In American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis’s novel about the rapacious 1980s, Patrick Bateman, the central character, (I hesitate to even call him an antihero), is an amoral Wall Street trader who takes his killer instincts from the boardroom to the streets of New York, where he slaughters anyone unlucky enough to come across him.
Bateman, who narrates the novel, is rich, successful, handsome and a complete narcissist. He is also one of the first creatures in literature to list not just what he wears (mostly Armani), but how he trains in order to give him a suitably intimidating physique. His work out is written about in almost deliberately tedious detail. Brett Easton Ellis clearly wanted readers to draw parallels between Bateman’s self-obsession and his ability to make money and, eventually, to kill.
Nowadays nearly everyone working in the City of London or Wall Street works out, although they probably don’t follow Patrick Bateman’s work out, which if followed to the letter would take three hours a day, every day, to complete (leaving very little time to rake in the cash or slaughter tramps). For most people the point of working out is to feel good. For Bateman, and his real life contemporary counterparts, it’s about looking good.
This is actually not as facile as it seems. Looking good is a side effect of being healthy, but it is also the first thing people notice about you. A large and powerful upper body has been shown to have a positive effect on everything from job interviews to success with potential sexual partners. People notice your body and the signs it gives off far more quickly than they do your facial expressions. Researchers at Princeton University performed a very simple experiment. They asked study participants to judge from photography whether that person is feeling joy, loss, victory or pain. Some photographs showed facial expressions only, some showed body language and some both. And the results couldn’t have been any more startling:
“In four separate experiments, participants more accurately guessed the pictured emotion based on body language — alone or combined with facial expressions — than on facial context alone.”
Meanwhile, in Harvard, professor Amy Cuddy looked at how posture affected people’s perception of you. Her research reveals some extremely interesting things. The first is that expressing more powerful poses helps us get better jobs, makes us feel better and makes us more successful. A powerful posture is open, accentuating the chest and back muscles and giving you the classic and much sought after V shape that graces fashion and health magazines. Cuddy also discovered that when we have a powerful upper body and use it to strike powerful poses, our chemical and hormonal balance actually changes. Testosterone, the “power” hormone, which amongst lots of other things helps us to be a better leader (or at least feel like one), and have more focus and attention, was actually seen to be elevated simply by striking a pose. In other words, those Eighties suits with shoulder pads weren’t entirely a bluff since they definitely caused our testosterone to increase.
Conversely, when subjects felt vulnerable and thus made themselves smaller, folding their arms, tightly crossing their legs or hunching, the stress hormone was released, making people feel overwhelmed and powerless.
This may all go a great deal of the way to explaining why so many men spend so much time working on their upper body and ignoring their bum and legs. This is a mistake, not just because it at best leaves you looking like one of Pixar’s The Incredibles, but also because working solely on your upper body won’t actually make your chest and back as they could be. Leg work outs massively increase the amount of testosterone produced, meaning you have to work on your legs to have an impressive chest.
One final thing, a lot of men work very hard on their chests (because it’s easy), but not quite so hard on their backs. Overdo this and you end up with pecs so heavy they can actually tip you forward slightly, giving you what is known in gyms as ‘the bouncer look’, or more unkindly, the silver-back gorilla look. So remember to be and look successful, work the whole body. Oh, and try not to kill anyone.
American Psycho Patrick Bateman also spent several hours a week humiliating his business rivals on the expensive private squash courts of Manhattan. What a charmer.
What does a powerful body look like? And how do you get one, asks Ben Marshall