With hefty schedules and an emphasis on strength, male athletes focus on gaining muscle, staying healthy and maintaining a certain body type.
With these expectations comes insecurities and perceptions of body image many male athletes don’t often talk about.
Josh Sorbe, a sophomore on the swimming/diving team, said the team focuses a lot on their chests, shoulders and cores.
“When we’re swimming, that’s particularly what we focus on and make sure we have good body alignment with our cores,” he said.
Cross country focuses on strengthening different body parts.
“Of course legs, when it comes to training,” said junior cross country member Eldon Warner. “Most of what we focus on is the core or what’s called your VO2, which is essentially how your blood carries oxygen. So it’s all about running, getting your miles in and boosting your cardio.”
Since football players have different body types, some train differently.
“With bigs, it’s a lot of legs… also, for bigs, you need a bigger punch where you’re striking, so a lot of shoulder work,” said Josh Leohr, a senior offensive/defensive lineman. “There’s so many different position groups and so many different types of bodies that we’re focused on our position and how to best perform on the field.”
Warner said having low body fat is important in cross country.
“For them to be able to perform the way they need to, they’re going to have very low body fat and it’s just how it needs to be to perform at that level at that high of a volume,” he said.
Sorbe said strength in swimming and diving is treated differently than in other sports.
“In swimming, there are two ways to get faster: you either gain strength and get more perpulsion, or you reduce your drag in your water with your technique,” he said. “Having sheer strength is a lot more important to sprinters who do a 50 down and back in the water where they have to go as fast as they can. For long distance swimmers like myself, it’s more longevity strength.”
Warner said strength in the core is important for cross country runners.
“Everything that’s physical, any physical activity you can do is based around the core,” Warner said. “If you don’t have a strong core, then you really don’t have anything.”
From a football standpoint, gaining muscle is extremely important.
“You always want to be the biggest, fastest, strongest player out there and the biggest, fastest, strongest team out there,” Leohr said. “It’s very important to hit the weight room and give your all in the weight room.”
Since basketball players focus more on speed, junior center/forward Tyler Hagedorn said gaining muscle isn’t a vital part in their training.
“Especially in my position as a center, it’s extremely important to be strong and physical because there’s a lot of banging and bruising and rebounding,” he said. “We’re not just trying to gain muscle mass — in basketball there’s a lot more running. It’s really one of the only sports that is just non-stop play.”
Sorbe said he thinks male athletes have more insecurities about muscle.
“I think it’s definitely something that men internalize, but everyone has some sort of insecurity when it comes to muscle, especially in the weight room where everything is divided up by racks and you can tell who’s lifting 175 pounds and who’s lifting 115 pounds,” he said. “I’m 6 foot 4 and 185 pounds, and I know I will not lift as much as the person who’s 5 foot 10, a sprinter and weighs 220.”
Leohr said there’s a misconception of football body types.
“When you think of football players, you think of big dudes, meatheads that yell in the weight room and throw a bunch of weight around,” Leohr said. “(But) there are guys who are not ‘weight room guys.'”
Sorbe said people expect male swimmers to be tall, with a longer wingspan and be slender with wide shoulders.
“Looking at my team and looking at other swimmers at other schools that I’ve worked at, that’s not the case for a lot of them,” he said.
For basketball players, height is crucial, as well as having a muscular, but not too muscular, build.
“There’s different positions, so height is important,” Hagedorn said. “You don’t want to be thick. We’re more just trying to stay tone and as fit as we can be with a slimmer physique because it’s a lot of running.”
Warner said he’s dealt with body image insecurities before, but has learned to come to terms with his body since becoming an athlete.
“I’m only 5 foot 6, 5 foot 7, and then I’m also very small when it comes to my waist and my chest,” he said. “Ever since high school, I’ve always battled with what is my image. I don’t have too much of a problem with my physical appearance, just because I know that for me to achieve what I want to get, this is the body I’m going to have to deal with.”
Sorbe said male swimmers sometimes feel insecure because of the smaller swimsuits.
“It really shows off the rest of your body,” he said. “Not just for our men, but women as well. They become self concious when they’re walking around the pool with their entire back exposed and all their legs below the waist, as well.”
Competition is a common trait in football players, Leohr said.
“The main concern would be, ‘Oh, is this guy stronger than me? Because I need to be stronger than him,'” he said. “It’s really strength and speed aspect of, ‘OK, is so-and-so faster than me so I have to work on my speed? So-and-so is benching 400 pounds, I should bench 405.'”
Hagedorn said maintaining a certain body image is a “livelihood” for basketball players.
“If our bodies aren’t right and we can’t perform at the level we’re supposed to, who knows what could happen?” he said. “I weigh a little bit less than the typical center in the Summit League… right now I’m like 230. Once we start preseason, it’s so hard to keep on your weight.”
Sorbe said it’s important to realize body sizes shouldn’t matter.
“Look at the final result on the scoreboard, because there are a lot of Olympic swimmers who are 5 foot 8, 5 foot 9, and they’re men,” he said. “I think people need to look more objectively at the scoreboard and the times themselves and not at what the person looks like behind the blocks.”
Warner said body image is “ingrained” in people.
“Being healthy is good, it looks good, it feels good,” he said. “(But) as long as you’re happy, that’s OK. As long as you’re doing what you love and you love yourself, that’s OK.”
Hagedorn said body image isn’t as important as being healthy.
“Being healthy is our livelihood. That is one of the most important things in our lives right now,” he said. “You can only be an athlete for so long, so in these four years of college, being in the best shape you can be and not ruining your body with unhealthy choices is extremely important.”
This is the second part of The Volante’s body image series. Next week will be the final part, which focuses on coaches’ perspectives of athletes’ body image.