Why Resistance Training Is The Key To Looking Awesome
Are you spending most of your time in the gym on the elliptical or the treadmill?
Did you recently make major lifestyle changes in order to improve your health and looks? Perhaps you started exercising and changed the way you eat.
Or are you just wondering when your hard efforts will earn you more defined and toned muscles?
If any of that resonates with you, then this article should prove an eye-opener. Because as hinted to in the title, I am going to elaborate on why resistance training is the key to looking awesome.
You might have heard popular sayings like nutrition is 80 % of your results, and while getting your nutrition right is crucial, knowing how and what to in the gym is also a big piece of the puzzle.
I can reveal right away that if your fitness routine consists of mostly cardiovascular training, then you are missing out!
Avoiding The Fanboy Mentality
Within any space where different people spend a lot of time and effort conflicting ideas will develop, rivalries will form, and discussions can become heated. Large commercial interests do not exactly help that fact.
I want to start out by saying that my purpose is NOT to badmouth any specific type of exercise or to put my own views on a pedestal. All kinds of exercise have their advantages and disadvantages, and which one is the better option for you depends on what you want to achieve.
In general, I would recommend that you try to avoid what I like to call the fanboy mentality and instead be open-minded to different perspectives.
There is no need to identify yourself with the way you exercise or eat. Besides leading to frustrating discussions with people of opposing views, it might also become a limitation in the long run.
Why Do We Like Muscular Bodies?
I am going to make the assumption that what you think looks good involves the combination of a relatively low body fat percentage and at least some degree of muscle development or “muscle tone” as many women like to call it. I am going to focus on the looks for men though, but I do believe that much of what I mention here applies for women as well.
I can’t argue with the fact that beauty trends change over time or that the society, socioeconomic circumstances and cultural values have a very large influence on what we think looks good.
However, I would argue that at least in the past few decades and in the several to come the lean and muscular look has been and is going to be the ideal for most people in large parts of the world. Just take a look at the bodies of actors in high production value movies, or how the majority of people who have a personal brand look.
What I am saying has nothing to do big bodybuilders or fitness models (unless that is what you want), but just that most people value a relatively lean body with some muscle.
Usually, what we tend to value and idealize is something that is hard to get. Since most of us have a sedentary lifestyle and because of the over-abundance of calories, it makes good sense.
Perhaps you are thinking that this body ideal has an evolutionary explanation, and it is actually something scientists have been trying to link together for a long while. Being relatively lean and having some muscle could serve as an indicator of a strong and healthy body, but the evidence is actually not that strong.
With the typical “cave-man logic”, women should prefer strong men because they can protect and provide. But if there is plenty of hard work to go around and the calories scarce, having a bit of fat on the body could indicate superiority and would make you a preferred male candidate.
For women, there seems to a bit more stronger case for an evolutionary explanation. A high hip to waist ratio and a curvature in the lower spine could be an indication of easier reproduction, and both are traits that are commonly valued and thought of as desirable (hour-glass curves). You can read more about that here.
Personally, I think there is a natural beauty to being lean and having the right amount of muscle in proportion, but I do suspect it is more a cultural thing than evolutionary.
What I do think I am justified in assuming is that you agree with me that being lean and muscular looks great. Priorities or willingness to put in the work is another thing entirely…
Of course, it will vary from person to person how much muscle mass that is desirable and the preferred location of it, but unless you have an extremely rare condition or very gifted genetically, it will require you to increase your muscle mass through exercise.
Which is a good segway into my main argument:
Resistance Training Builds Muscle
Simply put, performing resistance training and following a program where you progressively overload your muscles builds strength and muscle like nothing else.
In fact, experts and researchers all agree that progressive overload seems to be the most important factor for strength and muscle growth.
Progressive overload is about gradually increasing the tension in your muscles over the course of your training and can be done by adjusting many different variables, e.g. increasing the weight, reps, sets, exercises or frequency.
Resistance training a.k.a. strength training is the exercise of contracting your muscle against any kind of resistance with the purpose of increasing your strength and muscle mass. You could use any heavy object or just weights, your own body, or even resistance bands.
I think using weights (weight training) is your best choice because programming your progression is simple and the exercises are relatively easy to do.
Follow a weight training routine with a solid progression model focusing on the good old compounds lifts and I can guarantee that you will make good progress.
These lifts are of course: bench press, dead-lift, squats, military press, pull-ups, and rows. This includes both the conventional form of the exercises and their variations.
Please note that you can still build an impressive amount of muscle with your body weight alone and it can be more convenient and cheaper than having to go to the gym. Personally, I don’t feel that the convenience make up for the programming and progression difficulties which I also feel become harder as you advance.
What About Cardio?
Doing cardio might help you burn a bit of fat, but other than that it won’t do much in helping you get the lean and muscular look.
At high intensity (e.g. fast running, biking, rowing, burpees), cardio can build some muscle especially in untrained people, but it won’t be long until you hit a point where it becomes very difficult to “increase the load” and your progress will plateau.
Besides that, if you pair it together with resistance training you risk compromising your recovery and thereby decrease progress unless you are strategic in your planning.
Doing low-intensity / steady state cardio won’t do anything other than increasing your energy expenditure potentially helping you burn fat. On the plus side, you don’t risk interfering with your recovery.
Take low-intensity cardio to the extreme and you can end up burning off your muscle. A simple google image search on professional long-distance runners or cyclists should be able to show that.
Since you have been following along with my reasoning until now, I feel I can say without offending you that doing cardio alone (even high-intensity) will probably just make you look skinny and weak and it will be more apparent the leaner you get.
Using Relative Strength As A Progress Indicator
There are a lot of different things that you can focus on when it comes to weight training and it can be overwhelming and hard to figure out what matters the most.
But if you focus on becoming stronger and improving your relative strength (load/body weight) on the compound lifts I mentioned above, you can be sure that you are making great progress towards looking better.
Your relative strength is a deceptively simple metric that both takes into account how much you can lift and your body fat. Increase the weight you can lift and the ratio goes up in your favor, decrease your body weight and the ratio also goes up in your favor.
There is a decent correlation between your relative strength and how good you look, which makes it a great number to focus on and for tracking progress.
The normal way to do the calculation is to base it on your 1 rep max which is the maximum of weight you can lift one time. However, this is not so beginner-friendly and another variation is to use 5 reps instead.
Bob is a beginner to weight training and weighs 165 lbs. (75 kg).
Starting out he can bench press 100 lbs. (45 kg) for 5 reps, 100/165 = 0.6.
After three months he can bench press 140 lbs. (63.5 kg) for 5 reps and he also lost some weight and now weighs 160 pounds (72.5 kg) for 5 reps, 140/160 = 0.875.
I recommend using the calculator and taking a look at the strength standards from strengthlevel.com. The site has all the exercises you need and can calculate based on a different number of reps. It is a great tool!
Weight Training Makes Me Big And Bulky
So maybe you just want a slim body, and you are not convinced that lifting weights can do anything other than building big bulky muscles.
First of all, lifting weights is much more than what you associate with bodybuilders, and to get big bulky muscles you will need to want it.
What I mean by that is you have to work on it for a long time and be conscious about increasing the weights. So if you reach a point you are happy with and want to maintain then you stop progressing.
You can of course also build some muscle with really tough things like CrossFit, Px90 or Insanity workouts. You could even build some muscle doing yoga.
All of these have resistance training as a big element, which is why they will help you build muscle. But the results won’t be the same or as fast, and I suspect that you will plateau at a point much earlier than if you just lifted some heavy weights.
This is what a good friend of mine kept telling me many years ago when I was a CrossFit nerd, but I was too much of a fanboy to see things clearly.
Where To Go From Here?
I hope that I by now have convinced you to do some resistance training or at least just try it out. Putting vanity aside, lifting weights regularly will also benefit your health greatly! I sincerely hope that I have given you some insight on Why Resistance Training Is The Key To Looking Awesome with this article of mine.
Besides that, I also firmly believe that improving physical appearance goes much beyond just pure vanity. It can lead to a complete transformation of how you see yourself and help you gain that extra bit of self-confidence that enables you to finally push yourself through self-imposed restraints and face the fears holding you back.
There are plenty of weight training routines that you can follow and many of them are for free. A word of advice is to follow a workout that both fits your experience level and schedule, and also have been tried and tested by many 1000s of people before you.
The past few years I have preferred to do a basic routine focusing on heavy compound lifts. It has freed up a lot of time I used to spend in the gym and I have still been able to grow stronger.
What led me to this was trying out a popular program with 1000s of success stories by Greg O’ Gallagher from Kinobody, and if you are interested in learning more you should check out my reviews.
If you are a beginner to weight training and have some fat to lose, you should check out my Kinobody warrior shredding program review.
If you are a beginner to intermediate and want to focus on building muscle while gaining little to no fat, then you should check out my Kinobody greek god review.