The A4 Waist....and other such nonsense

Currently, as I work with athletes in Shanghai, China leading up to the National Chinese Games, I have come across a number of strange and nonsensical ideals regarding health, weight loss and performance.

The thing that really made me think however, was that the creation of these ideals is UNIVERSAL….all that changes are the specifics.

For example, there are many not-so-harmful beliefs such as Paleo in Western Countries and walking backwards in China to ‘reverse aging’. Both pose very low risks, ie: falling over walking backwards, but there is also scientific evidence that there could potentially be better benefits associated with other alternatives.

Then, there is the high-risk category.

The two I’ve just discovered, which hold an extremely high-end negative potential is something young girls have dubbed “The A-4 Waist” and “The iphone Knee”…. I kid you not.

The A-4 waist is supposedly when you get so thin, you can hold a piece of A4 paper (portrait style) in front of your stomach and not see your waist on the outside of the paper. The iPhone knee is based around the same concept, but it relates to holding an iPhone 6 (landscape style) across the front of your knees (together) and if you can’t see the side of your legs, you are deemed to be ‘skinny enough’. Concerning to say the least.

The reason I’m bringing up these issues is certainly not to build the attention that topics like this crave, but to utilize this medium as a platform for why this is such absolute absurdity. Apart from the obvious, there are numerous scientific reasons as to why these ideals are, well, basically stupid. First of which is, WHEN DID A4 PAPER AND AN IPHONE BECOME A LEGITIMATE MEASURE??! Ridiciulous.

Secondly, there is something called, “Somatotyping”.

Originally developed by an American Psychologist named William Herbert Sheldon in the 1940’s, Somatotyping was intended to categorise humans by means of physique & psychological profile. Whilst the psychological theory of somatotyping is no longer considered valid, the main premise of these physical qualities still remains and can be a valid and useful tool in helping you to reach your health goals. A quick run down of the body types can be seen in the picture shown, along with these descriptions:

Mesomorph: Generally short and stocky

Endomorph: Usually considered to have a ‘pear shape’ figure

Ectomorph: Often tall and lean

It’s important to note that you will usually fall into 2 of the 3 categories, with one of them being considered your dominant somatotype. Interestingly, some studies have found that somatotyping can have an influence on sporting performance. Kandel, M et al (2013) found that the somatotype of a male athlete defines 28.6% variance in Ironman races, particularly in the running section, and further suggests that decreasing the Endomorph body type towards Ectomorphic will improve overall times and performance.

Remember, this isn’t necessarily CHANGING your body type, just minimizing the negative effects it may have on your chosen sport or lifestyle goal. For example, I know many Ectomorphs who aren’t interested in Ironman Triathalons but REALLY want to build muscle and compete. In this case, it will be about altering your training and dietary plan to suit ‘bulking up’ with lean muscle, by eating a greater amount of nutritionally valuable foods and training with higher volumes in the gym. With that being said, let’s not beat around the bush. An Ectomorph, who is generally tall and lean in nature, will literally have to ‘work their assess off’ to put an ass on! Likewise with that Endomorph who desperately wants to compete in his/her first Ironman event…it ain’t going to be easy.

Me? I’m predominantly Mesomorphic, meaning I can look at a weight in the gym and start to put on lean muscle. However, this also means I can look at a donut and it feels like within 2 days I have developed a Dad Bod. Unfortunately for me, I have one of the world’s worst cases of ‘Sweet Tooth’, meaning anything with some form of sugar in it makes me feel like taking ‘a hit’! It just means I need to be aware of what my body reacts negatively to, and try to do that less often.

Whatever somatotype you happen to be dominant in, there are ways and means to achieve what you want in a smart and effective way, and knowing this, we now just need to ensure that those goals are smart AND realistic… having goals that put your health at risk like the A4 waist are not only downright dangerous, but to be honest, it highlights an unhappiness within the individual to try and appease others, regardless of what they truly ARE.

This, to me, is the greatest concern and hopefully there are good enough friends and family out there to work overtime on these issues with their loved ones, especially to let them know that each somatotype will have some positive use when compared to the other types.

There is no good to come from an “iphone 6 knee”.

“The normal is what you find but rarely. The normal is the ideal. It is the picture that one fabricates of the average characteristics of men, and to find them all in one single man, is hardly to be expected.” -Somerset Maugham

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