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The Pseudo-Bodybuilding Fallacy

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This post was the ideological genesis for Layman’s Strength. Before I had even created this website, I published this on my Facebook, and it still does a great job of summing up my feelings of the health & fitness industry today. I have done a few minor updates to bring this post up to speed with new information I’ve been exposed to, but I have done my best to preserve its original content.
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Is this the body of ultimate health & athleticism?

This is an area I feel pretty strongly about. First let me say that I don’t have anything against bodybuilders or bodybuilding. I think that those who are successful at it demonstrate an impeccable level of dedication to their craft that a lot of people could stand to gain from. Where I take issue is when bodybuilding techniques are misapplied to non-bodybuilders. Actually, most real bodybuilders have nothing to do with this problem; rather it’s the wave of the fitness industry to pump out trainers who espouse these methods even if they’re not bodybuilders themselves. I call this phenomenon “Pseudo-Bodybuilding”.

Here’s a sample routine that is lifted directly from personal training certification text that’s recommended for a beginning trainee:

Warm Up: 10 minutes on the treadmill
Squat – 2 x 10-12
Flat Bench DB Bench Press – 2 x 10-12
Semi-stiff legged Deadlift (whatever that is) – 2 x 10-12
Seated Row – 2 x 10-12
Leg Press – 2 x 8-10
Incline DB Bench Press – 2 x 8-10
Lying Leg Curl – 2 x 8-10
Lat Pulldown – 2 x 8-10
DB Shoulder Press – 2 x 8-10
Lateral Raise – 2 x 8-10
BB Curl – 2 x 8-10
Triceps Press Down – 2 x 8-10
Hammer Curl – 2 x 8-10
Lying DB Triceps Extension – 2 x 8-10
Seated Calf Raise – 2 x 30-35
Standing Calf Raise – 2 x 10-12
Hyperextension – 2 x 16-20
Back Extension – 2 x 16-20
Reverse Crunch – 2 x 20-25
Oblique Crunch – 2 x 20-25
Straight Crunch – 2 x 20-25
Cardio: 30 minutes
Stretching: 5 minutes

It’s easy to see that this is only setting up people for problems. For most people who haven’t had a significant level of activity in their life for a long time, this routine will get some results based on the fact that now they’re active where in the past they weren’t. Still, what if a trainer tries to use this routine with a 70-something grandma who made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape? The problems here are obvious, but what about if that same trainer got a high-school freshman sprinter who’s never lifted weights before? Likely they’ll burnout because the workload is too high, not to mention it’s not intended to produce the results the kid is looking for (to get faster).

The point of this is to demonstrate that not everyone has the same goals. There’s nothing “wrong” with routine listed above or the exercises it contains, rather it is a highly inefficient (and possibly ineffective) method for producing the results an average person is after, especially when one takes into account that, as a new trainee, their execution of this routine is likely to be sub-par.

The fitness industry takes it for granted that all men want to be bigger, all women want to be more “toned”, and all parties want to be as lean as possible (as in OCD style lean). Besides this not being true, they take it a step further and suggest that since bodybuilders are the most successful at achieving size, symmetry, and leanness, that these are the methods best used by everyone. Even if that’s what people want, they don’t stop to ask if the guy who does want to get bigger wants to get THAT big or if the girl who wants to slim down wants to get THAT lean.

What people fail to realize is that bodybuilding is a lifestyle. There’s a lot that happens to make a successful bodybuilder outside of the gym, and most of these aspects are in conflict with the lifestyles of average people. The result is that when someone who uses bodybuilding training styles in the gym doesn’t add in the other pieces of the puzzle outside the gym, the results they get are minimal, nil, or worse, detrimental. This only leads to more stress and frustration as well as ingraining bad habits.

So, if you’re a bodybuilder, live for bodybuilding. If you’re a cyclist, live for cycling, a powerlifter for powerlifting, a linebacker for football, a boxer for boxing, etc. But what about the average person?

The “Average” Goals
To answer this question, let’s look at the goals of most average people:
1) Improve health (prevent/reverse maladies, establish a healthy body weight/composition)
2) Improve general fitness (general abilities related to everyday life and the specific pursuits of the individual)
3) Look better naked; being comfortable in your own skin is essential if you’re going to approach life with a sense of confidence.

Take notice of the word “better” though…not bigger, leaner, etc…just “better” which means different things to different people. Just remember that this point should only be used as a step towards confidence, not the source of it.

I think it’s safe to say that these are lifelong goals that once reached, people will strive to maintain. That means forget about those programs that kill you for 6-12 weeks then leave you in the dark once time’s up (if you even were able to get the results out of them that you hoped to). If you just repeat killing yourself every 6-12 weeks, chances are you’re probably not going to feel good either. How are you supposed to build a lifestyle around something doesn’t make you feel good? This isn’t to say that hard work is not involved, just that hard work should be done only when a smart plan has been established.

So what’s the best way to go about achieving this? It’s actually pretty simple:

Step 1
Eat better. Not necessarily more or less, just better. We’ve all been nutritionists since we were 3 years old when Mom would say, “eat your fruits and vegetables.” Most people just chose not to and they go through all these hoops and fads because they can’t come to grips with that. So eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk food…and don’t come to me with, “what’s junk food?” Everybody knows what they eat that they shouldn’t, so eat less of it. If you can cut it out entirely, even better, but you don’t have to freak and go bulimic if you indulge once in awhile (twice a month or less). Along with that, your staple drink should be water. Not soda, not juice, not tea, not coffee, not milk, not booze…water. Make your urine clear and you’ll know you’re getting enough.

Step 2
Get active. Don’t worry about “going to the gym” or “doing cardio,” just be active. What you do matters less than the fact that you just do it. Turn off the TV, Xbox, computer, etc. and get out and do more of what you love. Riding, running, walking, lifting, skating, fighting, f***king…as long as you’re not hurting anybody (against their consent), do it and do it as much as you care for. If it truly is something you love, then you’ll be a happier person in life in general too.

Step 3
Sleep. Sleep is not an annoyance meant to get in the way of life; it’s a time of priority when your body is rebuilding itself from the rigors of the day. If you want to stay up too long and feel terrible, that’s your business. But if you want to feel good, sleep as much as you care for every night (preferably 8-10 hours). If you think you don’t have the time, make it. The TV you turned off so you could go do what you love, keep it off so you can go to sleep.

Step 4
This is where things get more specific. At this point, you need to make sure you implement corrective work for the shortcomings of your activities. Pretty much, this means work to support your body’s natural alignments. If you want to go a step further, you can also do work that will enhance your ability to perform your desired activities at a level above average. As I’ve explained before, The important thing to remember is that this shouldn’t take away from your ability to do the rest of the things you’re doing. Therefore, the attitude should be, “do only what you have to” and not “as much as you can get away with”.

If you follow these principles, you’re very likely to wind up with good health, good fitness, and a good-looking body (it may not be ripped or huge, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look good, although you may be surprised). Let your physique reflect your lifestyle, not your lifestyle reflect your physique. 

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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