‘THE RACE IS NOT ALWAYS TO THE SWIFT’.
Paul Haslam is one of the most recognizable luminaries in the sport of bodybuilding here in Australia. In the 80s this gentleman was a sight to behold, classically proportioned he possessed an impressive physique that undoubtedly inspired those that saw him to adopt a weight training regime, along with the requisite nutritional needs. For Paul, this was not mere coincidence nor a flash in the pan, but a carefully composed path.
In the 1970s, Paul was already excelling in the sport of Olympic weight lifting, being awarded a silver medal in the National Titles as a 20 year old. Seeking to further expand his craft, he would go on to represent Australia in various international bodybuilding events in the early to mid-80s which took him to locales from Europe to the USA. In many ways, he was one of the true pioneers that promoted the Australian bodybuilding sensibilities to the world. By his own self-analysis, Paul reveals his swan-song was in 1993 in the ‘Black & Blue Challenge’ where he placed second as a Pro Bodybuilder. Concluding an illustrious competitive career as an IFBB Heavyweight Champion, he’d retire from the sport on a high yet continue to contribute in shaping (pun intended) many of Australia’s top stars today.
With a career that spans more than 30 years, it is no surprise that his success on the stage had effortlessly translated to even greater success as a coach.
His knowledge and expertise have attracted some of the best in the business today, including (but not limited to) the likes of the gorgeous IFBB Pro League Physique Pro Vesna Kouzan and the menacing yet affable Minotaur himself, Pro League Heavyweight bodybuilder Chris Kavvalos. However, it is not just the bodybuilding stars that have sought out his coaching. The Haslam Principles have been pursued by an eclectic group of professionals, which includes among others, the likes of Olympians like swimmers Geoff Heugill, international cricketers like Brett Lee and even major Australian media celebrities like Alan Jones and business specialist Mark Bouris. Evidently, the broader mindset coupled with unparalled expertise has afforded Paul such opportunities that many others can only dream of.
Forgoing competitions and focusing on education has meant that he can contribute more academically, with scholastic pursuits leading him to become a High School Physical Education Teacher and Gym Manager to even working as a Rehabilitation Program Consultant. His skill in unpacking complex scientific concepts has meant that Paul has even held illustrious lecturing positions at UNSW, UTS and UWS as a resistance studies specialist; with accreditations awarded to him from institutions such as the prestigious USA National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
The extent of his contributions and expertise, are also reflected in the way he mentors champions. The passion he has for this level of physiological knowledge is punctuated by a calm and reflective demeanor. It may be clichéd to make the comparison but Paul possesses a demeanor which is akin to the idealized notions of a wizened master, depicted in fiction through characters like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid and even John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. The more adept mentor is an expert who imparts knowledge with both authority and consideration for their audience, this is something that defines Paul’s style. Having briefly met Paul late last year (at the Pro League Nationals here in Melbourne), it was so evident as to how well revered he remains – with countless competitors enthusiastically greeting him and engaging in discussions prior to and during the event. Despite the demands from countless people he was cool and calm; still boasting an impressive stature, he initially appears intimidating yet in actuality is so incredibly pleasant.
When it comes to Paul Haslam, this only scratches the surface. Consequently this extract serves not as a biography as such a summary could not completely encapsulate Paul’s ongoing contributions to the sport. Yet the reasons for this extract is to provide international readers of EOB, those of you outside Australia, an insight into why this journalist had sought his expertise. The aim is to provide numerous episodes on a range of topics – ofcourse predicated on Paul’s availability as much as EOB’s consideration.
TOPIC FOR EXPERT DISCUSSION
The topic that Paul selected to discuss in this installment, related to a deficiency within the sport but one that is prevalent in many disciplines. That being, ‘the rush’ that some athletes may have denoting with dreams and aspirations of making their mark. There may be no official title for this phenomena (though Paul may correct that presumption), yet that immediacy to achieve is, although admirable creates a long standing set of dire consequences in the participant. Success, that is the meaningful kind, never happens overnight. And that which does occur in that fashion may be luck. Yet as we have come to realise in this sport, the truest success comes not from luck but from dedication and concerted effort from time.
The impetuousness of youth is not a valid excuse, nor adequate reason here, as the desire to rush ones progress seemingly exists in all sections of this sport’s fraternity. Ignoring better judgment from the more experienced, is a clear contravention of the very fundamental principles that govern the sport. The time taken to develop oneself, in any substantive way requires dedication, focus and above all else, patience.
When it comes to bodybuilding, the time constraints are ofcourse a major consideration. After all we see bodybuilding users across social media providing regular posts describing the ‘number of weeks out’ they are from their desired show. One could opine that this is merely articulating the journey not the outcomes, perhaps an attempt at self-accountability or a need for validity.
Yet, one ponders the extent to which competitors balance a self-imposed time construct against practical elements such as viability as well as their overall health and well-being. Herein the title above refers to the moral of a well-known fable by Aesop, where the more focused, steadfast and patient competitor easily overcomes a hurried opponent.
Paul’s extensive expertise along with his academic research enables us to delve further into this, and discover how and why this exists and the reasons it can be a major problem.
Questions for Paul Haslam.
VA: Thanks for your time Paul, what prompted your interest in this topic today?
PH: I see far too many people wanting to achieve at the highest levels without an honest understanding of the path needed to reach their goals, and if those goals are in fact realistic. This can lead to unhealthy (both physical and mental) and even dangerous practices.
VA: In the realms of sport science is there a term that describes this ‘rush’? Are there any empirical research studies that have focused upon this?
PH: One arm of the Sports Sciences is Sports Psychology in which goal setting is a corner stone of optimal performance. A fundamental principle is that rather than rely on a single long term goal for motivation, set short term goals that are achievable and realistic.
VA: Is this the same as overtraining or is this more of a negative cultural trope within the sport?
PH: Overtraining is purely a programming miscalculation, often caused by over enthusiasm, which is not a bad thing. This can easily be remedied.
VA: In your professional opinion, what is the ‘unrealistic immediacy’ in this rush most attributed to?
PH: In my opinion it stems from a desire to be recognized, as distinct from what I think is a more virtuous want, of self-improvement.
VA: Noting that bodybuilding is, for all intents and purposes a very progressive experience why is it that some eschew this simple fundamental concept?
PH: This is the burning question and relates to the psyche of each individual, although I am sure a common thread could be found.
VA: Is this more prevalent within certain demographics and/or age groups etc?
PH: In my own experience it is more prevalent in the current generation, for want of a better term, the Insta generation.
VA: In addition to the obvious risk of injuries in rushing, what other pitfalls does this present eg. Increase cortisol and DHEA?
PH: As I alluded to previously, risk taking behaviors increase with little consideration of any consequences, short term or long term.
VA: Comparatively is this something more prevalent today than it was say in the 80s and 90s? Can this be perhaps linked to the immediacy of social media posting?
I definitely think that the emergence of the social media platforms has influenced the incidence of this phenomenon. Its extent goes beyond body building and into society as a whole. Before this there were those who still aspired to reach the very top and what do whatever it took. However information was disseminated by those who were also travelling on that path (usually the biggest guys in the gym), some more advanced than others. This resulted in a more pragmatic view offered and helped to ground most. Now advice is given by advice from those unseen, a recipe for disaster.
VA: In your experience has the culture of the sport changed, with greater accessibility creating this phenomena?
PH: What I can see is that those who are winning and reaching the top are the ones with the purest motivations. Over time that hasn’t changed. The love of training and improving the physique still conquers on the body building stage.
VA: When you have encountered this in a serious form, how have you addressed and mitigated it before it harms an athlete?
PH: Unfortunately I have seen this personally many times in those of both sexes and always after some form of harm has been perpetrated. My concern is that it is happening more and more to those who never want to compete as an athlete, but for what can be perceived as vanity.
PH: The main point I want to get across is that it is ok to have lofty goals, just be aware that it takes persistence, hard work and TIME for them IF they are to be realised. Don’t be in a hurry, “haste makes waste”, is a time old saying that rings very true in this situation. Map a pathway, set short term goals along the way. Rely on information from those who have proven themselves and not a keyboard warrior. Do as much research as you can, however the caveat here is to make sure it is from a reliable resource. Look at the negatives as much as the positives. Ask yourself “why am I really doing this” and give yourself a brutally honest answer. Enjoy the ride, the Iron Game (maybe a dated term, but it principles will endure for generations to come) is something to be enjoyed for as long as you can.
For more information on Paul Haslam, please visit: http://paulhaslam.net.au/paulhaslam/
Vance Ang Bio: Vance Ang has been writing professionally in bodybuilding and fitness since 2005, having written extensively for hardcopy publications such as Australian IRONMAN and FLEX; but also for e-publications such as RAW Muscle and online platforms Iron Muscle. He is a Melbourne based consultant with a background in policy and strategy, and is also currently undertaking his post graduate study in Law. In addition to bodybuilding, he is also interested in conservative politics and Savate (French Kickboxing)