We can’t talk about fitness without mentioning cake, as in having your cake and eating it by wanting to look fit and be fit. Let me explain this a little further: Looking fit and being fit are not always the same thing. Because the body is a system made up of individual modules looking fit and being fit is really a case of training each module to, visually, look the part or training the system to be one awesome, badass tool.
You could, for instance, train your biceps so they are big, starve yourself and come out looking like Adonis but the moment you actually need to do something you will instantly understand why fitness models (who look great) don’t win Olympic medals. Simply put, it’s not their job to perform at that level, it’s their job to look good. Have you seen Olympic athletes off season? They look ordinary. It’s not their job to impress you with their muscles, it’s their job to be exceptional at what they do when they are competing but off-season they look like any other person who trains.
You can take a body part, your arms or your abs for example, and work on it and make it look extremely good, and it will, but if you won’t work on your body as a whole you and get each part to harmonize with the rest, you won’t be able to run faster or jump higher and you certainly won’t have greater endurance. You won’t be fit, you’ll just look like you’re fit.
Athletes themselves define fitness between what looks good on the beach and what really allows them to “get the job done”. Similarly, each and every one of us get to decide what it is we want from training: do we want to look like the hero or be the hero? There are no wrong answers here, just like there are no wrong answers in how you live your life. We all get what we want as long as it what we really want and that applies to training.
Visual fitness is always more impressive and something people can judge instantly (which is why Fitness models get work) so more people strive for a muscled physique and a six pack – it is more impressive at least up until the moment when you have to run or fight or perform any other manual task in life. Endurance, strength, flexibility, how much recovery time you need after a session – these things can’t be achieved through just working on how you look and starving your body to make your muscles stand out.
When it comes to performance, your highest priority are the results you get when performing not the ones you see in the mirror. You can be very fit but not look like it, you can have extra bodyfat reserves because that’s what you need to give that extra push when you need it. If your body is starved, you are tired all the time because you have given up carbs and are low on energy, your quality of life drops as well. You just can’t do everything you want to (though you will probably look like you can).
Bodybuilders know this very well, they cut carbs for months and they shape their bodies for the day they will go out there and show what they have achieved. And it gives us awe not just because it represents the beauty of the human body but the resolve of that person inside it. We understand that he or she gave up a lot to look like that and they have worked on that body the same way a sculptor would. In many respects it’s a work of art, but unlike with stone creations these results are temporary because no one can continue to push their body indefinitely. We are all slobs off season.
That’s another very, very important aspect of fitness. We see all these breathtaking images of muscled, beautiful men and women all around us, on TV and in magazines and all over the web and we feel like we have failed, why don’t we look like that and what can we do to look like that? The answer is: go on a quest. If you work hard and you stay consistent, and that’s all it really takes, you will look exactly like it for a time. You will look exactly like it for a time because it is a quest and it is an ultimate prize, the achievement unlocked moment, but it’s not something you get to keep unless that’s all you do for the rest of your life – and very few people can even when it is their full time job.
Bloggers and fitness models starve themselves to oblivion just so they can take a few pictures and immortalize the moment for posterity. Never even for a second let yourself believe that that gorgeous, perfect picture you came across of someone looking sharp is how this person looks all the time. And you should never expect or demand from yourself to be like that all the time either. Always see it for what it is, it’s a goal and a quest and it is certainly something you can try and reach but it isn’t a permanent state of affairs, not for you and not for anyone.
Low body fat and that chiseled starved look don’t last, it can be achieved again and again through tremendous discipline and sacrifice, but it’s not going to stay and it’ll eventually become harder and harder to achieve not just physically but mentally too. The same goes for performance fitness, if you don’t use it – you lose it, but unlike visual fitness it is a lot more permanent, it extends and improves your quality of life and it can be maintained indefinitely provided you call upon it regularly.
All you have to do is train, consistently. That’s all it takes to be fit, capable and strong. You don’t have to starve or count calories, you don’t have to give up on the food you love – you just have to work for it. Performance fitness is all about what you can do, how long you can do it for and how fast you can recover before you can do it again. That’s what it means to have complete control over your body and have confidence in your every move. You may not look like you have just come off the cover of a magazine, but you’ll look fit and you’ll actually be fit. And then, if you at some point want to look chiseled you can do it too just to know what it feels like. After all, that’s all visual fitness is – it’s a dare, a way of showing yourself and the world that you have the discipline and the courage to go through seven hells and do what it takes.
The two sides of fitness, the visual and the practical sides of it, are not necessarily exclusive to each other but in the modern world they are more often are. You can go from performance to visual fitness and then back, but you can’t go from visual to performance as easily – it’s going to be a whole different journey. Visual fitness is essentially a trick, a promise of performance and strength when there isn’t much of either, it’s an illusion but since anyone looking good is not automatically expected to perform we are led to believe that it’s the same thing.
To get started either way identify your goals first, whether you want to look good now or for the rest of your life, whether you want to just look good or whether you also want to be able to do anything with your body and have complete control over it. You have to understand what it is you want from fitness to train right and get the results you want. The main difference between getting the look and being the real deal is the permanence of the results and the quality of your muscles. You can be fit for life or you can be fit just for the summer. There are no right or wrong answers, it’s simply a choice.