Form Follows Function

As a trainer I have a lot of people (men really) tell me they want they want to put on mass. In my younger days size was one of my main goals too though now I’m a lot less bothered.

I tried it for a while, but for a naturally skinny 10 and a bit stone dude adding a just a few lbs of muscle required more eating and sets to failure than seemed healthy. I was also doing martial arts and playing football and while having some basic strength is useful for these sports, carrying extra weight is not particularly.

These days I am more impressed by what someone can do with their body than how their body looks. Although often the people who can perform the most impressive feats of athleticism also happen to have a good physique. Funny that.

So why are so many males fascinated by mass? (It is usually men more so than women.) I think it has some primal appeal in that size implies strength or an ability and thus dominance in the hierarchy. If you become so big that you are scary, maybe you can win without fighting, just flex your way to alpha male position.

The fascination with size is clearly represented by the ‘sport’ of bodybuilding, but this form of physical expression seems incomplete. Bodybuilding as we  know it today is a descendent of the 19th century ‘Physical Culture’ movement. Old time strongmen and women used to show feats of ability as well as pose for the onlookers. In 1898 legends Arthur Saxon and Eugen Sandow (known as the Father of Bodybuilding) competed to one-arm press a weight of 370lbs. Women too were in on the act and in 1913 Circus performer Maria Lurs impressed audiences by juggling 32kg kettlebells.

Nowadays this type of physical culture activity has divided into more specialist sports or sub-cultures. In modern bodybuilding the only competition is a pose off in fake tan and speedos. It’s static, an implied ability with no demonstration. At the other extreme are strongmen competitors who can do some amazing things but are unlikely to win a beauty pageant. Perhaps somewhere on the continuum in between these two extremes are Olympic Lifting and Powerlifting, which can combine ability and aesthetic at least where weight-classes apply.

Focussing on mass or another look such as being skinny is putting the cart before the horse. What you see on the surface is not necessarily an indication of health or ability especially when the body is static rather than in motion. Instead focus on function, maybe even find something you enjoy, eat real food and impressive form is likely to follow.

Arthur Saxon one arm press.

Arthur Saxon