Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane

"Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." I first heard this line from Dan John a few years ago.  It's the ultimate turn of a phrase that lauds performance over appearance based training

I should point out that the line is pretty sexist. Its intent is not to minimize the contributions of women but to highlight the inherent physical differences between most men and most women. Specifically, it refers to an athlete who looks great, has a model physique, but can’t perform on the playing field.

Johnny Weismuller

I saw this first hand during the photo shoot we hosted here at the gym this week.

First off, I’ve never witnessed a production like this before. There must have been a crew of 30 people on this shoot. Producer, photographer, cinematographer, gaffers, grips, make up, wardrobe, props master, the guys who supplied the motor homes, catering, the agency people, the clients and the models. This was a big deal and it was fun to watch and be a part of the show. It’s always a pleasure to watch professionals performing their craft.

What struck me, however, was the models. These are the people our culture celebrates. We love them for their beauty, their health, and how they’re everything that we are not. Except...

The first shoot of the day featured and African American man. His name is Andre and he splits his time between modeling and being a Staff Sergeant in the Army. He’s a beautiful man, broad features, big shoulders, chiseled pecs and abs. Truth be told he could stand to do a few squats, but I’m a leg man, and everyone has their preferences.

Poor Andre, he was all show and no go.​ His training was cleared designed for appearance and not performance based.

The shoot called for a boxer. After I wrapped his hands and he had to shadow box in front of the camera. His camera time was a little over an hour and it nearly did him in. He didn’t have the stamina to do less than what we do on a regular basis in Jimmy’s class.

In all fairness, his technique needed a lot of work. He worked with a lot of unnecessary tension which was why he gassed out, but this is what he’s paid to do. Additionally, one would think, with a physique like his, he’d be fit and have the strength and endurance to go the distance. But here we see that performance based training produces a very different result from that aimed at just looking good.

And it wasn’t just Andre. Out of the four models that day, only one was fit for her task. The cover model who was supposed to be doing yoga poses was completely inflexible and the "white guy" model was three weeks off of back surgery. All beautiful people but, unfortunately, not fit for doing much more than standing there and looking good.

By contrast, I watched a crew of folks, all regular looking, in various shapes and sizes, all doing some serious physical work, squatting, climbing, carrying, being physical and ultimately proving themselves more useful than the beautiful people we as a culture adore.

Don’t get me wrong. Andre is a nice guy. He performs a valuable service to our nation. He is useful, but his looks are the least of his contribution. Why do we so highly prize them? Chip Conrad often talks about being useful in terms of his own training and that of his clients. As a cultural value this seems way more important than just being pretty. Yet we still pursue pretty.

It’s no surprise that the vast majority of the people who walk through my door do so in order to look better. All of our cultural messages scream the value of being pretty and it’s no wonder that we follow that cry and do our best to fall in line. But consider, when it comes down to it, what you look like is the least contribution you can offer. What you can do means so much more.

To our perfect imperfection,


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