Want to Look Athletic? Act Like It.

Hey folks. Sorry for the silence here on the blogosphere. I have found myself woefully short of productive writing time, and have a handful of half-finished articles waiting for the finishing touches that will earn them their place here. With that in mind, there should be a bunch of new posts this month, starting with this one.

This issue I want to tackle today is one that I’ve touched on before during my soapbox rants on movement, and that’s training for function before form. This is a shout out to all you athletes-in-the-making who still deny your true purpose in fitness and still think it’s all about losing those inches.

Listen, I know your goals are important. They are the whole reason you decided to pluck your butt off the couch and get your hustle on in the first place, and that makes them invaluable; but that doesn’t mean your goals should always dictate the way you train (excepting specific athletic contests). Suppose I take up the guitar in the hopes of wooing the ladies; I still have to learn how to play guitar properly, or I will no doubt fail to impress in the end. The same goes for fitness; we have so many people training in a way that puts aesthetics in the spotlight because that is what they really want out of it, when that rockin’ beach bod is ultimately the result of improving your capacity for movement. What you really mean when you say you want to lose fat and tone-up is that you want a body that looks more athletic.

So BE more athletic!

It’s a pretty simple solution. Doing anything else to get that result would be like me toting my virgin guitar down to a coffee shop and using it as a prop to attract the interest of the aforementioned ladies. Even though I look like a sensitive musician, the truth is going to eventually come out and my result will not be sustainable. The same goes for if you train without cultivating true movement skills and real-world fitness; eventually the time for action will come, and you will find yourself falling painfully short.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t mean that you should just start running wind sprints and throwing kettlebells around; I just mean that you should train to become a better mover. If I had my way, I would melt every machine circuit in the world down into new squat racks. (Ask anyone who knows me; this is my mantra.) I don’t care if you’re nine or ninety, training on weight machines is a waste of time that builds false confidence in your physical ability. (There are exceptions, of course, such as rehabilitation and training with a physical disability, but you get the idea.) There is always something better to do that will have a far greater bearing on both your physical capacity and appearance. But I digress.

So many people just want that quick solution to their body composition woes. They want to spend a brief window losing some weight or getting “toned up” and then assume they will just be able to go back to how they lived before that. What people need to recognize is that accomplishing any health and fitness goal in the long term requires a change in lifestyle, not a just brief departure from a dysfunctional lifestyle. You have to make a slow shift from whatever factors have resulted in your current unsatisfactory condition to one that cultivates your ideal condition. Want to lose 50 pounds? Great! Just don’t think that once it’s off you’re going to be able to go back to eating cake every night. That was a bad thing, and made you overweight in the first place, so it has to go if you want that accomplishment to be sustainable.

I find it extremely unfortunate that the attitude in our culture is that an active lifestyle is for the few (athletes), and the average person must simply dabble to keep from getting fat and dying young. No, being an athlete is not for everyone, and not everyone is going to be as passionate (read: annoyingly obsessive) about movement culture as I am, but everyone can learn to enjoy it. We are hardwired to crave physical activity. You remember all that preaching I did in the “Mind-Body Connection” article about how your physical health ties into the rest of your well-being.

It is also equally unfortunate that those individuals who decide to make a change in their physical activity are often uninformed or under-informed about what they are doing and how to progress it, and end up hurting themselves. (Again, don’t just go from the couch to sprinting or anything like that.) Knowing where to start, how to progress your training, and what issues you need to correct in your body along the way are essential. In upcoming articles I’m going to be talking a lot about progression, and I’ll lay out some clear schemes for progressing functional exercise in a way that teaches you all the components from the ground up. (You have to learn to crawl before you walk, so to speak.)

So for everyone training with an aesthetic goal like weight-loss at the forefront (Mom, I’m calling you out), don’t let your desire for form deter you from training for function. Keep your goal strong in your mind, because that is where your motivation and drive are going to come from, but train the way you should: like a human who needs to move better in order to look and feel better.

In the next few articles, we’re going to be getting a little more specific. I want to share with you guys the movement-based programming scheme I’ve been experimenting with, and talk a bit about how to structure programs over the short and long term. We’ll also be delving into some of my progression schemes for specific movements.

As an aside, I know my perspective from the “inside” is quite far removed from someone who is stepping into the gym for the first time, and I often take a lot of the basics for granted. I realize that I often sound like some liquor-maddened whacko standing on a street-corner expounding the virtues of the “true path”, so PLEASE comment or message me if you are skeptical of what you’ve read or you simply need some clarification on anything. This blog is not meant to be an exercise in ego-stroking or a validation of my opinions, but rather to get the information out there to all of you. Therefore, it’s pretty important to me that I get through to you guys. It has to make sense to YOU, so let’s get the discussion going. Post comments like crazy.

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2 thoughts on “Want to Look Athletic? Act Like It.

  1. paleolover says:

    Totally agree with everything you have mentioned! If you want to look a certain way you practise everything ‘that’ person would do! 🙂

    • Mitch Tate says:

      That’s not exactly what I was trying to get across, and unfortunately that mentality is what often contributes to people jumping into athletic training programs that are inappropriate for them. The point I wanted to make is that you can (and should) get good aesthetic results from your training while still giving attention to the functional aspects of exercise.

      Definitely appreciate the feedback though. Thanks for the comment!

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog

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