Working out to look good? It's ok to be a little vain


It’s not a crime to want to look good when you’re investing time and effort in exercising. — Photos: 123rf.com

Ask any fitness buff why he or she works out and the reply would be to get healthy, lose weight and feel good.

They’re not quite telling the truth because most won’t admit that vanity and having an aesthetically-appealing body also play a role in the equation.

And why not? It’s not a crime to want to look good when you’re investing time and effort in exercising.

Unquestionably, that’s one reason most people go to the gym: to feel good, look better and appear attractive to others.

There’s no denying these basic human needs.

A healthy body takes on many different shapes, sizes and appearances.

A body that is healthy does not necessarily mean that it is also beautiful, as beauty lies in the viewer’s eyes and changes according to culture, race, gender, age and individual taste.

We have to accept and respect healthy bodies, no matter what size they come in, while equally respecting those who are driven by vanity to sculpt their bodies, no matter how unrealistic it may seem.

Shaming someone who doesn’t meet a certain standard is a sign of defending your own insecurities and dependency on physical appearance.

There is also a difference between training for aesthetics and training for performance.

Sometimes, a beautiful body is a byproduct of hard training and that’s when vanity can suddenly set in.

This can be dangerous if it leads to risky behaviours for yourself or others, e.g. cutting calories, overexercising, etc.

If the desire to change your body improves your life, then it shouldn’t matter.

Just don’t go overboard or get obsessed.

What the male wants

Whenever Arnold Schwarzenegger discusses bodybuilding, he will refer to a man’s body as “beautiful”.The pectoral muscles are one of the two parts of the body men are most concerned about, according to a study. The other is their forearms.The pectoral muscles are one of the two parts of the body men are most concerned about, according to a study. The other is their forearms.

“Good bodybuilders have the same eye as a sculptor has,” he was quoted as saying.

“You look in the mirror and say, I still need more shoulder to get the proportions right.”

These “right proportions” are very subjective, but generally, men want a ripped chest and muscular arms.

Essentially, the length of your collarbone versus the size of your pelvis, and the length of your body compared to the length of your legs, are big factors in determining your proportions and aesthetic beauty.

According to a study conducted by fitness equipment specialists RDX using Google search autocomplete data, the most common search terms for different parts of the body as they relate to fitness training were “pectoral muscles” and “skinny forearms”.

These were the areas men wanted to tweak.

The study found that the concerns men had about their upper body muscles, especially the pectorals, were that they were too soft, oddly-shaped or too pointy (like a woman’s breasts).

“With hard work, the right approach to training and nutrition, you can hit or even exceed your goals,” RDX research and development head Jamie Knight said in an interview.

“But as our study shows, a lot of people remain unsatisfied with how their training is going, with underdeveloped muscles, pain and asymmetry as particular causes for concern.

“Our advice would be to focus on progress, strength and mobility, rather than aesthetics.

“Use metrics that are trackable, as well as looking in the mirror.

“If you can lift more or run further now than you could last month, you’re winning.”

Whoever said looking into the mirror was a female thing?

It’s actually men who steal glances more often at the gym, thinking no one is watching.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with checking yourself out, so don’t be embarrassed if a woman catches you doing it.

But please don’t start popping blackheads or adjusting your moustache in the presence of others. Some things are best done behind closed bathroom doors.

Keep in mind that every time you look in the mirror with a critical eye, you may be reinforcing a negative self-image, so don’t stare at yourself for too long as most of us tend to focus on what we don’t like about our body, rather than what’s good about them.

Females crave this

Women usually tell me they want a flat stomach and toned butt/arms – our problematic areas – as well as long legs (sorry, these cannot be changed).A lot of women long for toned, long legs, but length is not changeable, although muscle tone is.A lot of women long for toned, long legs, but length is not changeable, although muscle tone is.

Very few ask for a healthy body or long for muscle definition – again, this is where the aesthetics came in.

If you’re a little bit overweight and have some medical issues, you should be focusing on fixing that first, then only working on aesthetics.

Or maybe, the improvement in aesthetics will occur naturally as a result of hard training and proper nutrition.

Then you get hooked (or addicted, in some cases) and fitness becomes part of your lifestyle.

You can have longer-looking, shapely legs by over-emphasising strength training of the hamstring and buttock (gluteus maximus) muscles, while de-emphasising training of the quads and adductor groups (front of the thighs).

This will give less width and more depth to the thighs.

Exercises that can help shape the thighs include hamstring curls (bringing the heels to the butt by bending the knees) and stiff-legged barbell dead lifts (bending at the hip to lower weights down the front of the legs).

With age, all bodies change, but women have it tougher as the “sags” and downhill slides kick in at a faster rate.

Less body fat, please

Personally, all I want is a toned body with minimal body fat percentages.Muscles don't become fat just because we stop exercising, but there are long-term benefits to keeping them toned.Muscles don't become fat just because we stop exercising, but there are long-term benefits to keeping them toned.

Perhaps this mindset has something to do with my background in athletics and professional dance where minimal body fat is required to minimise the jiggles and “heaviness” in order to achieve maximum performance.

My percentages have always been at “athletic” levels, but it has now plummeted to the “average” level in the middle age, female category due to my being semi-idle these past few months with a broken foot.

I’ve not gained weight, but some muscles have obviously become flabby, and I’ve accumulated additional body fat.

No one can see it, but I can feel it, and the body composition analyser device at the hospital shows it.

And the vain part of me cannot accept it!

My mother thinks I’ve gone nuts as I’ve cut back on all the scrumptious delicacies she makes for tea while I’m working from home.

Once again, our neighbours are happy recipients of her cooking and baking treats.

I’m still not able to exercise at the intensity I used to, but I do what I can.

My next foot X-ray and assessment is tomorrow, and hopefully, the scales will show some improvement.

If not, I’ll either have to work harder or accept this healthy fat level as a sign of ageing.

Anything that makes you feel better and empowers your happiness is an essential component of good health.

So go ahead, embrace your body and show it off – bits of fat and all!

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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