Sexy Strong vs. Fat Strong

So which are you.... Sexy strong or fat strong...?
So which are you…. Sexy strong or fat strong…?

I think it’s safe to say most of us would agree being “strong” is a good thing.  Being strong, physically or emotionally, is generally a desirable trait.  It makes sense then, that when most of us train, we’re training to increase our strength.  For most people, they associate training to be strong with resistance training (i.e. lifting weights).  However, being “strong” extends beyond the power of our muscles.  Perhaps not as obvious, but we also train to become stronger when we perform cardiovascular exercise (i.e. running sprints). When we have a strong cardiovascular system we have a heightened endurance, a healthy heart and lungs, and the ability to perform long bouts of work without keeling over in complete exhaustion.  Or in other words, we’re moving into “sexy strong” territory.

Sexy Strong vs. Fat Strong

Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of people aren’t training for a well-rounded body of strength, or what I’ll refer to as “sexy strong”. Sexy strong is a body with not only impressive muscular strength, but a low-level of body fat, great flexibility, a tremendous endurance, and healthy and well-functioning internal organs and vital signs.

On the flip side, there’s something I like to call “fat strong”.  Someone like either of the two guys pictured below would be what I’d consider fat strong.

Yeah, they can bench a small car…but can they touch their toes?

From a muscular standpoint these guys are obscenely strong, there’s no doubt about that.  But that’s where the impressiveness of their abilities ends.  They’ve got high levels of body fat, low levels of flexibility, and I’m guessing a poorly trained cardiovascular system, which leaves them at great risk for heart disease as they age.

The idea of becoming a big, bulky, block of muscle is what most women fear more than death, public speaking, or being locked in a box full of snakes with laser beams attached to their heads.  This is the reason so many women shy away from lifting weights…let alone weights heavy enough to make a difference.

Of course, being fat strong doesn’t have to be like the example illustrated above.  Fat strong could be that girl on the treadmill who does tons of cardio but still has a layer of exercise resistant body fat because she refuses to pick up a weight and actually get her metabolism moving.  You don’t need to be built like a tank to be fat strong.  A disproportionate level of fitness or only placing a focus on one element of your health is all it takes.

Surrounded by Hordes of Skinny People

It’s time to realize that developing real muscular strength doesn’t have to be associated with getting gigantic.  Here’s a real-life example which served as the motivation for today’s post….

A couple of weeks ago I went to an indoor rock climbing gym with a buddy who climbs.  After making our way to the wall and giving it a go, I realized just how difficult rock climbing really is.  A short while later, as I was sitting on the mats tending to my blistered and bloody hands, I took notice of some of the people around me.  All of them…..literally, ALL OF THEM were skinny, yet incredibly defined.  These skinny people were scaling up the wall like monkeys, pulling off climbs I could only dream about making.  These same people were rocking out two finger pull ups on a climbing board on the other side of the gym. I was surrounded by dozens of skinny guys and girls, with seemingly not much muscle, but strength that was almost beyond imagination.  What’s the moral of the story?  Training to become strong and turning into a big, bulky, neckless wonder doesn’t need to go hand in hand.  You can become strong..very, very strong, without giving up your physique.

I'm not going to call him sexy strong.......let's just say he's really fit.
I’m not going to call him sexy strong…….let’s just say he’s really fit.

This is what you need to remind yourself the next time you’re afraid of picking up a weight because you think you’re going to instantly morph into Ray Lewis.  Getting that big takes work; it takes a lot of eating.  If you’re not eating for super size, you’re not going to have to worry about turning into a giant.

On the other side of the spectrum we have the people who only focus on lifting weights and forget another important aspect of sexy strong; building a strong cardiovascular system.  When you focus on bulking up and forget about the rest of your fitness, you’re putting yourself on the fast track to becoming a giant mound of muscle, incapable of much else besides being able to lift heavy objects in linear fashion.  No functionality, no practicality, just strong for the sake of being strong.

How to Get Sexy Strong

So if you’re looking for a well-rounded and healthy body, inside and out, it’s vital to focus your efforts on becoming sexy strong.  Take a well-rounded approach to your fitness and don’t neglect any one of the three pillars of your health. These pillars include:

  • Good cardiovascular endurance
  • High percentage of lean muscle mass and functional strength
  • Great joint range of motion and flexibility

So what do you do?  How do you achieve sexy strong and avoid the pitfalls of fat strong?  Simply put, use a fitness routine that encompasses a wide range of fitness discipline and training methodologies.  This is something I’ve employed here at Share It Fitness, as well as with my real-world clients.  I call it Body Diversity Training, and I truly believe it’s the best and most effective way to build an incredibly fit and healthy body.

Training in this manner would mean using a variety of different cardiovascular workouts, varying your strength exercises, and including elements of yoga, pilates, and other fitness disciplines to ensure a well-rounded level of fitness.

So wherever you’re starting out, you have a choice to make – doesn’t matter if you’re beginning your fitness journey 80 lbs overweight or you’re already at 12% body fat and looking to take things to another level. Making the conscious decision to be sexy strong is the best decision you can possibly make.  Train all three pillars of your health and your reward will be a great body and health for years to come.




7 thoughts on “Sexy Strong vs. Fat Strong”

  1. Honestly, I disagree with “sexy” being exclusive to men with low body fat. As a female, I am personally attracted to men who have a lot of muscle and a healthy amount of body fat. I don’t mind a bit of fat on the belly, or on the arms. In fact, I find that most females are actually turned off by super-toned, low body-fat muscle (which is what most bodybuilders have). I would use “burly” to describe a man who is large, both muscular and with a little extra fat. Honestly, these types of men with thick waists and broad shoulders are unbelievably sexy to me, even with bigger bellies. They appear stronger, and honestly, this body type is more natural. You’ll see it on firefighters/football players, who train for strength, not aesthetics.

      1. So you start a debate and then run away from it when people challenge you. When you publish an opinion, you are inviting comment.

  2. I know this is an old post, but I keep stumbling on it in my search results.
    I am not a Personal Trainer, but I’ve read books on strength training, and I have a fairly long and diverse training history. Doing stuff on my own (anyone remember Body For Life?), fumbling around on my own, getting a traditional personal trainer, crossfit for a few years, and now focused strength training.

    It’s easy to lose weight, when you have excess body fat. And it’s easy to get slightly toned-looking muscles when you’re completely out of shape, no matter your body type. You can do these two together when you’re new and detrained. Maybe this is all you want to do, but you won’t be strong.

    Cardiovascular endurance is also extremely easy to train. You run a mile today, you can probably run 1.25 tomorrow, within a month you’ll definitely be up to 3.2 (a 5k). A starker example: when you watch a marathon (non-competitive section), you see tons of out of shape looking people who can pound their bodies through 26.2 miles. It’s an achievement, no doubt, but attainable for completely detrained people in about 6 months (or less depending on other factors).

    Strength is not nearly as easy to train. It requires many aspects of your body to grow and adapt, and when you’re completely detrained, almost any exercise can make your stronger. This is both good and bad, because you may stumble on an otherwise inappropriate workout routine that will show benefits for you in the first few weeks. However, your progress will stall rather quickly, and you may get discouraged and quit.

    If you believe the many strength experts in the field, the most effective way to gain strength as a novice (and therefore size) is to follow a simple routine of multi-joint, barbell lifts that utilize as much muscle mass as possible, train your whole body, and where each and every time you lift, you add more weight (Linear Progression). Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Deadlift, and a movement to develop power (strength manifested quickly) like Power Cleans. Anything else you could do, would use less muscle mass, detract from recovery, and generally be counter-productive to gaining strength as a novice. If you want to gain as much strength and muscle as possible, this is arguably the most effective way to do it. As a male (and more rarely a female) you will quite likely lose your visible abs (especially if you’re not naturally a skinny person), but if that’s really important to you, you can get that back easily, AFTER you become quite strong.

    When I say quite strong, for a male, that would be approaching a 400lb deadlift, and the rest of the lifts would be proportionally developed in descending order: squat (315), bench press (225), power clean (200-250), overhead press (155-185). Absolute power clean (1 rep max) will often be stronger than the bench press, but in the way it’s commonly trained (at the end of the workout, and more sets), the number on the bar is often a bit lower than the bench. However, these two can be reversed depending on the person. Power clean is usually a percentage of the deadlift, between 50-70%, based on genetic endowment.

    For a female your deadlift, squat, and power clean will develop proportionally stronger than your upper body lifts, especially the overhead press, but you can still expect to see relatively massive strength gains in all lifts, doing this type of program.

    Age is also a big factor. The further away you are from 18-35, the more you would need to adjust your expectations downward, but you can still get relatively very strong.

    Linear progression could be as little as adding 1-2 lbs each time you lift. It’ll probably start as 5-10lbs for most males for the first few weeks, and 2.5-10 for females, but it will tapper off after a month or two. No matter though, when you’re adding even small amounts of weight each time it adds up quickly.

    Once you’ve exceeded your ability to progress linearly, (adding small amounts of weight each and every time you lift), you are no longer a novice. This is probably good enough for people who aren’t athletes, and you can achieve this within a year to 18 months even if you’re not taking your training very seriously. This could be achieved as quickly as 9 months even for a completely detrained person.

    This is what I’ve learned over the past 11 years. Strength is more important than anything else. I’ve been skinny weak and it sucks. You don’t need to be fat to be strong (it does help though :)), but you can find moderation in a strength program. For most of us (not a genetic freak, pro athlete, etc), if you’re serious about real strength gains you need to be willing to take a little fluff around the belly, at least in the short-term.

    Good luck!

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