February 27, 2015 / Don’t Just Be Fit, Be Strong
Do you even lift, bro? The only correct answer is "yes."
When I get e-mails from readers who give me some background on themselves, they’ll usually mention something about their physical appearance. Something like, “I’m not the tallest guy at 5’8”, but I’m fit and I’m in good shape.”
And I’ll follow up by asking these guys if they go to a gym and do any strength training with free weights. In other words, I’ll ask them:
Do you even lift, bro?
The guys who describe themselves as “fit,” as opposed to adjectives like “strong” or “lean” or “ripped,” usually fall into an archetype. And that archetype is “guys who aren’t nearly as ‘fit’ as they think they are.” They’re guys who play ultimate frisbee or run 10K races and basically do no strength training. Or if they do any strength training, it’s limited to just high-intensity body weight exercises.
These guys consider themselves to have good cardiovascular conditioning, and they’re probably slimmer than most of their friends. If this is you, the good news is you’re not a fatass. The bad news is, you’re missing out on a lot by not making weekly pilgrimages to the Iron Template and throwing around some weights.
I fell into this trap myself a couple years ago. I was traveling a lot for work, and I made it to the gym only handful of times that year. I tried to keep a fitness routine that was mostly going for long distance runs and doing body weight exercises, and I thought I was still in “decent shape.” Then I got a new job, joined a new gym, and took a body fat test when I signed up. I thought I was “fit” and “lean,” but I was shocked that despite being over ten pounds lighter than the last time I stepped on a scale, I actually had 3% more body fat.
Really, it was simple math.
The year before, I was 170 pounds and 13% body fat. So my body fat was 22.1 pounds.
When I joined the new gym, I was 158 pounds and 16% body fat. So my body fat was 25.28 pounds.
If the math isn’t apparent, I’ll spell it out: I had only gained three pounds of fat, which was pretty much not noticeable. But if I had lost 12 pounds and gained 3 pounds of fat, that means I lost 15 pounds of lean body weight.
No wonder all my clothes looked baggy. My body had literally gone from “lean and mean” to “average ultimate frisbee player.”
Beyond my physical appearance, not lifting weights had caused me a lot of other problems, such as:
My Metabolism Sucked
You may have heard that muscle tissue significantly contributes to your basal (resting) metabolic rate. I’ve heard anywhere from 30-100 calories per pound of muscle. However, this is greatly exaggerated. Since I had lost 15 pounds of lean body weight, that would mean my metabolism would have plummeted and I would have quickly become fatass.
The reason for this myth is a well-known study in 1994, which measured metabolic increases in people who underwent a high-intensity strength training program. Those people did add muscle, and their metabolisms did increase. But other studies have proven that high-intensity strength training itself boosts energy utilization in all your muscles. This is why your metabolism spikes when you’re regularly hitting the weights. Likewise, if you fall of your workout routine, your metabolism will slow down significantly, regardless of how much lean body mass you lose.
Life happens, and you’ll get busy, and it will be hard to make it to the gym. But if you can throw some weights around for 30 minutes twice a week, you’ll keep your metabolism high even if you’re not lifting nearly enough for actual muscle gains. I didn’t do this, and this is why despite all my cardio workouts, I had still gained body fat. The cardio I was doing was not nearly enough to offset my slower metabolism that resulted from not lifting.
Weak Tendons and Joints
Despite being in my 30s, I had never really experienced the “aches” and “pains” with aging. Then gradually throughout the year, it started happening. My back would ache just sitting at my desk. I’d go for a run and my knees would be sore for two days. If I played a pickup game of basketball or soccer, I’d inevitably pull a hamstring or sprain my knee.
Direct resistance training is the best way to strengthen the tendons and joints that hold your muscles together, and to make sure you’re hitting all the muscles groups you need. If you’re at a job where you’re sitting and hunched over a computer, chances are the tendons in your back and legs will tighten up. If you’re not lifting weights regularly, your back and leg muscles will atrophy, providing even less resistance for your tendons and allowing them to tighten even further. Soon enough, they’ll eventually tighten up to the point of causing you problems like back pain.
Likewise, most sports will engage your fast-switch muscles when you need to quickly accelerate, change direction, or make any other rapid body movement. But if you’re only doing sustained cardio like running, you’re mainly just working on your slow-switch muscles. So your fast-twitch muscles are out of whack, and end up working against each other. For example, distance running will strength your hamstrings. But sprinting engages both your quadriceps and hamstrings. So if you run long distances, and then try and sprint in a soccer game, your hamstring pulls against a much weaker quad, and you end up with a pulled quad.
Once I got back into a lifting routine, all these problems literally vanished. You may think 30 or 35 is "over the hill" physically, but that’s only true for professional sports athletes. For most us, you can easily stave of the aches and pains of aging by hitting the gym and working out regularly.
Any high-intensity exercise will cause a small surge in testosterone. Furthermore, increasing body fat lowers testosterone.
That year was easily the worst dry spell I had with women. I only went on a handful of dates and got laid maybe twice the whole year. But my "dry spell" wasn’t the same as a "cold streak." It wasn’t like I was going out, approaching women, and getting rejected because my reduced testosterone was acting like some sort of anti-aphrodisiac. I just didn’t have much interest in women, period, let alone dating or having sex with them.
Not lifting weights isn’t the only reason for a lower testosterone level. Being stressed causes your body to produce more of the hormone cortisol, which inhibits testosterone production. Yet exercise causes your body to produce more endorphins, which in turn will reduce stress. So you can see the vicious cycle here. Hitting the gym will promote testosterone production, and you’ll offset stress that would otherwise cause you produce more cortisol. When you stop going to the gym, then neither happens, and you end up like I did — spending most of a year feeling lethargic and having basically no sex drive.
You will hear some women say “I don’t like guys with big muscles” or the even less charitable, “I don’t like meatheads.” I have yet to meet a woman who actually meant it. Just show any woman this picture, and ask them which of these body types is most appealing:
In my experience, most women will describe any of the builds in the first row — Ripped, Lumberjack, or Jacked as their ideal. Some number of them may pick the builds in the second row. And pretty much none of them will pick the builds in the third row.
Because this is what “I don’t like guys with big muscles” really means:
- I don’t like guys that inject 200 CCs of Winstrol in their ass every other day. If you do look like the “Roidhead” archetype, then you may actually be more muscular than ideal for some women. However, I doubt most of us on JoshSway.com have to worry about accidentally working out so hard that they overshoot and end up looking like this.
- I don’t like guys who take selfies with their shirt off in the bathroom. Yeah, that guy is probably a tool, and it’s easy to assume that and dismiss him. But in any other context, the girl wouldn’t be saying this. I’ve literally heard women say things like, “I think his body is super fucking hot, I just hate the fact that he felt this picture needed to exist.”
- I like the Vince Vaughn/Will Ferrell build. I’ve noticed a handful of women, usually older, really do insist they prefer the "Chubby-Fat” build, usually saying something like, “I like a guy who’s just like a big teddy bear.” But when they say "big," they really mean "tall." They’re usually thinking about someone who is literally as tall as Will Ferrell (6’3”) or Vince Vaughn (6’5”). Unless you like older women and you’re actually this tall, being "chubby-fat" won’t make you attractive to women who a “big teddy bear.” It’ll just make you look like a generically average-sized chubby guy.
I’ve added links throughout this article with links to all the sources I used, but I fully admit I have nothing approaching actual professional or academic experience. If you feel anything I’ve said is inaccurate and contradicts any other published studies, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.