Help me define X and Y when Z equals ridiculously hot.
August 9, 2012 6:14 PM   Subscribe

What exercise and diet will turn pretty-good-for-33 into ridiculous-in-a-good-way?

I treat attractiveness like a science. I understand that confidence, friendliness, and general engagement figure a lot into attractiveness. However, I also like to optimize the physical side of things as much as possible, but efficiently.

I'm interested in improving my physique. I'm pretty fit, do yoga and some cardio type stuff (tennis, cycling), and a daily ab workout and pushups just for strength. I want to take my physique to the next level (in terms of attractiveness), although I'm not sure exactly what that is. I am a little looser in my butt and thighs than I'd prefer, and I wouldn't mind a bit of a six pack. Yeah, this may be partially inspired by my small fixation with the Bachelor franchise.

I went to a Crossfit class. Yikes. It was hard, and that's just fine, maybe even good, but the musculature of the Crossfit women terrified me. I have no interest in looking like I can deadlift 300#. Those shoulders, yikes. Not my thing. But then there's Staci, and she looks great.

What kind of exercise will help me go from doing-pretty-good-for-33 to fantastic, given traditional notions of attractiveness? I don't want to bulk up like the Crossfit chicks, although I'm theoretically open to lifting. I asked the Crossfit lady if I could "control" the bulking process (essentially prevent it) and she said, essentially, "No." She said that if I didn't want to end up bulky than I shouldn't do Crossfit. I don't understand this, but sure enough every women in the gym was muscular in a way I wouldn't want to be -- even if they had a belly or were otherwise overweight! (As a side note, HTF does that happen??)

My diet is pretty low on refined carbs. I eat as much fat as I feel like eating, which turns out to be about 30% of my caloric intake (I have tracked but don't currently). I rarely eat really crap food (french fries, fast food, cake). Not too much processed stuff in my diet, almost all from the outer edge of the supermarket. I do get a burger a couple of times a week at a restaurant, but come on. I drink 1-2 drinks 3 or 4 days a week, trying to take it easy on beer. I've cut Diet Coke for the most part per blood sugar (I have vague aspirations of keeping it generally level). So I'm open to suggestions on my diet as well.

Let's leave health to the side, for the most part, because no matter what I'm going to be doing enough in that respect for my preferences. What exercise and diet combo will maximize by hotness via physique? I'm quite sure I could be doing even better than I am (even if not by all that much). But if swimming or lifting are going to make me 4% hotter, that's fine, I'll do those instead of whatever else I'd be doing.

Here's what I'm working with. I'm 5'2", 125#, and probably about 30% body fat (just a guess). I have more loot in the boot than the picture shows. I tend to think I could be a pretty good looking 115#, but wouldn't want to lose any muscle in the process. I'm willing to restrict calories if necessary to lose weight; that's not a problem.

Would prefer not to get into a philosophical discussion on whether my interest in improving my physique for vanity purposes is legitimate or healthy. Not because I care what grumpy people think, but more so because I might not get the actual information that I'm looking for if a war breaks out among Dorito-eaters.

Thanks for your advice, my fellow vain Mefites.
posted by letahl to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That looks more like an "after" picture than a "before."

But to answer your question, if you have Spin classes available in your area, two or three a week plus some lifting and an alternate cardio would work, along with eating mostly protein and complex carbs, limiting bread and other simple carb servings. (Which it sounds as if you probably do already.) Lots of water also. You shouldn't bulk up if you do just reasonable lifting. But probably a lot might have to do with your particular body type. Some folks get bulkier easier than others.

As far as crossfit goes literally everyone I know who is really into it winds up with injuries.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:33 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Diet - your link to Staci talks about Paleo, which I've experienced great results with as a boxer. Crossfit. Genetics.

It all comes down to "diet and exercise", combined with your genetic blueprint for where and how you build muscle. There's nothing else to do for it.
posted by ellF at 6:36 PM on August 9, 2012

Response by poster: I had my first Crossfit session today. I puked afterward and in the last hour realized I've pulled a back muscle for the first time in my life. Sigh.
posted by letahl at 6:37 PM on August 9, 2012

Ease back a bit. Crossfit should hurt, but you shouldn't be working out that hard that fast.
posted by ellF at 6:39 PM on August 9, 2012

Response by poster: Also, as a side comment, I don't get the point of cardio for physique. I mean, we can say it's good for the heart, sure, but does it help physique? If you eat 2,000 calories and burn 2,500, is that any better than eating 1,500 and burning 2,000?

I'm not being rhetorical; I am actually just skeptical that cardio does anything toward improving physique other than increase daily caloric expenditure, which doesn't matter if you are capable of adjusting the caloric intake.
posted by letahl at 6:40 PM on August 9, 2012

Response by poster: It was a one-on-one session. I just did what the muscular lady told me to. Loudly.
posted by letahl at 6:41 PM on August 9, 2012

Well, I lost thirty-five pounds doing it that way. I hate lifting.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:41 PM on August 9, 2012

Plus from my experience if you only limit caloric intake you do lose some muscle mass. Spin does have a bit of muscle training to it since you can adjust the bike tension-particularly for the strength classes (there are also interval and base classes as well. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:43 PM on August 9, 2012

Best answer: That looks more like an "after" picture than a "before."

Yeah, this is kind of a good point; it would help if you have any specific things that would make you feel more attractive than you do right now since you are already pretty slender.

At this point it would probably help to do some strength training for toning purposes, particularly if you are into things like a 6-pack (hint: do lots of crunches or situps). Just guessing based on your statements, you would probably feel better with a little more muscle definition and tone, which you CAN get from targeted lifting. It's true that you can't remove fat selectively by working certain muscles, but you can build specific muscles that way.

If you are open to "regular" weight training, i.e. not necessarily crossfit, try bicep curls, some lat workouts, and various leg extensions and curls. None of those should bulk up your shoulders too much if that is a concern. And I think the crossfit lady is a bit full of it: you totally can control the bulk-up factor, specifically by STOPPING or REDUCING your strength training workout if you are feeling too bulky. For example if you build up to 20 lb reps of the bicep curl, and feel too arm-muscley, drop it down to 5 or 7 pounds just to prevent atrophy.

Also make sure you eat enough protein to actually build the muscle, where "enough" is "more than it probably feels like you need."
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 6:53 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you eat 2,000 calories and burn 2,500, is that any better than eating 1,500 and burning 2,000?

Yes, because you have improved your aerobic fitness significantly. And even if this is 100% about looks for you, it will still be more beneficial to your looks than eating a limited diet (it's hard to get all the nutrients you need on a low calorie diet) and having lesser aerobic fitness.

Also, when you're 70 or 80, you will be glad you worked on fitness and probably not give a fuck about your looks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:53 PM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

A good personal trainer and/or nutritionist will be better placed to answer these questions with the authority and seriousness you are asking for than 99.999% of responders in this thread. I suggest you ask around and get a solid recommendation from some one (there are lots of dodgy personal trainers). It will cost you, but will give you so much more than anything you get here.

PS, you might want to dial back on the responses; askme is not designed as an open discussion forum, more a Q&A. :)
posted by smoke at 6:54 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It takes a lot of effort to get muscles like those crossfit ladies :)

Heavy compound lifts twice a week or so with good focus on form (something that is often forgotten at CrossFit in favor of getting shit done really fast). Squats really make for a great butt. Light walking a few hours a week. Clean diet - paleo is good but can be overly restrictive. Try a Whole30 and then progressively add things back in to see what trips you up.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:54 PM on August 9, 2012

Response by poster: it would help if you have any specific things that would make you feel more attractive than you do right now since you are already pretty slender

Probably 5-10# less but without being "skinny," a little less of a layer of body fat. A little more musculature on the stomach, thighs, and upper arms. Quads are already well developed enough, would like the other leg muscles to match them. A firmer ass would definitely be nice, but the idea that squats could possibly make their way through all that fat seems impossible. Maybe I don't understand how that works, but my impression was that you have to get the fat out of the way before the muscle development matters.

If you are open to "regular" weight training

Definitely open to it. I do none (although some strength training(?) via more intense yoga like plank sequences). I've been discouraged by the general foreignness of it; I wouldn't have to be convinced that weight-training generally doesn't have to bulk up a woman, I'm more just concerned about Crossfit, but my exposure to Crossfit women is super minimal.
posted by letahl at 7:17 PM on August 9, 2012

my impression was that you have to get the fat out of the way before the muscle development matters

Nope, fortunately, that's not the case. Once you start gaining muscle, those muscles will - at baseline - burn more calories than the equivalent mass in adipose tissue. They'll burn even more energy if you use them.

This is where cardiovascular exercises becomes important, your body will crave more macro nutrients and you will become hungry. Eating 2000 calories a day and burning 2500 is far better than eating 1500 calories and burning 200; you will feel much less hungry and your body really does need those nutrients, especially protein. Don't be scared of fats, be scared of simple sugars especially monosaccharides (like high fructose corn syrup) which disrupts your body's energy management strategies, which are normally pretty good.

Stair-like exercises like doing the Grouse Grind is great, and generally adding more walking/biking instead of driving will have additive effects.

Body resistance training is one low impact way of strength training. If you're interested, look up US Marine Corp physical exercise regimes. All you need as a matter of equipment are a couple of sturdy chairs and a countertop/table/what-have-you.
posted by porpoise at 7:48 PM on August 9, 2012

The reason the Crossfit person said they couldn't guarantee you don't get bulky is, essentially, because Crossfit is a little culty. Not that that's a bad thing, but the reason Crossfit works is because people push each other to go as hard as possible. So if you buy in to the whole Crossfit system, you might end up pushing yourself past what you consider "fit-lean" and into "fit-bulky".

But there's nothing magic about the Crossfit exercises. You can take their WODs off their website, go to a regular gym, and just like do less of them. Scale up until you get to the body you want, then do enough to maintain.

"Boot camp" style fitness classes will also give you a lot of the benefits without the culture.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:04 PM on August 9, 2012

Best answer: Okay, so, the thing about training for aesthetics is that it's absolutely fine, however, I think that no matter what your training goal is, you have to be thoughtful about it. People who say "I want to get in shape" are rarely all that successful. People who say "I want to run a 10 minute mile" are more likely to be successful. And in your case, you need to put a lot more thought into what it means to you to have a ridiculous bod.

Part of that is because, as has been mentioned above, your body is already fairly conventionally attractive. In order to take it further you're going to have to make conscious decisions about what you consider ideal, and then let those decisions guide your exercise and diet. We cannot make these decisions for you because, shocking as it may be, there actually is a pretty wide range of what people find attractive.

You're starting to get at it a little bit here: "I am a little looser in my butt and thighs than I'd prefer, and I wouldn't mind a bit of a six pack." Both the "looseness" in your butt and thighs and the lack of six pack would be remedied by having a much lower body fat percentage. My guess is that you'll also need to gain lean muscle mass in your legs and butt in order to have the end result that you desire, but hard to say.
posted by telegraph at 8:22 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know what you mean. I'm 5'8 and like my body best around 120-125 or so - but a curvy, muscular shape, not bony or "skinny-fat" but not ripped either.

I think you'll want a combination of cutting body fat by dieting (I'd cut carbs and dairy, not just overall calories) and exercises that are sort of like "light" weight lifting - pilates, resistance bands. You could do classic weightlifting exercises or crossfit, but with less weight. Spin classes are great for ass and thighs, crunches and situps for abs, pushups for arms and upper back. You want the kind of workouts that movie stars and models do - to give you that slender but tight and round shape.
posted by amaire at 8:29 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The great thing about lifting is you do not blow up overnight. Keep lifting, keep adding weight to the bar, and then when you don't like what you see you back off.

The reason so many women look as muscular as they did in that gym was because that's what women in the gym find attractive. Crossfit is big on groupthink, so even if some women came into the gym not liking muscle they probably changed their minds after they started lifting and feeling good and empowered by their bodies. (Liking muscle is not a bad thing--groupthink is a bad thing)

A 2-3 day solid lifting program like Starting Strength combined with a healthy, high-protein diet focused on maintenance or slow weight loss would be sure to produce the results you're looking for. You will not get "big" unless you're taking in excess calories over maintenance. Cardio is good for health and burns a few extra calories, but will not make a huge difference physique-wise or weight-loss wise in the long run. Especially since you're slender, which means you're not going to burn as many calories through cardio as a heavier person.

A bonus of Starting Strength for you is it's very good for the lower body but not as great for developing upper-body mass and strength. It sounds like it's the upper body mass that's really putting you off, so the program would do very well for shaping up the butt and legs without being too aggressive about the top.

I'd also encourage you to look through Bret Contreras's website and do hip thrusts and glute-specific work 1-2x/week, making sure that you're activating them properly. He's got a nice introductory article to glute training here. Squats and deads are great for the butt, but only if your glutes are firing! So make sure they are to ensure you're getting the results you want from those exercises.
posted by Anonymous at 8:33 PM on August 9, 2012

Maybe I don't understand how that works, but my impression was that you have to get the fat out of the way before the muscle development matters.

It depends partly on where you store fat. I'm probably 40ish pounds overweight but you could crack walnuts on my glutes (because I've been doing my squats.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:01 PM on August 9, 2012

Best answer: The only thing I might add to the advice already here is that if you want visible abs, they aren't going to show up unless you're at a relatively low percentage of body fat - 20% or lower. Spot reduction is a myth, so doing a bunch of crunches will absolutely strengthen your core, but won't do anything about the fat overlying the muscle. Here's a very general visual comparison of body fat levels, some with and without muscle.

Nthing that lifting weights won't get you looking bulky right away - it took me about six months of heavy compound lifting 4-5x a week to gain eight to ten pounds of muscle while eating maybe 2400 calories a day. Try it out and if you don't like the look, try something else.
posted by zennish at 11:42 PM on August 9, 2012

I can't believe no-one has mentioned yet! That's what I call ridiculously fit and with the body to prove it but still feminine. Is the woman in this video the sort of thing you're looking for? If you're concerned about getting big shoulders or bulk arms, then skip the arm exercises, or only do every other one.
posted by missmagenta at 11:58 PM on August 9, 2012

A little more musculature on the stomach, thighs, and upper arms.

Rock climbing.

In my experience, rock climbing is way more exciting than lifting weights, and I can do it for much longer without getting bored.

Rock climbing has really strengthened and defined my abs, chest, back, shoulders, and arms.

Try it out.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:18 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Want to change my recommendation for bodyrock to, I hadn't been back in a while and they've replaced the original girl (zuzana - who now has her own website) and some of the workout videos are filmed in a very unhelpful and unsubtle way (ie completely ignoring the male instructor who knows what he's doing to zoom in on his female companions butt).
posted by missmagenta at 12:40 AM on August 10, 2012

Pilates will work your core, help you define your muscles more, as well as work on coordination and grace. I love weights, but Pilates works muscles I didn't know I had.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:41 AM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: I'm going to take a slightly different tack here: if you are laser-focused on conventional "hotness," your physique is at the point where you'll get a much better ROI if you focus on grooming. (You'll also still be able to occasionally eat burgers and drink beers.)

We can't really tell how you look on the street from your photo, but here are a few things that immediately come to mind:

- How's your hair? Ideally long, around bra-strap length, but with a good, recent cut. Zero frizz, ever. If you can pull off natural-looking blonde or red hair, go for it. I read that the "hottest" hair is slightly wavy (think magazine covers) but ironed-straight hair is easier and has been in fashion for some time.
- Straight, white teeth.
- Unless you're naturally super pale, get a fake tan. (If you are naturally super pale, leave it alone, and consider getting your hair dyed dark brown or red to play up the contrast.)
- Your feet need to be fucking flawless, especially during sandal season. Regular pedicures, no calluses. People look at your feet and assume the rest of you is groomed to the same level.
- Have a professional regularly attend to your eyebrows and bikini area.
- Makeup: should always be present, but natural and almost invisible unless you're deliberately going for a vintage look. Dark eyeliner is fine applied with a light hand, but don't ring your eyes in it during the day. Never let your mascara look clumpy or crusty.
- Dress well all the time. Wear the right size bra and the best undies you can buy, and make sure they fit. Be relentless and obsessive in your search for the perfect jeans. Make sure everything you put on your body is in perfect condition; if it's pilled, scuffed, or faded, give it away. This goes for your workout clothes too.
- Consider liposuction for any jiggly parts you can't exercise away (how's your chin looking?).

(As for your "HTF" side note, some of us just aren't lucky. I have a slight belly despite being physically active, and it's because it's been there since I was in kindergarten, and my only options are cosmetic surgery or not caring. So, you know, feel free to disregard my advice since I'm not hot.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Everything you need to know is on this page, complete with research citations, since you like science. Read it top to bottom and you'll be ready to go.

And remember to take the all the anecdotes everyone shares with you with a big grain of salt. Sure, you can get results if you stick to this or that specific diet or exercise program, but while some paths are more efficient than others, there is no magical regimen, just some basic principles. Consistency is the most important factor in the long term.

Looking good is about having the right body fat percentage and the right muscular development. All you need for that is an appropriate diet and some kind of full-body resistance training. There are no special foods you absolutely need to eat and none you absolutely need to avoid. Most of the dietary specifics that people obsess about are totally unnecessary as long as the big pictures is right.

If you eat 2,000 calories and burn 2,500, is that any better than eating 1,500 and burning 2,000?

Not for fat loss. Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss.

Also FYI, the woman on the right in the CrossFit picture is Eva Twardokens, a former Olympic skier. You will never accidentally look like her.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:28 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm overweight, but since my ancestors came from Russia, I have the Eastern European muscle thing going on. I'm strong like ox and there's a six-pack under my fat. Yay!

But enough about me.

Have you thought about Pilates? I think that gives tone and muscle while giving a lovely, lithe look to a slender person such as yourself.

You can do weight-lifting, just work with lighter weights and more reps. Think Michelle Obama arms (although her muscles may be genetic like mine are)

As you age, your skin becomes less elastic so there may be some sagging. This too is genetic so look at older family members and see what you're working with in that regard.

Personally I think that the botox, ultra-skinny with fake boobs, orange tan and bleached hair with extensions thing is really unappealing. They look like women with the moisture sucked out.

I get that there's an aesthetic you're going for, and hey, good for you, if it's achieveable. But it may not be, not without cosmetic surgery or gene therapy.

As you get older, that little bit of fat keeps you from looking like a Real Housewife, and really, who want's to look like a Real Housewife?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:34 AM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: Those women that look bulky to you did it by eating a lot. If you were to keep close to your current diet you would end up looking more like Staci.

Not a good sign that you already pulled a muscle or even think that you did. Find a different crossfit group or don't do that shit at all.

I'd do a 5/3/1 thing on your own. Focus on being explosively controlled with all reps. Put in good assistance work after your big lifts like pullups, rows, pushups.

Steady-state cardio? No, you don't need to be doing it unless you just enjoy it. Moving around really heavy weights quickly will build up your stamina, aerobic, and anaerobic thresholds.

Diet wise: I have for the past few years been doing the 4-5 meals a day thing but have recently switched to some form of what this guy is doing and have been enjoying it's results.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:50 AM on August 10, 2012

+1 to Zuzka Light! I did her workouts when she was still on Bodyrock and it was amazing how quickly my body responded, and I'm about 25 pounds heavier than you with the same height and a similar (but much, much pudgier!) body shape.
posted by apricot at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2012

Mod note: Folks, go to MeTa if you have to but otherwise just answer the OPs question and don't turn this into an argument? Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:21 AM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: Have you considered doing a keto diet? I'm surprised no one in this thread has mentioned it yet. One of it's chief advantages (and a major reason that it's big with the weightlifting/bodybuilding crowd) is that you can lose fat with very little/no muscle loss.

It's pretty popular with the internet right now, so five minutes with Google will give you a handle on if it's for you or not. In addition to "keto", search for "ketosis" and "ketogenic diet".

And, regarding working out: developing the underlying muscle absolutely changes how the fat above it sits. It works for boobs and it works for butts (and everything else). Squats are the queen of lower-body lifts, and if you aren't doing them I whole-heartedly recommend you give them a look.

p.s. You don't have to do squats with free-weights (although in all honesty you want to for best result) so don't get scared away by the picture.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:07 AM on August 11, 2012

A comment about Stacy vs the Crossfit girls: powerlifting is less likely to bulk up your arms than the Olympic lifts, which are favored in Crossfit. You could do lots of squats and deadlifts (powerlifting) and still have pretty skinny arms. Just avoid the bench press.
posted by kellybird at 7:00 PM on August 11, 2012

A comment about Stacy vs the Crossfit girls: powerlifting is less likely to bulk up your arms than the Olympic lifts, which are favored in Crossfit. You could do lots of squats and deadlifts (powerlifting) and still have pretty skinny arms. Just avoid the bench press.

I'm not sure where you got this but it is ridiculous and wrong.
posted by Anonymous at 10:44 PM on August 11, 2012

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