In my earlier post, I stated that while everyone can improve their strength and muscle mass as well as a myriad of other health benefits with intelligent training, only a genetically gifted few will achieve the type of muscle mass that will turn heads.

However, while still having some genetic limitations, achieving body leanness is far more within our control, albeit, it will require an intelligent approach and consistency for a lifetime.  In the future, I will replace this sentence with a dietary guidelines link that I am currently working on.

Other than the the known health hazards of carrying excessive fat, one of the other benefits of leanness, assuming that improving one’s appearance is a concurrent goal, is that it will make visible whatever muscle one does possess, whereas, even if one does put on significant muscle, they may still not “look fit” if they are carrying excessive body fat.   The desirable “curves” ladies seek, are the result of stronger muscles, and trim midsection is desirable for both men and women.  The point of this particular entry is not to debate the relative health merits and/or hazards of being overfat or underfat for that matter, but simply to discuss the aesthetic element.  In sales training, it is often said that people “buy on emotion” and after the purchase, ‘justify with reason (rationalization?)”.  In fitness, speaking for my shallow self, and being honest, vanity is likely as much or more of a motivator than health benefits, but I will draw the line at doing anything knowingly that will compromise my health for the sake of appearance.  (I’m shallow, but retain some common sense.)

The accompanying picture shows me about 10 and 11 years ago, respectively.  In the one, I weigh about 198 lbs and in the other I weight about 165 lbs, so about 33 lbs of difference.  Most people looking at the bodybuilding picture comment that I appear to be far more muscular, however here is the truth:

  • in the 6 to 8 months between pictures, although I did not have access to a body composition tool, my best guess would be that I likely lost some muscle as I lost fat, maybe stayed the same, and if there was any gain at all, I would guess it would be less than a pound or two.  Even in the “before” picture, I’d been working out for decades, so I was not someone untrained putting on muscle.
  • The after picture also consisted of me having shaved my body for the bodybuilding competition which gives the appearance of more muscularity, which is why men shaving chest is now a thing.
  • The after picture is with the benefit of a “posing coach” who taught me to do this and other poses in order to hide my weaknesses and show (exaggerate) my strengths… examples:  I’m squeezing my outside leg to my inside leg in order to make it appear bigger;  even though this is considered a “side pose” I am twisting as much as I possibly can at the waist to make myself look wider; I practiced flexing as many different body parts at the same time as possible, and couldn’t hold that pose for more than a few seconds if my life depended on it.
  • The after picture consists of 3 or 4 layers of dark tanning lotion, (a black car shows dents more than a white car) as well as some oil, all of which is designed to make me appear more muscular.
  • Most of all, dieting to this level of leanness is what brings out the muscular appearance, and again, it would be extremely difficult (and possibly unhealthy) to maintain that  level of leanness and one attempts to “peak” on contest day, and may not look this way, a week before or a week after.
  • There is careful manipulation of water retention, as if water retention is too high, the muscles lack definition, and if retention is too low, muscles look smaller.  (some natural bodybuilders actually dehydrate, but I am happy to have had a wise coach who had me drinking a gallon of water or more right to contest day.) (Intentionally dehydrating is dangerous)

Competing in a physique contest was a “bucket list” thing for me, and while I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot doing so, it is not something I see myself doing again in the future, though it has given me a standard of what my peak condition could look like (albeit, I don’t think it is necessary or healthy to be that lean).

The points of this post is to point out that

  1. While massive muscles are not possible for everyone, appearance can be greatly enhanced by being leaner, showing what you do have, and for most of us, this is far more within our control.
  2. To make people aware that pictures can be deceiving and to not compare themselves to others.  Someone can appear lean while flexing their abs, but not so much bending over tying their shoes, but the latter picture will not be in the magazine.  This doesn’t even consider things like drugs and of course photoshop.  I often say, “even the magazine cover models don’t look like the magazine cover models”.
  3. Unrealistic expectations lead to frustration.  Health should be the primary motive, but let’s face it, whether I call it shallow or just taking pride in our appearance, looks do matter, but need to be kept in perspective.