We’ve all seen the fitness transformation pictures before, right? Heck, the whole fitness industry is based on these transformation pictures.

Here’s a quick question. Looking at the above picture, can you pick the true statement, A or B?


DAY 1: 6’2” 195 lbs, 14% body fat


DAY 30: 6’2” 185 lbs, 9% body fat



DAY 1: 6’2” 190 lbs, 12% body fat


DAY 2: 6’2” 192 lbs, 12% body fat

NH Wise sidebyside

Here’s the truth. B is correct!

That “after” picture is ONE DAY after the before picture. That’s right, I’m 2 lbs heavier on the scale in that “after” shot and I’m exactly the same body fat.

What the hell has changed then?  Why do I look much leaner than the before picture?

One word – manipulation.

Or more specifically in 6 words:

Better lighting. No hair. Muscle pump.

It’s this manipulation of “before and after” pics that lies at the heart of the fitness industry. And it’s not doing anyone any good. Today I’ll share my thoughts as to why this is so problematic and what I believe is a better solution.

First off, here’s the 3 factors that most transformation pictures have in common.

1) Better Lighting / Angle

Ask any photographer and they will tell you it’s all about lighting. Especially with body shots, getting the right light from the right angle will make a huge difference to what your body looks like. The simple act of standing at an angle with the torso rotated will also give the appearance of a leaner physique.

2) No Hair

This is a big one. When was the last time you saw a ripped dude on the cover of men’s health magazine with chest hair? Never. Chest and stomach hair hide muscle definition in the body so with a full body of hair, there is the appearance of less muscle. Get rid of the hair and boom – muscles become more visible and the body appears more muscular and leaner. As a hairy beast myself, this was the biggest of the 3 factors.

3) Muscle Pump

The muscle “pump” refers to the excessive blood flow to a muscle that creates the appearance of bigger muscles. The swollen feeling you get in your biceps after doing 30 reps of bicep curls is the pump in action. Blood rushes to the arms, the skin tightens around the swollen muscles and you get the look of jacked arms.

Combine the pump with good lighting and get rid of the body hair, and you have what looks to be an amazing transformation.

All you have to do is throw a big “BEFORE” and “AFTER”, claim the difference is because of some product that you selling, and boom…you have a successful internet fitness business.

I look around and see this all the time in the fitness industry.

Whether it’s the Multi Level Marketing (MLM) “coaches” selling an overpriced protein powder, or a 30-day fat loss program selling their workout program, all marketing focuses on the before and after pics.

Transformation pics galore! 


Because transformation pictures work. They drive people to make decisions. To buy products. We are emotional creatures that make decisions mostly on a subconscious level. When we see a transformation picture that we can relate to, we think it could be us. We think to ourselves “We’re going to be the next success story.”

Here’s the big problem.

This transformation fixated fitness industry misses the bigger point. The basic assumption is that we should “look” a certain way according to some made up fictional idea of what culture says.

What the hell is that look? Why do we want to look that way? And is it truly healthier?

Transformation culture says nothing with how we feel, how well our bodies move, and how we can function in everyday life.

Nick Action collage

To me, those are the more important questions.

We need to change the conversation away from a look and focus on the feel.

Here’s are the 2 major problems from transformation fixated fitness:

1) Feeds The Comparison Game Which Is A Losing Proposition

If only I looked like “x” celebrity, I would feel so much better about myself. Or if only I looked like “y” model, I would be so much happier. Here’s the problem with that logic. It completely externalizes your sense of worth.

All of a sudden you export happiness, joy, and a sense of belonging in this world to some external thing that isn’t 100% under your control. The outcome of six pack abs or a toned sculpted body is dependent on so many factors. And if and when you do “get there” wherever there is, normally what happens is that there’s something else that you want. There’s no satisfaction, there’s always this idea chasing something else.

When you drop the comparison game, you’ve forced to look inside. To do the work to get to know yourself a little better. To move along the path of self mastery. To fall in love with the journey. To get a little better each and every month. This is the path to long-term health and vitality. 

2) Ignores The Reality Of Real Life & The Trade-offs Needed To Achieve Certain Physiques

As my friend Justin Miller likes to say, “most people like the idea of six-pack abs, 8% body fat, and a rock hard booty that you can bounce quarters off of. However, most people don’t like what you’ll have to do to achieve those things.”

There are some serious tradeoffs my friend. The “cost” of getting lean is real. You have to be real with yourself and ask are you willing to:

  • Get to sleep at 10pm every night
  • Skip a few happy hours per month
  • Be “that guy” or “that girl” that orders a salad at dinner when everyone else is crushing pizza

Most people, when they drill down to the real reason as to why they want get fit and healthier, aren’t after six packs and ripped torsos. When I peel the onion back with many clients that I work with, it comes down to feelings.

To FEEL confidence in their body.

To DO physical activities more often.

To BE someone who they currently are not.

Looking a certain way might be on list, but it’s normally not in the top 5 when we get serious.

The Feeling Of Fit

Focusing on the feelings is the key to a lifetime of health, vibrancy, and fitness.

  • How do you feel in your body?
  • Do you have energy?
  • Are you able to move around well?
  • Do you have pain?
  • Can you manage stress?
  • Are you able to focus?
  • Can you be fully engaged in a conversation?
  • Do you feel alive?

This is the shit that matters.

I’m not saying in any way that looking good is bad. No way. All I’m saying is that focusing on the look is not the solution. Let the “look” be the byproduct of the feeling of fit.

Hopefully, after reading this, you realize that many the transformation images you see could be bullshit. Or how easy it is to manipulate photos to persuade you to buy products. Be skeptical of grand claims based on these pictures.

By focussing on the feeling, you’ll be surprised what happens. Often times, the physical transformation takes care of itself. It becomes a byproduct of the real change. You become a fit, healthy person that functions better at everything you do in life.

That is the true transformation.

Here are a few free resources below that will help get you started.


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