The Ultimate Guide to Building Any Physique (or Skill Set)


Earlier in the year, I heard something that made my head explode.

The 2016 Summer Olympics had just ended. The internet was aflutter with a debate about Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet.

The debate was about how quickly Usain Bolt could run a mile.

Scientists, marathon runners, cross country coaches, Olympians, and others had one heck of a debate. People started calculating his pace from 100 meters or 400 meters and extrapolated that out over the course of a mile. Math geeks couldn’t get enough of the thought experiment.

So obviously this begs the question: “Well, how fast does he actually run a mile?”

There’s just one problem:

Usain Bolt has never run a mile.

WHAT?!

As pointed out by the New Yorker, “Usain Bolt’s agent, Ricky Simms, won’t say whether he believes that his client could run a mile in less than five minutes. But Simms confirmed that the world’s greatest sprinter has, in fact, never tried running that far: ‘Usain has never run a mile.’”

Let that sink in for a second.

The fastest man on the planet has never run a mile. In Usain’s mind and his coach’s mind, he’s built to run short distances quickly, so why even bother running a longer distance? He has built a healthy frame designed to do exactly what he needs it to do.

I thought about this, my own training, and the training of the people whose physiques/talent I admire… and it made me come to a logical conclusion:

For most people, training in a way that you enjoy will get you 90% of the way there (with a good nutrition strategy). 

However, if you want to LOOK or perform a certain way, how you train IS crucial.

And like Usain, it may not fit your typical idea of what fitness is. Instead, you’ll be deliberate with your daily choices, training and eating in a way to build the body (and physical performance) you want. 

Follow these 3 missions and learn how.

Want to look like the superhero of your choice? Change your mind.

The other day I was talking to a close friend about my personal 3-year transformation thanks to gymnastic rings and advanced bodyweight exercises.

His response surprised me: “That’s just not me, though. I’m not built like you, like a gymnast, so I can’t train with rings. I don’t have the body type to do what gymnasts can do.”

I have heard things like this from other members of our community, and I bet you’ve said similar things too:

  • Easy for him to run a marathon, he’s got the body of a runner.
  • Of course he/she can [do that activity you admire], he/she has genetics like _______.
  • I need to lose a lot of weight before I can try rock climbing/martial arts/parkour. To the treadmill, ugh.

We see somebody doing something we want to do, or looking how we want to look, and our first thought is “Well, because genetics/lifestyle/opportunity/excuse, they can do that and I can’t.”

We use this mentality to justify our current position, let ourselves off the hook for not trying, explain why we don’t look a certain way, and give ourselves an an excuse why we can’t try/do something.

Or, we might think we need to be a certain weight until we can start doing that thing that we’re intrigued by. So we do a few machines, we run on a treadmill, we do a few bicep curls. We move from diet to diet or from workout plan to workout plan.

We do “fitness,” dislike it, and then also get mad that we’re not building a body we’re proud of and that we don’t like the people on magazine covers.

THIS IS THE WRONG WAY TO THINK.

STOP IT!

This is me smacking you on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. Stop it.

The truth of the matter is the exact opposite: our bodies are INCREDIBLE pieces of machinery – they reshape themselves and adapt to whatever is thrown at them.

Run fast, and your body builds muscle in the right places to be more efficient with sprints. Train like an MMA fighter and your body will start to resemble a guy that gets in the octagon. Run distances and your blood cells and joints and muscles start to adapt to covering long distances and tiring less easily.

So change your thinking right now. FORM (your body) follows function (the stuff you do with your time):

Gymnasts don’t train on gymnastic rings because they are built like superheroes. The opposite is true: they are built like superheroes BECAUSE they train on gymnastic rings!

Runners don’t just look like runners and thus run a lot. They look like runners BECAUSE they run a lot!

MMA fighters aren’t built like machines and thus fight and do martial arts. They look like MMA fighters BECAUSE they train in a certain way.  

Usain looks like Usain because he intentionally trains to build that sprinting machine!

This means you need to identify the TYPE of person you want to look like or have skills like and follow a specific plan to train like them. Or in Nerd Fitness Terms, pick your class (explained below) and then ask “What would [my future avatar] do?”

You need to find your own path to “fitness,” and forget the rest of it.

If it’s going to be a challenge, you might as well be challenging yourself in a way that actually helps you achieve your goal physique, right?

Mission 1: Select your Class

rock exercise

Take the next few minutes and find somebody known for a particular skill or sport you admire, or someone who you’re interested in looking like.  What activity are they good at or known for?  What’s the body type you’re going for?

And then start acting like that person. Immediately.

I’m guessing you’re here (or you first came to Nerd Fitness) because you wanted to lose a few pounds (or hundreds of pounds), gain some strength/muscle, look better naked and feel better about yourself. And that’s exactly how I started training (for me, it was wanting to get bigger, stronger, and feel better about myself).

Whatever brought you here, welcome. Now let’s get you where you want to go.

Know this: the path to that success is dependent on knowing the TYPE of physique or skills you’re looking for, and then training, eating, and acting like the people who have that particular physique or can do those particular things.

(It sounds simple, but nearly everyone misses this point in how they decide to train. Most people have training ADD and don’t focus on nutrition.)

Here’s why this methodology is so important.

Your body responds to every piece of stimuli it receives and adapts accordingly. The more signals you can send it to adapt in a certain way, the more likely it will be to adapt to handle that stimuli.  

This means it’s time to start hitting your body with the right stimuli immediately and frequently:

You don’t need to lose weight before you train like a gymnast. Start training like a gymnast NOW so your body starts to develop like that of a gymnast from day one.

You don’t need to lose weight before you train like a parkour traceur or a marathon runner. Start training like a traceur or go for your first long walk or 10 second jog NOW and your body will start to adapt over time to look like your heroes.

You don’t need to become more bendy before you can try Yoga. You become more bendy BY trying Yoga. The more you do, the more your body responds accordingly.

Want to get bigger and build muscle? Don’t run just because you think fitness = running (this path will never get you where you want to go!). Start hitting your body with strength training and barbells and bodyweight movements and tell it “better get used to this by getting stronger!”

Every meal, every push-up, every step walked, every mile run, every second practicing a handstand, every second doing ANYTHING is sending tiny signals to your body “change and get better at this thing.” THAT’S how you get started building a body to be proud of, and that’s how you end up building a body that looks like the body you want to have!

I love video games that operate like this, games like Morrowind or Skyrim: You don’t allocate points to improve skills – there’s no “add +1 to archery” or “add +1 to sword fighting.” You improve those skills by USING them! Shoot enough arrows, and archery gains +1, swing a sword enough times and you gain +1 sword fighting!

Conveniently, that’s how life works too.

Note: this doesn’t mean doing the workout of the most elite people you can find. Jumping into the Octagon and fighting an MMA bout tomorrow if you’ve never thrown a punch is bad news bears.  Going from your couch to running the Boston Marathon next week is a recipe for disaster. Instead, start with the basics for the TYPE of person you want to be. But START TRAINING LIKE THEM IMMEDIATELY. That’s the most important part.

Here’s what this looks like in real life:

  • Want to look and perform like a marathon runner? Get started with long walks and small jogs.
  • Want to look and perform like Georges St. Pierre or Ronda Rousey? Find a beginner Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class and show up.
  • Want to look and perform like Usain Bolt? Try your first hill sprint and see if you can find a beginner sprinters program. Also know that strength training will be crucial for you.
  • Want to look and perform like NF Team Member and deadlift hero Staci? Try your first barbell deadlift or bodyweight squat. But start.
  • Want to look and perform like NF Yoga instructor Kate? Do your first downward dog today. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Whenever I’m faced with a decision of what I need to do, if I should workout or skip it, if I should eat this or that, sleep in or get up, etc., I ask myself “What would future Gymnast Steve do?”

And then I do that thing.

Remember: if you just want to lose a few pounds and not hate exercise, pick something you love. If you’re looking to build a certain type of physique, make sure you are training and eating in a way that lines up with those goals and forget the rest!

Of course, this poses a challenge: It’s possible (likely in fact) that you’ll be afraid to start. Why? Because you’re probably going to be awful at whatever you are just starting!

If you’re really overweight, the thought of doing parkour might make you want to throw up. Or if you’ve never done a gymnastics move before, you might think you need to get really strong first before you even attempt any movements. Going for a run is a ‘fit person’s game’, not yours. That’s why its crucial that we learn to get terrible out of the way. It sounds terrifying, but embracing terrible, as I explain in this video, is a LOT of fun!