting success, but don't feel qualified or otherwise capable of teaching these skills to others.
I suspect that the final explanation holds the most truth. Somehow, we view the mind as the exclusive domain of trained professionals with lots of letters after their name, not the purview of meathead lifters like us.

Psychological skills deserve more attention. After all, once your physical skills are well-developed, strategic psychology may be the greatest weapon in your arsenal. While your physicality can be likened to the size of your engine, your psychological aptitude is analogous to running on all cylinders – it determines how much horsepower you can get out of the body you've already built.

So with all of that in mind, here are my top seven tips for "getting your head right" when you really need to uncork a big lift in the gym.

* * * * *

Hang Clean For Total Body Power

by Eric Bach   

Here's what you need to know...
  • The clean is the top dog in resistance programs for improving performance as it requires triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in a coordinated, explosive pattern – a movement that simulates the triple extension in both sprinting and jumping.
  • Hang cleans will get you absolutely jacked. They not only stimulate your forearms and traps, but nearly 200 muscles in the body so that you get a huge anabolic surge and training effect.
  • Intelligently planned cleans get you absolutely shredded. Cleans, especially when performed with a full front squat or low catch, are metabolically demanding. The explosive nature and muscle recruitment requirements will leave you absolutely floored when done with proper technique and short rest.
Without question, power cleans are a phenomenal tool in your pursuit of high performance strength and muscle. The problem is, they can be difficult to learn. Most cleans are downright atrocious. You see things like starfish legs, excessive knee valgus, and a gross lack of coordination, none of which have a place in the weight room. Hang cleans, however, are a great, doable, alternative.

* * * * *

From Robertson Training Systems, Mike Robertson offers the most complete primer on push-ups I have ever seen.


June 25, 2014

Every single client or athlete I train uses push-ups in their programming.

And why not?

They are simply a fantastic lift, whether your goal is to get stronger, burn more body fat, or become more athletic.

Let’s start our journey by reviewing just a few of the reasons you might want to include push-ups in your next training program.

* * * * *

Finally, from Tony Gentilcore's site, a good two-parter on how to stay athletic.

10 Must Do’s To Stay Athletic (Part I)

James Cerbie, CSCS | 6.23.2014

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of former Cressey Performance intern, James Cerbie. As the title suggests it’s all about how to maintain athleticism, which is something that will hit home for many former athletes, weekend warriors, and Al Bundy-like people who like to bask in the glory of their high-school and college days.


What does it mean to be an athlete?

Sure, there’s getting all the girls of course.

Kidding…kidding…we all know there’s more to it than that.

So what is it?

The thrill of winning, the rush of competing, the butterflies before a game, the anticipation of a daunting challenge, the brotherhood (could be sisterhood but I’m speaking from my own experience), the pain of defeat, the constant drive towards perfection…it’s hard to say.

Being an athlete, to me at least, encompasses all of those things and more. It’s truly a way of life, and hard to rid yourself of once you’re so called playing days are over.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t seem to recognize this. Once you leave college or professional sports, you’re thrust into a world that almost looks down on being an athlete. They’ll just tell you: “Oh, you had your chance. Your playing days are over. It’s time to hang up the cleats and begin your slow decline into decrepitude.”
* * * * *

10 Must Do’s to Stay Athletic (Part 2)

James Cerbie, CSCS | 6.24.2014

Before we get to Part 2 of James’ guest post from yesterday, a few things:

1. You should read Part 1 if you haven’t already. This isn’t like The Matrix Reloaded or Revolutions or anything where, if you didn’t watch the original Matrix, you’d be throwing your hands up in the air wondering what WTF is going on.

Where did 100 Agent Smith’s come from?

If Neo can fly, why go through all the trouble of kung-fu’ing everyone?

And, who the hell is this Architect character and why is he obsessed with the word “ergo”?

Nevertheless, you can absolutely read Part 2 (below) and not Part 1 and get the gist of everything. But, it’s still nice to have the whole story.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Breaking the Man Box: Reconstructing Masculinity in America

This event occurred at the University of Minnesota in March of this year (2014). This conversation is a companion to the Office for Equity and Diversity's Critical Conversations about Diversity and Social Justice series at the University of Minnesota. Co-sponsored by the University Libraries.

Breaking the Man Box: Reconstructing Masculinity in America

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watch this event here!   (requires Microsoft Silverlight)

What does it mean to be a man? Historically, certain images of masculinity have been foundational to American beliefs and values. Challenging these rigid constructs has resulted in major shifts in American society, opening up opportunities for new ideas about gender, identities, and behaviors. How are Women/Gender Studies challenging traditional cultural behaviors? How are ideas about masculinity shifting and helping families raise feminist sons? This conversation engages panelists and participants in an examination of manhood, maleness and masculinity by discussing cultural contexts such as sports, gaming and guns; male power in the market place; ethnic masculinities; paternity and parenting; artistic expression; and sexual expression and identity.

This is a companion to the Office for Equity and Diversity's Critical Conversations about Diversity and Social Justice series at the University of Minnesota. Co-sponsored by the University Libraries.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, check out some of the highlighted resources.



A call to men by Tony Porter from TEDWomen 2010

How movies teach manhood by Colin Stokes TEDxBeaconStreet 2012

Violence against women—it's a men's issue by Jackson Katz TEDxFiDiWomen 2012

Ten responses to the phrase 'Man Up' by Guante




This page was created by Jody Gray, Diversity Outreach Librarian.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Roughhousing Lessons From Dad


It's nice to see researchers looking at the role of fathers in their children's lives. This review of recent research comes from the Wall Street Journal.

Roughhousing Lessons From Dad

Fathers Teach Risk-Taking, Boundary-Setting; Learning From 'Sock Wrestling'

By Sue Shellenbarger
Updated June 11, 2014
Fathers who spend time with their kids help instill self-control and social skills, numerous studies show, but exactly how fathers do that is a mystery. WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger and father of two Greg Kessler join Tanya Rivero on Lunch Break to decode the father factor. Photo: Greg Kessler

There is no question among researchers that fathers who spend time with their children instill self-control and social skills in their offspring.

Exactly how dads do that, however, is largely a mystery.

Thousands of studies have sliced and diced the benefits for children of a close, nurturing bond with Mom. Researchers have a harder time analyzing the ways fathers interact with children, such as rough-and-tumble play.

Some scientists are inventing new scales and laboratory procedures to try to measure the father factor. One researcher watched fathers and children playing games like "Get Up," in which fathers try to get up from the floor while the children try to hold them down, and "Sock Wrestle," in which father and child try to snatch each other's socks. Other researchers had toddlers climb down stairs in fathers' presence, in a process dubbed "Risky Situation."

"Most people have a pretty well-defined sense of what it means to be a good mom, but for dads, that role is much less scripted," says University of Georgia researcher Geoffrey Brown, lead author of a 2012 study in the Journal of Family Psychology on fundamental questions about how fathers bond with children.

Theo Stroomer for the Wall Street Journal

Greg Kessler likes to roughhouse with his 7-year-old son Ezra or his 4-year-old daughter Zoe. He loves wrestling, pillow-fighting and a game they call "Big Chair, Little Chair," when he lies down, balances a child on the soles of his feet and raises and lowers the child in midair, says Mr. Kessler, a New York City photographer.

His wife, Paula Trotto, believes her husband's play style will help Ezra learn to stand up for himself, but "it does baffle me" that her husband enjoys getting the children so excited, she says. At times, she adds, "I have to leave the room. It's such an intuitive thing, to not want to tolerate the sounds of your kids screaming."

The primary test of attachment—a key concept in child-development research—was developed to analyze babies' bonds with mothers. This procedure, known as the "Strange Situation," has mothers briefly separate from their infants twice. Babies who are upset but readily comforted by the mother when she returns are seen as having a secure bond.

Positive scores tend to sync with other measures of mothers' sensitivity and to predict better cognitive and emotional skills in children later. But when researchers put dads through the Strange Situation, the scores don't consistently predict much, and often fail to match other measures' results.

Many researchers believe dad's bond is expressed a little later, when the father serves as a secure base allowing the child to explore and take risks. This is hard to study in a lab. Animal studies, however, show that baby rats deprived of rough-and-tumble are more aggressive and lack social skills as adults.

The Father Factor

Researchers studying fathers' role often look at how they act during rough-and-tumble play. Here are some positive signs:
  • Father is immersed in the game emotionally, smiling and laughing
  • Father shows spontaneity, creativity or silliness
  • Father is good-natured about losing, with no signs of ego
  • Father helps the child control his or her emotions and calms him or her when overexcited
  • Father adjusts his effort and his technique based on the child's cues
  • Father motivates the child to stay engaged and keep going, or rejoin the game
  • Father is dominant but shares the upper hand, allowing the child to win sometimes
--Richard Fletcher, University of Newcastle in Australia
In an early study at the University of Regensburg in Germany, researchers created a scale to evaluate parents' play, based on whether they challenged kids to stretch themselves, were sensitive to their emotions and encouraged them to solve problems. Mothers and fathers were observed playing with blocks or play dough with their 2-year-olds. Fathers' scores were a unique predictor of children's healthy attitudes toward relationships with others at age 16, according to the 2002 study of 49 subjects led by Karin Grossmann, a senior scientist at the university.

Christopher VanDijk tunes in closely to signals from his 4-year-old son Liam that he wants to play. "He gets this mischievous look on his face, and you just kind of know," says Mr. VanDijk of Denver, an at-home dad. "We have pillow fights. And I pretend like I'm going to eat his ears. There's lots of squealing."

Liam sometimes takes the lead, saying, 'I'm going to scare you, and when I say, "Boo!" you have to say, "Ahhh!" ' Mr. VanDijk also watches for signals that Liam is out-of-control or frightened. "There are times when you put on the brakes," he says.

Rough-and-tumble play isn't confined to fathers. "If a mom does it, the child will learn the same thing," says Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University.

Mr. VanDijk's wife Angie, a college administrator, often plays active superhero games with Liam. "Sometimes he needs quiet time, sometimes he needs scuffle time," she says.

Fathers engage in more scuffle time on average, however. Using an adjustable carpeted ramp, researchers at New York University asked 34 parents to show how steep a slope they'd allow their babies to attempt. Some 62% of fathers said they would let their babies try a slope beyond their ability, compared with 56% of mothers, says the 2007 study co-authored by Dr. Tamis-LeMonda.

Many fathers walk a fine line during play between safety and risk, allowing children to get minor injuries without endangering them, says a 2011 study of 32 subjects in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Researchers say this can instill emotional intelligence under fire, and an ability to take prudent risks and set limits with peers.

Navdeep Singh Dhillon likes play-fighting with his 4-year-old daughter Kavya, pretending to throw a kick, teaching her how to block it, then saying, "OK, it's your turn to kick me," he says. He sometimes traps Kavya and his 4-month-old son Shaiyar in a leg lock and has Kavya "tap out," tapping him three times as a signal to release them. Mr. Dhillon of Jersey City, N.J., a college professor, says such play teaches children to set boundaries. "When they have relationships of their own, or with other kids, they'll know what is OK and what's not OK."

Richard Fletcher, an Australian researcher who has studied fathers in free-form games with preschoolers, says fathers need to follow children's lead sometimes, while encouraging them to stretch themselves, and to let them win often enough to have fun—but not so often that they lose interest. Dr. Fletcher, a senior lecturer on the health and medicine faculty at the University of Newcastle, invented a scale to measure quality of play. In a study published last year in Early Child Development and Care, researchers video-recorded 26 fathers in their homes playing the games "Get Up" and "Sock Wrestle" with their 3- and 4-year-olds. Children of fathers who scored high on play quality had fewer social and behavior problems.

The "Risky Situation" is a 20-minute test that assesses children's confidence to explore. Toddlers are placed in a room with their father and a stranger and allowed to play with the stranger, then to climb down a set of stairs. Toddlers who explored with confidence, while heeding limits set by their fathers, had better social and emotional skills 12 to 18 months later, according to a 2013 study co-authored by the test's creator, Daniel Paquette, an associate professor of psychoeducation at the University of Montreal in Canada.

Dr. Tamis-LeMonda is video-recording daily routines of 100 New York City families. In a past study, she discovered "hall ball"— a game where "Dad throws the ball down the hallway," and the toddler brings it back, she says. "That's a natural, everyday routine we wouldn't have known about if we just brought families into the lab and said, 'Here are some toys.' " Such insights, she says, "might guide future research."

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Want to Age in Good Health? Build Muscle

Presented below is an old study from 2008, but it's a study that makes a powerful correlation between muscular strength and reduced mortality rates in men. We have seen similar research suggesting that the best way to maintain a strong immune system (in a study of HIV+ men) was to maintain as much muscle mass as possible, which is why anabolic steroids are often part of the treatment protocol for HIV/AIDS.

What more reason can we need to get into the gym and stay in shape? If we are going to age, and modern medicine is determined to see that we will, why not do it in as much health as we can?

Do you want to be 80 and need a walker, or do you want to look like this guy, incredibly fit despite his age? We do not have to age badly and lose vitality - staying fit is the best way to enjoy life for as long as our hearts are beating.

Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study

Jonatan R Ruiz, Xuemei Sui, Felipe Lobelo, James R Morrow Jr, Allen W Jackson, Michael Sjöström, Steven N Blair


Objective To examine prospectively the association between muscular strength and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in men.

Design Prospective cohort study.

Setting Aerobics centre longitudinal study.

Participants 8762 men aged 20-80.

Main outcome measures All cause mortality up to 31 December 2003; muscular strength, quantified by combining one repetition maximal measures for leg and bench presses and further categorised as age specific thirds of the combined strength variable; and cardiorespiratory fitness assessed by a maximal exercise test on a treadmill.

Results During an average follow-up of 18.9 years, 503 deaths occurred (145 cardiovascular disease, 199 cancer). Age adjusted death rates per 10 000 person years across incremental thirds of muscular strength were 38.9, 25.9, and 26.6 for all causes; 12.1, 7.6, and 6.6 for cardiovascular disease; and 6.1, 4.9, and 4.2 for cancer (all P<0 .01="" 0.58="" 0.68="" 0.71="" 0.72="" 0.74="" 0.77="" 0.90="" 0.96="" 0.97="" 1.00="" 1.07="" 1.0="" 1.10="" across="" activity="" adjusting="" adjustment="" after="" age="" alcohol="" all="" and="" association="" attenuated="" baseline="" between="" body="" br="" cancer="" cardiorespiratory="" cardiovascular="" cause="" causes="" conditions="" confidence="" death="" disease="" family="" fitness.="" fitness="" for="" from="" further="" hazard="" history="" however="" incremental="" index="" intake="" interval="" linear="" mass="" medical="" mortality="" muscular="" of="" pattern="" persisted="" physical="" ratios="" referent="" smoking="" strength="" the="" thirds="" to="" trend="" was="" were="">
Conclusion Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders.
Full Citation:
Ruiz, JR, Sui, X, Lobelo, F, Morrow Jr, JR, Jackson, AW, Sjöström, M, and Blair, SN. (2008, July 1).
Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ; 337:a439. doi: 10.1136/bmj.a439

Rather than bore you with the whole study, here are the final sections, including the Discussion and Strengths and Limitations. The results are pretty clear - more muscular strength equals better health and lower mortality rates.


Muscular strength was significantly and inversely associated with risk of death from all causes and cancer after controlling for potential confounders, including cardiorespiratory fitness. The inverse association was consistent in strata of age (<60 60="" adjusted="" adjustment="" after="" age="" all="" analysis="" and="" associated="" association="" at="" attenuated="" body="" both="" br="" cancer="" cardiorespiratory="" cardiovascular="" cause="" causes="" combined="" confounders="" controlling="" death="" disease="" effects="" entered="" fitness.="" fitness="" for="" from="" further="" group="" having="" high="" highlight="" importance="" in="" index="" inversely="" kg="" least="" levels="" lower="" lowest="" m2="" mass="" men.="" men="" model="" moderate="" mortality="" muscular="" not="" of="" on="" once="" other="" population="" potential="" rate="" reduce="" results="" risk="" showed="" significant="" significantly="" strength.="" strength="" than="" that="" the="" these="" this="" to="" unfit="" was="" were="" with="" years="" yet="">
We investigated the association between standardised measures of upper and lower body muscular strength and disease specific risk of mortality in a large cohort of men with extensive follow-up. Muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness were moderately correlated (age adjusted partial r=0.33), suggesting that the association between muscular strength and risk of death from cancer works at least partially through different mechanisms than those associated with the protective effects of cardiorespiratory fitness. That the association between muscular strength and risk of death from cardiovascular disease was not significantly independent of cardiorespiratory fitness highlights the key role of cardiorespiratory fitness in the development of cardiovascular disease in men; however, their combined effects cannot be easily disentangled in an observational study. In this cohort the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease was lower than that from cancer (145 and 199, respectively). This may have reduced the statistical power to detect a significant independent association between muscular strength and risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Apart from our preliminary analyses in the aerobics centre longitudinal study,28 only one study has assessed the association between muscular strength and all cause mortality after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and age, smoking status, and body mass index and found that handgrip strength and upper body strength (push-ups) were not significantly associated with risk of death from all causes.18 A significant inverse association between muscular strength (measured by handgrip strength) and risk of mortality has been reported in several other studies.15 16 17 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 27 The main limitation of this test is that the measurement is highly influenced by the grip span of the dynamometer and hand size.44 45 46 None of these previous studies standardised the grip span or assessed a second muscle group. Furthermore, hand grip uses a relatively small muscle group and is not well correlated with measures of overall muscular strength as determined by measurements of strength using large muscle groups.47 Assessing additional muscle groups may provide a better overall index of muscular strength, especially when measured in large muscle groups. Moreover, cardiorespiratory fitness was not measured in these studies, and we know that cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly associated with morbidity and mortality.7 8 9 10 11 12 13 37 38 39

The apparent protective effect of muscular strength against risk of death might be due to muscular strength in itself, to muscle fibre type or configuration, or as a consequence of regular physical exercise, specifically resistance exercise. Muscle fibre type and configuration has a genetic component and influences strength, yet it is clear that resistance type physical activities are major determinants of muscular strength.5 48 We have previously reported a strong and positive association between the frequency of self reported resistance exercise and maximal muscular strength in men enrolled in the aerobics centre longitudinal study—that is, the higher the participation in resistance exercise the higher the muscular strength.32 This observation suggests that the measurements of muscular strength obtained in the present study provide an adequate representation of the resistance exercise habits in our cohort. Results from intervention studies indicate that resistance training enhances muscular strength and endurance, muscle mass, functional capacity, daily physical activity, risk profile for cardiovascular disease, and quality of life.5 These factors are well known predictors of higher risk of mortality. The benefits of resistance training are evident in men and women, young adults, and older people, in overweight and obese adults as well as in people of normal weight, and in people with or without disability, or with cardiovascular disease.5 We observed an inverse association between muscular strength and risk of death from all causes and cancer in older men (≥60 years) and younger men (<60 age="" also="" and="" as="" associated="" becomes="" benefit="" br="" consequently="" declines="" dependent="" directly="" experience="" from="" functional="" having="" higher="" in="" levels="" mass="" may="" men="" more="" muscle="" muscular="" of="" older="" on="" performance="" strength.="" strength="" suggests="" that="" these="" this="" years="">
The observed association between muscular strength and risk of death from all causes or cancer was also independent of body weight. We showed an inverse association between muscular strength and risk of death from all causes and cancer in overweight and obese men, as well as between muscular strength and risk of all cause mortality in those of normal body weight. Body mass index may have a different meaning in those who have greater muscular strength. For example, leg press strength for a man weighing 60 kg would be expected to be lower than that for a man weighing 90 kg. That is why we included body mass index in the multivariate analyses. Thus we not only controlled for the effect of weight but also height, which might have influenced the torque or force production. A high body mass index can result from a greater amount of fat or muscle. Yet in epidemiological studies most of the people with a higher body mass index also had higher fat levels.

Given that the prevalence of overweight and obesity exceeds 66% in the United States49 and that overweight and obese people are at a substantially higher risk of disability50 and death,51 52 these results have important implications for public health. Exercise recommendations to prevent or treat obesity have focused mainly on aerobic activities, yet resistance exercise is an important complement for weight control, mainly as a result of the increases in metabolically active muscle mass.2 Under most circumstances, and especially during physical inactivity, resting energy expenditure is the largest component of total energy expenditure. The energy expenditure related to muscle metabolism is the only component of resting energy expenditure that might vary considerably.2 The resting metabolic requirements of splanchnic tissues, brain, and skin vary little under normal conditions, mainly because of their relatively constant mass and protein turnover rates. In contrast, large variations in muscle mass are possible, and the rate of muscle protein turnover (synthesis and breakdown) may vary as well. The synthesis and breakdown of muscle protein are principally responsible for the energy expenditure of resting muscle. In theory, every 10 kg difference in lean mass translates to a difference in energy expenditure of about 100 kcal daily, assuming a constant rate of protein turnover.2 A difference in energy expenditure of about 100 kcal daily translates to about 4.7 kg of fat mass yearly. Over a long period the maintenance of a large muscle mass and consequent muscle protein turnover can contribute to the prevention of obesity. Therefore it is reasonable to presume that when sustained over time, resistance exercise training should help to prevent or revert increases in body fat.5

Strengths and limitations

The results of the present study should be interpreted with caution. Generalisation of the findings may only apply to well educated white men of middle to upper socioeconomic status. Values for blood pressure and cholesterol levels, body weight, and cardiorespiratory fitness from participants in the aerobics centre longitudinal study were similar to those reported in two population based studies in North America.8 Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the benefits of muscular strength would be different in other ethnic or socioeconomic groups. Because of the limited sample of women, who contributed relatively few deaths to the main study, we were unable to perform a meaningful parallel analysis on women. Therefore women were not included in this substudy. No detailed information about drug use or diet was available, which may have biased the results through residual confounding. It seems unlikely, however, that these factors would account for all of the observed association between muscular strength and mortality. That none of the participants reported a family history of cancer might be a limitation of the main study owing to self selection bias. In fact, only 1.16% of men in the entire cohort of the aerobics centre longitudinal study reported a family history of cancer. Future studies should include such information whenever possible.

A major strength of this study was the inclusion of objective and standardised maximal tests for muscular strength (upper and lower body) and cardiorespiratory fitness using highly reliable measurement protocols in a large cohort of men with extensive follow-up. Undetected subclinical disease is always a concern in any observational study, but it is less likely to have occurred in our cohort because of the comprehensive physical examination and the clinical assessment completed by each participant. Moreover, participants were healthy enough to achieve at least 85% of aged predicted maximal heart rate during the treadmill test.


Muscular strength was independently associated with risk of death from all causes and cancer in men. These findings are valid for men of normal weight, those who are overweight, and younger or older men, and are valid even after adjusting for several potential confounders, including cardiorespiratory fitness. Muscular strength seems to add to the protective effect of cardiorespiratory fitness against the risk of death in men. Whether the association between muscular strength and risk of death from cardiovascular disease is independent of typical confounders as well as of cardiorespiratory fitness warrants further investigation.

Prospective studies among diverse populations and among women are needed to examine the independent and combined associations of muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness with disease specific mortality. It might be possible to reduce all cause mortality among men by promoting regular resistance training involving the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body two or three days a week.5 Resistance training should be a complement to rather than a replacement for aerobic exercise. The recommendation for moderate to vigorous physical activity and resistance training are supported by the current research owing to the reduction in risk of death from all causes and cancer associated with increased cardiorespiratory fitness or muscular strength.3 4 5 6

What is already known on this topic
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness provides strong and independent prognostic information about the overall risk of illness and death
  • Most prospective studies examining the association between muscular strength and death have had limitations
What this study adds
  • Muscular strength in major muscle groups is independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men aged 20-82
  • These findings are valid for those who are of normal weight or overweight, younger or older, and even after adjusting for several potential confounders, including cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Muscular strength seems to add to the protective effect of cardiorespiratory fitness against the risk of death in men