This just in: You don’t have to be a ripped Adonis with a perfect six-pack, ostrich-egg biceps, and oak tree legs to be athletic and strong. And you definitely don’t need the body of a Greek god.
Your latest proof: Andy Ruiz Jr., the WBA heavyweight champion you never saw coming. Just in case you somehow missed it, Ruiz knocked out defending champ and Greek god Anthony Joshua last weekend in a victory that’s messing with the minds of sports fans everywhere.
Sports fans, you see, love confusing “fitness” and “athleticism,” but the two things aren’t one and the same. Joshua’s more “fit” than Ruiz, with muscles upon muscles and ripped abs, an eternal Underwear Olympics champion. Ruiz, meanwhile, was 268 pounds before the post-fight partying, none of it sculpted. And before the bout, he called himself a “little fat boy.”
But Ruiz is the champ for a reason: His skills are perfect for his sport. The big guy knows how to throw a punch and take a punch. And boxing is about the art of punching and absorbing punches. Nobody’s ever won a pro sports title for being a size-29 waist.
Sports are about skills, and those skills don’t always correlate directly to bodyfat percentage or VO2 max. We still haven’t learned that, which is why Twitter’s still fat-shaming Ruiz, even though he’s the latest in elite pro athletes carved more from dough than granite. There’s Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and there was Shaquille O’Neal before that, and (spoiler alert!) when NFL defensive tackles go shirtless, most of them aren’t flashing six-pack abs.
All those big guys do exactly what all elite athletes do: Practice to improve at their actual games. Sure, you can build a bigger, stronger chassis for your sport in the gym, but that chassis still needs to know how to work for its sport. And it can’t learn that solely in the weight room, unless your sport is, well, CrossFit.
For every other sport, you need to spend considerable time on your actual field of play, which is why Steph Curry spends his days hoisting three-pointers instead of dumbbells, and Antonio Brown catches passes in the offseason instead of beefing up his bench press. There’s an actual fitness principle for this, too: Specificity of training. Essentially, you improve at the things you train to improve in.
It just so happens that, in a great many sports, you get chiseled abs and well-muscled arms as you train for it. Cyclists and sprinters need to be as low-bodyfat as possible, so they can accelerate less weight when they move. Basketball players jump higher with fewer extra pounds, and the best base-stealers in baseball aren’t toting around a kettlebell’s worth of fat.
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But Ruiz? He’s perfect just the way he is for what he does, an athletic freak of nature in his own right. As big as the man is, he had the stamina to stay right with the supremely conditioned Joshua for seven rounds before knocking him out. Think about this for a moment: Ruiz outweighed Joshua, but, on scorecards, was right there, punch for punch, with an athlete who we’d all acknowledge is one of the best on the planet. Ruiz was heavier, but wasn’t wearing down. Ruiz has special endurance, and a stronger heart than you may think.
And if you can move around at a heavier weight in the boxing ring, you get more wollop behind your punches, which is exactly why plenty of boxers spend the days leading up to weigh-in slimming down, then instantly try to pack back on the pounds after they hop off that scale.
So sure, Ruiz could have burned some of his waistline off on the treadmill, but he’d be burning off his genetic gift too. And he’s not trying to prove his fitness. He’s trying to win a boxing match.
None of this is to say that Ruiz is “fit,” because, well, he’s not, in much the same way that an NFL offensive lineman wouldn’t claim to be fit, either (which is why, these days, a great many linemen retire and shed pounds when they do). But Ruiz, right now, is exactly what he needs to be, gifted in his own way to thrive in his field of play.
Long-term, when he’s done in the ring, he may want to lose a few pounds, the same way Steph Curry may want to add some muscle once he’s done in the NBA.
And that Tom Brady fella needs to handle his dadbod, too.
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