When I coach someone I really couldn’t care less what they look like. I am always just curious to see how they perform and I encourage you to look at exercise and yourself in the same way. Exercise should be a pleasure and not a chore, a privilege and not a burden. If you learn to love what you do what you look like will inevitably change. Looking great is just a bonus.
When I first started working in the fitness industry (around 18 years ago) everything was based on bodybuilding principles. The focus was primarily on training for aesthetics or training your body to ‘look’ a certain way. Bodybuilding is all about muscular development, symmetry, balance, proportion and usually involves a variety of ‘compound’ (multi joint exercises) and ‘isolation’ (single joint exercises) to train all the visible muscles of the body. This is usually achieved by splitting up the body into parts or muscle groups and training them in rotation through each week.
Bodybuilding competitions are judged purely on aesthetics and judges mark the competitors on appearance alone. Not ability or any physical output. They are judged on the ‘result’ of their training and dieting. Bodybuilder’s training is geared towards the aesthetic ‘result’ rather than their performance. Bodybuilding and fitness model competitions sort of ran away with the fitness industry for a few years, and suddenly everyone was training for something related to physical appearance. It was (and still is) pretty common to hear guys say: “I am really trying to get huge arms.” Not functional arms, just huge ones.
Let's just take a look a that word, aesthetics. What does it really mean? How we look, or how we perceive ourselves to look is aesthetic in nature. Aesthetics is:
“the study of sensory or sensory-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste.” (Wikipedia, 2009)
Which is to say it’s subjective. Everyone has different judgments on human appearance, and finding the ideal of human physical beauty is a job best left to artists, not trainers. Each person who embarks on physical training (as opposed to sport training) may have a certain goal or ‘image’ they are striving for initially and that may change over time.
Everybody I have ever run across who was in amazing shape or (dare I say) “elite fitness,” looked like it. You can often tell just by looking at someone what they’re capable of doing (not always, but usually). If someone is carrying an extra 30lb of fat around their middle they probably wont be able to bang out a good set of pull-ups. If you struggle to get out of a chair, you will probably have trouble trying to do a Turkish Get-up.
Put bluntly, when you are in great shape (physically fit, capable, flexible, strong, healthy) you will LOOK like you are in great shape. So why would you regard exercise as a means to achieving an aesthetic result or to look a certain way? Surely you should just exercise for your health, your functionality or for performance. One of my mentors Dan John puts it like this. "The body is one piece, train it as such, train movements and not muscles. Concentrate on getting stronger, more mobile, more agile and surprise surprise you will start to look better as well".
When you exercise correctly and develop strength, power, speed and endurance your body will physically adapt. Exercise at it’s core is nothing more than stimulus to get your body to adapt to the new demands placed upon it. If you work hard your body will adapt, you will gain muscle and you will loose fat. But more importantly, along the way you will have become faster, stronger, more powerful and have good endurance to wrap it all together. Package that in a box made from patience and persistence and you will look in the mirror and be proud of the training you have endured, and hopefully enjoyed.
A great example of this comes from the recent Rio Olympics.
- Marathon runners look like marathon runners, sprinters look like sprinters.
- Weightlifters look like weightlifters & endurance cyclists look like endurance cyclists.
- Tennis players look different to boxers and show jumpers look different to shot putters.
Form follows function. The training and diets these athletes have been undertaking daily for (in many cases) decades has shaped their physical form.
- If you want to look like a swimmer – train like a swimmer.
- If you want to look like a discus thrower – train like a discus thrower.
“The shape of a building or object (person) should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.”
We are training for long, healthy, energetic lives here. Looking great is just a bonus.