There is a common cognitive bias that the type of activity will result in the body composition that you see (especially from the media).

When I ask my clients what they are looking for in terms of changes and objectives, clients usually mention in one form or another, that they want long, lean muscles; or to be very toned and not too bulky.  Like that of a swimmer’s body!  And then they would ask me if they should be swimming more to get that look because all the swimmers they see on tv is the body they want.

This is an example of a flawed causal relationship.  In other words, you have made a cause-and-effect relationship when in fact, it is only correlational.  The activity – let’s take swimming as an example, is the cause, and the effect is the sculpted and lean swimmer’s body.  Although, it would seem completely intuitive to believe that the swimming makes the swimmer to grow long and lean muscles, what is actually the case is that people who are genetically predisposed to have a swimmer’s body, does much better in swimming than someone who may be a bit stockier for example.

Let’s look at another example – basketball players.  Another common misconception is that parents who want their kids to grow taller will subject them to play basketball or volleyball because basketball and volleyball players are tall.  It must be that those sports naturally make you taller because of all the jumping and reaching up!  Could it simply be that the taller athletes will have a natural advantage over the shorter ones and excel over them (no pun intended!).  Through out the years of competition, the basketball players that have this height advantage will probably continue playing the sport as they have a higher success rate over the shorter ones and through the process of competition, the losers (shorter athletes) will lose interest and perhaps enjoy other activities where they will have an advantage in.  This explains why there aren’t that many Muggsy Bogues in the NBA and why he isn’t able to grow taller beyond his 1.6m frame despite all the basketball he’s played in his life.  From Dr. Doug McGuff and John Little’s book Body By Science (McGraw Hill, 2009); competition is accelerated evolution.

So back to the topic at hand – you want lean, long muscles and you think doing more stretches will help because we definitely don’t want to do weight training and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Well, perhaps now you can see why this logic really doesn’t hold up.

Unfortunately, a significant degree of how our body’s look is constrained by our genetic make-up.  The age old debate on nature v.s. nurture is definitely still prevalent and this is just one of those instances of it.  We have some control over how our bodies look and we can manipulate our diet and exercise program to play with those variables, but ultimately, our genes will dictate to what range we can control.

So for those of you who are scared of building muscles and doing strength training because you don’t want to look big and bulky, rest assured, that unless you have the genes to grow big, monstrous, Hulk-looking muscles, you probably will end up just being more toned – which is what you want anyways.


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