In this article we’re going to do something a little bit different. The idea came from one of our members. He started off by saying something fairly controversial. Then, as other members prodded him, instead of backing away from it, he doubled down. And I think his arguments are pretty compelling.
First, let’s set the stage. In our articles about attractiveness, we make the argument that attractiveness is visible health. Being very attractive just takes that one step further. Instead of looking healthy, you’d have to look healthy in a way that truly stands out—you’d have to be conspicuously healthy.
For an overweight person, the best way to build a more attractive physique is to become visibly healthier by losing fat. For us skinny guys, the best way to become more attractive is usually to build muscle. There are lots of objective goals you could set: bringing your BMI to 23 with abs, becoming 50% heavier than your date/girlfriend/fiancée/wife, or building your biceps up to the size of your neck, to name a few.
At first, progress can be very quick. If you’ve read our newbie gains article, then you understand exactly how quick. The interesting thing is that the 80–20 principle applies here. What I mean is that with a small amount of time investment—just a couple months—a skinny guy can usually get to the point where he looks healthy and fit. He’ll look attractive.
Not alarmingly attractive, but attractive.
At that point, progress will slow, and it can take a lot more time and effort to get to that next, very attractive level. After all, looking healthy is one thing, but looking so healthy that people go, “Wow, that dude looks healthy!” is a whole other thing.
But physical attractiveness isn’t the only way you can boost your attractiveness. It’s not even the only physical way that you can boost your attractiveness.
That’s where Rick J comes in.
Rick J is a member in the Beastly community, and so far he’s gained 14 pounds. (8 before joining, 7 more after a few weeks with us.) I found his thoughts really fascinating, and he gave me permission to quote him in this blog post.
I was recently asking members about their experience with calisthenics. (Members can read the full thread here.) We have a little bit of calisthenics in the program: push-ups, chin-ups, planks, etc. Nothing crazy.
We take the best exercises for building muscle and combine them in the best way for building muscle. To do that, we try to follow the research as objectively as possible, and we wind up with a program that combines a few different approaches. Calisthenics brings chin-ups and push-ups, strongman training brings farmer carries, powerlifting brings deadlifts, bodybuilding brings curls. By taking the best from everything, we get this well-rounded fitness program that builds muscle faster than any other.
The b2B Program will help you with a variety of fitness and athletics goals, as a foundation of functional strength can be applied to everything, but it’s unapologetically a muscle-building program for skinny guys.
We’ve had a lot of members tell us after finishing the program, with their muscle-building goals accomplished, that they want to use their new muscle to learn some cool calisthenics/gymnastics tricks. So I was asking about whether we should delve into cool bodyweight stuff a little more.
That brought up something we hadn’t thought of.
Rick J: I suspect that social media and online dating is one factor in the goals of many guys, especially guys who are drawn to an aesthetics-focused program. One way to do aesthetics is to get as big as possible. Getting bigger is great to stand-out in relation to your past self, and to unfit guys. However, my understanding is that you have to get really big to stand-out relative to other fit guys.
Lots of guys can be say, 23-24 BMI with <15% body-fat and v-shape, which is the basics for looking good in clothes and where many guys will end b2B. For ectomorphs who aren’t there yet, hitting that goal will be a great aesthetics improvement: no longer will you be competing with programmers and graphic designers. Now you will be competing with masculine mesomorphs.
How does the ectomorph stand out after getting a decent BMI and v-shape? What’s next for aesthetics? You could put on 5 lbs (which is now harder), and lose 1-2% body-fat, which is a great accomplishment, but it’s not going to be super obvious in clothes. (Your girlfriend may notice, but your friends will not.)
So how does he make it obvious that he is training at a level that other guys are not? We all enjoy the effects that training has on our bodies, but if possible, we want to be able to “show” our progress and prove what we are doing.
There’s a lot of truth to that, and my mind was already catching fire.
At this point, another member pointed out that Rick’s perspective centres around competition with others and external validation, not competition with oneself and internal validation. Uh oh.
Time to double down.
Rick J: My view is that aesthetics is about impressing other people. Yes, we seek to impress ourselves also, because aesthetics is mostly universal. But dating and social status definitely have an element of competition.
Think of girls who say that they are dressing up and putting on makeup for themselves or to feel confident. But the way they dress for themselves just happens to be what is attractive to men. Internal approval and external approval are intertwined.
Sometimes, competing with others and trying to impress them can be unhealthy. So I definitely agree with you that we should be asking ourselves these kinds of questions to keep a healthy mindset. Everyone starts in a different place, and comparing yourself to others too much can be demotivating. This is why you will hear some people say “don’t care about what others think,” or “compete with yourself.”
The problem with competing with yourself is the only people who really notice are you and the people who know you. Competing with yourself is less helpful when meeting new people because they don’t understand your history and how far you have come. They only notice your current state, and they only appreciate it by comparing you to other people in the relevant population. You could tell them how far you’ve come, but you have to get to know them a bit first, so only your current state, not your history, helps when making a first impression. So competing with yourself only works (with new acquaintances) if it’s a successful motivational strategy to trick yourself into competing with others.
Here’s an example: let’s take a very unfit guy with a below-average physique, and train him until he has an average physique. He will notice a big improvement, and so will his friends and family. But if he goes on an online dating site, his results still won’t be all that great, because his visual first impression is still average. To succeed in that environment, he needs to be able to show something beyond the average guy.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the appropriate balance between “accepting myself,” “competing with myself,” and “competing with others,” given that we do live in a world that is competitive, and increasingly visual due to social media and online dating. I don’t want to psyche myself out and become insecure, but at the same time, I want to be honest with myself about what my goals are, and what it will take to achieve them.
I disagree with Rick ever so slightly here. If you can take a perceived weakness, such as being skinny, and turn it into a perfectly healthy level of fitness, that will do a lot for you. You have removed a con (not being visibly healthy) and added a pro (being visibly healthy). Since few people look visibly healthy, this will give you a real leg up.
But I do agree with his overall thoughts here. Looking fit won’t give you a leg up over other fit people.
As for how a skinny guy could get a further advantage after getting his newbie gains, Rick had some ideas. Here are 3 of them:
1. Bulk up even more to his genetic potential of muscle, while staying lean or getting leaner. This will probably be big enough to stand-out. But this is getting into serious bodybuilding, which is going to take time.
2. Take photos of himself lifting. The problem is that normies don’t fully appreciate what he is doing because they don’t understand how much certain things weigh (like plates). The cool thing about Shane being able to lift a person over his head is that we understand how much a person weighs. This is also a case where strongman style training has good visuals: lifting big stones and cars looks heavy. The average person can relate to lifting heavy things, but they can’t relate to lifting plates, unless there is a “lot” of them. But this gets into serious powerlifting, which takes time.
3. Take photos of himself doing acrobatic feats. Acrobatic bodyweight exercises definitely look cool (e.g. handstand variations, lever, planche, muscle-up, human flag). There is also stuff like actual gymnastics and tricking, such as flips (this is a bit different from what I’m talking about, but it would be another way to stand out). Static poses work in both photo and video, while movement (such as back-flips) only works well in video. These static bodyweight exercises hit the sweet spot of being very photogenic, while also building muscle.
Here’s the fundamental issue: the further you get into any approach (bodybuilding, strength-training, acrobatics, etc…), the harder it gets to show-off and put yourself clearly above the competition. During some phases of training, you are on the “edge” of getting into a new “bracket” in how you are perceived: for instance, the “fit” bracket, the “strong” bracket that the b2B blog uses. In other phases of training, you are moving around “within” a bracket, and your results don’t really change how you are perceived.
So there is a tradeoff: do you spend your next training period trying to eke out an additional advantage and get clear of the rest of the competition? Or do you throw in some other skill where you can quickly make gains?
Say you are at 12% body-fat and 23 BMI (e.g. 160 at 5’10”). Now say that you want to train for 4-5 months and take new photos. What will make the most impressive photo? +5 lbs bulk? Cut 2% body-fat? Some feat of strength? Or some feat of acrobatics, like a planche, or one-arm pullup?
So, the angle I’m coming from here is to start with questions like “what would make for an impressive photo or video?” or “what milestone could you subtly brag about to people who don’t practice the same sport / lifting style?” And then work backwards to what sort of training would be necessary to produce that result.
That’s a pretty interesting idea.
It might not apply to everyone, but for the skinny guys who are still single, I don’t see any reason to put a layer of political correctness over everything. Yes, it’s a competition, and yes, you need to win.
Another member, DavidG, chimed in with his experiences as a longtime husband and dad, pointing out that it won’t always be that way. That’s very true. My girlfriend had a lot of options when I met her. She could have chosen someone else. I’m so, so lucky that she chose me instead. Now that she’s chosen me, though, she isn’t comparing me to other guys. She just wants to help me be the best that I can be.
But like Rick J said, it’s a different situation for a guy who’s still trying to find that special gal. If he’s going after a great woman with a lot of options, he needs to make sure that he’s her very best option. And when you’re trying to do something as important as finding your partner in this life, I think it makes sense to do everything you can to make sure you win. The second-place prize in this competition, after all, is not her.
I’ve spent so much of my life as an athletically inept computer nerd who hated sports that I can’t even believe I’m about to say this, but your body can do more for you than carry your head around. Learning how to use your body in different ways can even be fun.
Writing that last sentence feels weird. I dreaded gym class. I begged my parents not to sign me up for sports. But it’s true. Now that my body seems strong and capable, learning how to use it better is pretty enjoyable.
What I mean is that while there is a lot of great stuff in our heads, sometimes adding some physicality to the “package” we’re presenting can be incredibly valuable, both to ourselves and others.
Anyway, before my brain explodes from the cognitive dissonance, let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Let’s say you agree with Rick’s premise. What can you do?
He’s totally right that you could pursue bodybuilding and stand out in a visual way. He’s right that you could pursue strength or strongman training so that your strength stands out. But he’s also right that both of those approaches would take a fair bit of time and effort. You’d no longer be leveraging the 80–20 principle, you’d be trying to get to 100.
The best olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders and gymnasts train for several hours every day. Ido Portal, one of the most famous gymnastics/calisthenics guys, for example, spends upwards of 6 hours every single day doing acrobatics. But since gymnastics would be a new skill for you, you could start with far, far less, and it would offer you the chance to get a whole new type of newbie gains. You would again experience rapid progression and be able to quickly move into a new bracket of physical impressiveness.
The good news is that if a skinny guy goes through a program like Bony to Beastly, rapidly increasing his muscle size and strength, he might find that he can do a few cool calisthenics tricks almost instantly.
I know how to lift 175 pounds over my head, so I was able to lift a person overhead on my first try. I knew how to do a weighted chin-up and a weighted dip (with 100 pounds around my waist), so I was able to do a muscle-up on my first try. And Marco put so much damn shoulder, core and chest work into the b2B program that I was even able to do a (really awkward looking) 1-armed push-up on my first try.
If you get good enough at lifting free weights, you develop a well-rounded sort of strength, and you can learn a lot of cool stuff very quickly. You can also develop all of these skills at the same time.
You can double your deadlift while getting perfect bodybuilding aesthetics, and the best gymnasts aren’t shy about using a dumbbell to strengthen their shoulders. And adding some gymnastics to your bodybuilding routine would just increase your training volume, making it easier to gain size. All of these things fit together perfectly.
That brings us back to the question I was initially asking in the community, and I’d love to hear what you guys think too.
Should we start teaching some calisthenics alongside our muscle-building stuff? For example, do you want us to teach you how to do a handstand?