Exercise Can’t Change your Physical Nature: Relationship between Activity and Appearance
by Erick Minor
You’ve heard the claims: “If you want the long lean legs of a dancer, do Pilates or yoga" or “To get supermodel sexy, do the Brazilian Butt Lift workout by Leandro,” or "To build an athlete's body you gotta train like an athlete and do Functional exercise." Such claims are made perpetually, yet most are wrong or just flat-out lies. I’m not bashing these methods, I'm a big fan of yoga, and progress can be made doing a wide variety of activities. But I will explain why the conventional association between activity and appearance is incorrect.
Every genre of exercise is associated with a particular body type. Pilates and Yoga is represented by the dancer who is svelte and flexible, elite distance runners are typically thought of as thin and sinewy, and strength training (bodybuilding) is associated with the hyper-muscular bodybuilder or the stocky powerlifter. Based on these beliefs, people will gravitate towards the activity associated with the body type that they prefer, in hopes of developing that body type. One of the concerns expressed by some of my female clients goes like this; “I don’t want to lift too heavy because I build muscle easily, I just want to tone. When I lift heavy weights my legs get too big.” So, the overwhelming conventional wisdom dictates, “If you want to be long and toned like a dancer, do Pilates and yoga” and “if you want to look like a bodybuilder, lift weights.” This seems justifiable to the untrained eye, but these assumptions are wrong.
First of all, there is no such thing as toning. Muscle tissue either adapts (grows bigger and/or stronger) to the stress of exercise or it does not. Your predisposition to build large muscles is based primarily on genetics. Bodybuilders, swimmers, dancers, and sprinters are born; proper training can only enhance their natural physical characteristics. The activity does not produce the body type; it is the body type that excels at the activity. You wouldn’t expect a below average height child to grow taller by playing basketball. That’s just silly!
The “appearance being a product of activity” mindset has even crept into the world of professional athletics with the “functional training” movement which suggests that athletes must only do certain strength exercises that are deemed functional because all other bodybuilding type exercise are detrimental to performance. This assumption is incorrect as well.
That being said, the most important factor for dramatically improving appearance and function is muscle growth. Properly performed strength training, which is the ideal form of exercise, cannot change your physical nature, it will only enhance your current physical qualities. Neither strength training nor Pilates nor salsa dancing can make a short and stocky person, long and lean. Properly performed exercise can only elevate YOU to a higher level of function.