Looks Can Be Deceiving

Earlier this week, I tweeted that I’m not a fan of the industry’s push to get everyone in shape for the summer. Following that post, I had loads of comments come through via social media. Some people agreed with the message, while others didn’t understand what’s wrong with training for the summer. Based on the feedback and confusion, I believe it is useful for me to elaborate further.

Appearance Isn’t Everything

For starters, I have nothing against anyone who exercises to look and feel better about themselves. You absolutely should feel good about the work that you’ve performed. There’s nothing wrong with seeing yourself in the mirror and being proud of the body that you’ve developed. Let’s be honest, if exercise made us ugly, most gyms wouldn’t be very busy.

With that said, there is more to exercise than achieving a certain look. Exercise should also improve how we physically function and feel throughout the day. In other words, we shouldn’t just exercise to look the part. Exercise should also enhance our ability to survive and thrive in the world around us.

“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Unfortunately, the fitness industry can be quite deceiving. For example, consider some of the physiques that you’ll find plastered throughout fitness magazines. Even without Photoshop, many of these physiques are not sustainable on a year round basis. It’s not healthy to restrict caloric intake to such low levels that body fat becomes nonexistent. Just because someone looks a certain way does not mean that the individual is healthy and vibrant.

Sporting Example

Speaking as a boxing coach, I often witness a similar phenomenon. If you aren’t familiar with boxing or other combat sports, most professional fighters weigh-in the day before they compete. The physiques that you see at the weigh-in are almost always different from what you see the next day when the athletes enter the ring or cage.

At the weigh-in, many of the athletes are dangerously dehydrated. They restrict fluids to achieve a certain number on the scale. After the weigh-in, they immediately begin to rehydrate and often gain 10+ pounds in a matter of hours. As fluids are restored, the physiques suddenly don’t look as impressive, but the athletes become more and more capable with each passing hour.

Many boxing fans are surprised when I tell them that some of the best action I’ve ever seen has taken place in the gym. Everyone thinks that a fighter peaks for fight night. What they don’t realize is that while the athlete attempts to peak, he is doing so with a weight restriction. When he’s in the gym in between fights, he isn’t worried about cutting weight. He can eat more and weigh a few pounds extra.

At a slightly heavier and healthier weight, the athlete will often perform much better. Although his six-pack might not be as tight, the athlete is physically stronger and more capable. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that very few athletes will hit personal bests in the weight room while cutting weight. It is much easier to display strength when you can carry a few extra pounds.

My Own Example

When I think back to my younger days as a competitive fighter, I don’t have any fond memories of myself cutting weight. There were times when I spent several hours drying out in a sauna. I still have a vivid memory of myself flexing in a bathroom mirror a few moments before I stepped on the scale to weigh-in. I had just failed to piss out any last drop of fluid to ensure that I would make weight. I had nothing left. I walked by the mirror and couldn’t believe how ripped I was. For a split second, I felt good until I flexed and nearly passed out. I caught myself on the sink. I was so weak that I could hardly stand up.

When I stepped on to the scale, everyone complimented me on how strong I looked. What they didn’t realize was that my body was shutting down and I could hardly walk back to my seat. I’ll never forget that feeling. Not even my own trainer knew just how bad I felt. It was at that time when I realized that how you look means very little about how you feel.

Final Thoughts

In summary, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look better through exercise. I simply encourage you to make exercise part of your lifestyle, rather than something you cram for to look good on the beach. It is possible to find balance. You can exercise to look and feel better while also performing better at the same time. You just need to be realistic as far as what you are trying to build. Don’t let a magazine image fool or discourage you. What you see through a lens does not always reflect how that person actually feels and functions on a daily basis.

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“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” – Alfred Tennyson

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18 comments:

  1. There used to be some cheesy TV show called scare factor or something similar where they took average Joe’s and gave them unpredictable physical challenges. It was always amazing to see the seemingly unfit individual beat the ripped one in the various endurance events.

  2. Great post Ross. More articles like this one are needed. The western societes nowadays pay to much attention on the external appearence.

    I know people who actually think that looking strong is better than just being strong…

  3. once again Ross you’ve hit it out of the park,
    so many folks obsess with how they look as opposed to how they feel (function and perform)
    Another sterling example is the sport of body building, competitors deplete themselves till they too are on the cusp of passing out the only difference is they want that ripped shredded look, off season/training we know they all walk around significantly heavier.
    thanks again for all your hard work and dedication, it is appreciated.
    keep training HARD & training SMART!

  4. Very good point you got there, Sir! A lot of people fail to realize that working out is not only about looking good outside, but more importantly, it is about feeling good on the inside. This article is a perfect eye opener and reminder for all of us. Thanks!

  5. Ross this ranks up there as one of your best posts ever. I agree with everything you posted. Gimmicky doesnt begin to describe it.

    And well said about the weight cutting and the illusion it entails.

  6. Spot on Ross. Taking boxing itself as an example how many times have you watched a fighter with a ripped physique get pounded by someone who looks a bit more flabby? Happens a lot. I vividly remember watching Frank Bruno fight Tim Witherspoon here in the UK decades ago. Bruno was like a bodybuilder, muscles everywhere. Tim looked flabby and out of condition. NO! Not a bit of it! Tim had been training hard for the fight but naturally carried a bit more beef. All the critics were saying “Look at Witherspoon! He looks as though he hasn’t trained!”

    Anyway they were all wrong, so wrong. Frank gassed later in the fight and Tim pounded the hell out of him before the fight got stopped.

    Don’t judge how well someone can fight just by the way they look is the lesson. Many guys carrying a bit of weight have still been training very hard. Maybe they naturally carry more weight or maybe their diet is not as strict. But judging a book by the cover is a bad idea.

    1. No doubt, Bruno is often brought up as an example, but there are many more who fit the same mold. Conversely, guys like Juan Diaz were often overlooked because of a “softer” build but his endurance was as good as anyone. He was a non-stop punching machine.

  7. Great article. I think one of this biggest flaws in the system of “Get ready for summer” is people expect the results right from the start and that just simply is not the case. That is why so many people fail is because they expect to look like the person on the magazine right away and when its not happening they quit.
    long term goals broken down into realistic short term goals is the way to go.

  8. I think cutting weight for a fighter is a very bad idea and extremely dangerous. I have been an amateur boxer for 2 years now and had 5 fights and never cut weight. I stay close to my weight class by being strict with my nutrition. I truly believe cutting weight will hurt you in the years to come and I will never cut weight like all the fighters do in boxing or ufc.

  9. Wow, I really needed this perspective. I’m just starting out to see muscle gain on myself and being obese for a good part of my teenage life, I’ve had this really bad association with body fat.

    Thanks for that bro. πŸ™‚

  10. Great Post for the people who go to the gym just for maintaining their physique so that they can show off. When I started going to gym I felt inner happiness after the workout, all the stressed of my office and personal life had gone at that moment of time. I go to the gym to make myself relaxed. Its better to rely on workout rather than on cigarettes or alcohol. I have tried to explain my point of view to my friends many times but they didn’t accept it. Thanks for your clarification, now they will going to understand better.

  11. Once again this hits the nail right one the head!! it is amazing that people still say stuff like get ready for summer,beach,wedding,divorce etc…in my experience with pro wrestling,judo, highland games,grappling etc… training was what was needed in order to enhance the skills of the activity….some achieved ‘physiques’ and others just improved as a result of the work put in. the time spent in living is far greater than time spent at the beach or going to places in order to be singled out for your’look’…..All thru my life( i am now 64) folks said i looked like first a bear and then later on a small gorilla..i never was looked at for my impressive physique but, time and again when i trained in gyms i lifted more ,performed far more challenging variations of ab work ( wheel, overhead pushups,russian twists etc.) metabolic conditioning (dan johns 500 kb swings several times a week in under 20 minutes .. at age 62) med ball complexes, kb work,sandbag stuff etc. than 90% of the good looking people?? training is to enhance your quality of living…feeling good about yourself has nothing to do with the outside appearance. if you know your self worth and are honest with yourself.. you will feel good about you!

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