by Robert Maxwell
I know lots of guys who lift weights regularly, and have for years. Some want to be big and strong, others simply want to feel better. Despite these differences, almost without exception, they have one thing in common. Nearly all of them, myself included, started their weight training journey with the goal of getting "jacked", "shredded", or "huge". Even guys who now train solely for strength and couldn't care less about aesthetics, if honest, will admit that looking like Arnold was what first pushed them to the gym. For many it still is, and this fact is what I'll address in this article. While it could certainly be argued that any goal is a good goal as long as it gets you lifting weights, I would disagree. Why? As a strength and fitness coach, I'm not just interested in getting people to start lifting, but to continue lifting, and to do it intelligently. Ideally, I'd like to see them make weight training a permanent lifestyle with lifelong benefits, both mental and physical. The goal of getting "jacked" in the gym often doesn't deliver this very well. Here are three points about the trouble with getting jacked.
It's Usually Unrealistic
Most guys who get bitten by the lifting bug leading to pictures of Arnold in their mind and on their wall are young and impressionable. From a physique standpoint, it's quite likely they don't understand what's doable naturally and what's not. It's easy to get confused about this when you don't know much, since the entire fitness and physique building industry is saturated with guys claiming to be drug-free who aren't. Not by a long shot. This leads to a highly skewed perception, unrealistic standards, and ultimately, disappointment for many young men. That's not to say you can't build quite an impressive physique naturally, but compared to most popular bodybuilders and physique models whose images flood the internet, a body trained without drugs can seem pretty underwhelming. Such comparisons are inevitable, since the images and culture of physique building is so prevalent in popular culture. In some cases, young men with the dream of a great "jacked" physique might decide the natural approach isn't worth their time anymore, and turn to anabolic substances for help. This will certainly help them get where they want to go, (and quite possibly way beyond) but it comes with problems, too.
It Often Leads to Bad Training
Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical "gym bro". He's the big, musclebound guy at every gym sporting a tank top three sizes too small and a brain to match. He's usually full of advice for new lifters. "Do more arms, bro. Gotta blast those biceps!" Another favourite: "Don't do full range of motion bench press, bro – keep tension on your pecs." Or the classic "Change up your program, man. Keep those muscles guessing." When they're not offering unasked for advice, these guys are either hitting another set of bicep curls (occasionally in the squat rack), or practising their posing routine along a section of mirrored wall that most gyms unfortunately include. Don't get me wrong – I'm not trying to knock all bodybuilders and physique models. Lots of them train in an intelligent, sustainable way. But young, inexperienced gym-goers who listen to the gym "bros" often end up following a program with way too much volume for natural lifters, way too much emphasis on isolation exercises like curls, and far too little focus on the main compound movements like squats and deadlifts which every weight training program should include. Either that, or they don't follow a program at all, instead hitting whatever muscle group they feel like in whatever unsystematic manner they choose. Guys who train for strength often come at things more carefully and scientifically. A lot of time, energy, and potential is wasted in gyms by young men who apply blind enthusiasm and motivation to the goal of getting "jacked".
It's a Less Useful Goal
When you're in your teens or twenties, having a 6-pack seems like the ultimate symbol of strength and fitness. It won't always. As most of us get older, we begin to realize that function beats fashion every time. You may not consider having defined abs and biceps that "pop" fashion, since they don't involve clothing, but they are. They're all about appearance, and focussing on appearance and the admiration of others is fashion. Once you hit 40, 50 and beyond, you'll most likely realize that the ability to move well and exert lots of force against gravity when necessary is a very good reason to train, and the older you get, the more this is true. Being super lean and jacked, on the other hand, stops being useful at roughly the same time you stop feeling the need to impress every girl who walks past you on the beach. There's nothing wrong with having a body shape you can be proud of, and being lean and muscular is certainly a good indication of overall fitness level. But if looking like you lift is the only reason you lift, I strongly suggest rethinking your priorities.