No, you don’t have to be ‘lean and hot’ to do cool, exciting things

I just got back from nearly a week of vacation, during which time I limited how much time I spent on the internet.  It can sometimes feel like I have to stay caught up with the unending stream of controversy and opinion in order to remain somewhat informed, but what I’ve found is that I can drop out of the information superhighway – lol remember when they used to call it that? – and then when I drop back in everything’s pretty much the same, and only the details have changed.

One thing did manage to wriggle its way into my consciousness, and while other people have ably torn it to shreds, I noticed something that I didn’t see anyone write about that I thought was important to talk about.  I’m referring to the article on titled How Lean Should You Get?  The accompany graphic – the Fat vs. Muscle Matrix – got a lot of people seriously pissed off, and understandably so.

But here’s where my hackles really went up:

“If I have a female client at 19 percent body fat, I let her know she’s done. We shift the context to fitness-related goals like mud runs, training for a kettlebell certification, running a 5K, doing a tactical strength challenge—really, whatever fun and cool things you’ve always wanted to be able to do. You may get leaner from here, but it’s not necessary, and it’s not the goal.” I have two main issues with this.  First, there’s the practical side of things, which is that people are actually going to be way more likely to stick with whatever physical activities they do if they actually…wait for it…enjoy them. Crazy, I know!  People wanting to do things they actually enjoy, and not wanting to do things they don’t like doing. Who’da thunk it? I must be some kind of goddamned genius.

But seriously, I am so grateful I didn’t have a trainer like this guy when I first started trying to get fit and healthy.  See, my path was like this: I found a thing I liked and wanted to be good at, which was running, and so over time, I started shedding the habits that weren’t helping me (like smoking and drinking excessively) and picking up new habits that did help me (like getting enough sleep and eating lots of green things).

It’s been a few years since then, and while I’m probably not “lean and hot” as per the standards of, I do consider myself to be pretty damn fit and strong. (And yeah, I like the way I look, too.) Best of all, I’ve trained myself and my body to do some really challenging things in the process, everything from open-water swimming to running a Boston qualifying time to busting out pull-ups and push-ups. That’s the shit that really pumps my ‘nads.  Everything else is just icing.

If this had been presented to me as though I had to reach some arbitrary body fat percentage – and make no mistake, 19 percent body fat is totally arbitrary – before I could sign up for a mud run?  That mud run would remain un-run to this very day.  How do I know this?  Because every time in my life that I tried to get in shape, I tried to focus on losing weight/body fat, and I’d get bored and annoyed so quickly that I’d quit within weeks.

But when I had exciting goals to focus on?  I found it a lot easier to stay engaged and excited about what I was doing.If you’re trying to keep someone in this whole health and fitness thing for the long haul, dangling the “fun, cool things” as rewards in some far-off, distant future is likely not going to cut it.  It might work for some people, but it wouldn’t have worked for me, and I really don’t think I’m some kind of anomaly here.

My second issue is more philosophical, which is that I’m really not a huge fan of this idea that you aren’t allowed to do fun, exciting things until your body is a certain way.  It just seems so dreary and sad to me, and also so fraught with the potential for devastating loss and regret. I mean, what happens if you’ve always wanted to learn how to do Olympic lifting or you wanted to train to run a 5K, but you put it off until you reach that magical weight/body fat goal, and then you end up in some kind of terrible accident, or you are stricken with a life-threatening illness, or any number of life-disrupting events?  This may sound dramatic, but this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. Our lives are not guaranteed, and so if you always wanted to learn how to do aerial yoga or be a runner or train to be a powerlifter, GO DO IT.

Don’t wait for that magical moment to arrive because as far as any of us knows, it may never actually get here.  If you want to try something, you should go ahead and try it. If you want to have an experience, go ahead and have it. You don’t need to wait for your body to be a certain way before you try cool, exciting things. Your life is yours to lead and yours alone, and the hell with anyone who tells you otherwise.

29 responses to “No, you don’t have to be ‘lean and hot’ to do cool, exciting things

  1. It’s just one more way of saying that only “lean hot” people are worthy. Not meeting xyz arbitrary standard? Your goals/dreams don’t matter/aren’t worth attempting until you do abc socially privileged action to meet xyz arbitrary standard.

    In that way it’s a lot like a lot of the fitspo out there about before and afters. Not that any of us are surprised it’s all linked.

    I also want to add that its not like all trainers think you should *stop* at one leanness. I had a person a few years ago suggest I go lower when I was 18%. Buh-wuh? It’s scary how much this can vary between trainers- last week, I had a session on Olympic lifts and both the trainer and fitness manager barely said a word about my body composition.

    • Gosh, lower than 18%? That’s really lean already, and unless you were looking to compete in a physique competition, I’m not sure why you would need to go lower. (Unless you really wanted to, of course.)

      • I never had a certain % as a stated goal, it’s always been “Iunno, I want to be able to lift more/hike farther with weight”. My % has just been a thing that also happened That was something that trainer added himself. I was not thrilled, and notified his boss.

        But like I said- huge inconsistencies, and some trainers def bring their own shit into this. Which, granted, humans, but still. Any time I think of trainers making thresholds like this, I think of that and how shitty it made me feel.

  2. I have plenty of issues with that article, but I read that particular section differently. I didn’t at all take it as “you can’t do stuff you love until you’re 19%.” This seemed to me him saying he wouldn’t work to take his female clients any leaner than that, and so the fun stuff becomes the primary focus. But I didn’t read into it that is was forbidden until that magic number.

    • I think that makes a lot of sense. I’m a bit chagrined that I didn’t think of that myself, tbh. That said, I still think this is a mindset that a lot of people have – that they have to wait to be a certain way before pursuing the kind of life they want – and so I think the central point still stands, even if I misinterpreted what he was saying there.

  3. I find this similar to the idea some women (and men, too) have that they will start traveling and doing fun things when they find their perfect partner. Of course, the thought behind is in part that it might be more fun with someone, but frankly…if you never travel, what are the chances you will do that after getting settled? More likely, you will get a dog and kids 😉

    I did think this was a totally made-up phenomenon, until I realised a couple of my own friends thought the same way. Luckily they have changed their mind since.

    • I’ve seen this myself as well, but fortunately I haven’t seen it a lot. It seems to be a mindset that’s slowly falling away, and thank god for that.

  4. Its also incredibly specific to that trainer. He or she is pretty much saying they think women look hottest at 19%. Never mind an individuals make up, never mind if that individual would rather be 17% or thinks they look best at 22%.

    And that’s only for aesthetic goals. As you said, I would far rather focus on performance or FUN goals. For example I’d like to be hill fit enough to bust out some great routes in Lake Garda. I’d like to work on pull up type activities to improve my climbing. Why? Cause I love climbing and love hill running.

    • Right. I’m hoping he just used those numbers as an example. Aesthetics – which seems to be the guiding principle in that article – are so subjective that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use one person’s tastes as a standard to be applied to all. If anything, if there IS a single person’s standard to be used, it ought to be the standard of the person whose body it is.

      But that’s just me and my silly ideas of personal bodily autonomy. We all know that women are really just here to look pretty for everyone else!

  5. Reblogged this on Lonan O Farrell and commented:
    an excellent post by a great blogger. For anyone involved in coaching or anyone thinking of taking up a new challenge remember it is the effort you put in and what you aim to get out of it that counts. What anyone else thinks is irrelevant.

  6. Thanks so much for this! My general aim has been “feel better by getting fitter” but I think I need a more specific goal or to find an activity/sport I want to pursue. My motivation has definitely been dropping recently, and this may well be part of the problem.

  7. Wonderful post! It makes me want to start making a list of impractically delightful goals (by impractical I mean things I haven’t really considered, not physically/financially impractical). By the last paragraph I was barely resisting the urge to start cheering! I settled for a lot of head nodding and a muttered “damn, right!” so my co-workers weren’t too startled.

    • Do it! Seriously, setting goals that are kind of nutty and then working towards achieving them has been so exhilarating. I often feel like modern life can be kind of dreary and monotonous, and so having goals like that makes things fun and adventurous. It’s like getting to be a kid again, in a way.

  8. I appreciated the article in many respects. For the ways it told me I should quantify when I was good enough because there was “nothing left to fix,” when it told me how I could measure my hotness, and the quantifiable categories of “super-hot” and “rock star,” and that men are “wicked lean” and as opposed to being defined by “super hot” like the women, which implies more of an attractiveness according to others.

  9. I always look at working-out, as going outside to play. You are so right on, if people don’t like what they’re doing, they won’t make it part of their lifestyle. I could never work-out in a gym, but I will go outside and play almost every day. Nice post!

    • I work out in the gym, but I increasingly find that my gym workouts are intended to supplement the things I do outside or in the pool. I do know that some people reallly love to lift weights, which is great for them. Different strokes and all that!

  10. That’s the weirdest thing I’ve heard someone say about body fat. Where the heck did 19% even come from? Like that’s the magical number like 1200 calories was the magical number. Do what you want and what you like and have fun now. Don’t wait. People don’t get that.

    • That’s the strangest thing. It’s like he decided that this is what’s hot, and that became his standard.

      The idea of a personal trainer using what gets his peen hard as a standard of fitness is more than a little skeevy, tbh.

  11. Hey! I have included this post in a “fitness tips” blog post on my website. You should be able to find it here when it goes live tomorrow (6/5) at 10am MST:

    Feel free to share!

  12. Pingback: Lovely Links: 6/5/15 - Already Pretty | Where style meets body image·

  13. Pingback: Fitness Friday: The Best Fitness Tips of the Week | get fit challenger·

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