From the outset I will state that if your body image is perfect, you like what you see, it matches reality, and are comfortable that your will reach your physique goals, quit reading. If all is not well and you have issues, keep reading, it might help.
We all have an ideal body image in our minds eye that we hope to achieve someday. Contrasted against that ideal, we have another image that we hold about the body we currently have. As someone that works with a lot of training clients I can tell you that very often neither of these images holds up to reality. Let’s go over that a bit.
Most of us got into bodybuilding because we had a body image that didn’t suit us. Studies vary, but many show 45-55 percent of men and 55-65 percent of women are dissatisfied with their physiques. We wanted to be bigger and leaner and look better than most people do, so we started looking around and getting a new ‘ideal’ body image in mind. Some do this by looking at various actors, and in mainstream magazines, others in the bodybuilding magazines. For most of us, it didn’t take long to discover that we didn’t match up very well and had a lot of work to do. How much work? Well, that depends on where we look for inspiration and how high we set our goals.
I will state right from start that I see many lifters that will be forever frustrated because of their ideals. Looking at the top IFFB pros for inspiration is a sure way for 98% of the lifting populace to be forever frustrated with their results. Got designer genetics and have tolerance for long term heavy steroid use and other growth enhancing drugs? If not, it’s best to view today’s pros as pure marvels of how much muscle the body can carry and curiosities, but not to hold them as your ideal and goal. If they inspire you to train harder and eat better by all means use them to do so, but if they are what you have in your minds eye as your eventual goal, you are likely fighting a losing battle.
Here is an excerpt of an email I received recently from a young man that was interested in retaining my training services: “Iron Addict, I am ready to get serious and build some big time muscle. I am 21 years old and have been lifting since age 17. Results have been pretty poor since the initial 6 months. I do eat heavy and train hard, but know I am doing many things wrong currently. I do not want to be freaky huge, just have a body like some of the old bodybuilders like Frank Zane or Franco Columbo. I am lifetime drug free and will not consider steroid use. I think my goals are reasonable, can you help me?”
Why does this guy think that building the physique of two of bodybuilding’s greats that had outstanding genetics and also did a lot of steroids in their time is a reasonable task? Simple, compared to the 290 lb behemoths of today, bodybuilders such as Frank and Franco pale by comparison and seem ‘little’. So this leads to unrealistic expectations and frustration at the end of the line. Can this guy possibly get to the same bodyweight at the same height as Zane or Columbo? Very possibly, although likely at a much higher bodyfat percentage. Will he look like them regardless of bodyfat percentage? Not likely.
What are in the cards, and what are reasonable expectations? Well of course the biggest factor lies in your individual genetics. Then of course you can factor in desire and ability to do steroids (if maximal current bodybuilding standards size is your goal) and commitment and drive to doing everything as perfect as your knowledge allows for many years on end. Assuming you want pro level size ask yourself these questions: Do I grow WAY faster than everyone else around me? Have I passed up people that have been training a lot longer than me in a very short time? Do I have long full muscle bellies and outstanding symmetry? Am I willing to do a LOT of steroids and other growth enhancing drugs over many years time? If you can answer yes to all these questions you may have a shot at an extreme level body by current standards. If not, back to reality.
And the reality is that unless you are an extreme hardgainer, the majority of you can in time build a very good physique that will turn heads and get you noticed anywhere outside of high level completive bodybuilding circles. And many of you can compete at the lower levels. Now for all of you guys that are sitting there bitching about how I am pissing on your parade, well I am just trying to save you some frustration. Your genetics and ability to handle heavy drug use are definitely limiting factors if your goal is current level bodybuilding pro standards.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with admiring the physiques of today’s pros, but aspiring to these levels for yourself is going to be big letdown unless you have extremely good genetics—and most of you simply don’t. Is this a defeatist attitude? Not at all, it is a realistic attitude. Perhaps a more realistic body model is in order for those of you that are blessed with Joe average genetics.
Where to look for inspiration? Stuart McRobert, publisher of hardgainer magazine decided at the outset that he would only print inspirational pictures of bodybuilders from the 40’s to early 60’s of drug free lifters since he had suffered so much growing up aspiring to mold his body into the IFFB pro type. Not a bad idea but somewhat limiting. We have a few ‘natural’ bodybuilding publications on the market today that have physiques showcased that are very attainable by a good percentage of lifters. Many of the mid-level competitors have doable physiques if you have good, but not outstanding genetics. The mass monsters will be laughing now, but many of the guys in the “Men’s Fitness” magazines are much more attainable ideals for the drug free genetically typical trainee. Too low a standard? Well how about getting there first and then upping the ante?
One thing about goal setting is that it has to be something that the conscious and sub-conscious truly believe is possible in order to be an effecting driving force. If it is pie in the sky you can state it until the cows come home and it will never hold any power over you. Your mind, conscious and subconscious will go “yeah sure” and it will be meaningless. Make it reasonable and achievable with total work and dedication DOING THE CORRECT things over the LONG TERM and you have a great chance of success.
Now let’s change gears and discuss your current body image. Without projecting into the future about how we would like to look ideally, we all have an image in our minds eye about how we look. It would go to reason that that image would closely align with what we and others see when they looking. Well reason can be tossed out the window in this case because so very many people ‘think’ about themselves in a way that doesn’t accurately represent reality. Often times this is a result of an ‘old’ body image following us as we have moved through time. People that were once fat often see themselves as fat no matter what their bodyfat percentage is. We all know the stories and may have known someone with anorexia, no matter how skinny they get they still see themselves as fat.
I have worked with many, many lifters over the years that used to be skinny. Well, after lots of hard work and dedication they put on a lot of muscle. Then many of these guys identify with the scale. Meaning that their body image, and self worth to some extent is based purely on what the scale says. Barometers seem to be 200, 225, 250, and 275. I work with lifters all the time that are at these ‘points’ in their training career and while it can be extremely satisfying to hit these milestones, they can often have deleterious effects. Some guys that worked their asses off to hit 250 and did a lot of gear to get there just won’t ‘come off’ because they will shrink back down to 235, keeping little of their gains. Often trainees are holding too much bodyfat and could look awesome if they dropped some unnecessary fat but….. they wouldn’t weigh 250 anymore and would see themselves as ‘little’ if they got down to 225-230 and lean. Even though they would be a LOT bigger looking and healthier. Although some may disagree, a ‘bulker’ shouldn’t be a six year affair. Nothing wrong with walking around a little smooth for a good part of the year to help ensure calories are adequate, but being 20-40 lbs overweight just so the scale says some magic number that stokes your ego is just mental masturbation.
I receive a lot of pictures from training clients and it is very disheartening when someone sends me a picture that is a 10% bodyfat physique, sometimes less, and is complaining about being so fat. More often than not it is someone that wants to be a bodybuilder that has almost no significant muscle. They are then forever thwarted from attaining said muscle because they are too afraid to put any food in their mouth since they are absolutely certain they are getting fat just looking at the food. Often these guys are lean enough to see abs, but since they haven’t built any they just look smooth and see themselves as ‘fat’. This distorted body image is keeping them from their goals, and often from enjoying life. They will often say that “everyone thinks I am extremely lean except me.” That should be the big clue—lol. If everyone else is seeing something else that you are not, perhaps it is you that needs the adjustment. Just make sure ‘everyone else’ does not exclusively consist of non-liters. Your mom will always tell you how good you look—lol.
So I have pointed out a few body image issues. How to go about resolving them if you are one that is affected? First, keep in mind that in the majority of cases having an inappropriate (present or future) body image impacts self esteem and quality of life. Being forever frustrated at trying to achieve an impossible goal or disliking yourself because of how you look and making bad choices diet and training wise never brings one closer to their goals.
Make sure your goals are realistic for YOU. If you have been a pure endo all your life deciding that your goal is to be 7% bodyfat year round will be an exercise in futility. Body type DOES matter and impacts ultimate results. It is very fashionable for people to state that what you achieve comes purely from your level of hard work, dedication, and desire. While that is a prerequisite to be successful in any endeavor, it won’t take you places your genetics won’t go.
Again be realistic and set short, medium and long term goals. If you are not sure of your body type and relative level of progress based on your results thus far ask other seasoned lifters for input. Most guys that have been lifting for 10 or more years have seen a lot of other lifters progress and can at least offer better input than your non-lifting acquaintances. If you don’t know anyone that can give you good input, take some digital pictures and post them on some of the lifting forums. Make sure you give background information and let everyone know you are trying to asses your progress and get an idea about your potential.
While potential can only be known in retrospect, it doesn’t take too long to discover that you are either plowing past others levels of progress, or others are blowing past you. Regardless of whether you are going to post pictures on forums, take some pictures of yourself and try to look at them objectively, attempt to forget it’s yourself you are looking at and try to see yourself as others see you. Not how you want to see yourself.
If you are not sure of what you are doing diet and training wise, get help! Most successful lifters are all too happy to share knowledge and point you in the right direction. If you have been there and tried that and still failed, consider hiring a trainer (you knew the trainer would say that didn’t you) that has a proven track record with their clients. This will save many of you years of frustration.
If you think you have anorexia or other body image disorder such as BDD or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, think about seeking outside help. This condition is often associated with intrusive thoughts of body dissatisfaction, and excessive body checking and comparisons with others. This, in its extreme form it can be quite debilitating and cause a great deal of anxiety and dissatisfaction.
Make sure your current body image matches reality, your goals are something achievable, and you are not frustrated by lack of satisfying progress and get at it! You can have a body that you are proud of if you have your head on right and take the time to pursue it properly.