Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Aesthetic Appeal or Athletic Performance?

Recently two of my fitness colleagues have written articles on the above topic, with the intention of encouraging replies and it becoming an open debate. I thought I would offer my two cents worth.

As a personal trainer/class instructor/coach I can say that nearly everybody who comes to me for advice or coaching on nutrition or exercise, has come to me for aesthetic reasons. It's in our nature to want to look good, whether for ourselves, or to be attractive to others, or some other reason entirely, looking good is a powerful motivator. We are also constantly bombarded with the media's conception of health, fitness & beauty, and we in turn seek that ideal, the cover model look.

There is nothing wrong with wanting sculpted abs, perfect pecs, toned thighs or 21” guns. Looking good goes a long way in many areas of our lives. We feel more confident, clothes look better on us, we are more attractive to others; all plus points.

But some people walk a different path, and athletic performance is their goal. They could care less about symmetry or size, and seek to improve their performance above all else. Whether it is strength for power-lifting or strongman contests, sport-specific drills for wrestling or boxing, or conditioning for something like givervoy (kettlebell) sport. Their measurability is in the improved performance on the field, not in the mirror. The performance-orientated people generally view their way as the right way, because they believe that form follows function. In other words, the aesthetic appeal will come about naturally, as a welcomed side effect of their training – and they are not wrong. I have never seen someone train hard for performance who didn't look good for it either. But does that make the first group wrong? No. Not at all. For a start, if you don't have a specific, performance-orientated goal to work towards, what do you aim for? Most people who exercise, have absolutely no specific goals at all. When asked they will merely generalise about being a little fitter, a little less bodyfat, a little more toned, etc.

I may get critisised for this but although less so, function will follow form too. Your ability to perform athletically will improve as you train your appearance. It may not be specific, but you're not training sport-specific are you? If you are smart about bodybuilding/aesthetic style training, and ensure that you work towards symmetry and balance in your muscular structure, periodise your training, strength, power, cardio, etcetera and follow a clean, healthy diet; you will get stronger, leaner, fitter, healthier – all for the goal of looking better.

So train for what you want. Train for what motivates you. Do what you enjoy. Above all, eat a good clean healthy diet, exercise regularly in a balanced fashion, pay attention to your body and take care of yourself. In the wise words of Zach Even-esh, “The secret is that there's no secret. Lift hard, lift consistently, eat tons of clean, wholesome foods and listen to your body.”

Challenge everything, especially yourself.

Alex Kay Grimmer.