Organ damage and health problems are rife in people who "look fit." In fact, underweight people have a 7.3% higher risk of cardiovascular disease than "normal weight" people: https://journals.lww.com/md-journal/Fulltext/2017/12010/Underweight___another_risk_factor_for.32.aspx. Thus, we have to be careful for what we're giving credit and to whom it's given. Then, we have to be even more careful that we aren't judging ourselves or others harshly by a fallacious standard based on what we think we see when we observe someone who has lower body fat.
There’s a famous speaker who gives some no-holds-barred speeches on mental toughness. I like him. He’s got wonderful insights on overcoming the barriers we put on ourselves. One of my friends and I were discussing some of his great quotes, when my friend said something about the speaker’s incredible strength. My face turned to puzzlement. The speaker is a skinny runner. I said, “even though he’s 15 years younger than you, you do realize that you can out deadlift, out squat, out bench, and, even with regard to endurance, probably out bike him, right?” My friend’s face turned to puzzlement. He said, “I don’t know... he’s pretty ripped.”
Lol. I get it. We all get confused about body composition. Leanness doesn’t equate to ability, certainly not to strength. Pre-existing strength does make the achievement of leanness easier. But pre-existing leanness doesn’t tell us anything about strength performance on external objects. Lean people will have a relatively easier time moving their own body than if they weren’t lean. That’s obvious. But especially in highly trained endurance athletes, their strength with regard to force production outside of their sport specificity is ho-hum compared to a recreational strength athlete. If you ever have to be in a physical fight, your last choice for an adversary should be a highly trained grappler, your next to last choice should be a strength athlete, and your number one choice should be a highly trained endurance athlete.
This conflation is common. People think “low body fat = greatness.” That’s not really how it works. Low body fat = low body fat. Give credit where it’s due; but don’t start gifting credit for something unrelated.
And that conflation is societally problematic. We see an example, a single datum; we confer on it unearned traits; and then we proceed to judge ourselves against a fictional character we just invented in our minds. Low self-worth ensues. We make attempts at rectifying the low self-worth by copying bad programming of the fictional character. That bad programming may have no application, period, let alone for our personal progress.
Take this skinny runner guy, for example. His method was “grind myself into the ground.” He had the genetics or luck or whatever it was to survive really imprudent methodology. Basically everything he did to get himself in shape was inefficient and unnecessarily risky. There are better, safer and less time-consuming techniques. But because he was so stubborn and so hardening himself mentally against pain, he succeeded IN SPITE of flawed technique. This is also why, if you follow him, you’ll notice no mention of structural lifts. He’s too injured and too weak to perform even basic ones. And he’s still young. So his late-in-life health prospects aren’t looking too great.
Nonetheless, people will look at this guy, see he’s got abs, and think, “he’s healthy.” Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Slow down there. He’s tough. He’s enduring. He’s lean. He has some awesome toughness advice. But we haven’t clue one about his muscular strength because he never performs exercises with a heavy load. That aside, how did we leap to healthy? He incurred severe stress fractures and abided by sleep deprivation to achieve outcomes. Excessive overtraining plus sleep deprivation isn’t healthy for anyone. Watch yourself on the logic jumps. We don’t get to attribute traits where none exist.
All would be well and good, except people think of crazies like this guy as an example to emulate. I'm sorry. "Grind yourself into the ground” isn’t really a strategy. It’s what one person who refused to study biology and exercise science SURVIVED. On average, those same techniques WILL NOT WORK for the majority of people AND those techniques will assuredly shorten lifespan. Someone else’s “survive” for the moment does not equal your “thrive” for a lifetime.
For your own physical and mental health, give credit where it’s due, but not where it’s don’t