in: Fitness, Health & Fitness

• Last updated: June 6, 2021

There’s More to Life Than Six Pack Abs

Group of men showing six pack portrait.

Men’s magazines are filled with exercise and workout routines designed to give you a chiseled physique. The glossy ads in the magazine showcase the desired result of all this work: a chiseled and ripped body. But what is the end goal of the pursuit of all this muscle? Some men work out for the health benefits, for pleasure, and to generally stay in shape. This is reasonable and desirable. Every man should want to be fit and healthy. But some men develop an unhealthy obsession with getting a ripped physique. Steroid use has become common, not just for athletes, but also for average joes who don’t want to be so average. But to what end? To attract the ladies? To meet some idealized image of the male body? Such a pursuit is a huge waste of time. Here are some reasons why:

Huge muscles are not as attractive to women as you may think

While there’s no denying the fact that women view a man’s ripped physique as a sweet bonus, it’s rarely, if ever, a deal breaker. The women I have known in my life have been far more focused on a man’s personality, sense of humor, decency, confidence, and ambition, than whether he had six packs abs. Research studies have born this out.

Several years ago, psychiatrists at the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory gave a computerized test to college students in the US, France, and Austria. The men could choose from 10 different layers of fat and 10 different layers of muscle to create what they believed was the most attractive body type to women. The study found that men consistently layered on more muscle than women actually preferred.

A follow-up study had similar results. Compared to Taiwanese men, Western men greatly overestimated how much muscle is desirable to women. The men were asked to choose the body type which they thought was most attractive to women. They overwhelming chose a physique with 20-30 lbs more muscle than average. But when women were asked to choose the body type they found most appealing, they chose the average one.

Why is there such a disconnect between what women want and what men think they want? Interestingly, one reason the study posited on why Taiwanese men don’t desire huge muscles the way Western men do, is that women and men have more parity in the West than in Asia. Harrison Pope, whose lab headed up the studies, said, “Nowadays, women can do almost anything that a man can do with one exception: They can’t bench press 315 pounds, no matter what the Supreme Court says. It may be a last refuge of masculinity for some men in the West.” Hopefully, reading this blog has convinced you that there are more avenues to being a man than how much weight you can squat. Spend your time developing truly manly traits, not your pecs.

Avoid being a dupe of the media

Of course another reason men are increasingly making a ripped physique their goal, are the images constantly being pushed by the media. In the 1950s, only 3% of print advertisements showed men undressed. Today it has risen to more than 35%. While many men believe themselves immune from the effect of such images, they are unfortunately taking their toll. It has been estimated that about 45% of Western men are unhappy with their bodies to some degree, compared with only 15% some 25 years ago.

The problem is not so much the number of images, but the impossible standard of body type those images convey. The majority of men don’t have the genetic makeup to attain the bodies seen in magazines, and in trying to attain it they feel frustrated and inadequate. It’s not longer acceptable to simply be in shape, now a man should apparently want to look like Matthew McConaughey.

It wasn’t always so. The manly men of yesteryear like Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Cary Grant, and so on had normal, average physiques.

James Dean portrait.

James Dean. Average Body. Bad Ass.


Matthew McConaughey standing on beach.

Matthew McConaughey. Pretty Boy.

Batman outfit portrait.

1960s Batman. Average build, but still managed to defeat the Joker and have a career as the Mayor on Family Guy.

Michael Keaton in batman suit illustration.

When you have start putting abs on your Bat suit, you know you’ve been duped by the media.

John Wayne portrait.

The Duke didn’t have a six pack. Did that stop him beating the bad guy and getting the girl? Hell no, Pilgrim!

Obsessing about your physique gets in the way of your life

The other night I was tearing into a delicious burger at Red Robin when I looked over at a family sitting at an adjacent table. The whole family was chowing down except for the dad. This man, with his biceps and tree trunk neck bulging out of his t-shirt, was eating his two bunless, unadorned burger patties with a fork. He wouldn’t touch the fries. I felt sad for this man.

Attaining the kind of physique showcased in Men’s Health requires a man to organize his life around that goal. He spends many hours in the gym each week. He totes around Tupperware containers of chicken breasts and broccoli so he can eat “clean” every 3 hours. He even brings these to dinner parties, or avoids these parties altogether since they’ll tempt him to blow his diet. He avoids going on vacation and thus having to miss his workouts. And all for what exactly?

You lose focus on why exercise is truly important

Exercise offers a myriad of benefits: it can boost your brain power, help your heart, prevent Alzheimers, alleviate stress, and knock out your depression. But if the focus of your workouts is to add another inch to your bicep or to go down 1 percentage point in your body fat, you may one day burn out on exercise altogether. If you only workout to get ripped, then when you don’t see the results you were hoping for, or the results come too slowly, you may give up. The key to a lifetime love for exercise is finding deeper motivations than physical appearance.

Instead of concentrating on having six pack abs, focus on becoming “functionally fit.” What’s the point of fitness if it doesn’t help you in your everyday life? When are you going to have to press 400 lbs off your chest? If a car falls on you? Good luck with that. Keep your back strong so you can play with your kids. Keep your heart healthy so you can live into old age with your wife. Keep your muscles limber so you don’t pull something while running between gates at the airport. So keep your workouts simple. Find your local Cross-Fit, or stick with the basics, like running and the Holy Trinity of Fitness.

<Men fighting in the ufc ring.

UFC Fighters are good example of “functionally fit.” No six pack, but they have have the strength and stamina to kick your ass.


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