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Before and After Photos in Fitness Magazines

Some supplement companies will go to any lengths to prove their products' effectiveness. But sometimes the evidence isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Before and after photos are the most compelling means by which to convince a person of steroid-like gains.

Often the before photos show the bodybuilder in off-season condition; fat, bloated, with pale skin. Hardly inspirational, but true to life. And photos are sometimes reversed. In one instance a supplement company presented a photo of a fitness model in top condition, declaring it the 'after' photo. Beside it, the apparent 'before' photo showed the model in her last trimester of pregnancy. Anyone who is familiar with the model's history is aware that the before photo was, in fact, the after photo.

The same trick was used by an ex-professional bodybuilder from the 1960s. Interestingly, his jowls sagged more and his face looked older in the before photo. Apparently his supplement line not only increases muscle, it may be the proverbial fountain of youth!

Before and after photos from every day individuals sell a product best. They represent people like you and me... average weight trainees hoping to make dramatic changes in short order. But these photos are also highly dubious. In order to look as bad and as good as possible, the models employ several tricks.

The before photos nearly always have the subject slouching, frowning, pale skin, dull lighting, gut extended, and with no muscle pump. The after photos use harsh lighting with good shadow contrast, tanned skin, upright posture with lats and shoulders spread wide, muscles tensed, smiling with well-groomed facial and head hair, and a muscle pump. It also is known that duct tape has been used to pull back obliques/love handles in order to make waists appear even smaller and shoulders even wider. The same trick works under their arm pits, to make the pec line more pronounced and sharp.

And so, are you truly seeing what the person has accomplished and while on supplement 'x'? Hardly; what you are witnessing is an illusion of posing and photography skills of the model.

One winning competitor in the EAS Physique Transformation contest in 1999 did look good if contrasting his before and after photos, losing twelve pounds of fat. He also, however, lost six pounds of lean tissue! Ignoring the fact that he won, it could be said that his program was a failure and that he did the opposite of what exercise was originally intended to do, e.g., increase lean tissue/function.

But it is to these unhealthy extremes that one sometimes experiences in order to make a dramatic difference in a contest that allows only 12 weeks. After all, 12 weeks is not a long time, particularly for advanced trainees more so than novices. For the advanced, there is not much muscle to gain and to produce good before and after photos requires extreme loss of fat - besides slouching, frowning, and no pump or tan in the before photos.

Unfortunately, many people (particularly novices) who are unaware of the benefits and application of long-term planning will burn out on such an endeavor, perhaps quitting exercise all together. After a 12-week stint of near overtraining (if they haven't done so by the contest's end and if not understanding how to train), they conclude they cannot tolerate another 12-weeks of further self-inflicted torture, let alone another three years.

Not everyone entering these contests understand that it is a short-term solution... to see how far the body can be pushed as quickly as possible. After that point, training must take on a more cyclic structure. This means maintaining most of what was accomplished during the physique transformation followed by 'easier' off-season training and peaking infrequently thereafter. Fat loss may continue after the contest, or prior to another peak, but 100% mental effort and extreme demands may only account for 8-12 weeks total throughout the year once reaching an advanced stage. Training throughout the remainder of the year can still be tough, yet tolerable and never as demanding.

I don't believe most beginner trainees realize the importance of cycling or what needs to be done after a physique transformation challenge. Most magazines don't talk about it, nor do bodybuilding books. They present general ideas and expect you to lift happily ever after. It is for this reason that physique transformation contests and magazines as a whole produce greater failure than success in. The thoughts of maintaining or bettering one's physique after 12-weeks of grueling effort is enough to shatter anyone's motivation. Believing that you must continue training in a similar manner (something to which we have all fallen victim) is the best guarantee to exercise termination.

Interestingly, can you imagine the loss in profits that supplement manufacturers (magazine owners) are encountering due to frustration of their readers and the thousands dropping out of exercise - or perhaps no longer purchasing that magazine and the supplements it endorses. If sound training information were provided, particularly long-term application, there would be more successes and supplement purchases from advanced trainees. Rather, supplement companies are hoping and expecting a new generation of customers to make up for those recently lost - short-term solutions for a quick buck.

You may publish this article in your newsletter, on your web site, or other publications, so long as the article's content is not altered and the resource box is included. Add byline and active link. Notification of the use of this article is appreciated, but not required.

Brian D. Johnston is the Director of Education and President of the I.A.R.T. fitness certification and education institute. He has written over 12 books and is a contributor author to the Merck Medical Manual. An international lecturer, Mr. Johnston wears many hats in the fitness and health industries, and can be reached at Visit his site at for more free articles.



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