When I first started telling people I was writing a blog about style and fitness, confusion was probably the most polite reaction I received.
“What do style and fitness have in common?” they would ask with a crooked expression.
I've always thought that they have everything in common, so I didn't really see the disconnect.
Both are about feeling great and presenting the best possible version of yourself.
Both take dedication, discipline, and desire to achieve.
Browse through any popular men's magazine and you'll find the majority of pages are dedicated to one or the other.
So to me, building a body and dressing it well seem inseparable.
But they can also work against each other
It's entirely possible to be so into either building the ultimate body or dressing in high fashion clothing that both goals simply cannot coexist.
For example, if a man is immersed in fashion and obsessed with wearing runway-inspired looks, he'll likely be unmotivated to put on muscle and may even be terrified of changing sizes and “sizing out” of his meticulously curated and expensive wardrobe.
He may go too far in wanting to look “slim” and end up with an androgynous physique.
Likewise, a man with his heart and soul focused on building the most massive body possible will undoubtedly appear very masculine, but will also find it challenging to shop off-the-rack.
He'll also have to all but rule out dressing in a sleek, modern, and sophisticated manner.
For myself, at 200 lbs, my thighs rubbed together so bad that I would wear through several pants during the colder months.
While it felt really awesome to have beastly legs and squatting heavy weights was a blast, the extra mass didn't support the rest of my goals.
I saw my future of investing in a respectable suit wardrobe only to ruin every pair of pants.
So over the past six months, I've been working strategically to slim my legs down to a more normal size.
You can see that my legs are still strong and defined, but now they aren't as much of a barrier for me when shopping for clothes.
What is an aesthetic physique?
Men's magazines portray athletically built guys who appear healthy, successful, and energetic.
They have low body fat, a prominent V-taper, and above average muscle mass, but they aren't exactly massive or shredded.
Why don't they just keep lifting and eating until they're bursting the sleeves of an XL tee?
Because for the majority of guys, being fit enough to look good at the beach, attract women, and fit into sleek modern clothing trumps the desire to be the biggest guy on the block.
This intersection of muscular and lean is the calling card of an aesthetic physique.
An aesthetic physique will look almost normal in clothes, but when the shirt comes off, all the definition and musculature becomes prominent despite the lack of sheer size.
My aesthetic physique efforts
I've definitely been obsessed with gaining as much mass as possible in the past (it's hard to not want to be like Arnold), but eventually, it hindered my life more than it enhanced it.
I love the training, enthusiastic eating, and discipline necessary to build muscle, but now I've shifted my focus to achieving an aesthetic physique that works with my wardrobe.
I'm an ectomorph and, had I ever been truly lean at my natural level of muscle mass, would've been around 150 lbs at 6'2”.
The handful of times I've been up to 200 lbs, I had a really hard time finding stylish clothes that fit, and normal activities felt more taxing.
That extra 50 lbs of bodyweight just didn't feel quite right on me.
I'm much happier now at a leaner 185 lbs.
That's still plenty big enough to stand out in a crowd while also being able to wear the kind of clothes I want.
I used to be 200 lbs of chewed bubblegum (as a rather large guy who couldn't even do a single pushup).
Besides being chubby and weak, I felt overwhelmingly self-conscious in my clothes.
So believe me when I say that an aesthetic physique does not come naturally or easily to me.
I've had to work for it and I assure you that you have to ability to achieve the same.
When it comes to your appearance, you can't change your height, you don't have control over your ethnicity, and you don't get to choose your bone structure.
But with effort, you CAN control two things – your body fat levels and your muscular development.
Manipulating these variables can have a significant impact on the way your clothes look and feel.
It makes complete sense to me to want to dress a hard-won physique to the best of your ability.
I don't see the point in hammering away in the gym and passing on birthday cake at parties only to spend my leisure time wearing sweats from head to toe.
Likewise, I can't see why a man would put a tremendous amount of effort into being well-dressed, only to completely neglect the body underneath.
How can an aesthetic physique help with style?
With enough thought and effort, men with any body type can be extremely well-dressed.
But dressing an unfit physique does require a lot more effort, as well as cost you in the health department over the long-run.
Here are the benefits of developing the body to complement your impeccable style.
Tell a story about your personality
Much in the way we don a fitted suit, an ironed shirt, and an attention-grabbing tie to project the image of power, trustworthiness, and success, a trim waistline and broad shoulders send a similar message.
I remember walking into a business class my freshman year of college (when I was still dressing like a tween) and seeing a young man who definitely stood out in a crowd of college kids.
He was carrying around about 15-20 lbs of above average muscle mass, had a sharp haircut, and was wearing a fitted polo to show off his aesthetic physique.
I immediately started to formulate ideas about his intelligence level, work ethic, and academic achievements.
“If we have to choose partners for a project, this guy has to be on my team,” I thought to myself.
Luckily, we weren't doing group work because the guy turned out to be slacker with head a full of sawdust and only managed to make it to class for a couple weeks before quitting altogether.
This experience stands out to me because, despite a lack of any real academic talent, this guy had fooled me (and likely everyone else) into thinking he was the smartest kid in class.
Just think what you can do with a well-dressed, aesthetic physique, and the brains and personality to back it up.
Find a better fit off-the-rack
Pretty much anyone concerned with having a proper fit is going to have issues with mass-produced clothing.
But being overly skinny or carrying too much body fat can make it that much more difficult to easily find clothes that fit.
Pursuing an aesthetic physique by gaining just a few pounds of muscle and/or losing a little body fat can help the average man achieve better proportions that allow for a more universal fit.
Now I'm all for having core pieces tailored to fit perfectly, but sometimes you just want to buy a shirt or jacket and have it fit without alterations, especially if you enjoy frequently purchasing new clothes.
When I was first dabbling in reinventing my style, I had the dreaded Skinny/Fat body.
With close to a 40-inch waist with 13-inch spaghetti arms (when flexed), I had the antithesis of an aesthetic physique.
This meant that I had to wear shirts large enough to cover my mid-section, but that sizing up meant my arms were dwarfed.
Even just losing the excess body fat before building muscle allowed me to size down in clothes to achieve a better overall fit.
If that hadn't worked, I was seriously considering having the sleeves on all my t-shirts tailored, haha.
Allow you to dress more simply
It isn't fair, but people are making judgements about your character based on your fitness level.
Pair a little extra weight around the middle with jeans and a tee and people might mistake your deliberate laid-back look as a lack of effort.
When you take control of your body and make improvements, you'll find that you need to focus much less on “dressing up” to make a good impression.
A man with an aesthetic physique can look plenty elegant in a v-neck sweater, while his less fit peers may feel the need to pair that sweater with a button down and sport coat to achieve a high status look.
Casual clothing in particular will look much better once you've built some muscle and minimized body fat.
Most casual clothing has a rugged element and pairs well with a physique that looks like it can handle a day of manual labor, even if sprinting to catch a train is the most activity you see outside of the gym.
Increase confidence to wear what you want
When you feel good about the body (and the man) underneath, the clothes become less about covering up and more about having fun.
When guys are underwhelmed with their physical appearance, they can develop a tendency to want to blend in with the crowd, or to merely dress appropriately.
The guy who's worked hard to create a body he's proud of isn't afraid to wear something a little “out there” if that's what he genuinely likes.
Receiving a little extra attention and attracting additional glances isn't anything to fear when you're proud of who you are.
This confidence comes not only from your new outward appearance, but from a deep level of satisfaction with the creation process.
When your posture improves, your body and, by extension, the clothes you put on it, look their best.
The improved posture that comes from building your body is two-fold.
Rather than being constantly slumped over at your desk, spending some time “under the bar” forces you to practice good posture so your spine can safely brace against heavy loads.
Working hard on pulling exercises strengthens your back muscles and helps you keep your shoulder blades back and chest up.
The other pathway to improved posture is less about a physical change and more of a mental shift.
You'll find that you develop a habit of holding your head high while enjoying the pride that comes with a job well done and a hurdle tackled.
Nothing can beat a man who is in charge of himself.
Blueprint for an aesthetic physique
For some, fat loss will be the dominant goal.
Others will have to focus on the relentless pursuit of more muscle mass.
For others still, both tasks are important to produce an aesthetic physique.
When the end goal is to create a canvas for your sartorial musings, rather than a beastly and imposing body, training can be approached from a slightly different angle.
You don't need to specifically concern yourself with impressive max lifts and tape-stretching thigh measurements.
Your benchmark is going to be how your body and clothes work together to create a strong, healthy, and capable appearance.
Focus on what's most effective
While many bodybuilders and strength trainers (myself included) get a real kick out of spending six days per week in the gym trying a variety of exercises, techniques, and programs, guys looking to make style-supporting changes need only focus on the basics.
The newest technique or workout plan may be fun for some, but training beyond three or four days per week on anything except classic bodybuilding exercises will ensure you see diminishing returns.
You may still see additional benefits, but doubling your gym time won't double your results.
Keep focused on the things that really matter.
Three part formula of an aesthetic physique
To build a body that looks strong and muscular and acts as the perfect foundation, rather than an obstacle, for a killer wardrobe, you need to:
- Decrease body fat to around 10-15%
- Build a base of overall muscle (i.e. increase lean body mass by around 10%)
- Add additional muscle to arms and shoulders
1. Low body fat
The images above were taken one week apart. If you saw me walking down the street dressed as I am in the first photo, “bodybuilder” would probably be the last word that would occur to you.
You might think “fit”, “athletic”, or maybe even “lucky”, but “behemoth” wouldn't be anywhere in your mind.
You can see that maintaining a low body fat level allows you to have a muscular body, while skipping the need to wear XXL everything.
I've spent the last 8 months or so slimming down to achieve an aesthetic physique and can now fit into the types of clothes I like to wear.
The sweater above is a medium from Banana Republic and the pants are a size 32 x 32 (hardly abnormal sizes).
Having low body fat, but not necessarily being shredded, will allow you to wear the slim fit clothes you want while still having a decent amount of muscle.
2. A muscular base
To create a more aesthetic physique, nearly every guy could use more muscle mass.
Even if your main goal is fat loss, don't forget that you need something to show off when you get lean.
I forget who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is: “Worrying about building too much muscle makes as much sense as worrying about making too much money.”
It's a non-issue for most men.
And if you're overall muscle mass isn't where you want it to be, putting in some hard work on heavy compound movements is the quickest route.
Your physique goals may not be as far off as you think.
Adding around 15 lbs of muscle to your frame (or increasing your lean body mass by about 10%) is enough to get everyone around you to start asking, “are you a personal trainer?” or “what have you been eating?!”
When I went from a fairly lean 170 lbs to a slightly leaner 185 lbs, everyone noticed a difference!
And that was spread out over my 6'2” frame. If you're shorter, you can likely achieve the same results with less overall muscle mass.
3. Embellished proportions
While being truly massive is a sure-fire way to look more muscular, it isn't the only path.
Having a significant V-taper creates the illusion of having more muscle than you actually do.
Having a big chest and back definitely helps, but they'll also make shirts and jackets harder to fit.
On the other hand, building up the shoulders adds width to the frame without doing much to change your actual clothing size.
To achieve a better ratio between shoulders and waist, there's no need to focus exclusively on adding mass.
Working off inches from your midsection will have the same effect as adding bulk to your upper body.
Pumping up a pair of larger than normal arms will also give you a much more aesthetic physique, without the size altering bulk.
And when the time comes to take your shirt off, having lower body fat actually makes you look larger, provided you didn't lose muscle mass by crash dieting.
After my daughter was born 9 months ago, I had to start working out at 6 am rather than noon.
Now when I do go in at my old time, the midday regulars swear up and down that I'm bigger since the last time they saw me – even though I'm actually 15 lbs lighter!
It's time for action
So am I telling you that you have to develop a runway model physique?
The point I'm trying to make is that guys have often been misled in what they think they need to accomplish in order to have a respectable physique.
They've been told they need to be huge. They've been told they need to be shredded. But the real ideal for most is to simply have an aesthetic physique.
They want broad shoulders, a solid chest, muscular arms, and visible abs.
Truly, an aesthetic physique aligns best with the things that most men desire – a dense, muscular, balanced-looking body, a platform for sharp clothing, and an appearance that's attractive to women.
But I hear beginners all the time talking of plans to gain 60 lbs of muscle to accomplish these goals.
The fact is, they could probably achieve the same showman's body with only a third of the gains (and time) as long as they keep their body fat percentage low.
And just because I'm setting the bar at a more reasonable level, it doesn't mean it's going to be an easy task.
Mother Nature is lazy, your body may be a stubborn bitch, and it's going to take sweat and determination to force a physical change.
But it can be done.
So reset your focus to achieve an aesthetic physique and watch your style and body goals come together in the best possible way!
All the best,