Body Image Issues in Men
In part 1 of this 3 part article, I talked about a common scenario…
A young guy contacts me with a link to an image of what he wants to look like…asking if he can get there by next summer.
It’s almost always an unrealistic goal.
I’m not against the idea of having goals, but the link always takes me to a similar image.
- A genetically gifted man, who has obviously trained consistently for at least 5-10 years.
- A one-in-10,000 type of physique…that even the fitness model can’t maintain for more than a couple of days.
- The strong possibility of “just enough pharmaceuticals” to maintain a high degree of muscle at a low body fat percentage…without looking like an obvious roid-user.
I’m not saying that every ripped guy online only looks this way for a few days…or uses physique-enhancing drugs.
My main point is this:
Young guys should aim for attainable goals first, before going straight for a goal that they may never reach.
Think of getting in shape, sort of like buying a car…
You are probably going to have to work your way up to owning a Porsche 911.
You aren’t likely to drive your dream car just 1-2 years after getting your license.
It will take time, focused work, and dedication.
Getting is shape is just like that.
The only difference is this:
Everyone has the potential to earn enough money to eventually get their dream car…but there are things outside of your control when it comes to achieving your dream physique.
The limiting factor is genetics.
I want you to do this simple exercise.
Here is an easy way to determine your frame size.
Wrap your thumb and middle finger around your wrist just above the wrist bone (where hand connects to the wrist bone).
- If your fingers overlap, you have a small frame.
- If your fingers just meet, you have a medium frame.
- If you can’t touch fingers together, you have a large frame.
If you have a small frame, you have much less muscle building potential than someone with a large frame.
This is described perfectly in David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene:
“Holway compares the skeleton to an empty bookcase. One bookcase that is four inches wider than another will weigh only slightly more. But fill both cases with books and suddenly the little bit of extra width on the broader bookcase translates to a considerable amount of weight.”
Supposedly for every 2 pounds of bone, you add the ability to hold 10 extra pounds of muscle.
A thick frame makes a HUGE difference in muscle building potential.
Not only is frame size important…
The muscle-to-tendon ratio determines the growth potential of a muscle.
- Long muscle bellies and short tendons = strong muscle building potential.
- Short muscle bellies and long tendons = weaker muscle building potential.
The easiest muscle groups to spot this on are the biceps and calves.
Here’s a test: Flex your biceps…
Can you fit 2 fingers in between the forearm and start of bicep muscle?
If so, you have a long tendon and short muscle belly on your biceps.
This doesn’t mean every muscle group on your body shares the same short muscle bellies as your biceps.
You could have short muscle bellies on your biceps and full muscle bellies on your calves.
You will have strong muscle groups and weak muscle groups.
Chances are if a body part is stubborn, it is because of the short muscle bellies on that body part.
You can obsess about this weak body part, or you can focus on your strengths.
…and you don’t need a perfect physique to look badass.
Check out this scene from The Beastmaster (1982).
Beastmaster totally getting buff with a log!
A Complaint: Movies these days are totally missing these “buffing up” scenes…where the character gets big and strong in the wilderness. Movies like The Avengers get straight into the action. Not as cool as the 80’s action movies, in my opinion.
I haven’t even discussed the three main body types: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.
Here’s a link (open in new window) that covers the 3 body types.
This is discussed all over the Internet already, so no need for me to cover that in this post.
So what can you control with training and diet?
- Increasing muscle size in underdeveloped muscle groups.
- Gaining strength without size in well developed muscle groups.
- Lowering body fat to reveal muscle definition and density.
This is basically what I summarized for women in part 2 of this 3 part series.
…and here’s something I’ve been preaching for close to 10 years.
Don’t just add muscle “wherever it winds up”, if you are after an impressive physique.
So many men’s muscle building programs make the mistake of focusing on total muscle mass.
You’ve seen headlines like these I’m sure…
- “Gain up to 20 pounds of pure muscle in only 3 months”
- “Add 30 pounds of muscle while dropping body fat at the same time”
- How I gained 40 pounds of muscle in 6 months, drug-free!”
Where you gain muscle matters much more than total amount.
Tom Hardy is an example of a guy who got as big as possible to play Bane…just adding muscle wherever his body grew.
Most people would agree that Tom Hardy had a much more impressive physique in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Shameless Plug: Visual Impact Muscle Building = More Mad Max and Less Bane.
What about diet for muscle building?
I believe most men are eating way too much when they are trying to gain muscle. I typically recommend multiplying 13 to 16 by body weight for a starting point.
So for a 200 pound guy trying to add muscle:
- 200 x 13 = 2,400 calories per day (minimum fat gain).
- 200 x 14 = 2,800 calories per day (moderate fat gain).
- 200 x 16 = 3,200 calories per day (decent amount of fat gain).
Note: There are a lot of variables that come into play when it comes to the amount of calories to consume to add muscle. This is just a starting point. For a detailed method to figure it out, check out this online calculator (opens in new window).
No need to go protein crazy either.
The hardest thing for guys to let go of is their belief that they need excessive amounts of protein to gain muscle or maintain muscle.
When adding muscle is your goal, I believe the max protein you need to consume is a little over 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
Studies have shown impressive muscle gain on as little as .7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight…so 1 gram is plenty.
How about dieting for fat loss?
When dieting for fat loss, I recommend focusing on “calories per week”. This allows you to be social, go out to eat and have drinks with friends, etc.
I outline this strategy in detail in part 2.
How much protein should you eat when trying to lose fat?
You can go surprisingly low with protein when your goal is to just maintain muscle while dropping body fat.
Brad Pilon has an excellent post where he discusses a study in which subjects maintained muscle, just eating .3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
When your goal is to rapidly lose fat while maintaining muscle, I recommend eating .5 to .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
…but you need to perform some form of a resistance training at least a couple of times per week.
Yes, I know this recommendation seems low.
The problem with going too high in protein when on a diet, is that you have to reduce both carbs and fat to ensure a calorie deficit.
When you restrict carbs and fats for an extended period of time, it messes up your testosterone levels.
Christopher Walker warns about high protein intakes while dieting when trying to naturally increase testosterone levels.
This post is getting long and really is just an introduction to topics I will cover in much more detail in future posts. Here’s the most important point when it comes to working out.
There needs to be a balance between these 3 variables: Volume, Frequency, and Intensity.
What I mean by that…is that if you increase one of these variables, you need to reduce the other two.
A few examples:
- If your workouts are long with a lot of sets (high volume)…then you need time for the muscles to recuperate (less frequency) and you should train with less intensity.
- If you train each muscle group a few times each week (high frequency)…the volume per workout needs to be low. The intensity needs to be low as well to avoid too much damage to the muscle.
- If you push each set hard to failure (high intensity), the volume should be low…and you will have to wait until that muscle group is recovered before training again (low frequency).
Wow, this ended up being longer than planned!
Quite a few of these topics need to be covered in a lot more detail.
Looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me 🙂
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
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