Mirror on the Wall

Body image is a topic that usually makes one think of teenaged girls starving themselves thin. But most people, no matter how old or young, have a feeling or image of the way their body should look. This image is composed of the actual view in the mirror combined with life experience, such as the image of our own younger/fitter/slimmer body, and the expectations of the way their body “should” look. This “should” comes from media images, parental influences, peers, past experiences or who knows what….

In my many years of fitness training I have noticed one common pattern among new fitness participants. Most newbies start a fitness program to “get healthy and fit” and to change a particular body part. Note the operative phrase here is particular body part. For example, it’s common for men to want to lose the fat roll around the mid section (“love handles”) and for women want to trim the hips.

Have you ever really observed other people in your gym? If you do, you will notice that there are a lot of men doing upper body and arm work and a lot of women doing lower body work. I recently prescribed outer and inner thigh (abductor/adductor) work to a client who was an experienced body builder. Yet he had never trained these muscles specifically because he felt these exercises “were for women”!

Yes, we’ve all heard for years that it’s impossible to “spot reduce” by exercising the body part, but emotionally this idea is hard to own…especially for newbies. I can’t tell you how many times I have given a person a weight training and aerobics style fitness program which is enthusiastically started but at the 1 month follow up it’s revealed that the exerciser has thrown out exercises that did not target the imagined problem area and replaced them with extra sets of the exercises that did.

Now, take that same newbie, get him or her working out regularly and systematically for about 6 months and you get the beginnings of real body transformation. What does this mean? It means different things to different people, but to me it means BALANCE…and balance is beautiful. A body system that is in balance moves better, stands straighter (this means looking better in your clothes), can be trusted to perform physical activities longer and better and is less likely to sustain injury. Yes, the person’s perceived “problem areas” change, but so do all the non-problem areas.

The most interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that with this body change, the newbie now truly enthusiastic about his or her changed body also has redefined goals and expectations of what it means to transform their body…and what a healthy body should look like. It’s very common to hear women clients say that they had no idea that their arms could be so attractive and shapely and for men to comment that they like having legs that aren’t so “skinny”. These very same women started out avoiding arm work because they only were thinking about slimmer hips.

After six months or so when new trainees start to see real differences, they talk about how they feel a real sense of accomplishment (it is hard work to get there no doubt about it!). They begin to formulate new fitness goals which are surprisingly different than the ones they started with. These folks have not only begun to transform their bodies, they have transformed their thinking. Their perception of their body, or body image, has become very different.

They KNOW they look good and feel good!