There seems to be a trend that those involved in strength training or strength sports should simply eat as much a possible to get stronger. That getting fat is part of the game and a sacrifice you have to make to be big and strong. And you know the extra fat improves leverage or something like that. Worrying about your abs or physique is pretty boy bodybuilding crap and is looked down upon. The internet doesn't help with articles like This actively encouraging you to become as fat as possible.
I want this to change. Not only does fat not improve your strength it is massively detrimental to your health and self esteem.
Powerlifting originated in America as did strongman and I wonder whether the culture is partly responsible. In America everything must be big. Big cars, big trucks, big guns, big roads, big people, big eating, big lifting. Since strength sports are more popular in America and a lot of the information you read online is from american websites I wonder if this is at least some of the reason that strength athletes feel they have to eat their faces off to succeed. Now I'm not hating on America in many ways it is much cooler than the UK. But America knows it has an obesity epidemic and the UK is not far behind.
In the good old days of physical culture strength used to be synonymous with health. The first major muscle magazine was called strength and health. If you have ever read any old time strongman books such as The Way To Live by George Hackenschmit you will find that health is greatly emphasised probably more so than lifting is. While the advice might be outdated they were on the right track. This emphasis on health has been completely lost to either steroid abuse or guys gaining so much fat in an attempt to get strong.
There are a multitude of health problems associated with being over weight. Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Since I work first hand with people with many problems like this let me tell you they are not pleasant. If these aren't enough there are a few problems of particular importance to lifters. Being overweight puts a lot of stress on the joints. Knees, ankles and back seem to be the worst culprits. Add weightlifting on top of this and your joints are not going to be in good shape. If you are injured and aching all the time and can't train was the sacrifice of all that weight gain really worth it.
Another problem is the hormonal shit storm being overweight creates. The hormone insulin which is responsible for shuttling nutrients into muscle and fat cells becomes less responsive due to being constantly elevated from poor dietary habits. This can lead to diabetes down the line but if health doesn't bother you it will also make it more difficult to build muscle and lose fat. If you body is constantly in fat storage mode there is little left to help you build muscle and therefore get stronger. Next comes testosterone and estrogen. Being overweight increases your estrogen levels while suppressing testosterone. Obviously this is not a good thing as it can lead to decreased muscle and bone mass, depression, Lack of sex drive and also potentially prostate cancer. Finally there is leptin. This is a hunger hormone which tells you that you are full. By constantly eating leptin becomes suppressed similar to insulin so that it takes more and more food for the body to realise that you are full. Many lifters recommend going on a massive bulk when you first start lifting. That you should follow a see food diet and drink a gallon of milk a day. They say you can easily diet the fat off later. But here's the problem. How many truely lean guys do you see? I don't mean on the internet but in the real world and in the gym. Often when someone becomes fat they end up staying that way. Its the hormones which wreck havoc with your system, making it more difficult to lose weight. The other problem is that they also make it more difficult to gain muscle as well.
Another factor at play is that of psychology. No one gets into lifting weights because they want to look worse. I understand not everyone wants to look like a bodybuilder myself included but I would argue everyone wants to have a good physique even if they area the most hardcore strength athlete. Human beings are essentially vain creatures doing the vast majority of things to try to appear attractive to the opposite sex. We associate strength with the look of muscles. When someone is fat they don't look strong because you can not see the muscles. Contrast that to someone who is very lean even if they aren't incredibly strong they see themselves looking in great shape which in turn makes them feel strong. When you can see every muscle and vain, when you can see how defined your back is looking or how thick your abs are looking from all the strength training it really gives you a psychological boost.
It was Jim Wendler who remarked that when he was a 275lbs powerlifter all he could do was woddle up to the monolith and squat. By becoming so overweight he had made his body only good at one thing: static strength. It seemed this sickened him as he soon embarked on improving his conditioning and losing weight. To the point where he could actually use his body for other things again such as playing sports and sprinting up hills. By letting yourself become fat you lose all aspects of conditioning, making yourself only capable of a one off specific strength test. There is more to being strong than just a one rep Max. Look at strongman. Not only do these guys have incredible static strength but also the conditioning and muscular endurance to back it up. I recall seeing Britain's strongest man a couple of years ago. It was down to the last event of two competitors. Jimmy Marku a 140kg beast who still manages to look lean and Glen Ross a typical fat strong guy who weighed close to 200kg. The two were close on points and it was down to a head to head loading race of heavy awkward shit. Things like giant anchors, massive metal changes used by tug boats, and heavy barrels. It was no surprise that the massive Glen Ross lost that day because he was gased out after the first implement. Marku had the conditioning as well as the strength to finish loading everything and be named Britain's strongest man. The thing is how strong are you if you can't apply your strength after I only a short period of physical activity. Even if you do powerlifting you still have 9 lifts to do which can take all day. How do you expect to put up a good deadlift if you are so exhausted from squats?
I have always encouraged the acquisition of useful strength. That is having strength to help yourself or others in any physical situation you may face in life. By becoming extremely fat you are specialising to such an extent as to lose any real useful strength. Your conditioning becomes so poor that you can't do anything beyond one lift. You weigh so much that you lose all athletism in your body. You can't lift explosively anymore. You can't lift your own bodyweight and even a pull up becomes impossible. How are you supposed to carry something heavy if you are puffed out after two steps. Really you are creating the opposite of what I want to achieve becoming strong and athletic. And is the sacrifice really worth it? All the health problems when you still probably won't be powerlifting world champion or a record holder. If you really are an elite super heavy weight powerlifter than I understand why you might do it but if you just want to become strong its perfectly possible while still being lean and healthy. Don't listen to the internet fat guys trying to justify themselves instead enjoy all lifting weights has to offer. I implore you to be strong but stay useful.