Which is most important, training your physique or training your ability?

Matt Palfrey

Kevin Archibald asks,

“Where do you stand on physique versus ability?  Do the two go hand in hand and can training for physique give you the ability you want and vice versa?”

The area of physique (aesthetic) enhancement and performance is always the source of much debate, not helped by the fact that there is a huge amount of seemingly contradictory information available. The key thing to remember here is that while you’re likely to achieve what you focus on, it is entirely possible to achieve multiple things at the same time. What is perhaps more important is whether your pursuit of one goal is harming your attainment of another.

If you decide to devote all of your training time, and energy, to how you look then the chances are that your potential performance will suffer. And potential is the important word because you might never know what you could have achieved otherwise.

It is also important to try and quantify what a ‘good’ physique means to the individual. Is it low general body-fat? Visible abdominal muscles? Large muscles? Small muscles? There are many different variables and many different opinions. You should also consider that it can be entirely possible to achieve what many deem a good physique without specifically training for it. For example, low body fat can be achieved quite simply through a suitable diet and regular training.

Physique athletes and bodybuilders probably have the most aesthetic focused goals of any sportspeople, whether you think they look good or not. Most true bodybuilders that I know place appearance above all else and there is no shortage of stories where the extreme pursuit of this has ended badly. It can become all encompassing to the point that every waking moment is devoted to preparing for the next big competition. All that dieting can, and often does, have an adverse effect on performance.

While many martial artists look at this process with disdain it is actually becoming increasingly common in combat sports. If you compete at a high level in weight-class controlled sports like Wrestling, Judo, Boxing, Karate or MMA then you are at a distinct disadvantage if you choose not to cut weight before a competition. It is now fairly common to see the impact of severe weight cuts during professional combat competitions. While the weight cut is aimed at performance, the actuality is that it can be harmful to performance – it’s a good example of how certain training variables can be skewed and we see elements of various approaches contradicting one another.

The greatest advice I can give anyone pondering this question is to qualify each and every element of your training programme – ask yourself “why am I doing this?”. If the majority of those elements are there for performance improvement you can’t go far wrong. Likewise, if most of what you do is aimed at looking great in your underwear then you many find yourself falling short when it comes to performance.


By Matt Palfrey

Author Bio 

Matt Palfrey is a strength and conditioning coach, author, blogger, Health and Wellbeing Advisor for BMI Healthcare and the founder of a number of health and fitness brands. He has a particular fondness for sandbag training – the low tech, high results training method.  He has kindly agreed to support Bushido Hombu with his knowledge by way of regular blog posts based upon questions that we raise, so feel free to contact Kevin Archibald if you have some specific questions.

You can find him blogging at www.sandbagfitness.blogspot.com or at www.sandbagfitnessstore.com

You might also be interested in checking out his book Sandbag Training For MMA & Combat Sports


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