Even now, still, it’s ‘Brad Pitt in Fight Club’. That’s the body blokes ask for,” says personal trainer Tim Walker. “He looks great but he’s not massive. He’s just got really good abs, good arms and an alright chest. And that’s what people want: to be lean, have a six pack.” Walker, 34, from Essex, has been a personal trainer since 2003, and for the last 12 years has specialised in transforming men’s physiques in 12 weeks. “My clients tend to be from 20 to around 50 years old,” Walker says. “I’m training one bloke who’s 57.” The programme is intense and comprehensive, consisting of four weekly one-on-one sessions with Walker plus “homework” (think sprints, press-ups and cardio) and a complete diet overhaul. It’s a schedule I have agreed to undertake.
I’m embarking on Walker’s three-month Warrior Workout because I’m investigating men’s bodies. That is, ahem, I’m investigating the trend of men getting increasingly… ripped. Jacked. Pumped. Whatever you call it, it’s a certain type of “fit”. “There’s this big thing now called ‘physique training’,” Walker says. “It’s all about having abs, looking like a fitness model.” It’s a look that has come to prominence in recent years. “It used to be bodybuilding,” Walker adds, “but that look’s unattainable — you have to take steroids. With physique training, instead of spending 10 years trying to build mass, you just get really lean.”
This tendency towards buffness is a cultural phenomenon defined by author and journalist Mark Simpson as “spornosexuality”. The term, denoting men who strive to look like sportsmen or porn stars, marks the next stage in the evolution of the preening, mediated “metrosexual” (a word Simpson introduced to the public consciousness in a 1994 article in The Independent, then popularised in a 2002 piece for US news site salon.com).
Simpson first began writing about “sporno” culture in 2006, noting the rise in hypersexualised, homoprovocative imagery of sportsmen: Dolce & Gabbana’s fashion shoots featuring the Italian national football team in the shower in 2006; Freddie Ljungberg on the cover of Attitude magazine; the French rugby players of the Dieux du Stade nude calendars. The concept appeared as one of the New York Times’ 2006 Ideas of the Year. In 2014, Simpson pronounced the metrosexual finally dead — superseded by the spornosexual.
The spornosexual is a more extreme breed of man than his metro forebear. He is just as plucked, tanned and moisturised, but leaner, buffer, more jacked and obsessed not just with “looking good” in the abstract, but with the actual physical proportions of his frame: the striation of his abs, the vascularity of his biceps, the definition of his calves.
He defines himself less by the clothes he wears than by his HD-ready body, which is perpetually ready to be ogled on the beach, admired on the high street as it bursts out of a skin-tight plunging V-neck T-shirt, or rubbed-up-against under the flickering strobe of an Essex nightclub. He was defined as the “modern British douchebag” by writer Clive Martin in Vice, who described him as “an erection in a vest. A walking, preening monument to the British masculinity crisis, a sports science Übermensch with an indecent exposure charge to his name.”