Strong vs. Jacked

The Era of "Jacked"

Being "jacked" is in. The 80's bodybuilder-style action hero is back and dominating in blockbuster films. Even the action figures of children's toys are starting to take on comically collossal appearances in size and mass. And I'm not knocking it. In fact, I think this newfound popularity of a muscular appearance is pretty cool. But there is the key word, "appearance." There seems to be a slight disconnect between what being strong LOOKS like, and what being strong ACTUALLY means. In action flicks and superhero movies, all we are really seeing is the final product, and not the methods, training, diet, and sheer work load that takes place behind the scenes. We end up with a fascination for the visual, and lose our hold on what is really important: performance. The end result is a bunch of young athletes with an over-fascination with GNC supplements, hitting endless dumbbell curls and avoiding squats (A.K.A. my personal hell). "Jacked" is secondary to actual performance. Look as cut and swole as you want, but the athlete that moves better and performs better will walk out with a W. Your appearance should be the result of your work. Training simply to look strong does not mean the same as actually being strong.

Now, I'm not against looking "jacked." I mean, world champion weightlifter Dmitry Klokov is a personal idol of mine partly because he is more carved than a holiday turkey when crushing 400+-lb jerks. What I want to get across is that you should be developing strength, function, and performance first and foremost.

A nice result of this is a good-looking body, and one that works.


"Jacked" Doesn't Mean Jack

Take a look at any popular men's workout magazine or website, and you're gonna see a lot of oiled-up pecs and abs. How to "Gain Massive Size in 6 Weeks," "Sculpt Your Abs Like a Cagefighter," or "Get an Abercrombie Bod That Will Make Your Ex Weep" are all great taglines for driving readership, but have absolutely nothing to do with your performance as an athlete. Just like the Fit vs. Skinny debate for girls (see Coach Christye's article from last week), Strong vs. Jacked is about body performance vs. body aesthetics. And it's pretty clear that, while being "jacked" may be the hot trend in male bodies right now, means, well, jack without strength to back it up. 

Developing strength is the foundation for all things performance. Looking jacked is just a secondary characteristic of that strength. Well, at least it can be. 

Strength Outweighs Appearance

Being jacked doesn't mean you're strong, and being strong doesn't necessarily make you jacked. When put side by side, being strong will ALWAYS be more favorable in terms of function, performance, and ability.

A big muscular physique should be second to the performance of that musculature. Don't let superficial needs hide actual weaknesses in your kinetic chains. A big set of arms may help get you attention, but a weak set of scapular stabilizers will really put a damper on your performance. Likewise, a rippling Situation of a six-pack may impress your Instagram followers, but it doesn't mean your deeper core muscles are strong enough to protect your back during deadlifts. 

Don't allow yourself to get distracted by the superficial: focus on the trainable and enhanceable performance factors of your sport. 

The cool thing about any proper strength and conditioning program is that if you train function first, form follows. If you move well first, you'll look good doing it. Strengthening movement patterns improves the function of a motor pattern, and strong motor patterns look better than poor ones. I can guarantee that if you strengthen the way you move, the muscles operating that movement will look better than when they were weak. So if being jacked is a (secondary) goal of yours, get strong first: by improving your strength, you set yourself up to improve all facets of your performance and appearance. 


Athletics vs. Aesthetics

I see countless young male athletes today focusing solely on gettin' "jacked," "cut," and/or "swole." And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with well-developed bi's and tri's, the problem arises when actual strength and performance take a backseat to the aesthetic side effects of strength training. "Jacked" is a one-dimensional view of how your body looks on a given day; "strong" encompasses everything your body can do. "Jacked" is what they tell actors to "get" before playing an action role; "strong" is what their stunt double does. "Jacked" is Jersey Shore; "strong" is you in your jersey on game day. And while the two aren't mutually exclusive, being jacked but not strong is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine when it comes to athletic performance. Powerful form tackles are made with strong muscles, not good-looking ones. (Although, if you ask me, strong muscles are ALWAYS good-looking, even when covered up by football pads.)

Strong takes out pretty, every time. 

Strong takes out pretty, every time. 

Volt has been, and always will be, about performance first. Will your muscles get bigger and stronger when you follow a progressive strength training program? Yes. Will you lose some body fat? Probably. Is that the goal? Nope. The goal is a faster sprint to first base, greater endurance on the soccer pitch at minute 75, improved hip mobility for better cuts when running the football, higher anaerobic capacity in the 5k...the list is longer than Richard Sherman's dreads. THAT is what being strong is all about: you, ready to perform at your athletic best when the time comes. If you look "jacked" in the process, that's cool. If not? Well, in the world of athletics, strong simply stands a cut above. 

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is the Head of Performance Training at Volt Athletics and is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Seattle Pacific University. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.