Hench guys are both a relic of a time when bigger meant better, and a very modern phenomenon. Whether it's the 1980s strongmen of Muscle Beach or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in this year's most prodigious piece of filmmaking, The Fate of the Furious, swole bros represent a small cohort of men who demonstrate willpower beyond the average imagination. Somehow, the most serious disciples abstain from modern pleasures such as cans and fun, turning instead to more eggs and protein powder than any one person's colon should have to process. And after a brief dissipation of relevance in popular culture, they are once again heroes.
But now, on the eve of the British election, comes troubling news. New research from Brunel University says that physically strong men who go to the gym regularly are more likely to support social and economic inequality than weaker men. In other words: your hench pals are massive Tories.
A team led by Dr Michael Price assessed 171 men aged 18 to 40, collecting data on their height, weight, waist size, hand grip, muscularity and arm and chest strength using a 3D body scanner. They also analysed their political and social views, asking if they supported the redistribution of wealth or if they believe some social groups should have dominance over others. To ensure they were thorough, the men were also categorised according to their facial attractiveness, perceived masculinity and dominance by a group of independent assessors.
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The new findings build on previous research, Price told Broadly, that suggests muscular men are more likely to support militarism and war. Pleasingly, it seems women are exempt from this general rule. "Women's physical attractiveness or formidability isn't related to their egalitarianism," Price confirms.
I find this all unusual and unsettling. Surely big guys are so into the sweaty, abstinent, head-down muscle-flexing that they don't have the time or energy to be political? To get to the bottom of this, it was time to talk politics with some of them. To do that, I wandered around the gyms of London to investigate a rarely asked but never more pressing question: Are hench guys inherently Tory?
I started at a gym with a modest (for London) membership cost.
VICE: Tell me a bit about your politics.
Rich, 29: I used to be very liberal, but the reality is we don't live in a perfect society, so we have to take measures to look after our own population at this precise moment in time. So I would say I'm contradictory. I'm very left-wing, but I'm also at the point where I understand that we need to be prudent in our measures for immigration, for example.
Do you mind saying who you'll be voting for?
Well, this is an interesting one because, again, after everything I just said to you there, I voted to leave the European Union. I'm not sure how I'll vote because I'm not sure whether or not Theresa May's strategy is going to be right or wrong long-term. I like Jeremy Corbyn's policies but I also agree that Theresa May's right. With all things considered, I will probably be swayed to Theresa May. I'm undecided, though… I don't see why politics has to be so polarised these days.
Do you know you're going to vote Tory but you feel like you can't say?
No! I don't feel like I can't say that at all. I voted Liberal Democrats once, then they got shafted and destroyed their credibility. So yeah, I probably will vote, er, Conservatives.
How often do you go to the gym?
I go to the gym at least five times a week.
Unsurprisingly, everyone else at the gym was too busy getting sweaty to talk to an annoying journalist, so I headed to a very expensive gym instead, in the hope I might have some more luck.
This new gym had the neon ambiance of a Chelsea club and the distinct smell of Shoreditch House, so I assumed I'd find a few shy-Tory professionals. Instead, I found much more nuance.
VICE: Do you have a theory about lads going to the gym being more likely to be Tories?
Sebastian, 32: Yes. Down south, in order to maintain a gym membership over a long period of time, you need to have a certain level of income – that is to say, be a Tory. Also, if you come from a private school you're more likely to be fit and you'll have a fitness background. It's the complete reverse up north, though. There, the cheaper gyms have better facilities and are fully available to everyone. People up north tend to dress up more to go out – guys tend to work out a little bit more because it's all about the aesthetic; it's not about the money you have, necessarily.
Do you think there's something inherently Tory about being hench?
It's not about being hench; it's what they do to get that aesthetic. Bodybuilding is a free-for-all because you can learn stuff off the internet and YouTube – not Tory. What is inherently Tory at the moment is Olympic lifting. That's a skill-set you need to learn from a young period – the kind of thing that you get taught through the private school systems. Bodybuilding is about being as big as possible, whereas Olympic lifting is about being physically strong and showing that you're physically stronger than other people, and that's what's inherently Tory.
Wow, so there's like a Tory silhouette basically?
Yes, there is. Look out for crossfitters – that comes from Olympic lifting but it's been changed into a sport and a fitness regime. People use it to increase their fitness, and that aesthetic is inherently Tory, because a) it's the mentality that you have to have to keep on going, and that's a learnt behaviour from the private school system; and b) it's about always competing, always being the best, whatever you do it has to be competition. And that is Tory.
VICE: Are hench dudes who are physically stronger more likely to be Tories?
Alex, 29: I don't believe that. There's nothing political about gymming.
What are your political leanings?
I don't like to read the news. I don't enjoy media and I don't have a lot of time for politics. I'm probably from a more Conservative background, but I think my fitness has got to be completely separate from my politics. I think it's mental they're trying to make that comparison.
So it's totally non-political?
I thought it best to head over to a different type of gym completely – an establishment specifically dedicated to bodybuilding. Here, it was so hot the walls were sweating and I could taste the testosterone in the air.
VICE: The more hench guys are, the more likely they are to be Tories.
Ross, 34: Where did this come information from? A university study.
That's why – you've been around those places!
So you don't think it's true?
Look, I'm not actually voting this year. I have no faith in any of them. I grew up as a Tory, once voted Labour when it was Tony Blair whenever that was – 96, 97. I've been a Tory the rest of my life; this year I'm not bothering. I'm a London cab driver; the Conservative Party let me down big time with Uber, but that's another story. I can't go there and vote Tory just because my mum and dad do – I have to feel it strongly, and I don't like them.
Do you think guys who work out are generally politically minded, or is it very much up to the individual?
There's a lot of guys in here with university degrees; there are guys in here who are labourers that aren't very intelligent; there's a real mix of people in here, so to say that everyone in here with big chests and big arms are all Tories is a bit unfair.
I had to agree with Ross.
VICE: The more hench guys are and the more hours they spend in the gym, the more likely they are to be right-wing. What do you think of that?
Maryn, 36: There aren't many black Conservatives, and the biggest guys in this gym aren't white. But then maybe if you were left-wing you'd be working for human rights or animal rights and too busy with that than in the gym. Usually left-wing men are a bit…
Yeah, it's unusual for them to be big or athletic – of course, there are exceptions, especially in 2017. But then again, on the surface this gym does seem rough and aggressive, but the biggest guys in here are the nicest ones. It's the opposite of what you expect.
Thankfully, the big dog of this particular gym was there to stamp out this theory once and for all.
So Craig, are you right-wing?
Craig, 41: I'll be brutally honest, I've never once voted. I'm 41 years of age, and you know what? Each party is corrupt as the next. I think politicians are a group of little boys who got bullied in the schoolyard who decided to get their own back on us. That's what I think!
What if you had to vote?
What if I'm the guy that votes for the party that kicks off World War Three and annihilates us all? Everything now is algorithms anyway. You don't think humans make decisions now, do you? It's all computers. The people at the top – the Rothschilds and all these super billionaire families – they're getting more and more and more and more and more. They stand on the little guys, supported by their algorithms. Why would I vote? I'm just enslaving myself. No thanks! I'd rather focus on myself and the people that I love, and pursuing the things that make me happy and bring me success. Whoever gets in they'll screw us over one way or another.
One of the only places where segregation doesn't happen is here in this gym. It's one group of lads under this roof, all friends, all diversity. I've often said if the rest of society thought like the men in this gym there would be no more poverty, no more disease. The mindset of bodybuilding is 24/7, now until the end of time. It's almost a religion, it's a science, it's an artform and it's a sport. To get back to your question, if I'm brutally honest, the last thing big guys are thinking about is politics.
How many times a week are you here working out?
I work here, so every single day. It's a personal endeavour. All these younger lads get caught up in Instagram – "Oh, look how good he looks, look at this guy." I say, "Take your shirt off and look in the mirror. That guy looks great. Forget those other guys!"
After this, Craig showed me a video of himself performing a sort of sensual-masculine, oiled-up dance onstage at a competition. Respect overcomes the rules. I kept turning his mantra over in my mind. Here was a safe space from politics. A place where everyone – regardless of weight – is on their own physical journey. As long as you're good to the people around you, you'll be treated in the same way. Ironically, there is no "little guy".
Are stacked guys Tories? I think: no. There are hench Tories to be found, yes, and I now knew to look out for the private school men who do crossfit. But mostly, as I suspected, politics with a capital P was far from their minds. They're just tired like the rest of us. Tired of having no one to believe in, fatigued by a broken political system that doesn't represent the hench everyman. They're us – just bigger.
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