Training for aesthetics versus training for performance - Do they have to be different?

When I open a dialogue with a new client it’s very common for them to make an early distinction of what they are training ‘for’. While you do get the occasional person who is training for pleasure or mental health (both are very valid reasons) By and large, respondents either group themselves within the “I’m training for aesthetics” or “I’m training for performance” camp.

Now having pondered this for a while I suspect that the reason people align themselves to a group is to try and avoid judgment from peers. Many people are under the impression that if they promote their training for performance then any criticism they receive on the grounds of their physique is illegitimate as that “isn’t what they're focused on” and vice versa. While it certainly sounds ridiculous to type out this the only logical explanation I can conclude with given that the two are so clearly related to one another. Whatsmore, having been privileged to have a network of clients who trust and open up to me, I appreciate how concervative many of us are in how much we admit the opinions of others affects us.

To be clear I’m not advocating for one or the other, I firmly believe that your motivator doesn’t matter so long as it works for you and keeps you accountable to a gym regiment. However, based on my experience within the industry I get clients to place their primary focus on a performance goal that aligns with their desired aesthetic. The only exception to this is when clients are training for a competition where they are judged purely on aesthetics.

So what if I have a client who doesn’t care about their numbers and just wants to look ‘good’?

Well, while the polarized discussions around this topic may suggest otherwise, performance and aesthetic goals are not mutually exclusive and should not be approached with a one or the other mentality. Testament to this fact is the physique of professional athletes who operate in environments that demand both cardiovascular and strength competencies. This is well illustrated across a range of sporting codes.

Trae Williams the promising young Australian sprinter who later had a code switch to Rugby 7’s was appropriately given the name ‘Quadzilla’ based on the enormity and definition of his legs. While he certainly hasn’t let the rest of his physique go, the high explosive demand over the 100m sprint makes a big and explosive set of legs the right tools for the trade. 5 times World's Fittest Woman, CommonWealth Games gold medallist and Winter Olympic Games qualifier Tia Clair-Toomey has built a body that meets the varied needs and intensities that the sport of Crossfit demands of its athletes. Most recognisable is the protracted core and dense shoulders that are a ticket to the game with many of these workouts requiring a high level of upper body strength as well as core stability for olympic lifting movements. Finally Buddy Franklin the current Sydney Swans full forward has to balance a physique that ensures he is competitive in AFL’s physical contact but also agile enough to move around the field as the players average in the vicinity of 10km per game.

The point of these examples isn’t to suggest that these physiques are achievable for everyone or desirable for that matter, but to reinforce that your body will undergo varied physiological changes depending on the stimulus it is exposed to. Hence aesthetic and performance goals can be integrated into one another.

To illustrate through example again, lets pretend one of my female clients has approached me saying that they want a bigger more defined bum (it probably won’t come as a surprise that this is a common request)

Instead of framing a goal simply as ‘I want a bigger bum’ which leaves the outcomes as highly subjective and provides very little structure to measure progress. We would instead define a performance based goal that will lend itself to the desirable physical characteristics the client had expressed, such as improving a 10 rep max hip thrust. This will provide the client with a measurable objective they can track against and also guarantee that they are working in a rep range optimal for hypertrophy and focusing this on the muscles that will achieve the desired look.

So where to from here?

As I shared before, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look better. Personally I take a lot of satisfaction from being happy with my physique as I know it is a reflection of my hard work. But I also know that if my goals were focused exclusively on how I look my motivation would twindle and my progression would be slower. Given that we know performance and physique are not mutually exclusive, look to establish and track performance goals that lend themself to the way you want to look as this will add structure and objectivity into your training journey.

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