Monday, January 3, 2011

How to Look Good (or, at least, you know... better)

Maybe you train and eat caring only about performance, but I'll bet you are at least a little (tiny?) bit concerned with how you look.  Even if you're so high-minded that you believe you shouldn't value anything as base as your appearance, keep in mind a few facts:
  • People like attractive people more.  Seriously, they've done studies (government funded!) on this.  So attractive people, all else being equal, will have more friends.  And a better social net is good for health (more studies showed this too!)  Ergo being attractive is good for your health.
  • Attractive people get more opportunities for sex.  More sex is good for your health... until it isn't.  So as long as you're not catching anything, being attractive is once again good for your health.
  • Being attractive can help you get a better job (yes, they've done studies on this, too) and open up all sorts of opportunities in life.
  • Looking good can help you avoid fights (How?  See the first point).  Fighting is bad for your health.  But it may be good for your martial arts skills, so let's call this one a wash.
Let's assume you're convinced, and right now you're thinking, "okay Joe, I'd like to be more attractive, how do I do that?"  Now there's a lot that goes into being attractive - good dental hygiene, good general hygiene, fashion sense, not making annoying noises, laughing only at the appropriate times, seeming sincere when people talk about themselves, plastic surgery, good genes, and plenty of others.  There's no point in talking about having good genes - either you do or you don't.  If you're not sure, e-mail a picture and I'll let you know.

Now I'm no expert on most of these things (I barely have the fashion sense to stop wearing jeans once they have a hole in the crotch), but I've studied aspects of fitness and how they relate to attractiveness quite a bit and I have a few things to share (feel free to disagree in comments if you think I'm off base with these:)

For Men:

Fix your posture.  Poor posture - especially a kyphotic spine (think hunchback) - is unattractive.  If you slouch, you need to fix it.  Start spending a half hour a day lying on your back, head back on the floor, with a foam roller or rolled up towel under your shoulders.  Strengthen your upper back muscles with some kind of row - like an inverted row on a TRX or even a one arm dumbell row.  Stretch your chest and anterior shoulders every chance you get.  Don't over do the pushing movements - especially the bench press.  Then rearrange your workspace so you don't have to slouch to work at your computer.  Posterior pelvic tilt is almost as unattractive.  Stretch your hip flexors and activate your glutes.

Get a flat stomach.  Notice I didn't write six pack.  The fact is that you want to be lean enough that with a shirt on your stomach looks flat, so that you don't have enough belly fat to affect your silhouette...  I hope that makes sense.  Getting lean enough to have a lot of detail etched into your abs is nice, and some find it attractive, but it's not nearly as much of a dealbreaker as you think.  Shoot for a firm belly with nothing jiggling and no rolls hanging out.  Getting really lean or vascular (showing a lot of veins) is not as cool as you think.

Add muscle to your glutes, upper back, shoulders... and a little on the arms - and that's it!  Men tend to think that women like bodybuilder physiques - thick pecs, round quads, etc.  There are exceptions, but women tend to like a slightly muscular physique without bulging pecs or balloon like thighs.  A thick mid-trap area, thick shoulders, medium sized arms, round and tight (and lean) glutes, a lean but not too muscular chest, and moderate neck size are more attractive to most women (and gay men, if you care) than a really buff physique. Think gymnast or Olympic diver, NOT offseason bodybuilder or football player.  Think v-shape, but not the v-shape of a pro bodybuilder with a huge chest and shoulders and a distended stomach, but broad shoulders tapering down to a trim waste and narrow hips.  Really big arms make you look like a cartoon.  Most women don't want to date a cartoon.

How do we achieve this look?  Handstand pushups or kettlebell presses, chinups, rows, some basic core work, and deep squats or swings will do a lot more for your physique than a bodybuilding routine out of Muscle & Fitness.

De-inflame yourself.  Think Brad Pitt in Fight Club.  Lean, angular, hard looking.  You don't want jowls, soft cheeks (soft skin is okay, pudgy cheeks are not), or much flesh that has give to it.  Some of that comes from just having too much fat, but I believe (and I'm going on sketchy evidence here, so it might be wrong) that a lot of it comes from inflammation.  How do we fight inflammation?  Add fish oil, vitamin  D3, cut out grains, cut out vegetable oils (bad omega - 6 fats are pro-inflammatory).  This will help you lose fat but you'll also lose some inflammation, drop some water weight, and get a sharper physique and face.

Move better.  If you move like an old person - because of restrictions (tightness), injuries, soreness, whatever, well, that's  unattractive.  Work on your soft tissues.  Use a foam roller or get some massages.  Build up the strength in your core and legs so you have the spare strength to move gracefully.  The good news is that the body control you learn from martial arts will help you move better - and sexier - as long as you don't have any interfering movement restrictions.  Reducing your systemic inflammation might also help quite a bit - your joints will probably feel better.

Now I have things to say to women too - studying attractive females is a hobby of mine - but I'll address women in a separate post.

Now let's put a caveat out there - certain physical traits make people generally more attractive.  You can always find weirdoes outliers who find almost any type of physique attractive.  Some women like their men a little softer, some a little leaner, some women prefer bodybuilder types, etc.  None of these are hard and fast rules.  But in general you're going to be better off with good posture, a flat stomach, muscle added to targeted areas, reduced inflammation, and graceful movement than without them.

I'm not claiming that these things are the most important keys to attractiveness either!  It may be that personality or grooming or whatever are usually more important.  But nothing you do in the gym is going to make you funnier or smarter, while there are exercises you can do to get a flatter stomach, and a flat stomach certainly isn't going to make you any uglier.

You might also wonder why the hell I'm writing about this.   The answer is... I'm not sure.  I just felt like sharing.  I've seen a lot of people train in ways that make them less attractive, thinking that they will be better off  (think about the bench press three times a week guys I'm sure you can find in your gym).  I'm certainly no expert on the full gamut of things that make men attractive, but I've studied enough bodybuilding and enough research on attraction over the years to know more about the physique end of things than a lot of people.

If you think I'm wrong in my recommendations by all means post to comments!

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