Monday, March 8, 2010

Sorry, you don't have a choice.

The following is an excerpt from Dan John's "Dick Notmeyer glossery:"
The highlight of the first day for all aspiring lifters was when Dick would hand them a muscle magazine and tell them: “Just flip through these magazines and find the body you want and I will design a program for you to look like that.”
“How long?”
“Well, for a normal kid, a year, a year and a half. But, for you, maybe only six months.”
Yeah, really.

You might want to take note of the sarcasm there.. I'll wait.. got it? good.
Some people seem to think they can flip through “People,” pick out the physique they want, do the “right” combination of diet and exercise, and get that exact body. Sort of like taking pictures of a hair-style you want to the barber. This myth is the predominant selling point for yoga, pilates, running and Tracy Anderson. Unfortunately, it's just not true. We can no more choose what our bodies look like than we can choose our parents.
This is because much of one's appearance is related to structure. For example, I will never look like Brad Pitt in fight club. Even if I got very lean and spent years focusing my training exclusively on that goal, it's just not possible.
If you look at this picture, Mr. Pitt has a long torso and a thin, wide ribcage. This gives his chest the appearance of width, and elongates and thins out his waist. I have a very short torso (a good friend of mine and I are the same height when seated, even though I'm 5-6" taller standing). Also I have a very thick, long ribcage which gives me a decided fire-plug look even when very lean. Ok, so no Brad Pitt abzzzzzz. What about his arms?
Let's look at the upper arm. Mr. Pitt's arms are fairly short. His elbow terminates 3-4" inches above his hip bones. This shorter humerus allows less muscle mass to appear thicker. My upper arms are very long, terminating just above my hip bones. Though (I'm pretty sure) I have more upper arm mass, my arms look thinner than Mr. Pitt. This is only accounting for skeletal issues, before we even discuss muscle bellies or attachments (I have very short muscle bellies in my biceps, Mr. Pitt has very long). Long muscle bellies appear more 'full' when relaxed. It doesn't matter how many curls I do, how much I bench press; that's just not what I'm going to look like.. which is fine. His thin wide ribcage means he's going to have a lot of trouble building traps/upper back and will really have difficulty getting the "yoked" look, that I really enjoy.
There are dozens of other factors that affect how different people appear even when they are at the same levels of fitness: injuries, previous training, response to different types of loading, along with bone length, attachments, and muscle belly length.
To put it another way: Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez and Andressa Soares are all in about the same fitness level. They all look decidedly different. There are some bodyfat differences, but they're not significant (nothing a decent fitness professional couldn't normalize in a few weeks).
So what exactly does this mean? Well, honestly it means that all of the hand-wringing about "getting bulky" or looking like Jessica Biel verses Jessica Alba is kind of pointless. Without drugs, or surgery, you'll look like you.. you can look like "in-shape you" or "out of shape you." You pick. Once you start looking like "in-shape you," you can start to add a bit of muscle, or lean out a bit more to try and work on any parts you want to de-emphasize, but until you get into shape, you're just making excuses why you don't want to do the hard work to get fit.
I was reading this survey by the very knowledgeable and observant Leigh Peele. I was shocked at what was considered "too big" or "bulky." Then I started looking more closely at who was giving their opinions: 34% of the women surveyed exercise twice a week or less. 79% don't lift weights.. they really don't know what their body can look like in shape. They have no perspective on what is condition, and what is genetic. Frankly, they're just sniping at celebrities. Which leads me to another point. What looks appealing in 2 dimensions doesn't always look the same in 3-D. We all know someone in our lives that look great in photos, but their face is too angular, too severe they just don't look good in person.
The same phenomenon applies to bodies. Angular thin bodies look better on paper, or the movie screen, than they do in person.
Also, the scrutiny applied to people in those magazines to look a certain way, is not always applied equally in real life. The women I have worked with, are really happy when they see signs of functional muscle on their own bodies. Every woman (yes all) I have trained has come up to me before a training session with a big grin on her face and thrown up the double biceps and said "Look!" with a big smile. Totally enthused by evidence that they're "getting muscles." Those visible muscles are evidance that they are getting fit, and they get really excited about what they can do, and how that muscle looks. Which is why when a female client voices concern about becoming the "incredible bulk" before they start training, I always tell them "Let's get you into shape, and once you're fit, if you still feel like you've got too much muscle, we can strip you down a bit, but until then it's easier to get you fit and lean with muscle than it is without." No one has asked me to strip the muscle off of them once they've gotten there. Now maybe that is a function of me, or the people that I have trained (admittedly mostly athletes and former athletes) but I don't think so. Once people (women and men) get themselves in shape they focus more on what they can do. They have a positive attitude about their bodies, and all of the "too bulky, too thin, too fat" sniping goes away. They tend to have the attitude: "I feel good, I move well, I look good, I'm happy." Which is why people should exercise in the first place.


Christine said...

*sigh* Does this mean I'm never going to be an Olympic gymnast? Drat.

J. B. said...

And I'm probably never going to play in the NBA.. sad but true.

Deborah said...

First time on your blog and I have to say I'm impressed. I've been training for 7 months now, have lost 34 pounds, 40+ inches, gained some serious muscle and I'm still going strong toward my goals. Women tend to wish for the impossible (without taking action) and torture themselves in the process. I threw my scale away 3 months ago. I'm focused on making the most out of what I've been given (I'm a pretty short and sturdy type) and I love what I see so far. I look forward to monitoring your site on a regular basis!

J. B. said...

Thanks Deborah, welcome.
That is fantastic work, over a pound a week lost including muscle gain is impressive stuff.
Spending time doing and what you can do will always be better than focusing on what you don't want, and taking pot-shots at others.
Keep it up.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

I hope that this post gets the exposure it deserves. Reading will save a lot of Brad-Pitt-wannabees (or Lou Ferrigno or Arnold or Bruce Lee) a lot of heartache if they take it seriously.

Liezel said...

Wow, I really liked your post. I recently started exercising and eating healthy. I have had Hilary Swank's bod as my motivation but this has made me rethink that, but after reading your post I decided to focus more on just getting fit. Thank you!