Why You Should Focus on Changing Shape, Not Size

By Trainer Andrew Leidal


Changing Shape, Not Size - The P.E. Club Extra Credit Blog, by Trainer Andrew Leidal

There’s a common misconception out there that to get the body you want, you have to become ever and ever smaller.  Do cardio to burn off that tummy fat!  Don’t eat those carbs or you’ll blow up!  Spin five times a week and you’ll have that perfect summer bod!

Any of these sound familiar?  They probably all do - and while there is some truth behind them (even though carbs don’t make you suddenly fat) - there is a lot of misinformation and emphasis place around restriction.  Skinny, skinny, skinny.  That’s become a new ideal.  But what if you don’t just want to be skinny?  What if you want toned abs, a nice butt, shapely legs, broad shoulders, muscular arms, a rippling back, or any combination of the above?  Attacking the cardio machines and avoiding carbs like they’re your worst enemies every day isn’t going to help you see those results. 

Side note: Don’t get me wrong - cardio and diet are vitally important to anyone’s workout routine.  Don’t ever neglect them.  But I’m here to talk about how you can change your SHAPE, not just your SIZE.

There are a few basic concepts we need to cover here first so that I can make myself understood.  The first is the difference between shape and size, which might seem obvious to some of you, but I’m going to cover that briefly anyway.  As stated above, there seems to be a general emphasis in the fitness industry on your size - meaning that men and women both should ever be getting either smaller, or bigger. 

Women...there is a huge amount of pressure for you to be as tiny as possible; to have the flattest stomach, the leanest legs, the ever-present thigh gap. 

Men...your chest can never be too big, your shoulders too broad, nor your arms too ripped. 

Right?  These cues are based around one thing - size.  Be bigger.  Be smaller.  Not all of us are going to be big or small, though.  Most of us are big in some places and small in others, comparatively speaking.  Most of us are perfectly happy with certain parts of ourselves while disliking others.  Well guess what - strength training can allow you to target specific areas of your body to help even you out proportionately. 

Want broader shoulders that are pulled back, not rounded forward?  Strengthen your back and shoulders to bring those things up and back.  Want a firmer butt?  Train your glutes to be strong to counteract all of that sitting that you do.  Train your core to help tighten your waist, which will only help to accentuate those curves that you’re working hard for (this is for men and women both - guys, women like nice butts too!).  Building muscle can help you to make adjustments to that “body that you’re born with” in ways that destroying yourself on the treadmill or bicycle six days a week can’t.  The idea is to grow, not to shrink.

Changing Shape, Not Size - The P.E. Club Extra Credit Blog - By Trainer Andrew Leidal

The second concept that I want to cover here is that of spot treatment.  We are told by sources that you can trim off that belly fat just by wrapping yourself in plastic, or that you can take away that pesky skin around your armpits by lifting two pound weights all day.  This is wrong.  Now, this may seem paradoxical to what I just told you in the previous paragraph, so let me go into more detail on this:

  • Muscle and body fat are two very different things that - although are inextricably linked - are targeted in very different ways.  Your body fat percentage, or BFP, is the primary factor behind looking either “soft” or “lean”.  This is a measure of the overall percentage of your bodyweight that is strictly fat and, despite what sources tell you, is nearly impossible to reduce one spot at a time. 
  • Body fat distributes itself relatively evenly across your body.  While there ARE certain areas where it will tend to sit more heavily on you than someone else, it does a pretty good job of making it all the way around your person.  So as you watch your diet, introduce more cardio into your system, and build muscle, your BFP will drop evenly across your entire body.  Sorry guys, can’t get rid of that tummy fat without getting rid of fat period.  This might be discouraging to some, but I would argue that you should feel ENcouraged by it, because your body is smart and will look better as a whole! 
  • With that said, there are certain areas where vestiges of fat will stubbornly remain after all else is gone.  Don’t stress - keep working hard.  Nobody said that this was easy.

You are stuck with the body that you were born with only to a certain degree. Strength training won't allow you to make the bones in your shoulder or hips smaller, but tightening your core with regular ab, oblique, and lower back work will make either of them look much more proportionate. Not everyone is born with a nice butt - but anyone can build one with hard work. You don't have to accept the fact that you can only get bigger or smaller, because this is simply not true. You can get bigger where you want and smaller where you want with just a little bit of knowledge, a plan, and the willpower to see it through to the end.  Your body is your piece of marble, and you can chisel it as you please.


It's time to make some big changes.  Get a headstart on your New Year's Resolutions...