Fitness has become fashionable.
It would be easy to view this trend through square hipster lenses, and scoff at people jumping on the bandwagon.
But fitness is one of the most beneficial things anyone can pursue in life.
Men (and women), let me tell you this:
You are limiting your life in fundamental ways if you do not develop your body.
This truth was brought home to me very recently; I performed a consultation for a gentleman in his mid 70s looking for some personal training.
His doctors had told him that he was fit and healthy – and indeed the guy is still able to row 10k in 50 minutes. That’s pretty good going for any age; not least because sitting on a rower for that long is just indescribably boring and truly an exercise in masochism.
However he was unable to stand up by himself from the ground.
And he had difficulty getting up out of chairs.
He also had difficulty reaching or sitting down for everything.
His mobility was extremely poor, and this was causing him great distress – it was massively impacting his quality of life.
What good is “fitness” if you can’t move in very basic ways?
We tend often to notice things only when they make things worse. We recognise a cold by how bad we feel, but we very rarely notice the point at which we are well again.
So too with fitness; you don’t even know you have it till it’s gone.
That’s for fit people though. People who are already unfit think that they are normal. They think that struggling for breath while bending over to tie their shoe-laces is just a fact of life.
They’re trapped by their bodies and they don’t even know it.
As in all things, you must strive to raise your standards – and building your body is no exception.
Building your body won’t just make you look better.
It will free you.
But in order to free yourself physically, you really need some goals.
All men and women ought to reach some minimum physical standards for their physical capacity to not strongly negatively effect their life.
Run 1 Mile in less than 9/8 minutes
Press 50% bodyweight
The next set of standards are roughly the point at which your physical capacity can augment and improve your life significantly.
20/10 handstand pushups
10/4 ring muscleups
Run 1 mile in less than 7/6 minutes
Snatch Bodyweight/0.6x bodyweight
Now people can debate these all day, but here are my reasons for choosing them – and implicit in those standards is what it takes to reach them.
For example, to snatch bodyweight, it is likely that you can squat at least 1.5x bodyweight, and more likely 2x bodyweight – unless you are an exceptional mover.
Also implicit in these more complex movements is a host of extra information; a bodyweight snatch means that person is mobile and fast enough to throw and then catch a heavy weight in a stable overhead position at the bottom of a squat. They are proficient and skilled.
Compared to professional athletes in gymnastics, running, or weightlifting, these standards are incredibly low.
But compared to the couch potatoes that surround us – or your current level – they might seem impossibly high.
If you look at them and are daunted, fear not. Just focus on the next step.
I remember when squatting 100kg seemed unimaginable.
I remember thinking that to achieve just one muscleup was a real show of athletic ability.
I remember when it seemed like only incredibly jacked monsters could bench press 60kg.
All of those feats are now almost effortless for me and can be done without a warmup – and so I moved on to the next target.
I can do other fun stuff now too:
Standards beyond those are subject to the law of returns, and how far you want to push it is entirely personal – but I know firsthand that training 3 hours a day does not necessarily improve your life.
If you look at those standards and they seem trivial, or they seem not to describe a great physique to you – that’s great. This post isn’t for you; you already know how to free your body – but you may need to learn how to enjoy it.
What about aesthetics?
Most importantly, the ideal body is your body, just better. Stronger, faster, leaner, bigger. But still you. You’re never going to look the same as a fitness magazine cover model – even if you are just as big and lean.
But… You can be you, only better.
So without further ado, here are a whole bunch of reasons why building your body might just be the best thing you do all year:
1. You’ll Age Better
The neurosurgeon and anti-aging physician Dr. Brett Osborn believes that building your body is one of the best preventative measures you can take to age well:
Perform preventive maintenance and you will thwart age-related disease. Start early. Even in your 20s.
1. Strength training, in particular rigorous strength training is critical. Amass as much muscle as possible while the hormonal milieu is favorable. Also, strength training unto itself maintains one’s hormonal profile in a youthful state. The best natural way to boost your testosterone and growth hormone levels is to lift weights.
I lay out my full training program in Get Serious. In general, you should stick to five basic movements in a 5×5 scheme: squats, overhead press, deadlift, bench press, pull/chin-up. Make gradual progression. And remember, safety first, injury prevention second. – How To Age Well at Danger & Play
His workout recommendations resemble my own, as well as that of just about any no-bullshit strength and conditioning coach throughout history.
People overcomplicate this stuff till the cows come home, but when it comes to building some muscle and getting stronger there’s really not all that much to it.
2. You Might Actually Live Longer
A tiny amount of research has shown that strength training doesn’t just prevent ageing, but can even reverse it.
Doug McGuff of Body By Science noted the following:
On May 23, 2007 a major stride in the quest for life extension occurred. Researchers Simon Melov et al announced a treatment that successfully reversed aging. (www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.371/journal.pone.0000465). This reversal occurred not in worms, fish, or rats; but actually occurred in human subjects. More importantly, this reversal was not simply a marker of aging, but an actual reversal toward normal youthful function at the genetic level. … The study definitively identified 179 genes that were reversed by the intervention, and as the study stated “the transcriptional signature of aging was markedly reversed back to that of younger levels for most genes that were affected by both age and exercise”.
So what was this miracle treatment? The answer is STRENGTH TRAINING. Strength training performed twice a week for a period of 26 weeks. … The researchers had subjects perform leg press, chest press, leg extension, leg flexion, shoulder press, lat pull-down, calf raise, abdominal crunch and back extension for 3 sets of 10 reps, and arm flexion and arm extension for 1 set of 10 reps. … Resistance was based on 50% of a 1 rep max and progressed to 80% of a 1 rep max. Over the study period the subjects increased their strength by 50% which made them only 38% weaker than 25 year old cohorts.
Basic strength training, not even to a particularly high level, apparently yielded a reversal in signs of ageing in the participants.
If true, this is one of the coolest things ever – I just hope that more research looks at this issue at some point.
3. You won’t have to say “no” any more.
Saying no is a useful skill – but only when you want to.
When you have to say no, but you’d rather say yes, well that sucks.
Especially if it’s something physical – things like surfing, scuba diving, mountain biking or trekking. Those are the kinds of exciting things that really do enhance a life worth living, and which create life-long memories.
Building your body up to the minimum standards means you can do all of these things and enjoy them.
Whenever your friends invite you to do something cool or interesting that happens to be physical, you’ll just be able to say YES without any significant worries about whether or not you’ll be able to keep up.
4. You will actually have an easier time attracting women/men.
When I started going to the gym I made my intentions to get bigger clear to my flatmates. They were all women.
They said, “don’t get too big” and, “don’t become a square shape”.
(I still don’t know what that last one means.)
Anyway, despite their desire to keep me from the iron, I get a lot more positive attention from women now than I used to.
It seems that very often women will tell you one thing and think another (e.g. “I’m fine”). We know this. But it’s easy to believe it too sometimes. Your family and friends too will say all kinds of dumb shit – “are you on steroids?!”. Ignore it all.
On a different occasion, I was at a party with one of my best friends. This guy happens to be insanely ripped, with skin like rich mahogany – I feel entirely comfortable in saying that he is a beautiful man.
When someone is in that kind of shape, they get attention constantly – honestly it seems quite annoying. He had almost everyone at the party clamouring for him to show them his abs every five minutes.
At one point he was persuaded – as he lifted his shirt a girl standing next to him loudly said “yuck, gross”.
Despite being beautiful, my friend is not terribly confident. I knew this would upset him, and it did.
Later, in private, I asked the girl, “did you really find him that gross?”
She said, “no, he’s incredible, I just don’t want his ego getting too big”.
Point being, don’t worry when people say they don’t like it – even if they’re not lying, enough people like it that you’ll never notice the ones who don’t.
And women? Men love a girl that’s in shape. Men love women of all shapes and sizes, truth be told.
But the thing I enjoy the most about seeing Tahlia get fitter and stronger is seeing her confidence grow with her performance levels. Seeing her achieve things that used to seem impossible is truly priceless.
Stay tuned for part 2
In part two we’ll look at eleven (11!) more reasons why building your body might be the best thing you do all year.