Facade Bod

A few thoughts about a piece in Vice, called “Your Sculpted Pecs Are Worthless.”

Although it’s great to see the mainstream press picking up on the idea that looking fit and being fit are completely different animals—a notion that I discuss extensively throughout my book–there are a few misstatements here worth discussing. The clickbait title, for instance. Your pecs are far from worthless, as it claims, and the bench press certainly has an important place in functional strength training. Rather it’s having pecs without back and shoulder muscles—working only those muscles you see in the mirror and ignoring the all-important back—that is worthless in producing usable strength. Similarly, the article presents the visible abs on a 26-year-old, seemingly ripped guy as indicative of a “façade-bod.” I love the notion of a façade bod, since it points so directly at the looks versus strength issue, but the visibility of abs indicates neither core strength nor the lack of it. Everyone has abs: being able to see them is simply a matter of body-fat percentage and body type; on some people (those with longer torsos and low body fat) they pop, on some they don’t. And, incidentally, the guy they picture, Marcus Jecklin, doesn’t have an impressive grill. Again, core strength has far more to do with unaesthetic muscles, those of the back, as well as the hamstrings and glutes. Still, the abs thing brings up an instructive point, which is that it’s very difficult to be really strong, as strong as Jecklin might seem to the casual observer, and weigh 185 lbs. at 6 feet tall. He’d need to be much thicker around the middle (with abs or not), with more muscle on his back and with bigger legs and butt, to express athletic power.

The other odd statement made here is that pullups are a “gym favorite that has surprisingly little real-world application.” First, I can’t say I regularly see pullups in mainstream gyms. More important, they have enormous real-world application, as do almost all bodyweight movements. And they build crucial upper-back muscles.

So, while good in general, the article is also an example of people wanting fitness to be as black-and-white as religion: do this, don’t do that. It’s not. Because each body is different, it needs different stimuli to make it better. And everybody’s goals are not the same either. I applaud Jecklin for being clear about wanting, and having, a façade bod—there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, only with being mistaken about means and ends. Ideally, however, a fitness practice is a daily inquiry into who we are and what we want to be, and it is in addressing those questions that we can pick out the right path forward.

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