What sort of physique can I get?
Naturally when people train, an underlying or even principle factor in doing so is for appearance: how can I get a good physique? Or if I train in a certain way what sort of physique can I obtain? Can I look like celebrity X or model Y?
Do you even need to be in the gym to build muscle/get the performance you want?
Obviously, if running is your thing then you definitely don’t need a gym membership. In fact you’re better off without one.
If you really want to get good at running then muscle mass should be the last thing on your mind, and you can easily do enough stretching and strengthening through bodyweight squats, push-ups, one-legged squats (pistols) etc. to help improve your running form.
But for those who want to put on a bit of muscle is the gym absolutely necessary? What sort of physique can you build just through bodyweight exercise?
Well you need look no further than gymnasts and boxers for an answer.
In both cases strength rather than size is the goal, in order to perform better in their chosen sport. Gymnasts need to spend their time practicing their movements rather than curling barbels, and boxers need to stay fast whilst often trying to stay within a weight class.
But it’s evident that they both tend to have pretty impressive physiques, without lifting a lot of weight other than their own bodies.
There’s a lot to be said for bodyweight training, and if you can do 50 full press-ups and 15 full pull-ups (as a man) you are pretty strong relative to your bodyweight. Doing that many pull-ups is also going to be impossible if you are fat, so you’ll probably be fairly lean to hit those numbers.
Clearly professional gymnasts can do a lot more impressive things than just 15 pull-ups, which helps to explain how they get their development.
But one thing you’ll notice is that in those sports physiques can vary quite a lot. Sure they’re all pretty muscular and ripped but you can’t always tell who will be the strongest: some of the slightly smaller and less muscular guys will come out on top.
I know it’s not a beauty contest and it comes down to skill. But the point is all the competitors will be training the same way; some develop quite a lot of muscle, others less so.
As always, it comes down largely to genetics.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to training and especially to physique and muscular expectations is that your end product has in many ways been decided before you were born.
You can’t pick your parents. If your mum and dad are both quite small-framed then you are unlikely to have the build that is going to hold a lot of muscle, at least naturally. Even if you take drugs you’ll be behind, in terms of muscle, those who have been blessed with a larger bone structure (unless they stay natural).
It’s the same logic as the probability of you being 6′ tall when your parents are both under 5′ 8″. It’s possible, but very unlikely you have the genetics to do it.
Obviously training will help you get to your genetic potential, but you won’t surpass it, not without chemical assistance.
That’s what you’re seeing when you see the differences in physiques of high-level athletes like gymnasts: they all train the same, just as hard, it’s just that some of them are more predisposed to build muscle.
Related article: Why your goal should be strength, not muscle
So do you need the gym to build muscle?
It really depends on what sort of body shape you are after.
Muscle growth is quite simply an adaptation response to a previously un-encountered stress. Simply, you need to lift something the muscle is not used to in order to break it down and force it to be ready for the next time.
That’s why when you first started 1 pull-up was hard but now you can do 5 easily- the muscle has grown, strengthened and adapted to the previous workload.
So you need to keep lifting heavier to keep getting a growth response.
This is where your bodyweight limits you. Once you get past a certain number of reps you won’t be building muscle, rather building muscular endurance. A guy who can do 100 push-ups is not going to be visibly more muscular than one who can do 60, if they are the same bodyweight.
If you just want a functional muscle mass then bodyweight is going to serve you well- there are plenty of sports like climbing where muscular endurance is king, and as you can see in the case of gymnasts and boxers, you can certainly get an eye-catching physique.
Related article: Your body doesn’t want to train
But if your goal is muscle size more in line with rugby players and bodybuilders you need to hit the weight room: pretty soon your bodyweight won’t be enough and you’ll need to get under the bar to provide enough resistance for your muscle to grow.
Whichever way suits you, always remember that your end product is mostly genetic.
That’s why you shouldn’t compare yourself with others, or listen to anyone or anything telling you that you can look a certain way by following their method.
Some people are blessed physically, others are blessed in other ways.
Pro sportsmen and women are where they are because they were born to do it: they didn’t outwork everyone else, there were plenty who worked harder who didn’t have the genetics to make it all the way.
But you’ll never know how good you can be unless you try. You’re never going to reach YOUR potential by half-assing it.
What sort of physique/performance can you get? Get out there and find out!
Bodyweight Training Template coming soon!
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