Frequently Asked Questions
“How can I look like George St. Pierre?”
“How about getting a body like that Chinese weightlifter, Lu Xiaojun?”
“I want to look like The Rock. Where do I start?”
The answer: Get the same parents, train like a madman for 15-20 years, and eat a muscle-building diet without getting fat.
Really, you can’t train to look like somebody unless you have similar genetics. And you can’t get the body of someone who’s been training hard, with a purpose, for a decade without putting in the time yourself.
You can affect the way your body will look with training and nutrition, of course. But genetics determine the end product.
A St. Bernard will always be a St. Bernard no matter what he does. He’ll never become a Greyhound regardless of how hard he tries.
Training and Body Types
Granted, someone who trains for marathons won’t build the same body as someone who does powerlifting. But within the realm of lifting, the type of training you do won’t have as much of an impact on the look you develop as your genetics.
You can absolutely increase the size of your muscles and get leaner through training. You can develop certain muscles more than others, but even that has some limitations.
Once you’re past the beginner stage, adding seven pounds of solid muscle tissue in a year is pretty darn good. And you’d only get it if you train your whole body, which means the muscle you gain will be proportionately distributed across your whole body too.
You won’t be able to add five pounds to your chest and two pounds on the rest of your body.
So while you can make small changes in the proportions of your muscles, the muscle dominance you’re born to have will likely stay with you. You’ll keep your genetic proportions. Your style of training just won’t do much to change those proportions.
The way your body looks is a function of your structure – torso vs. limb length, clavicle and hip width, joint size, your muscle shape – which can’t be changed to a significant extent.
Through training and diet you can add muscle, get leaner, and slowly work on improving muscle balance. But that’s pretty much it. This means that you can drastically improve how you look, but you don’t have total control over the end result.
Dorian Yates Vs. Lee Labrada
Both were world-class bodybuilders. Dorian was a mass monster who could walk through a brick wall; Labrada had the typical aesthetic body. One was 255 pounds on a thick 5’9″ body. The other was about 175 pounds on a 5’6″ body with a small waist.
Dorian was known for looking like a rock, but didn’t have great muscle separation. Labrada had deep separation between all muscle groups and profound striations.
You might assume that their training would be opposite to one another. But it wasn’t. They both used HIT-style, heavy duty training which focused on low volume, heavy weights, and low frequency.
Look at Mark Dugdale. Mark has always had my favorite bodybuilding physique. I’ve been following him since the year before he turned pro.
Mark made solid changes throughout the years. He gained muscle and got leaner. He’s a better version of himself, but he still has the same type of physique.
And you know what’s interesting? Mark started out training like Dorian and Lee: HIT training.
He did that for at least ten years, then switched to high-volume pump work and eventually he started adding more functional stuff like the Prowler and loaded carries.
He improved, but despite drastically different training styles he maintained the same type of look.
What About Linebackers?
You like how linebackers and running backs look?
That’s the result of training for years on the big basic lifts, getting very strong at them, then doing plenty of assistance work for some individual muscles to prevent injury and gain more muscle.
They’ve also been doing a lot of running and agility work – sprints and different varieties of conditioning – for years. This allowed them to get lean and stay lean while eating enough food to fuel the muscle-building process.
They also use a full range of motion on exercises plus mobility work to stay loose. This made them walk like athletes, not like blocks of muscle. This also has an influence on the “look” you project.
Bottom line: They built muscle, stayed lean, and kept mobile.
You have thousands of high-level running backs and linebackers in the nation (college and pro). They all do the same things year in and year out, but they don’t all look the same.
CrossFitters and Their “Look”
I work with a lot of serious CrossFitters. People love the look of the top CrossFit Games competitors, but what is the CrossFit look? Go to a competition and nobody looks the same!
I train two high-level competitors, training partners, who do the exact same programs, and they couldn’t look more different.
What all CrossFit competitors have in common is a decent amount of overall muscle mass while being lean.
Again: Add muscle, get leaner.
What CrossFit does is make people go hard at it – not always in a smart way, but they learn to push themselves very hard and that helps them get results.
The Best Version of You
The intensity, discipline, and hard-headedness you have in training will determine just how much muscle you’ll gain, and how lean you’re capable of getting.
The way you train can have a minor impact on the type of look you have by overemphasizing certain muscles. But if your training is logical and complete, the muscles that will appear dominant are those naturally better at developing.
But there is one thing that different types of training can do for you: they can get you motivated.
If you find a type of training that fits your psychological profile, or if you’re convinced that a certain program will work for you, it’ll get you more amped up to train hard. As a result you’ll be more likely to love the results you’ll get.
Train to get strong, powerful, have good capacity, and get lean. The end product will simply be the best version of you. And the harder you work at it, the greater changes you’ll stimulate.