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What’s the deal with all the working out and not looking any ‘different’?

Let’s tackle the topic of whether you should evolve physically (to the human eye) year in year out, forever. 

“Bro, them two guys have been coming to this gym for the last 5 or 6 years and yet they look the same! It’s sad. What a waste.”

We all know ‘them guys’. But are we doing ‘them guys’ an injustice? Are we right to expect such drastic and linear changes to every hard training individual’s external armour?

It’s a cute theory that we could keep getting bigger, leaner, stronger, sexier, even younger indefinitely. That we should defy the laws of nature. That 2+2=4 in terms of the human body. Alas, the human body really doesn’t like calculations.

And I totally get the angle people who play the ‘look different card’ are coming from. To describe your #dedication to others and yet look more or less the same as you did 12 months ago does little to impress the unaware eye. They could hit you back with, “I watched television for 3 hours a night every day for the last year and I look the same!” As you’ll see in a moment, things are never so simple and interchangeable.

Three big factors that influence how much potential you have to shock people with your ‘transformation’ – 

#1 – The place you precede from.

Simple enough. The more ‘undeveloped’ you are at anything, the more room there is to flourish. If you’ve been obese your whole life and decide to ‘wipe the slate clean’ at 50+, your potential transformation collage could be ground-breaking. You could lose 150 lbs of fat, build 30 lbs of muscle and improve your posture in the space of 5 years.

(theweightstopsnow.com) – the transformation is much more stark as there was more ‘room to play with’ initially.

Now, if we take a guy; 25 years old, never been overweight, played numerous sports since his early teens. He’s trained accordingly. He’s more than proficient across the board with weight training – solid levels of strength in many compound lifts. He is a low level of body fat for a natural guy and has already built a decent 20 lbs of muscle since his teens. How much more room does he have to shock those who know him with a transformation?

Much much less than our first example.

Sure, he could cut leaner. But going from 10-12% body fat to 6-7% body fat is only going to really show without clothes. His face may look more defined and depending on genetics, his vascularity may increase. At first glance though, he’s looking much the same.

I hear you screaming, and yes, he could gain some extra muscle. But just how much? He’s already built a foundation. It will take a considerable portion of time and effort to add a few pounds of genuine muscle. (RELATED: NattyOrNot.com – an in depth interview!)

         

(Images via leangains.com) – Photo on the left is supposedly 183 lbs @ 9 % body fat. On the right is allegedly 195 lbs @8% body fat. Even IF these figures are accurate, that’s a 12 (TWELVE) lb difference – only really noticeable shirtless. 

Much like top level sports stars, to ‘up their game’ they may have to turn over all stones to find an extra 0.5% edge that may only translate to them winning a handful of extra matches per season. Whereas a novice may improve drastically merely by playing more.

It’s that simple, the higher up the mountain you climb, further progress becomes more and more treacherous.

#2 – Stagnation. 

The human body loves efficiency. The more familiar something becomes, the less energy our body has to expend in order to do that very thing. The unknown throws us out of the state our body likes most………..balance. The dark side to this is when balance becomes stagnation, over-familiarization and procrastination.

I know you love bench pressing on Monday – so does your body. In fact, it loves it so much that it no longer sees it as a challenge or catalyst for adaptation. It’s the same as your 30 minute jog on the treadmill. I know you like the pace you always run at, but guess what? So does your body. And what have we established? Your body likes a state of comfort and stability. The goal of exercise is the opposite; to force adaptation via intentionally imposed stress (exercise).

Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t a pitch to get you to go full retard and start using lame principles like ‘muscle-confusion’ and ‘random workout generators’. You don’t necessarily need to change your exercises. I think the whole variation thing is more mental than physical. But you had better be progressing on these movements. Building strength, building endurance, surpassing last months efforts; seeing progress in some shape or form.

(manlycurls.com) – “Thought I’d do something different. You’ve gotta keep the body guessing bro!” #goingfullretard

Cycle your progression. Once you start stagnating slightly, employ a slightly different variation of what you’ve been doing. Progress will continue to unite with you.

Note: This factor will probably be the most applicable one to many gym addicts.

#3 – Measurement modalities. 

In case you didn’t know, the term ‘fitness’ is multi-conceptual. In that it covers a massive array of areas that are interlinked in some fashion. Appearance is the most superficial and often the chosen (wrongly) tool to judge one’s progress. Our eyes are the very thing that feed the bulk of information to our brain in order for it to be processed. It stands to reason, then, that when someone talks about their dedication to the gym or fitness, we’ll look instantly for visual evidence of their claims (physical differences).

Though this is jumping the gun.

There is ALWAYS more to a situation than meets the eye, although we may hate to admit it. It’s true. Just because someone doesn’t look unrecognisable, doesn’t mean they aren’t a slicker, more improved version of themselves. They may stand taller, be more flexible, feel better, think clearer, be stronger, be smarter about exercise in general, have better blood work, have a better hormonal profile. I could go on and on.

They may indeed look differently, although the margin could be small. So small that you can’t see it without seeing them laid bare. How can you really know someone’s journey unless you were with them every step of the way?

There’s a million and one ways to evolve in this world. If you go to the gym just so you can stick photo-shopped ‘selfies’ to ‘fish’ for likes on social media, more fool you. And if you do, guess what? There’ll come a time when you’ll have exhausted your visual ‘gains’ and you’ll have to seek more meaningful evolution. Something deeper, more long lasting than just ‘looks’.

Don’t be that guy/girl.

Nobody is strong enough to hold the hands of a clock still. Not even for a second.

The final message – 

Yes you should seek physical evolution. But to the degree of which, depends on individual factors discussed earlier. Appearance changes are limited. Where you’ve been already, determines where you have left to go. Take a long hard look at where you’ve been. If you’ve been there too long, change something. Initiate a new challenge. Ignite growth once more. Accept you’ll never be ‘complete’.

Disclaimer: This isn’t an excuse to get complacent and say “don’t mind me using the same weights and exercises for the last 23 years, my character is evolving and that’s all that matters.”

Here’s the old cliché: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. 

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JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

17 thoughts on “What’s the deal with all the working out and not looking any ‘different’? Leave a comment

  1. I was just thinking about this last night and again this morning. I’ve been doing a series of progressively heavier lifts in 5 week circuits (about to enter the 5th week of the 2nd circuit), going from lighter weights and 10 reps per set in week 1, to very heavy weights (for me, anyway) by the 5th week and 3 reps per set. This should encourage both sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibril hypertrophy, which means I should start seeing and feeling some differences…and I have.

    But I have a couple of things going against me ever looking like a “mass monster.” The first is that I’m 61 years old, so my body will never create muscle like a guy half my age. Sure, I can get back some of what I lost, but there will always be an upper limit. The second is that since my workout routine is biased toward heavier weights and fewer reps, I’m more focused on building strength rather than sculpturing my body. This could be a literal case of being stronger than I look.

    When I started recording my workouts along with my calorie intake about five or six months ago, I was losing weight (fat) at a fairly respectable pace. Nothing crazy, but it was a measurable downward slope. But for over 30 days now, I’ve been bouncing between 190 and 193 pounds (86.1826 – 87.5433 kilos). For reference, I’m 6’3″ (75 inches or 190.5 cm) tall.

    When I tighten my legs, I can see the bulges come out, but they’re not all that impressive when they’re relaxed. My biceps and forearms are noticeably larger, even when relaxed. I don’t think my pecs are getting any bigger (well, maybe a little) and I can’t really see my back to know what’s going on there.

    But the most frustrating thing is I still have a soft layer around my middle, nothing really big, but I can’t get it to tighten up.

    I just finished reading a book called “Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying)” by Bill Gifford. In his book, Gifford examines what we know about aging and all the ways, scientific and otherwise, people are trying to slow aging down or stop it altogether.

    As it turns out, there are things you can do to preserve your health longer, which includes exercise and eating moderate amounts of the right types of foods, but except for a few human edge cases and a few anomalous species (blind mole rats don’t seem to age at all), there’s always going to be a limit as to how long people can live and the level of physical and mental degradation we’ll experience along the way.

    I don’t think I’ve reached a hard limit as to how much I can squat or deadlift yet, but I suspect I have that limit in sight. I’ll keep upping my game until I find the wall, then I’ll have to deal with it.

    Ideally, I’d like to lose 5 more pounds of fat while preserving or even building a bit more muscle, getting down to 185 lbs/83.9146 kg, but I don’t know how I’ll push past this current plateau. Maybe it’s an effect of aging or perhaps I need to adjust my eating habits again in some manner.

    I do believe that the closer I get to my goals, the more difficult it will be to get to them across the barrier of five more pounds and 1 or 2 more inches around the middle.

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    • Hi James,

      Sounds like your progress is starting to taper down somewhat. Which is what I’m alluding to in the article. The more we advance, the harder it is to advance further. Progress seems to be more intermittent from what I’ve observed.

      When I first leaned down to 6-7% body fat (legit), I had to do a stack load of cardio and restrict my food much more. Proving the further you take your body to extremes, the more extreme your approach has to be. It’s our damn body’s hatred of becoming imbalanced – it loves normality and routine.

      Sounds to me like you may have to make a diet modification of some sort. It needn’t be big either. Just a subtle change to spark some more adaptation from your body. Maybe even some strategic cardio implementation?

      So your overall goal in summary is improved body composition? Do you have any compound lift targets? Maybe a specific number, or as I like best, a number relative to your bodyweight. I.E. a 1.5 x B.W. bench press?

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      • I lift Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for up to an hour and do cardio Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (occasionally, I’ll skip a Saturday) for 40 minutes at a time (35 minutes and a 5 minute cooldown). I really don’t have more time to devote to cardio.

        I’ll probably have to re-examine my diet again. I’m not super strict typically. During the week I exert a lot of control over breakfast, lunch, and snacks, but on the weekends, it can get chaotic, especially if we have our 6-year-old grandson over.

        Also, I like beer.

        As far as compound lift targets, I’d like to squat 225 pounds for at least 3 reps and deadlift 250 pounds for the same number of reps. I know that may not sound like a lot for you, but these represent weights that I’ve never been strong enough to even consider lifting before. I’d also eventually like to do overhead presses and standing barbell curls at over 100 pounds (I’m slowly sneaking up on that goal, but it’ll take more time).

        Sure, as I get older, I’d love to build on what I have, but it’s really important to not go backward and lose anymore. Someday, I know I will just because of the passage of time, but I can fight it as long as I can.

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  2. Very well written JR! I often think about this when I’m working out.. I see every so often I can stack more weights on, or go for a heavier DB, but when will it end? I mean at some point I won’t be able to lift more or there’s no more at the gym to stack on.
    I do vary my workouts, how I do them,or even go back to only body workouts just to mix things up. But it’s an interesting thought… How far is far.
    I also like how you touch the subject; it’s not all about looking like a muscle chart. I started to workout because I had osteoarthritis in my knees… I could hardly walk, I weighed 224 pounds. A disk exploded in my spine and my doctor said I’d never lift more than 10 pounds. I could never lift my growing daughter…. Never lift her up and feel her hugs around my neck. I began to lose, I could take walks with my daughter again and most important, I could lift her up and feel her arms hug my neck!!! I was so proud, I wanted to compete in a show. I didn’t place well, in fact I placed last. I got the… “Why even compete if you know you can’t win.” They don’t get it.. I had won already! It’s not always about the trophy… I was happy being last, my goal was to do it, and that I did! Not to mention the strength and ability to walk again!

    Iron Barbie

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    • Thanks for such a great comment! It’s stories like yours that show us how the ‘training world’ translates, or carries over, to the outside world. It improved numerous areas of your life that seemingly weren’t directly impacted by the gym life. I think to be successful in this ‘game’, you’ve got to find a deeper reason – a love? A passion? An ulterior motive? We’re all limited in terms of physical progress, to expect otherwise is ignorant. Sure, steroids can take us further physically, but at what cost mentally, emotionally, even spiritually?! Who knows. Well done to you for doing shows and whatnot. I know they take a TON of sacrifice, courage, dedication and ultimately risk. It’s inspiring stuff. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  3. What a fantastic post. Absolutely brilliant advice.
    I recently started working with a coach and had to take a week or two off due to illness (very rare for me) and so we’ve gone back to week one of our plan but the weights have remained more or less the same. What has become apparent during the last few weeks is that my back squat is the one exercise causing me the most problems. We have stripped it back to the bare basics and are focusing on mobility and in particular, flexibility around the ankle region.

    Only recently have I been able to perform a pistol squat (very pleased with myself) and there’s a noticeable difference in strength between the legs. So this is being addressed.

    I think that because I’ve always been active and always doing several sports/activities, any change is often only small but my focus is on mobility and flexibility and in turn, improving my posture and my technique.

    My bedside reading at the moment is Dr Kelly Starrett’s – Becoming a Supple Leopard and a book on calisthenics.

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    • Hey Pixie,

      Thanks for getting in touch :). Congratulations on getting the pistol squat nailed down…….welcome to the club! Haha. I personally had a MASSIVE difference between right and left leg strength regarding the pistol.

      You work with a coach? Are you doing a show prep or anything like that? I think we need mentors much more than we like to let on.

      I think I’ve heard about Becoming a Supple Leopard – is it as good as they say? I may have to add that to the ‘to read’ list :).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi JR, I try to look at it as one leg being stronger than the other, as opposed to one leg being weaker. I’m fine getting down but getting back up looks more ‘new born calf’ than ballerina.

        Absolutely yes, the book is fantastic. If you buy one book, I’d recommend this one.

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      • That’s a great mindset indeed. Haha, yeah, the concentric is always where people lose their grace with the pistol. Sometimes they’ll make it up, but end up staggering back on whatever leg they tried it on.

        I’ll look into that book for sure. I’m currently devouring ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ – phenomenal book.

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      • No, no show prep. I just have some specific goals in mind and felt that with where I was at in my training, I needed that extra guidance to get me there.

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      • I certainly will do. Today we ended up doing mostly mobility exercises and lots of squats; various types. Although we didn’t stick with the original workout plan. We needed to work on my back squat and that’s exactly what we did. Having a coach has made a huge difference to everything that I do throughout my day and the focus on stretch and mobility has been so beneficial. It might appear to some that I’m going backwards but in order to improve, I need to strip back to the absolute basics and then work my way up with absolutely perfect technique.

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      • It takes discipline to do that; to be willing to seemingly regress quite substantially in order to potentially progress at a (sometimes) much later date. That’s what so many ‘advanced’ people aren’t willing to do. They’re convinced they’ll end up worse off, but it’s not the case. It’s very much like a sport too isn’t it? When you get to a certain level and can’t get better, you break your game down and rebuild it and surpass your previous plateau. So you had mobility issues prior to working with your coach?

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      • That’s just it but some people really don’t understand and I guess they aren’t at a level where they want to understand. If my chainsaw stopped working, I’d strip it back and look at every component, tweaking, adjusting and doing what was necessary to get it back in working order and safely.

        Not that I was aware of although I’ve broken several ribs during a MTB race and whilst road cycling. I also had my coccyx removed. I have a rather strange issue with my right hip, a severe snapping ITB and a hip that has dislocated. I’ve gotten used to it over the years. When I stand with my feet pointing forwards, my knees turn in and so I believe this has some significance. I’m also keen to research the role of femur length and the squat…. would be interested to hear your take on that subject.

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      • I see. Those are quite serious and could definitely restrict you from doing certain things. Internally rotated knees is usually a prime sign of weak/underactive/phasic gluteal muscles. I’ve seen plenty of people with that issue. I myself have medially rotated knees to a degree too. Too much inactivity years previous! 😦

        Femur length and the squat? It’s a fascinating topic and in order to be considered an ‘aesthetic squatter’ I.E. nice and upright whilst still squatting very deep, you definitely want to be in the ‘short femur camp’. Not only that, but short legs in general; short tibia and femurs.

        Simply due to bio-mechanics. It’s not to say an individual with long femurs couldn’t squat deep and upright, they’d have to have an INSANE amount of ankle mobility though to counteract their long femurs. Hence, when someone with long femurs tries to squat deep, they tend to fold over and have their hips way back, often because there’s not enough leeway for their knees to travel forward to the degree needed. A short femured person can hit depth without driving the knees forward as much or without pushing the hips back as much due to their being less of a lever (femur length) to overcome.

        I may write on this topic sometime actually – I love this kind of thing! I think the best thing for someone with long femurs is elevating the heels via weight discs – use as minimal elevation as you can get away with. This is where diagrams come into play, they would make my point much clearer. This is also why the squat is a quadricep builder for some and not for others. Simply because you need knee flexion to optimally recruit/train/stimulate the quads, and by having the hips way back, you reduce the amount of knee flexion you’re getting whilst at the ‘bottom’.

        I don’t know if any of that makes sense? And I take it you’re in the long femur camp?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. That’s a fantastic reply, thank you. I love this….very much. Yes, I’m in the long longs and femur camp and realised that there was an issue related to this and my back squat. I don’t have a problem with an overhead sat though, it feels so much more together and connected.

        In relation to my knees, they’ve been like that since I was born. I have a degree of hyper mobility in my joints, sometimes favourable but sometimes, most certainly not. The surgeons have said that there is little that can be done. I’ve spent the last year or so working on my glutes in particularly, following the surgery. I’ve noticed some significant changes.

        Going back to the back squat, I’ll give it a go with some slight raises under the heels and will report back.

        When I’m working on my snatch, my natural position in the squat is much wider than my back squat position.

        There are so many elements to this and it’s something that I’m going to pick at until I’m right where I want to be.

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      • I’m actually in the shorter femur camp, but men in general are shorter legged than women, which is why generally women don’t demonstrate squat form as well as men.

        Definitely give the heel elevation a try! Squats are largely individual. Although there are many common denominators; adequate depth, consistent bar path etc….

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