First let me say that anyone who has the discipline to train gets our respect. Regardless of why you train, we believe that fitness training will improve your quality of life. We also believe that fitness training can and likely will improve your overall health and reduce your risk of injury or illness. It is our belief that those who choose to train are likely headed down the path that leads to an overall better life experience. All that said, lets delve into the the questions this article attempts to explore. Again, please keep in mind the article is not attempting to be judgemental, it is simply written in an effort to stir thinking, discussion and hopefully to sway your thinking as to the reasons you should train.
What are you really trying to accomplish when you train? Is your goal to look good at the beach or perhaps you just want to potentially be more attractive to the opposite sex? Is your dream to be a famous body builder or figure model? Do you judge your progress by how defined your abs are, or by the size of your biceps and calves? If so, then for the sake of this discussion, you would fall into the category of being “a cosmetic weight lifter”. If your training is focused on enhancing functional strength, power, speed, agility, endurance or athletic performance, then your training would likely fall into the classification this article defines as “functional training.” People who are engaged in athletic endeavors, police, firefighters, military service or jobs that require increased athletic ability, generally are the folks we see as people we falling into this category. Some opt for functional training because they are simply trying to improve the overall quality of their lives.
Which category or style of training is better? Technically, the correct answer is neither, because the question is totally subjective. People workout for different reasons, and with different goals in mind. Can we say that anyone’s goals are correct while others are not? As far as I’m concerned, anybody who goes to the gym everyday and works hard is a winner and my hat goes off to them. I try not to judge people’s workout routines too much one way or the other. However, there is definitely a clear line between which people are working out for looks and which ones are working out for performance. People tend to stay in their comfort zone, so it’s rare to see someone doing both. The body builders stay with the body builders and the cross fitters stay with the cross fitters.
I am an athlete. I played division 1 college baseball and was selected to the collegiate All American team. I’ve trained martial arts since I was 5 years old including jiu jitsu, boxing, karate and muay thai. I lift a ton of weights and I do a ton of conditioning, each and every day. I climb mountains, run trails, swim laps, grapple with monsters (big dudes not real monsters), kick heavy bags and sprint hills. My weight training can be summed up like this…as heavy as possible for as long as possible, all done at a quick pace. I train explosiveness, endurance, total body strength, flexibility, core strength and even coordination. I measure my own progress by how quickly I recover from workouts, how much stronger I am during a lift or a jiu jitsu class, how many 400 meter sprints I can do in one workout and how long I can last on the stair climber at level 14.
Now, if you measure success by how your body looks in a selfie, you probably don’t understand people like me. You may pass me in the gym and think, “man, I’m way more cut than that guy” or “my guns are way bigger than that dude’s”. If you are that person, you’re probably making your way to the cable crossover machine to do flys. Meanwhile, I’m heading to the empty back room to beat on the heavy bags and swing kettlebells. Let me first say that I am in no way trying to be a hater. There are some men and women out there who have achieved amazing physiques. Those physiques were not achieved without a ton of hard work and sacrifice. I have several close friends that compete in body building and figure competitions. They’re awesome people. They work very hard, BUT…..that hard work tends to be solely focused on physical appearance and not so much on improving their quality of life, level of physical fitness or overall health.
One of my closest friends looked like a sculpted Greek god back when he was training for a figure competition. Unfortunately, as he peaked for his competition, he looked the part, but, honestly could not have run a mile even if a bear was chasing him. In truth, he probably would have honestly struggled to run a 400 meter lap, much less a mile. I know this because he told me and because cardiovascular exercise actually took away from the overall fitness look he was attempting to achieve for the competition. I also noticed time and time again that he wasn’t exceptionally strong for a guy his size. He looked like he could lift a house, but in reality he was only slightly above average strength for an avid weightlifter. He constantly wore a weight belt around his waist to keep his core muscles from engaging during standing exercises. Yes, you read that correctly. He wanted to make his waist smaller to create more of a v shape look, and an experienced bodybuilding competitor advised him to start wearing the weight belt at all times in order to facilitate that waste leaning process. So to be clear, he was intentionally weakening and decreasing muscle mass in his core in order to have a smaller waist.
I respect these cosmetic lifting people and the work they’ve put in. At the same time I worry for their safety if the zombie apocalypse comes, or if they’re attacked by a wild animal. A 200 lb man with huge biceps, traps, and perfectly defined abs may be nice to look at, but if he has zero cardiovascular conditioning, average total body strength, no fast twitch muscle fibers, and zero core strength…..the animals are going to eat him with ease. So to those people who spend all day posing in mirrors, please take some time to evaluate your workout regimen. Make sure you work on your functional fitness and not just your cosmetic fitness. And next time you start to think someone is weak because their muscles are smaller, consider that they may be training for an entirely different purpose than you. If they trained the way you did, supplemented the way you did, and dieted the way you did their physique would probably look very similar. Same token, a lifelong body builder could transform himself into a great triathlete over time with the right training regimen.
I always recommend that people take a balanced approach to training. A balanced approach is all encompassing; cross fit, body building, different types of cardio, power lifting, yoga, ect. Anything that makes you better is worth doing. Work specifically towards your goals, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different training styles. You might discover some new goals.