Saturday, March 28, 2009

Performance Based vs. Appearance Based--an opinion

What is your underlying reason to work out? Lately I’ve been thinking about my reason. For nearly two years I have been working out at a gym several times a week. I’m pretty certain that my original motivation to “get in shape” was appearance based. At some point, very early on in the process, that changed. I don’t know if it was my trainer, Jason, or if it was just the general CrossFit attitude, but regardless of my own personal intentions, the focus of the workouts was always to improve. To progress. Was this attitude of progress focused on improving appearance? No. The improvement was focused on everything BUT appearance, i.e. better overall health, increased strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and endurance. In other words, what you do in the gym should transfer to all other areas of your life. And guess what? Improved appearance just kind of happens.

I believe that focusing your efforts on performance instead of appearance is much healthier. While both endeavors have seemingly no end, the focus on appearance is so defeating. For instance, I will never have long legs or be curvy, and I am never going to get any younger. Chasing appearance could truly take over hours that are of much better use otherwise. Basing my workouts on performance, however, forces my body to become its best. To continually improve performance, my body has to become leaner, stronger, and more flexible. We come in all different shapes and sizes and all have different areas of strengths and weaknesses, but by doing workouts that routinely challenge your body in constantly varied ways, your body will just naturally attempt to adapt itself to perform better. Your body will become the best that it can be, and I believe this will make your appearance the best that it can be.

So, if your reason for working out is strictly for appearance, I encourage you to redirect your efforts towards performance. Most of our workouts are totally measurable. That is why we keep track of past efforts. You can improve your time, the amount of weight lifted, the distance you ran and the number of reps you completed. You can improve by going from counter-top push-ups to knee push-ups to regular push-ups. You will want your performance to improve because you will want to jump higher, run faster, lift more. You will want to be able to climb that mountain with your family and feel great, you will want to work in your garden and not get sore legs from all the up and down, you will want to go skiing for the first time in 10 years and not want to quit after ½ a day. The workouts you do in the gym should carry over to the “workout” that is the rest of your life! I don’t think that watching yourself in the mirror performing bicep curls (a strictly appearance based exercise) will have that kind of carry over.

I can almost guarantee you that if you are pushing toward better performance, you will naturally want to improve your diet. You may see improvements in the beginning without changing your diet, but to continue getting the “high” you feel from improving performance, you’ll have to clean up your diet. Again, you are not changing your diet necessarily for appearance reasons, you are changing your diet for performance reasons. To me, this is a much healthier direction of efforts. We all know the perils that can come of eating (or not eating) to improve appearance. However, if you are eating to perform better, you will be eating a diet that is healthy for your body. You know that you feel better during workouts if you have been eating a healthy diet. You know that eating junk makes you feel terrible during workouts…so, you’ll start wanting to eat healthier. Obviously, there is a carry over into the rest of your life. Your body functions better for workouts, yes. But it also functions better for life. Among other things, you will be sick less frequently and you will have much more energy. For me, everything just feels clearer. I enjoy things more. I believe that much of your outward appearance is a reflection of your inward feeling.

So you see, chasing performance will give you the best of everything. Your body will become a healthier and more efficient vessel, and improved appearance cannot help but follow.


  1. GREAT ARTICLE, Laura! I totally agree with everything you said. I've learned over the last year that redirecting my thinking (goals) has taken the burden off of expending energy to "look better". As I age, that goal gets more elusive and unmeasurable. It's very empowering to watch your physical strength/performance improve, which, as you said, improves your inner strength and attitude also. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

  2. Finally someone put words to my thoughts. I agree, and am pretty sure it's a direct result of crossfit.

    The first time I realized how much my outlook on food had changed was the day someone tried to get me to eat birthday cake about 16 hours before Fight Gone Bad was going to take place. I'm like "no thanks". "It's one piece you won't get fat." Hmmm that's not what I was worried about.

    It's funny because the "looks" become the side effect. Someone you haven't seen in a while will ask how much weight you've lost and all you want to do is tell them about your clean and jerk PR or doing Helen as prescribed. When you're trying to meet a certain appearance standard it's never enough. You can always lose 'a few more pounds'. When it's 'a few more pounds' added to your deadlift or a few seconds off your 400m run time it's a good thing that you keep striving for more.

    Excellent article girl.