Avoid a “Gym Body”. Aim for an Athletic Body Instead!

July 4, 2008

A lot of people who read this site know that I am NOT a big fan of excessive muscle. In my opinion, the last thing you want is for people to think “gym” as soon as they look at you. This gives off a vibe that you are trying to hard and that isn’t really an attractive quality. There is also just a corny aura that someone gives off when they have that muscle bound look. Here is a video of the look I’m talking about. These guys are an extreme version of this, but there are still plenty of people who think this is ideal!

[I’m sorry but this video makes me laugh. The clothes these guys are wearing is ridiculous. I remember reading Flex magazine back in 1992 and the popular thing was to show pictures of guys wearing this stuff along with sunglasses. I still see guys in certain gyms wearing sunglasses when they lift! Now that is Hardcore…LOL!]

The Massive Look is Quickly Dying

This has actually been over for quite some time, but it is just taking a while for the fitness industry to catch on. If you are a guy or girl and want to be massive, that is fine. It is your choice. I guess you just have to ask yourself if it is worth eating the tons of food required and being sore and run down all the time. It also is tough to look good in normal clothes if you are too bulky. Heck…you can’t even walk right with too much muscle!

Most Fitness Advice Still Focuses on Building Muscle

I know that most trainers mean well. Unfortunately the majority of the trainers at commercial gyms are young men in their early 20’s who want to gain as much muscle as possible. I’m not sure why, but that type of guy seems to be the one most likely to take up personal training. They “assume” that everyone they train wants to gain muscle and their advice is largely geared towards that. Many of these guys can’t even imagine that someone wouldn’t want to have massive muscles. Also…pick up any fitness magazine and it is still largely geared towards “building bigger guns”, “bigger pecs”, etc.

Thank Goodness For Programs Like CrossFit!

CrossFit is a step in the right direction. It is a program based on functional fitness…building a strong, fast, and fit body. There are CrossFit partners all over the world now who are spreading the word about this type of functional fitness. They are one of the leaders of the pack when it comes to helping people get functionally fit. What is cool is that they aren’t taking a franchise approach like Gold’s Gym, or 24 Hour Fitness…they are actually challenging the methods of these big franchises. I haven’t mentioned them much on my site, but I really admire what they are doing.

Another Guy With the Right Idea…Mark Sisson

Have you guys ever heard of the blog Mark’s Daily Apple? This guy has the right idea! He is in his mid 50’s and keeps in amazing shape year round. He lives a well balanced life that includes traveling to exotic places. I really admire his blog and his outstanding writing style. This is a fitness blog, that doesn’t have that corny “bodybuilding” vibe at all.

Here is an excerpt from his site:

My health philosophy is surprisingly simple. I generally follow a diet based on an understanding of evolutionary science. I think it’s more important to eat, move, and live according to how humans are designed and not according to society’s artificial developments of the last 100 years. Fortunately, this regimen is not only incredibly healthy, it’s quite simple.

In a nutshell:

  • fresh, organic, unprocessed food – no junk!
  • daily activity – whether it’s the gym or a walk along the beach, it all counts
  • plenty of quality sleep
  • plenty of water, no soda or sweetened drinks
  • antioxidants galore – the key to limiting stress
  • a good fish-oil supplement
  • essential fats, reckless amounts of vegetables, and lean, clean protein
  • time for fun – don’t take anything too seriously – ethical behavior – because what goes around comes around
  • taking responsibility for yourself and your life – openness to new things and ideas

Here is a short video of Mark Sisson’s sprint routine. I do sprint intervals in a similar fashion, but I have to stretch a bit differently due to a back injury…

[I’m close to 40, but Mark is in his mid 50’s! He looks outstanding for any age. Seriously…how many 20 year olds do you know that have a physique like that?]

A “Nice Body” and a “Gym Body” are Entirely Different Things

If you pay attention to Hollywood’s sex symbols you will notice something…all of these men and women have that nice balanced look. People like Jessica Alba, Will Smith, Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz, Eva Longoria, etc…all just look fit and attractive. When you look at them the first thing that comes to mind is that they have a “nice body”. This is different than looking at a person and thinking “gym body”. When you see a really massive guy and girl, you think they must spend a lot of time in the gym. Ideally you want to look really fit, but without the “gym look”…And under no circumstances should you wear cheesy neon gym clothes in public.

A Paradigm Shift is Happening When it Comes to Getting Fit

People are beginning to see a lot of the fitness sites and magazines for what they are…vehicles to sell lots of supplements. I’m not against supplements, I just wouldn’t endorse 90% of the stuff out there. Another shift is happening…people are incorporating getting fit without the need for a gym membership. You can get in incredible shape without belonging to a gym. You can get fit while having fun. I love what is happening in this regard. People are getting outside and getting in great shape without the need for super fancy equipment.

Laird Hamilton is A Great Example of the New Trend

Here is a guy who mixes working out with weights with functional workouts…and staying incredibly fit doing something he loves…riding the craziest big waves on the planet! When you think “fitness”, envision guys like Laird…not a bodybuilder doing endless sets of reps on a bench press. Get fit, but do it with balance and have some fun! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Laird Hamilton Videos…

Important Message: Although this site has received 25+ million visitors, I am starting from scratch and abandoning it. This site is dated and old school looking, terrible to read on mobile, etc.

It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.

Starting Over...R.I.P. Fitness Black Book!

Thanks for reading all these years!


----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura July 11, 2008 at 10:42 am

Hey Rusty!

So, I posted a couple weeks back about having trouble picking a goal weight and wanted to get you some pictures so that you can see what I’m talking about. I’m definitely not fat, but could stand to slim down a bit as well as gain definition. My stats again are 5’2″, 109, about 21% body fat I believe. I wasn’t really fair to myself with these because I had a HUGE indian food meal the night before, but oh well. They are realistic. I believe I mentioned before that I just started weight lifting about three weeks ago. I HATE working out, but realize it is the only way that I will have a nice firm body again and for the rest of my life. I am currently doing weights three days a week (I use the body sculpting bible for women) and abs (your plank routine!) three days a week. Right now my only cardio is walking our dogs a few days a week for about 45 minutes but I plan to incorporate HIIT starting next week. Do you think that one meal a day is the best way for me to lean out while doing this? I’ve had good luck in the past with using it to lose weight, but have a hard time maintaining the energy for workouts while doing it. Any advice you have would be great and thanks so much for this site. It alone is so motivating to me!


P.S. Anyone else is welcome to look and comment on the photos, but I’m not feeling very confident right now so PLEASE be kind…thanks!

Laura July 11, 2008 at 10:45 am

Sorry, the link before will not work, but this one should!

admin July 11, 2008 at 11:05 pm


Go over to Mike O’Donnell’s blog and seriously spend an hour there. I keep pushing for him to write a book, because his knowledge of diet is outstanding. I’m more of a fitness and diet guy…he is laser focused on diet and has amazing info over there.



You are in better shape than 90% of the girls I see at the beach. You aren’t far off at all.

As far as eating goes…go to Mike O’Donnell’s blog and get that free “Intermittent Fasting Report” (I keep telling him he needs to charge money for that)…heck his whole site is great regarding the diet side of the equation.

I know the EXACT workout that is going to help you burn that last tiny bit of fat. It is subcutaneous fat…which is fat trapped under the skin and is pretty easy to lose if you know what you are doing.

Please read this post…and do your best to incorporate this 3-4 times per week into you routine:

The Stubborn Fat Solution

Thanks for reading!


Laura July 14, 2008 at 11:23 am

Thanks so much for all of your help Rusty! I’m excited to start doing this workout. I will probably start with what you have here on your site and then get his book as well. I hope to have some great after pictures for you in a couple of months!


Jim July 18, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Hey Rusty, I really want to try to get in shape without getting bigger because Girls seemed to like when my face was thinned out more I really want that look back. So when i searched info on this I found your blog and I’m so happy i did.
I am 6’0 206lbs. I want to lose about 15lbs. I already have just about the right amount of muscle I don’t want gain anymore. I’m a little afraid to lift heavy Lol…But I want to give it a try.
My question is if I lift reps of 5 with heavy weight I feel like I’m trying hard to push out the set because its heavy I CAN DO IT but is this the same as forcing reps?
I’m really afraid of going into muscle failure do i want to lift as heavy as i can for 5 reps? or about 75% so I’m not trying Im just a little confused about this.

Clinton Walker III January 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I guess it just depends on the person. I believe all men go through the stage of wanting to be as big as possible. Over the years I have decided to go for lighter weights and more reps.

admin January 7, 2009 at 7:30 pm


A lot of guys do want to get bigger, but I do think that this trend is changing (slowly). It certainly peaked in the 80’s.


Studio Element Personal Training May 21, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Way too many people come to us with the “Gym Body” in mind. It sometimes can take awhile to convince them that this is not the most practical approach to their fitness regimen.

Jean Paulo June 29, 2009 at 6:29 am

Great post!at last I found someone who shares the idea of being lean and toned is much better than being big and bulky not just asthetically but functional too!I am 115lbs right now ranging between 4-8% bodyfat all year round,I never go to the gum however I do home resistance training using adjustable dumbells,barbells,flat bench,pullup bar,Swiss ball and a medicine ball.I do circuit training 3x a week and 1 day of hiit and I eat several small meals a day.I even made an amateur workout video on YouTube/iwanttoseemyabs so that I can share a workout that is short but intense enough I especially designed for people who just wanna tone up and shed some flabs.Again thanks for creating this wakeup post for people who thinks that being a musclehead looks good.

Mike April 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Hey Rusty, I would like some advice on a few things.

I’m 6’2″ and 170 lbs. I feel as though if I kept losing weight until 160 I would have a much better look. The thing is I don’t mind going under 1000 calories to do it. I know for a fact that if I ask anyone online or in real life if it would be ok to take in 600-800 calories a day (Only fruits and vegetables, along with 50 grams of protein from lean meat), they would be so quick to shoot it down and say how incredibly unhealthy it is and that it won’t even work.

I know for a fact it does because when I was at 180 I was doing 12 reps of 65 lb dumbbells bench press. Now at 170 I can do 10 reps of 65 still. For dumbbell rows and shoulder press I still maintained the strength completely. During that time I must have averaged under 1000 calories per day. So in order to get to 160, I will go lower to about 600-800 calories a day, and do more cardio.

This may be a waste of a question because the other article you wrote showed the study where the people lost no muscle while on 800 calories a day, but I guess I’m just looking for some more reassurance.


Chris February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Laird Hamilton is one of the greatest surfers by far. The way he seems to control the wave is unbelievable.

It’s kind of frustrating to look at all the fitness magazines that are out, all the infomercials and all the fitness books that are geared on just gaining massive muscle. Some of the roommates I’ve had over the past 4 years of college were obsessed with going to the gym. They’d bulk up quite a bit, often taking creatine and other supplements to assist in it. They naturally assumed that they would gain the attention of the chicks at school because of how they looked.

However, the majority of the girls who I speak to about attraction aren’t interested in guys who are just bulky and have the “gym look” like you mentioned.

I’m so glad for all that you’ve shared and will continue to learn more from you so keep it up!

Jon April 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

Hey Rusty,

I love this post, fitness black book rocks! I also really like your information on Ryan Reynolds Workout as I agree, a lean muscular body is the best look!

sam July 2, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Hey Rusty,
I am an Asian and i am 26 years old. My height is 5 feet 10 inches but weigh only 125 lbs. I look very skinny. Could you suggest me a fitness schedule which would help me get those athletic looks..
Thanks in advance…

sunil March 10, 2012 at 5:39 am

i salute ur words.sir…..its.awesome…mindblowing…..

IDNeon July 31, 2012 at 11:05 am

It’s insulting to think that people think “he tries too hard” when you do something few people can ever accomplish. This article screams “JEALOUS!” as a person who frequents the Gym, I know first hand how the “gym bodies” are the envy of everyone who goes to the gym, they are the first to be approached for advice, and they are often the friendliest. This article is trash, and pathetic. Must have been written by a liberal.

Thrasher August 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm


….whatever dude I go to a top ranking Uni, and my lean athletic body gets way more attention from women and men (I even had a female professor hit on me). This holds true in my classes with huge bodybuilder guys. Unlike you however, they are cool guys who seem to genuinely lift for themselves and feel passionate about fitness…AND have accepted the now incontestable fact (many, MANY studies have been done in psychology, anthropology, etc.) that a lean athletic physique is by far the most physically attractive. Also it is sad that bodybuilding culture is full of socially retarded, semi-literate, right wing, racist, sexist, homophobic ***holes.
Methinks you are an insecure knob, and bodybuilding is not going to be enough to sort out your problem of being a social pariah.

Richard Gibbons August 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Opinions vary and I think the above may be the insecure extremes, but that’s what makes the world an interesting place to live in.

Daniel Jameson August 27, 2012 at 2:45 am

^ spot on

Rune September 4, 2012 at 11:34 am

Wiiiierd article…

Have you ever seen Steve Cooks? Does he have a “Gym Body”? You’re generalizing that a “gym body” is a body like Arnold or Ronnie Coleman. But there are lots of other bodybuilders.
From my perspective, having a “Lean, atheletic body” always requires workouts in gyms.

Adam November 14, 2012 at 1:40 am

Hey Rusty,

I’d really like to hear your take on crossfit since you mentioned it in this article. On the one hand it seems like good interval training or hard core cardio or something but have you seen how they do some movements??? A good example is the pull-up… its all momentum and no strength. Look up cross fit fails on youtube, its hilarious.
Really interested to hear your opinion? Surely if all you did was crossfit you would be tired all the time just like if you lifted like a bodybuilder?
Perhaps it would be beneficial to do say once a week but not 4 times a week… i dunno.

Svevo November 27, 2012 at 9:11 am

Often “Gym Body” are disproportionate and not functional (and i don’t like isolation exercises, split routines, bulk and cut, “mirror muscles” and “bigger is better” approach). It’s all about proportions. I think focusing on full body workouts, compound exercises and hiit cardio is the best way to build athletic, fit, strong and good looking body.

mrapollocreedjr March 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Crossfit sucks. After the 1st session a lot quit. Or they either kick it to the curb. Amateurs starting out on advanced level. Cmon! I say take it easy.I got the lean v shape torso broaad shoulders shieldlike chest but I’m also aiming for the bulky look along with it. I mean, seriously its like a defense mechanism also. There can only be one lion in the room. At the end of the day who would you give it to in real life. Rey mysterio or batista!?!

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