July 19, 2014
It’s that time of year again. With July 4th (*ahem* my birthday, thanks for all the tweets) behind us, we’re more or less smack dab in the middle of summer. That means two things: 1) Oh God it’s gonna get cold again in two months I’d better win the lottery so I can buy a place in Miami, and 2) Beach season is in full swing. With beach season comes the inevitable desire to have the perfect “beach body” so that you can, I dunno… filter a little less in instagram?
Even though many of you started working on this in earnest back in January, most people didn’t and are still struggling with it. This special Head Pro GYST addition has to do with things I’ve noticed girls (and guys, tbh) doing that aren’t only suboptimal, but in some cases detrimental to achieving your (pointless) fitness goals. In many ways, that makes this the most “literal” edition of this occasional column yet.
Here’s why what you’re doing in pursuit of the perfect “beach body” is literally the worst:
Let’s talk about what “tone” really is: It is, literally, the visibility of muscle striations, dependent upon the muscle pressing against the skin. That’s it. You can’t make a muscle more “toned,” it’s strictly an aesthetic thing. (Usually) girls, in an effort to achieve this appearance, go to the gym and do one million little bicep curls and tricep extensions, living by the horribly misinformed mantra that you have to “lift big to get big.” “Instead,” they think, “I’ll just do more reps of a lighter weight to avoid getting too bulky.”
Well, guess what? That’s exactly what bodybuilders do to “get big.”
While you’ll never truly “bulk up” (not enough testosterone), doing countless bullshit curls with a light weight until your arms fall off (that is, isolating a muscle and pushing it to hypertrophy) is the best way to get as close as you can to a bicep the size and shape of a baseball. There are a few reasons women do this: One is the aforementioned misinformation we’ve all had crammed down our throats, but the other is fear. Fear of looking dumb. Fear of getting too big. Fear of not knowing what to do. That’s all perfectly understandable, but fear never did shit to help anyone look hot in a two-piece.
If you want to look “toned,” you have two options: One is to lose weight strictly through nutrition and cardio exercise, which, haha, good luck doing that without your body cannibalizing what muscles you have. The other is to lose some weight RESPONSIBLY, while ever so slightly (almost imperceptibly) adding lean muscle mass so that it may press against your skin. How do you do that? It’s simple - you lift big, you lift compound, and you lift heavy. In short, you lift like the fucking boss that you are. Sound intimidating? It’s not. Here is a list of all the exercises you need to do in the gym to get “toned:”
- Bar or dumbbell squats
- Bar or dumbbell deadlifts
- Pushups (or dumbbell bench press if those are too hard)
- Pullups (or the lat pulldown machine if those are too hard)
- MAYBE some dumbbell overhead presses for your shoulder cradle, but not necessary
- Some ab stuff
You can do other stuff, too, but anything more is window dressing when you’re starting out. Do you know what all of those exercises have in common? I’ll tell you - not a single one of them isolates one, useless muscle group. Instead, these are all compound exercises that work many body parts at once. The upshot? You’ll not only be functionally stronger (great for scraping your drunk friend off the pavement), but you’ll look better naked, clothed and everywhere in between. That’s due in part to the improved posture you’ll enjoy, but also because of the subtle lean muscle mass you’ve added all over your body (compound lifts also burn a lot of calories, so that’s an added bonus for fat loss). Look at it this way: The clothes in a photoshoot only look as good as the model’s body wearing them. If you think of your skin and any subcutaneous fat you’re carrying as the “clothes,” they’ll only look as good as the musculosekelal system underneath.
Don’t know how to do those exercises? No sweat. Google “How to do a deadlift,” and you’ll find countless videos, diagrams and written instructions. Still unsure? Ask the guy in the “TRAINER” shirt at your certainly too-expensive gym. Don’t feel comfortable stepping into the squat rack? Don’t. Grab some heavy (for you) dumbbells and do them that way. As long as you focus on lifting heavier than you’re probably used to (say, four sets of seven reps with a weight that’s hard to do for that many), you’ll see results. I promise.
Fuck the elliptical. Do squats. Look great.
Raise your hand if you’ve said any of the following: “I don’t eat carbs.” “I don’t eat ‘white’ foods.” “I’m eating low fat.” “I’m doing paleo.” “I’m on a ‘slow carb’ thing.” “I only eat five small meals per day.” “My roommate and I are doing a ‘fasting’ program.” “I don’t do gluten.”
Know what all of those things have in common? They’re all bullshit, because they’re “diets” and all “diets” are bullshit.
A diet, by definition, requires giving something up, be it carbs, grains, meat, whatever. Giving things up requires willpower, and guess what? Human willpower is a finite resource. It literally is - if you’re on a diet that proves to be too restrictive, you will inevitably fail. It’s that simple. Will you lose some amount of weight in a short amount of time if you cut out something drastic? Sure, but that’s because you’re likely cutting out a lot of calories by doing so. As fast as you lose it, you’ll gain it all back as soon as you resume eating like your normal self.
The solution? Eat real food. That is, food that comes from the ground, or food that eats things that come from the ground (or the sea, or whatever). That’s all there is to it, because despite what the frothing paleo adherents would have you believe, our bodies are perfectly equipped to live healthily off every edible thing found on God’s green Earth. The closer something is to how it was found in nature when it goes in your mouth, the better it is for you. Eating real food allows your body to feed itself the way it was meant to. Pork is a wonderful, nutritious lean meat - eat lots of it. Bacon? A lot of shit happens to pork before it becomes bacon. Don’t eat as much of that.
Still desperate for a “trick?” Fine, do this: Don’t eat things (or meals) that are high in both fat AND carbs. They don’t occur in nature - I defy you to name a natural food high in both macronutrients. In order to make that happen, humans have to dramatically alter food products, either through creation or cooking. That’s what makes you fat, and maybe what makes some people sick. It’s not as hard or restrictive as it sounds, either. Want a big helping of pasta? Fine, but dress it in red sauce (not alfredo), keep the meat lean and leave the cheese at home. Feeling a greasy Five Guys burger? That’s ok, but leave the fries and pair it with a salad instead. Nix the bun if you can, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Fat combined with carbs creates the best tasting foods, of course, so if you’re going to be “bad,” do so responsibly: Have some pizza, but don’t eat, like, ALL the pizza, and make it thin crust. Have some ice cream, but not a whole pint. You’ll be alright.
That goes for the Lean Cuisines and SmartOnes and other shit people like to eat in the name of health. For one thing, has anyone ever actually enjoyed one of those? For another, they hardly count as food - they’re so laden with weird chemicals and preservatives that it’s a wonder they’re edible at all. For breakfast, instead of a shitty bagel smeared with cream cheese, why not chuck some frozen fruit, peanut butter, protein powder and milk in the blender and take it with you to work?
Want something “healthy” for lunch? Do this: Take a big slice of real bread (the kind you buy from the bakery counter), and slice it in half. Pile it with real, by-God turkey (the kind from the deli counter, not the Oscar Meyer “turkey” bullshit). Add in a half slice of real, flavorful cheese, if you want. Top it with tomato, spinach/arugula, and finally some whole-grain mustard. Eat it with a salad, some low-sodium soup, or, fuck it, a reasonable serving of plain old potato chips. Boom, you got all of the macronutrients you need to survive, and without ever once having to puncture a cellophane cover.
Eat real food. Stay away from bullshit diets. Lose any weight you need to lose gradually and sustainably.
Some people are just so, so fucking SERIOUS about how they look, and nowhere is that more magnified than when you’re at the beach. After all, you’re practically naked, and it’s reasonable to assume everyone is glaring at your self-appointed imperfections (they’re not). Some people figuratively (and literally) kill themselves in the pursuit of an ideal that no one ever asked for in the first place.
Guess what - you already have the perfect “beach body.” That’s because the beach is meant to be fun, not an audition. All you need to enjoy the beach is a pulse, at least two working limbs and a willingness to not take yourself so seriously. The beach is for swimming, tanning (use sunscreen), throwing frisbees and getting shitfaced during the day. Everyone is way more hung up on their own shit to worry about imperfections only you can see. I’m not kidding - no one will give a shit if you don’t have a perfectly flat stomach, but people will care a whole lot if you’re too wrapped up in yourself to enjoy your time there.
The same goes for fitness. Yes, lifting big and lifting hard is the foundation of real change, but the best exercise you can do is the one you actually enjoy. Go to your pilates, TRX, barre and CoreAlign classes, if that’s what you like. Do weird aerial yoga, if that’s what gets you off. Hell, do that thing where you essentially sweat it up in an abandoned warehouse while dressed in workout clothes. Whatever it is you like doing that gets you moving, do it. You may not achieve maximum fitness without picking up a heavy weight, but enjoyment leads to happiness, which leads to better health. Stress, on the other hand, will make you fat as shit.
Pick up some weights, but have fun working out. Eat like a normal human being. Most importantly, enjoy the fucking beach.