The insatiable search and hunger for the perfect body is perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of the fitness boom. We all have the image of that perfect body that we see on magazine covers, in fashion or cosmetic advertisements, walking down model or red carpet runways and walking down the street on any given day. With a lot of work, a select few of us might even be able to achieve that look. However, for the majority of individuals exercising regularly or just starting a new exercise program, achieving an exact replica of that look is impossible.
What is the perfect body? Without sounding glib, the perfect body is individual and it really does come from within. It is a feeling and a look that comes from being in shape and taking care of your body. It is not the magical transformation of a body that is born short and wide into a body that is tall and lean. Bone density, fat retention and genetics play large roles in how our bodies are shaped. Thus, "perfect" is truly unique to each of us. Our definition should never be more than, "The ideal combination of fitness and physique for my body type." Because if it is, you risk health problems.
Fifteen years ago, the parent of a young athlete came and asked me to make her daughter's legs and muscles long and lean. I took one look at the girl and saw a two-fold problem. The daughter was in a sport that required lots of power and strength, hence strong thighs and gluteal muscles (e.g. big thighs and hips). This, along with family genetics that assured she would never stand much more than 5 feet tall, led me to one conclusion: she would never have long muscles or long legs.
More troubling, and the basis for a different conversation, this mother made this request with her daughter in the room.
Such desires and requests for a total body transformation are not rare. Further, some exercise practitioners even suggest that their approach can make your muscles longer, thereby giving you that sleek fashion model or dancer look.
Imagine an exercise program that will lengthen your muscles. Do you know that the origin (starting point of your muscles) is fixed for life? Do you know that the insertion (the ending point of your muscles) is fixed for life? This means that your muscles are permanently attached in two places by tendons to your bones. How can your muscles get longer with an exercise program?
The simple answer: they can't. What happens with movement is that your muscles contract and lengthen within their given and permanent length. The muscle fibers slide back and forth, causing movement. Certain routines (power and strength) make your muscles bigger. Other routines, such as endurance training, make your muscles smaller, not longer. While either of these two routines can influence the size of your muscles, if you can still open your joints to normal full extension, then your muscles did not grow shorter. Nor did they get any longer.
People who have long and lean bodies have been given the DNA for longer bones and the corresponding longer muscles. Within this basic body structure, they can develop their fitness and muscle tone and corresponding appearance. Their workout routines did not give them long muscles. They are lean because their body fat is low and their muscles are long because their bones are long. If they choose to exercise regularly, they can build up their muscles to various degrees of thickness (hypertrophy). How big their muscles get depends on diet, type of exercise and DNA.
Fitness and health is good for everyone and for every body. Within each body, it is possible to develop muscle tone, lose body fat, look good and feel good. The glowing, healthy look that one exudes when walking into the room comes from being committed to exercise and living a healthy lifestyle. In order to achieve the look and feeling that you want, focus only on yourself and your personal health and fitness. Do not compare your body to those found in any magazine or on any poster. Your quest should be a distinctly personal undertaking, beginning with the body and focusing on an exercise program that leaves you feeling good - and healthy.