Saturday, April 13, 2013

Exercises for a Lean Body

I love to travel and I especially like to see gyms and the fitness industry in other countries. During my recent trip to Seoul, South Korea I met a great trainer, Cody Hunter from New Zealand. He is the owner and head trainer of Reebok Crossfit Sentinal a company that specialises in group training for expats. One of the main reasons I respect Cody is his ability to take what he needs from a specific method. He doesn't fall into the trap that many trainers do, that there is only one method to get in shape. He inspired me to write this article as he and I were discussing the physique that most of our clients aspire to have.
When people commence personal training they usually have an idea in their mind of how they want to look. The initial conversation usually goes something like this: "I don't want to look like him" the client explains to me as he points at a picture of IFBB pro Branch Warren on a magazine cover. "He's too big!" I have heard a statement like this numerous times and my reply is always the same, "You couldn't look like him even if you wanted to!" The names that usually follow are Brad Pitt in Fightclub, Cristiano Ronaldo, Daniel Craig etc. I would say this athletic type physique is the most common physique goal I see as a personal trainer. The good news is this athletic look is a lot easier to achieve than the muscle mass and grainy striations Branch Warren displays. As this athletic look is probably the most popular physique goal of trainees embarking on personal training I thought I would outline some key exercises that are extremely useful for attaining this type of look.
Snatch grip deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift variation is rarely seen in commercial gyms. It is derived from Olympic lifting, as most of the best exercises are. Strength and conditioning expert Charles Poliquin has described this as the best exercise to increase muscle mass. This movement will build the width of your upper back as well as the powerful muscles of the posterior chain (lower back, glutes and hamstrings). One important factor you need to remember with this exercise, and any major compound movement, is that it is not just about the working muscles but also about the hormonal response it elicits. In the example of the snatch grip deadlift this hormonal response is massive which will provide growth for your whole body. Be conservative with your load selection for this one as the form can be tricky. Maintain a neutral posture and drop your hips low. If you have flexibility issues start in a rack with the bar below your knees. Also, feel free to use straps if you're using this movement for purely aesthetic purposes.
Close grip chin up
Back width is key to an athletic look. If you are born with a thick ribcage you will always struggle to attain this V-shape. However, although you cannot change the size of your ribcage you can increase the muscle mass on your shoulders and upper back. What you really need to focus on for this is the latisimuss dorsi muscle, specifically the lower fibres. The key to recruiting any muscle is to fully stretch the working muscle through performing a lengthening contraction before the shortening contraction. Put simply, you need to get a full stretch on your lats before you contract them. One of the best exercises to do this is the close grip chin up. It is important to keep your elbows in front during the movement to really target the lower fibres of the lats and to get a full stretch by lowering yourself until your upper arms in line with your ears. Chin-ups too difficult, then use a lat-pulldown whilst applying the same rules until you graduate to the real thing.
Press up
The press up is an excellent athletic movement and with the right variance can be used to build the whole of the pectorals. There are endless variations of this popular exercise, which work the chest, shoulders & triceps. The distribution of the load for each of these muscle groups is different depending on which variation you adopt. For example, a closer hand position will work the triceps more, whereas placing your hands in a wider position will have more of the load distributed on the chest. Another little known fact is the press up is excellent for shoulder health. Unlike a traditional bench press, press ups work the serratus anterior muscle which is a key component of shoulder stability. There are literally hundreds of variations of the press up and this exercise is worthy of a whole article in itself. Plus this is an exercise that requires zero equipment, so if stuck in a hotel room or a foreign jail use the opportunity to become a press-up expert.
Barbell thrusters
The barbell thruster is a combination of two Olympic lifting movements, the front squat and the push press. A little known fact about the front squat is that, apart from the obvious lower body benefits, it actually works the abdominals as well. Maintaining the upright position places stress on the rectus abdominus making this a complete full body movement. The limitation of this exercise is that the load you can front squat will be considerably lower than what you can military press (It should be if you ever train your legs not just your chest and arms!). Therefore, the load is restricted to what you can military press.This exercise won't do much for your leg strength but it does function well as a full body conditioning movement particularly in a fat-loss routine. The shoulders, triceps, abdominals, glutes and quads are all working in this exercise. If time is an issue for you this is a great way to provide a stimulus for a lot of major muscle groups in one go.
Decline reverse sit-up
Undoubtedly if I asked my personal training clients the muscle group they would like to fully develop it would be the abdominals. Unfortunately you can have the most developed rectus abdominus (six-pack being the technical term) in the world but if your body-fat is high you won't be able to see them. With this said I disagree with coaches that do not recommend direct abdominal work for bodybuilding. If you are training for aesthetics purposes you need to train your abs and train them hard, but only once your body-fat is low enough for them to show through. I have seen trainees (note, not my clients) get their body-fat down below 10% but their abs didn't stand out because they didn't train them. One of my favourite exercises for training the abs is the decline reverse sit-up. This movement contracts the lower fibres first and will fully develop your abs. Focus on rolling the hips and really try to squeeze the abs as you lift your knees up.
So there you have it, some simple but effective exercises to get you an athletic look. Doing these exercises is the easy part, organising these movements into a consistent training plan is the hard part. Obviously dietary control is crucial to getting lean. Enjoy!

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