The irony in this blog is that although I’ve posted several shirtless photos of myself to document my progress, I almost never take my shirt off in front of others in real life, not even at the beach (although I don’t find myself there too often). So what gives? Why bother getting ripped if nobody knows what’s under my clothes (with the exception of my wife)? For me, being ripped and staying ripped is the product of living what I deem a healthy lifestyle, although every person might have a different concept of what a healthy lifestyle is. I’m certainly not suggesting that if you’re not ripped you’re not healthy (in fact, I believe the two are generally mutually exclusive) but rather it’s that the habits I consider healthy and have incorporated into my life also happen to produce a ripped physique.
Vanity vs Function
Although I keep it to only a couple of minutes per week, I do admit that I enjoy taking photos of myself in the mirror. I like to track my progress. Is that vain? Is it more about form than function? There’s probably some vanity involved, but the lion’s share of everything I do is functional; it’s not for show. In my case, form follows function. I’m not interested in being ripped for the sake of it; I’m interested in having a healthy body, and being ripped just happens to come with it.
Let’s take three individuals with similarly impressive physiques, but for whom appearance tells only part of the story and can belie the truth about each person’s health.
Person 1: The “bulker” and cutter
This person prefers to be ripped for a portion of the year, using the bulk and cut method to put on muscle and [what I consider to be] a good deal of fat, then cut down for several months, losing fat and some muscle. Many bodybuilders engage in this practice for their sport. While this is perfect for some people (and probably necessary for bodybuilders), it’s not my cup of tea, especially considering that I don’t compete or have any aspirations to do so. I don’t like the concept of swinging fat stores and overall body weight in general so drastically over the year. I make no comment about how it factors into the health of others, but I know it’s not right for my health. I also believe that it can lead to more licentious eating (like things out of boxes or sweets) during the bulking phase. It doesn’t mean that all individuals who engage in a classic bulk are doing it, but it’s a common occurrence. Further, eating so much food creates a pro-inflammatory immune response and reduces the body’s ability to use energy for cellular repair because it’s so busy working to break down and integrate nutrients all the time. A ripped physique says nothing about blood profile or cellular health.
Person 2: The sculptor
This is an individual who is more focused on creating a ripped physique and less so on developing functional strength. He or she performs many sets of many reps of a mind boggling array of exercises to target every muscle from every angle. This is awesome for some people, but I stay far away from anything that resembles this type of routine, which results in little functional strength development, central nervous system inefficiency, and imbalances between muscle groups because I believe it’s simply impossible to know, say, how many triceps kickbacks must be performed for how many reps and sets under what kind of load at what speed to properly compliment the four sets of pec-isolating cable flyes you just performed. Why not just bench heavy instead?
Person 3: The full-body metabolic conditioner
Think CrossFit or boot camp style training. Lots of people love routines like these; they can be great for developing functional strength. I’ve personally done absolute monster loads of strength-based metabolic conditioning in the past. But if you’ve read my posts about walking, you probably know how I’ve come to terms with how counterproductive metabolic conditioning is for the average person (like me). I think it’s definitely helpful for certain types of athletes in small, judiciously applied doses, but otherwise I prefer to stay far away from it the same way I do targeted sculpting routines. Some (only some) CrossFit practitioners see peeing blood as the result of exercise-induced muscle tissue breakdown (a.k.a. rhabdomyolysis) as a rite of passage and wear it as a badge of honor (I personally think that’s the most absolutely insanely stupid concept/ practice on the planet). Metabolic strength routines can be hell on the joints and connective tissue. Those explosive movements can take a major toll on the body after years. I’ll be 33 years old soon, and I want to stay very strong in the least stressful way possible.
Person 4: Me
If I stand next to any of the three types of people described above I might not stack up visually, but there’s a good chance that I’d be ahead on the spectrum of functional strength, joint health and possibly blood health. Since I’m not interested in sculpting my body in the least, but I am focused on minimizing gym time, I perform absolutely zero targeted muscular work i.e….
- no biceps curls
- no crunches
- no shrugs
- no triceps kickbacks
- no dumbbell rows
- no cable flyes… no cable work at all
- no pec deck
- no leg extensions
- no leg presses
- no leg curls
- no calf raises
- no shoulder raises
- no… you get the point
…and use only heavy compound barbell lifts, chin-ups, pull-ups and dips. This is how I’ve developed a relatively high strength to body weight ratio in virtually any anatomical position. I can strictly front squat 125%, back squat and bench 170% of my body weight for reps, deadlift almost 190%, overhead press 100%, chin and pull-up 130% and dip 160% for several reps. I list these stats not to brag, but to make the point that one not need look very strong to be very strong. If you’ve ever watched American Ninja Warrior you might have noticed that the most successful competitors are those who are masters of their own body weight. They’re people who can maintain precise control over their bodies under exceedingly physically taxing conditions for extended periods. These individuals are ripped more often than not, but they’re also usually only carrying moderate amounts of muscle. Whenever I see someone big and ripped ready to attack the course, I know they’re likely not going to be completing it because it’s virtually impossible for them to overcome the weight of their own muscle, much as the way an enlarged heart is more likely to fail. This is no knock on big muscles by any means–it’s simply a statement that I prefer to maintain a high degree of mobility and an ability to carry my weight in a more effortless manner. Ten years ago I was at 166 lbs (big for me) with 10% body fat, and I was a tortoise with poor endurance. And since being ripped is a year-round state for me, I’m not drastically swinging my eating habits. I might add a couple hundred calories into my diet by opening my eating window to four hours per day for a couple of months when I want to add a little more muscle, or close the eating window a bit if I want to lose a little fat, but this is primarily for reasons of vanity. At its core, the lifestyle I follow heavily favors function and integrated health before all else, and rippedness follows.