If all aesthetic physiques are athletic, not all athletic physiques are aesthetic, and some physiques aren’t athletic or aesthetic, then what time did train A leaves Chicago for New York?
The aesthetic vs athletic body discussion isn’t that much of a brain-teaser or tongue twister, though there’s definitely tons of overlap between the two types of physiques.
Do you know which one better suits your lifestyle? Which is easier to maintain? Whether one is more conventionally attractive than the other?
How fast an Amtrak train can travel at rush hour?
We’ll answer all of those questions below.
Table of Contents
- What is an Aesthetic Body?
- 4 Benefits of an Aesthetic Body
- 2 Reasons Against an Aesthetic Body
- What is an Athletic Body?
- 3 Benefits of an Athletic Body
- 2 Reasons Against an Athletic Body
- Aesthetic Body vs. Athletic Body Conclusion
What is an Aesthetic Body?
Gen Z has already made “aesthetic” a mainstream adverb (“that’s aesthetically pleasing”), noun (“that’s an aesthetic”), an adjective (“that’s aesthetic”) without Urban Dictionary’s help.
But as if that’s not confusing enough, there’s an actual list of “aesthetics” for impressionable teens hoping to reinvent themselves. (Okay, what in the fresh hell is grandparentcore?)
So what is an aesthetic body?
Picture amateur or IFBB bodybuilders like Jeff Nippard or Sean Nalewanyj (“Nal”), and you have your answer. An aesthetic build is your traditional, lean bodybuilder’s physique with:
- Dense, well-defined, bulging, vascular muscles
- Sub-10% body fat
- Mountainous biceps and horseshoe-shaped triceps
- Rounded, capped deltoids
- A symmetrical build — left/right and upper/lower
- A narrow waist and wide V-taper
- Visible six-pack muscles and obliques
Unlike an athletic physique, sculpting an aesthetic build is all about appearances.
Those with aesthetic physiques are very particular about keeping body fat low, building as much mass as possible via resistance training, and loading up on supplements for a steeper edge.
While still brag-worthy, it doesn’t matter that your powerlifting total is 1,000+, your vertical jump record is 34”, or your real pull-up PR — sorry, CrossFitters — is 15.
What does matter … Does your physique turn heads? Are you a modern-day Adonis?
4 Benefits of an Aesthetic Body
1. It’s Mathematically More Attractive
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” — Motivational poster in an elementary school hallway.
But from Renaissance artwork to the actual Parthenon to Steve Reeves’ superhuman build, the human eye has a proven preference for symmetry and perfect proportions.
A truly “aesthetic” physique is the human embodiment of the so-called Golden Ratio (1:1.618); your shoulder circumference should be 1.618x larger than your waist.
In the bodybuilding world, the Golden Ratio later evolved into the Grecian Ideal, where:
- Your flexed upper arm is 2.5x the size of your wrist.
- Your flexed calf is the same size as your flexed upper arm.
- Your chest circumference is 6.5x the size of your wrist.
- Your upper leg circumference is 1.75x the size of your knee.
Some call it the Greek god physique because of its roots. The Father of Bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow, measured Grecian statues to build the perfectly proportioned god-like physique.
But if you’re still harping on the idea that women dig the dad bod these days, consider this: one study concluded that women preferred manlier waist-to-shoulder ratios for, uh, one-time-deals.
2. Aesthetic Muscle Can Also Be Functional
A lean physique might help you outsmart those brutal Tinder algorithms, where the odds are seemingly against men (1.1 matches for every 2.75 matches a woman receives, come on).
But you also don’t have to choose between an attractive physique to woo the ladies or a useful one to perform day-to-day tasks.
That’s because aesthetic physiques can also be functional.
In fact, a 2020 review detailed the supposed link between muscle size and strength, discovering that after 20–24 weeks of weight training, size increased by 7% while strength shot up 21%.
(Though, let’s make one thing clear: huge muscles won’t make you Hulk-level strong.)
So, where does the functionality bit come into play?
For one, boosting your training volume by just 10% can lower your risk of training-related injuries by 4%, according to a meta-analysis from 2018.
But the full-body strength and power you build via aesthetic training can also help with basic movements, like squatting to lift heavy boxes or pushing a door open.
You may not excel at 5Ks or regain the ability to touch your toes, but there is some transfer!
3. Men & Women Appreciate More Aesthetic Physiques
Now, here’s a fact that’ll sound completely unsurprising: men and women both appreciate more muscular male physiques, at least according to this 2019 study.
The study’s volunteers rated which muscles (in men) they found most attractive. The table below details how the responses differed between men and women:
But it gets even more interesting when you dig deeper (accidental Shaun T)!
When asked whether specific muscle groups impacted male attractiveness, men said “yes” more often than women for every group except the forearms, shoulders, and quadriceps.
Researchers went on to explain the potential source of this internalized pressure.
Part of the reason was attracting the opposite sex. Yet, societal expectations (like Hollywood and pro sports) and the likelihood of winning a throwdown played a role too.
4. It Can Deliver Health Benefits
It’s safe to say that amateur bodybuilders aren’t the most well-rounded athletes. Treadmills are strictly for five-minute warm-ups (if that), and “cardio ruins gains” in the locker room mantra.
But while their lack of endurance (and flexibility) could open the door to health issues in the future, the almost daily resistance training delivers a lifelong dose of health benefits.
An article published in 2012 described the health-related perks of lifting weights — as if you needed any justification! After just ten weeks of regular resistance training, participants:
- Boosted their resting metabolism by 7%
- Shed 1.8 kilograms of fat
- Gained 1.4 kilograms of muscle
- Increase bone density by 1–3%
On their own, none of these changes are exactly earth-shattering. Who cares if you can lose four pounds in 2 ½ months or slightly strengthen your bones?
But combined, these benefits can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weakened bones, lower back pain, and conditions like arthritis.
In a country where 60% of the adult population has a chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease, that aesthetic training might just add years to your lifespan.
2 Reasons Against an Aesthetic Body
1. Building/Maintaining It Can Wear You Down Psychologically
An aesthetic physique can improve your luck when dating, boost your confidence, and build healthy self-esteem. So then, how can it possibly endanger your psyche at the same time?
There’s no doubt it’s complicated. According to Psychology Today, about 10–15% of the population has an “addictive personality” (from drugs and gaming to dieting and running).
But obsessions are even more common amongst bodybuilders.
In fact, a disturbing study from 2018 revealed that — out of 120 bodybuilders — 67.5% were in “disordered eating” territory while 58.3% showed symptoms of muscle dysmorphia.
Will everyone with an aesthetic physique develop a binge-eating habit? Or train six hours a day to the point of rhabdomyolysis? Or eat, sleep, and breathe training? Probably not!
But the pressure to look bigger, train heavier, and eat smarter may become too much mentally. You may have trouble deciding when enough is enough.
2. The Gains Require Tons of Effort
If building an aesthetic physique was simple — think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dorian Yates — then we’d all have to walk through doorways sideways and buy tickets for two plane seats.
(Though, even those physiques aren’t exactly realistic without taking illegal shortcuts.)
But even sculpting an all-natty build like Jeff Nippard or Steve Cook requires a very specific approach in the gym and the kitchen. It’s no wonder so many guys decide to bail!
To put the sheer amount of time, effort, and costs into perspective:
- One study found that even in the off-season, novice bodybuilders keep a close eye on their diets. The dedicated few eat 1.6+g/kg protein, 0.5+g/kg fat, 3+g/kg carbohydrates, and 10–20% more calories to maintain their physiques.
- That same study also revealed just how common supplements are in the bodybuilding community. The most widespread supplements include protein (86%), creatine (68%), BCAAs (67%), glutamine (42%), and regular vitamins (40%).
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- The average bodybuilder will train 5–6 days per week with a high-volume routine in the offseason, with most gym sessions lasting between 45 and 90 minutes. Since gains lie in the hands of progressive overload, you’ll need access to typical gym equipment — a dumbbell set, a barbell and weight plates, a power rack, an adjustable bench, etc.
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Skipping a workout, not using creatine, or feasting at Applebee’s won’t be the end of your aesthetic body goals. But training will consume a considerable portion of your time and focus.
At a certain point, the lifestyle may become unsustainable.
What is an Athletic Body?
On OkCupid, anyone caught between “average” and “a little extra” is apparently “athletic.” (Next season on Catfish …) But athletic bodies are also more functional on the field, track, or court.
An athletic build is typically more muscular with less fat than the average person. That’s because the body adapts to the training, practice, and diet needed to succeed in that sport.
Of course, each sport and position has a stereotypical ideal physique.
For example, imagine the cliche cross-country runner beside a heavyweight wrestler. Or, if your glory days are well behind you, a casual runner, CrossFit athlete, or calisthenics fanatic.
To quote the modern-day philosopher, Daft Punk, an athletic body develops in an attempt to train and compete “harder, better, faster, stronger.”
While a bodybuilder may dip down to <7% body fat to win judges over, a wide receiver might cut down just enough during the pre-season to outrun opponents and record a <4.60 40-yard-dash.
But athletic physiques aren’t always intentional, either.
For instance, soccer players — who run upwards of seven miles per game — may accidentally sculpt washboard abs without a single set of core exercises (lucky bastards).
Overall, if you have an athletic physique, you look fit.
3 Benefits of an Athletic Body
1. Athletic Physiques Can Also Be Aesthetic
You can have a Greek god physique and still struggle to run 100 yards or perform dozens of push-ups. Meanwhile, athletic physiques have a distinct edge: they can also be attractive.
In fact, studies show that the body types of both bodybuilders and other athletes aren’t too different after all — at least at the muscular and fat level.
Research from 1993 analyzed the muscle mass of 75 competitive male athletes.
Bodybuilders did have the most muscle mass (65.1%). But track & field power athletes (62.7%), track & field long sprinters (61.7%), and basketball players (60.9%) weren’t too far behind.
Further research from 1983 honed in on the body fat aspect.
An aesthetic physique might require <10% body fat. However, this study reveals that boxers (6.9%), wrestlers (7.9%), and sprinters (6.5%) sit within the same “ideal” fat range.
There’s no denying that Mike Tyson, Kurt Angle, and Usain Bolt all had aesthetic builds. As it turns out, you might not have to decide between athletic or aesthetic.
2. Building One Is Less Superficial
The confidence gained from sculpting an aesthetic physique can completely uproot your life and launch you toward new opportunities, relationships, and milestones.
But that confidence can often spiral out of control and quickly cross the line into cockiness. As a result, those around you might assume that you’re either superficial, vain, or self-absorbed.
(And 69% of guys already rate their appearances as a 6 or higher.)
An athletic physique shifts the focus away from Instagram likes, Tinder matches, and making others envious. Instead, it’s all about reconfiguring your physique to perform better than ever!
You could still sculpt boulder shoulders and chisel away at a six-pack in the process. However, the appearance of your physique matters less than what it can actually do.
3. You’re Not a One-Trick Pony
Hobbyist bodybuilders certainly excel in a few areas; they’re more powerful, stronger, and muscular than the rest of us and average <10% body fat.
But give ‘em a simple task like an agility drill, box jump, or mile-run, and — suddenly — their athleticism and cockiness goes right out the window.
So the key benefit of an athletic body is that you’re an athlete at heart and on the exterior. Instead of improving just the health-related components of fitness via training:
- Body composition
- Muscular strength
- Cardiovascular endurance
- Muscular endurance
… you’re a pseudo-pro at many of the skill-related components, too:
- Reaction time
These are the same skills that allow medal-winning and powerhouse athletes like Simone Biles (gymnastics), Michael Phelps (swimming), and Mariel Zagunis (fencing) to exist.
However, these skills can also transfer over to your daily life (i.e., reaction time when a jerk at the bar throws a punch or power when sliding heavy furniture across the carpet).
They’re also easier to carry over from one activity to another. A former powerlifter may be a natural at rugby. And, an ex-baseball player may have hand-eye coordination for tennis.
All in all, you’re not a one-trick pony!
2 Reasons Against an Athletic Body
1. You May Be More Prone to Injury
About 56.6% of American children will participate in organized youth sports. But by the age of 15, about four in five will reach a point of burnout and hang up their gear for good.
Some hold onto their athletic prowess and continue at the collegiate or professional levels. Others join adult basketball, volleyball, softball, and flag football leagues to remain active.
So is training for an athletic body any more dangerous than standard resistance training?
Research from the Insurance Information Institute suggests that, in 2019, 250,747 Americans aged 25 to 64 suffered injuries during “exercise” (or at the hands of exercise equipment).
Yet, the odds of becoming injured during other activities could be even higher, especially if you enjoy variety in your workouts. The table below details some of the more injury-prone activities:
Will swinging on the monkey bars, shooting hoops, or swimming laps at the local YMCA increase your risk of injury in general? Not exactly.
But a 1994 review did find a link between how much exercise you do and your chances of becoming injured. More exercise increases those odds without necessarily boosting fitness.
With proper form, rest, and frequency, weightlifting could be safer.
2. Athletic Physiques Can Look Very Different
One of the biggest pitfalls of an athletic body is that — depending on your chosen sport or activity — you may not have complete control of the physique that ultimately develops.
Or, if you want to outperform your competitors and fluff your stats, you may have to intentionally build a physique that isn’t conventionally aesthetic.
A generic athletic physique is quite easy to point out; you can generally tell who trains and who spends their weekend binge-watching Game of Thrones while pounding back whiskey shots.
But athletic physiques can also differ from sport to sport and position to position:
- Legendary Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan stood at a lanky 6’6” and 216 in his prime, which allowed him to net 30.12 points per game.
- Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s highest-paid soccer players, is almost pure muscle, at 6’2”, 183 pounds, and 7% body fat.
- Former NFL lineman Nate Newton led his team to three Super Bowl victories during his tenure and was also one of the heaviest football players ever at 401 pounds.
- Long-distance runner Mo Farah is a scrawny and almost fat-free 5’9”, 128 pounds with a personal best 2:05:11 marathon time.
All four of these athletes were the face of their sport (or position) at one point or another. But it’s safe to say that they all look very, very different.
Aesthetic Body vs. Athletic Body Conclusion
Both aesthetic and athletic bodies can be conventionally attractive, boost confidence, and deliver lifelong health benefits.
Aesthetic physiques typically catch more attention and can be relatively functional. And athletic builds are less superficial while boosting your accolades in other physical activities.
But which one is best?
To be completely honest, a blend of the two.
A physique built through weightlifting, cardio, and functional training is ideal for aesthetics, longevity, and daily life.