When gym rats first discover the world of exercise and nutrition, it’s always because they are interested in losing weight and/or building a better physique. You will rarely find someone who lists down “have a bigger vertical jump” as a primary goal. While there is nothing wrong with training specifically for aesthetic purposes, there are several challenges that can affect even the most confident individuals.
Changes come after months and years of effort, not weeks.
For natural athletes or athletes that do not make use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) or anabolic steroids, gains in strength and muscle mass come slowly. You must put in a lot of time in and out of the gym just to see a lb. or two of gains in muscle mass every month. For newbies, the rate is slightly higher, but over time, the returns slowly diminish and it gets harder and harder to put on size. So what happens to the natural lifter when they’re working hard but not seeing the results they want? They either get discouraged and quit, or they are manipulated into taking drugs that they may not even need.
Your natural potential is hard to gauge.
We are all given a unique set of genetics that dictates the fullness of muscle bellies, thickness of fascia, rate of muscle growth and locations of fat deposits. It’s easy to look at fitness models on the covers of magazines and think, “I’m going to become like that,” however, in reality it might not even be humanly possible for you.
The point we’re trying to make here is that the person whose physique you are trying to imitate might be 1) lying about being natural 2) might not even be natural 3) Photoshopped beyond belief. This sets unrealistic standards among aspiring fitness competitors and enthusiasts when they are not able to achieve the same results as the other person. So take what you see with a grain of salt and manage your own expectations of yourself.
There is more than one definition of “beauty” and “aesthetic”
What is “aesthetic” even? What is considered attractive? The media influences one’s idea of beauty every single day, which is why training solely for aesthetics can be an uphill battle. Today it’s a 6-pack abs and round shoulders. Next week it might be a 4-pack with smaller shoulders but a bigger chest. You could be training for years and years to finally be considered “aesthetic” only to realize that the tides have changed after all that time and your physique is now considered “unaesthetic”. What happens to you then?
Bodybuilding does not place enough emphasis on progressive overload.
Without progressive overload, your body will not get bigger or stronger beyond a certain point. Bodybuilding works under this same principle, but its programs do not employ it as effectively. Usually you will just see things like “increase weight until you go to failure” or “lift a weight that you can do for 6 reps”. Those are correct, but there is more to progressive overload than just lifting more weight and for more reps.
Here are some examples:
* Lifting the same weight for more reps (volume)
* Lifting heavier weight (intensity)
* Lifting the same weight with less rest time in between sets (density)
* Lifting a weight more often (frequency)
* Lifting the same weight for increased distance (range of motion)
* Lifting the same weight with better control and technique (efficiency)
In bodybuilding, some people go more by feel instead of numbers and logs. “If you feel like you’re about to die, you’re doing it right.“ However, one can only lift so much for so long before risk of injury increases drastically and overtraining occurs. When this happens, the athlete’s performance in the gym is compromised and as a result, gains are not made continuously. In the downtime following an injury or overtraining, gains are even lost. Natural athletes lose muscle mass more quickly than they can build, which is why training is a crucial aspect of bodybuilding. Without progressive overload, the body will not be forced to grow.
Train for Strength, Power, Endurance, Speed and Technique
Our bodies are constantly changing. If you wake up in the morning looking dehydrated, you will probably not look like that anymore at the end of they once you’ve had plenty of food and water. If your sole purpose for exercising is to look good 24/7, you will be sorely disappointed because water fluctuations alone can make you go from stage-ready to no definition in just a few hours. The obsession with one’s appearance can discourage the athlete and keep him/her from progressing towards long-term goals.
Powerlifting, strongman training, MMA and the like can be utilized to build attractive physiques too. When you lift an atlas stone, you are tensing several muscles at once. When you deadlift twice your bodyweight, that’s a full body workout in and of itself. Ten rounds of punching, kicking, elbowing and kneeing is one heck of a high intensity interval training (HIIT) session. Most of the time, when people see gains in acceleration, speed and endurance, they start to care less about aesthetics because they realize that it’s just as fulfilling to see improvements in performance as it is to see a gnarly bicep pump.
Muscle gains will come eventually
How do you become stronger? You increase volume, intensity, efficiency and density in your training. How do you become bigger? You increase volume, intensity, efficiency and density in your training. How do you become faster? You increase volume, intensity, efficiency and density in your training.
Bodybuilding is a lot like other sports in that it requires progressive overload to see results. Instead of obsessing over your morning abs or chest split and giving up when you don’t see your ideal physique in the mirror after an 8-week program, you could try structuring your program around other things. That way, you have other goals to help pass the time and you will still have a great physique to boot—a win-win.
A true believer in progressive overload, Aaron Curtis is featured wearing the Galaxy Taperback and Elite Mid Shorts. Available from strongliftwear.com & shop.strongliftwear.com!