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

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…

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

  1. 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!


  2. Eric,

    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!


  3. 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!

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  5. what do you think is more effective for weight loss in my diet ? a low-carb day or an one meal warior day? i dont really make any serious progress in my diet although i eat really clean. and can i eat what i like in the night meal at a warior day- as long as it is does not get too junky?

  6. Karie,

    That sounds like a good plan of attack. I actually used to do a version of this a long time ago with a jump rope and it worked well. It is an advanced circuit routine which should burn fat like crazy. Let me know how it works!


    I lift 3-5 reps for chest as well. You must have read advice that I gave to a young guy needing to gain a bunch of mass. Thanks for the compliments about the site. Just trying my best to steer people in the right direction. You sound like the ideal weight for your height…good job.


    I do need to put that sensible mass routine up soon. Maybe tonight?


    I don’t like the idea of bulking up first at all. It does work, but makes you prone to gaining weight easier in the future. Also, you risk getting stretch marks and look bad when bulked up. Ryan Reynolds actually looks great in Blade 3. Even though he is muscular, it isn’t excessive. He could still wear normal clothes and he wasn’t ridiculously puffy or anything along those lines. I think his recent picture looks even better, because his abs aren’t as blocky.


  7. here’s a good example of what your website talks about. The transformation that Ryan Reynolds went through. He gained a ton of mass for the movie, when that was over he worked out way less and got smaller. He looks pretty good at the end of the article and I think you would approve.


    do you think people look better if they bulk up and then shrink down?

    Examples are Will Smith, Ryan Renolds, the Rock. I think the guys in this video you posted would look really good if they started hitting cardio and didnt try to gain muscle anymore. Imagine if they all lost about 50-75 lbs.

  8. hey rusty

    i’m not training for a specific sport, but rather just to get more athletic overall, but if it helps, it would be football and basketball mostly, sometimes soccer.

    also, looking forward to a post on a sensible mass building routine! do you think there is something i could tweak in my current routine [p90x] to get the best results?


  9. rusty omg cant believe I found your site but I had a few questions for you. I am 6 ft my weight is from 163-169. It fluctuates but stays around there. I have been lifting legs and lifting in the rep range of 12-15 and even though I had lost 10 to 15 lbs I still felt there was something off. After reading your articles its amazing I hope this technique will get my shoulders down. I have a body type that gains muscles so easily/ so you lift in the rep range of 3-5 for everybody part except chest which is 10-12 and dont lift legs. Now I do push pull workouts can I still do weighted pull ups and dips as long as there to 3-5 reps?
    Ps I love your take on nutrition its about the food consumed not number of meals…… you make great points

  10. Hi Rusty,
    Love this post. I wanted to know what you think of doing cardio inbetween weight sets. This is what i was thinking of doing:
    Monday: Full body weights
    Bent over row superset with squat, 5 min cardio with two 1 min sprints at minutes 2 and 4; shoulder press superset with lunges, 5 min cardio, bicep curl superset with tricep dips, 5 min cardio, some type of ab exercise, 5 min cardio. All the cardios have the sprints interspersed in them like what i explained in the first one. I lift 10-12 reps of each exercise for 3 sets. I would do a full body workout on wednesday and friday as well but choose different exercises. I don’t train chest b/c i just got implants and i hate the feel of them shifting around during chest training. Then on tuesday and thursday i would just do steady state cardio. Does this sound good?

  11. Joe,

    I typically like low reps for strength or circuit training type lifting with lighter weights (which is a great way to use weights to burn body fat and increase HGH like High Intensity Interval Training). I’m not a big fan of the medium rep range with rest in between like the typical bodybuilding routine. It is “sort of” training for strength, but not as good as training with low reps for strength…it is “sort of” a way to burn calories while lifting, but not as good as circuit training, HIIT, or cardio.

    The medium rep stuff is good for building mass, but doesn’t create the density that low reps create…or help you get lean like circuits.

    Here is a good post to read:

    A Circuit Training Routine That Actually Makes Sense!


    You are a maniac! A lot of you guys and girls who read this blog are in tremendous shape. Great job!

    First of all, I have great advice regarding your abs. Please read this article, because it will help flatten your abs and make them sleek without being too muscular:

    7 Minute Abs? 8 Minute Abs? What About 6 Minute Abs?

    To slim muscular legs down, you are going to want to back down a bit on the leg lifts and add a bit more cardio. It actually wouldn’t hurt for you to drop Day Two of Buns of Steel and do another round of Cardio Express. The main thing to remember when slimming down muscular legs is to avoid “the pump” as much as possible during this time. Running is great for the slim down process, but bicycling isn’t quite as good (it burns and pumps the legs up too much).

    I have to be honest…it sounds like you are in outstanding shape and you shouldn’t change much. Keep up the great work!


  12. p.s. I would like to say in addition to my last comment, that 103 is genuinely a healthy weight for me. I am a very thin frame, the most I have ever weighed is 136 lbs, and I was 9 months pregnant at the time with an 8 lb baby.

  13. hey Rusty! I need advice!!! There’s not too many who have the same mindset as you do so yor the only one I can think of to go to for the right kind of advice.

    I had noticed, last week, an 8 pack was starting to develop. I dont really want an 8-pack, so I cut my really long ab workout from being every day to only every 3 days. Today I looked in the mirror, and I have muscle protruding in the middle of my abs, I dont like the look. It almost looks like a gut. I still have a very nice waistline, always have, (except when I was pregnant, lol) And my quads, the muscles above my knees are a little too chunky looking I think. I am 103 lbs, 5’4, and all muscle and I’d like to look a little softer and smoother if you know what I mean. I am 34 and that seems harder to achieve now.

    Currently my workout is:

    Day 1: Buns Of Steel 3 with 3 lb dumbells and adding a stepbox to lunges, then 15 minute upper body with 5 lb dumbells. That is in the am. The Buns oF Steel video targets my glutes wicked good. My hips I am extremely happy with. I have those concaves on the sides of my butt cheeks and my hips have nice curves and lines. My butt has always been kinda overly on the bubble butt side. I think it looks almost too Betty Boopish. My butt is big no matter what I do or how thin I am. I cold starve and not exercise and my butt would still be big. It’s just the shape I have. So I try to target my glutes alot and at least keep them in an ideal condition. I am prone to cellulite on the hams, but have it 99% under control at the moment.

    Walk dogs 3 1/2 miles before bed.


    Day 2: Buns Of Steel 3 again, then 3 sets x 18 reps of stiff legged deadlifts.

    Walk dogs 3 1/2 miles before bed.


    Day 3: The Firm Better Body & Buns in the am. This workout has a killer ab routine. This video is a full body workout, I do this iwth 8 lb dumbells. This video probably has the least cardio effect of all the videos.

    Walk dogs 1 mile in evening, then do Cardio Express by The Firm. This workout is FAST moving, very heavy on cardio, and very little weight lifting. It is fun, fun, fun and I laugh at how fast it is!

    I was wondering about pilates? Do you have any suggesions? It must be a work out I can do at home. Al I have is a set of dumbells (3, 5, 8, and 10 lbs), my barbells for deadlifts, a high step box, and a low step box.


  14. hey rusty, hope you had a great time in puerto rico. i have a few questions for you if you dont mind. i know people say to build muscle you need to do heavy weight low reps, but what about moderate weight and high reps? im looking for something to hold onto my muscle and burn calories at the same time. is doing high reps with moderate weighs effective? im thinking of using this as my cardio too.

  15. Patrick,

    Good outlook on video games. Too many guys your age miss a lot of opportunities to meet great women by spending their spare time playing video games. Less competition for you 🙂


    I like to eat salads made with cut up chicken. I also eat fruits and veggies. If I need to drop weight, I limit the fruits a bit…although this isn’t often. As you have probably read before on the site…I really enjoy eating plenty of fruit. Especially super crisp Fuji apples! I prefer organic food, but I’m not ultra strict about this. I chose the organic stuff when it is an option.


    Good deal buddy! Having the sprinting background is going to help you a lot. You should go ahead and do exactly the routine you posted for a while. Get in superb shape and become a mad man at pullups and pushups. I’m going to recommend a slightly different rep range for you (I’m going to do a post on this soon). This is a way to build mass, without the overly pumped look. A lot of guys do want to add a bit of mass, which makes sense…as long as it isn’t excessive you do want some mass.

    Do 5 sets of 5 with 30 seconds of rest in between sets. Do as many sets of 5 as possible. Quit when you can’t do 5 good reps. This may only be 5 sets, but it could be 10 sets. This is a higher volume, but functional way to lift. It will be dens mass, not the puffy pumped up muscles. I hope that makes sense!

    Note: Asian guys look great when they are chiseled vs. too much muscle. There are a few asian guys in my apartment complex in their late 20’s with the ideal look…lean with a great sense of style. One of the guys looks like Jet Li…who in my opinion is a spectacular role model.


    His blog is outstanding! He is the guy a lot of the ‘newer’ fitness bloggers like me, look up to. You won’t hear much about him on the bodybuilding sites. You are going to experience a bigger and bigger separation between blogs like ours and the bodybuilding sites. The readers of these sites are an entirely different crowd from ours. Of course, I plan on converting as many people away from ‘the dark side’ as possible. Thanks for reading!


    What sport do you play, because I suggest different sprint-to-walking ratios depending upon the sport. As far as needing to add a bit of mass, I am going to do a post on a ‘sensible mass building routine’. I hinted at it to my comments to Pat above.

    As far as 5-6 meals per day, it isn’t necessarily wrong…it is just a tough plan to follow and isn’t the most natural way of eating. This way of eating is extremely effective for big male bodybuilders looking to put on a lot of mass. A 275 pound bodybuilder needs to add an very large amount of calories and protein each day to push their body to put on all that mass. This 5-6 meal per day works very well in this situation. They can eat normal meals of 500-700 calories.

    What about the 140 pound female looking to drop 20 pounds. If she eats 5-6 meals per day, that is 200-250 calorie meals. Eating meals this small is brutal. Worse than that, there isn’t a need for a constant supply of calories…unless she wants to add a lot of mass. In fact, if you want to drop weight…I think it is good for the body to be empty of food every once in a while and run off ‘body fat energy’ instead.

    Unfortunately a lot of the recommendations are based on very old studies. Want to read a new study?

    Brad Pilon did his Graduate Research on Intermittent Fasting. His graduate paper was titled: “The Metabolic Effects of Short Periods of Fasting in Humans and its Potential Application in Weight Loss”. The book Eat Stop Eat was an ebook based on the findings of his graduate research and this paper. It is outstanding with strong scientific backing and that is why I have no problem recommending it.

    Again…it isn’t that some of the traditional methods are wrong, but there are better alternatives. Also, some of the logic behinds these methods aren’t always correct.

    Thanks for reading, Yash. I appreciate the comments!



  16. thanks for the response on the other article. using your tips i’m going to try and gear my current fitness program toward a leaner look rather than to bulk up, even though i’d prefer a bit more size and then worry about definition afterward. would you say thats a good idea or should i go vice versa and get lean and then try to get size?

    regarding HIIT, will it also increase my sprint speed over time? because i’m looking to get into better shape not only for aesthetics but athletics as well. because i’ve never been the best player on the field and i’m looking to get picked a lil earlier than third to last when picking teams.

    i really appreciate all the information on this site and much of what you say makes sense to me as i am a science major and some of the stuff out there always struck me as a bit iffy, but my question is why does everyone say it if its wrong? this applies to things such as having 5-6 meals a day when as you said in one of your other articles, 2000 calories in a day is 2000 calories in a day. why is this wrong information so widely spread? thanks again for your help and attention to your readers!


  17. Great article as always Rusty and thanks for pointing me to Mark Sisson’s blog! Now if only the media would stop peddling the nonsense that ‘fat-free’ was the right way to diet.

  18. Hi Rusty,

    I just came across your website, and read a lot of your articles on the importance of getting stronger and more fit (vs. just getting big and like a “gym” rat), to have that natural, strong, fit, lean almost Hollywood look. Your advice is really great, and I’m totally sold!

    I was just wondering if I could please ask you for some advice though? I am a relatively still young Asian male, 5′ 7″, and about 145 lbs. I have a leaner body type, maybe even athletic, but right now I look very skinny and scrawny, to be honest, as I haven’t exercised much at all these days, except for the occasional run or jog. I used to be a running back in football (halfback) and a sprinter when I was in high school but that was like a decade ago.

    Do you have any tips for what I should be doing to get strong, and fit, to have that lean “Hollywood” look? I am way too small and scrawny, and look more like a kid or boy than I do a strong man. I was thinking of doing things like pushups, pullups, chinups (like you said), situps, with low reps and focusing on just getting stronger, five times per week. I get really bored lifting weights though, so don’t really want to do that. But I’d definitely like to do swimming as my cardio, if possible, because I enjoy swimming a lot, and would like to start doing freestyle for about 30 mins maybe three times per week. Does this sound like a good routine to start off with? Any other ideas?

    Thanks very much!


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