Monday 3 March 2014

My Top 20 Body Transformation Tips for Guys

So you want to lose some belly fat and gain some rock-hard muscle? Want to improve your athletic performance or just look and feel like an athlete? If so, you came to the right place. A few weeks back I posted My Top 20 Female Body Transformation Tips. Well, it is time we look at what the male body needs to look, feel and perform at its best. Guys, here are my top 20 body transformation tips for you.

1. Train your legs
Want a bigger upper body? If so, then train your legs. Note: running, cycling, pick-up basketball, skiing and other such activities do not count as "leg training" and can never replace heavy squats, deadlifts and lunges. While some guys are blessed with amazing upper body genetics and can build fantastic upper bodies without a rep of squats, most of us guys cannot. So even if all you care about is a bigger upper body and you plan on wearing pants year round for the rest of your life you should still squat. Heavy leg training helps your whole body to grow. For more information, check out my post on Squat Your Way to a Bigger Upper Body.

Over the years I have been around a lot of female athletes and female trainers. Do you know which guys women make fun of? It is not the skinny guys or the not-so-skinny guys, but the guys with big upper bodies who don't train legs. Train your legs and you will earn the respect of other guys and the admiration of the ladies.

2. Build your routine around the best movements for YOU
When building your routine, focus on the following big movements: squats, deadlifts, presses (horizontal & vertical), pulls (horizontal & vertical) and loaded carries (e.g. farmer's walks). However explore different options to find the best exercise variations for you. For example, if you do not compete in powerlifting, you do not have to back squat, bench press and deadlift from the floor. You could do front squats, incline presses and deadlifts from a rack. The best exercises for you are the ones that let you regularly add more weight and work the muscles hard while sparing your joints. For more information, check out my previous posts on Selecting the Best Exercises for Your Goals Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

3. Don't train to be pretty - train for performance 
We are in a weird time in human history where guys seem more obsessed than ever about looking pretty. As a result, they waste time and energy on inferior exercises and are more concerned with the pump and burn than they are with getting stronger. Once you have selected the best exercises to get you to your goals, seek to get better at these exercises. Even if your goals are purely aesthetic, look to improve your performance in the gym and let aesthetics come as a natural by-product of proper training and nutrition. Some of the best bodybuilders of all time were very strong. Getting stronger helps you develop a hard, rugged, functional physique.

Also, be sure to do the exercises that make you look good from doing them, not the ones that make you look good while doing them. When doing photo shoots for magazines, photographers want exercises that make the model look good. As a result, exercises such as cable crossovers and concentration curls are often used. The reason is that these exercises allow the model to be posing with weights in their hands. However, these exercise are inferior exercises. While they may not look as pretty, exercises such as dips and chin-ups will build way more upper body size and strength than cable crossovers and concentration curls.

4. Earn the big weights
While big weights are helpful for building a big, strong, athletic body, this is only the case if you earn the big weights. Lifting your butt off the bench when bench pressing, cutting your squat depth and bouncing your deadlifts off the floor is cheating. Sure it will allow you to lift more weight, but not because you are actually stronger. Earn the right to lift the big weights by demonstrating proper form with lighter weights and maintaining that form and range of motion as you move the weights up.

5. Improve your posture
Most guys spend of their days hunched over their iphones. Then, they go to the gym and spend a disproportionate amount of time on their chests, abs and biceps (which all pull you into poor posture). As a result many guys in their early 20's have posture like men in their early 70's. If you stand up straight and pull your shoulders back, your chest will instantly look bigger and your stomach will look flatter. Better posture will instantly help you look, feel and perform better (click HERE for more details).

6. You are only as big as your back
This sage advice came from one of the best (and definitely the biggest and strongest) training partners I have ever had. While pecs, abs and biceps are nice, a big back is what separates the men from the boys. To build a bigger back, use the best exercises for each area:
Upper back/traps: Olympic weightlifting variations (e.g. snatch pulls), farmer's walks, deadlifts
Mid back: heavy deadlifts, heavy row variations (e.g. 1-arm DB rows, prone DB rows and bent-over rows)
Lats: weighted pull-ups and rows (with elbows tucked)
Low back: heavy deadlifts (see a theme here?)

7. Don't specialize in the bench unless you are a powerlifter
If you compete in the sport of powerlifting, you need to specialize in the bench press. However athletes and non-powerlifters should not be bench press specialists as this can create a lot of upper body dysfunction and increase your risk for shoulder problems. If you are not a powerlifter, don't do a bench press specialization routine and think of every other exercise as an accessory. If the bench press feels okay for you, then by all means get good at it, but also get good at overhead pressing, pull-ups and rows. Also, try to row what you bench. Most guys are way off,  but you don't have to be. For example, 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman can bench presses 5 plates (click HERE to see). and do bent-over rows with 5 plates ( click HERE, note: skip to 1:45 in the video if you are in a hurry). Ronnie's amazing back development and upper body symmetry are a testimony to his balanced upper body strength.

8. Gain weight to build bigger arms
To pick up on the theme of the previous tip, the body grows best as a unit. While some guys can build massive arms on a relative small frame, most of us cannot. I have horrible arm genetics and my arms have always lagged behind my other muscle groups. However, I was able to gain over 3 inches on my arms - by gaining about 50 pounds of muscle. Give your arms some special attention, but eat and train to drive the scale weight up and your arms will grow.

9. Don't try to spot reduce
I know that this one is typically more of a problem with ladies, but guys can still fall prey to this myth. Many guys waste time and energy doing useless ab exercises in hopes of getting a six pack while failing to realize that great looking abs are built in the kitchen. Also, many guys think they need cable crossovers to get a nice pec ledge. The truth is that weighted dips are a better exercise for the lower chest and the main reason most guys can't see a pec ledge is that they have too much body fat on their torsos, not that they are cable-crossover deficient.

10. Don't do traditional cardio
Coastal Fitness' "cardio theater"
Traditional cardio (e.g. jogging) sucks for improving athletic performance and for transforming your physique. It will decrease your performance and waste away your muscle. The best approach to "cardio is high intensity intervals (e.g. sprints and strongman exercises such as sleds and farmer's walks). On the other side of the intensity continuum walking is great for recovery, health and burning a few extra calories without causing a loss in muscle.

11. Keep up your mobility
As males, we tend to be less flexible than females. This gets worse with age and worse with poor training habits. What many guys fail to realize is that sufficient mobility is a prerequisite to staying healthy and being able to properly do the movements (e.g. squats) that will transform your body. If you have mobility issues, invest some time and money to get them fixed. For fastest results, involve a manual therapist. Spend a few minutes before training working on problem spots if needed. Then, at night before bed do some foam roller/lacrosse ball work and other mobility exercises (for more info, check out this playlist on my YouTube channel). In addition, many people fail to realize that staying balanced with their training and using a full, proper range of motion goes a long way to helping your body function properly and this minimizes the need for extra correctives.

12. Avoid beer
We all know what "beer gut" means. However, in addition to packing extra pounds around the middle, beer also lowers testosterone and raises estrogen (hard to call that a manly drink). If you want to transform your body, make beer a rare treat or avoid it entirely.

13. Use accurate progress checks
While feelings such as the pump, a burn, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness - that sorenss you feel a day or two after the training session) or exhaustion may happen with certain types of training, they do not guarantee you will actually look or perform better. Many guys leave the gym with an amazing pump each workout yet fail to build any muscle. Use more accurate measures to monitor your progress such as: your training journal, your measurements and before/after photos. Click HERE for more details on monitoring your body composition.

14. Log your food
Unless you are at or making great progress towards your ideal body composition, log your food. This will hold you accountable and help you make sure your eating is supporting your goals. With apps such as MyFitnessPal or sites such as LiveStrong, food logging has never been easier. Also, click HERE for more info on food logging.

15. A calorie is not a calorie 
While some guys mistakenly think "a calorie is a calorie" when trying to lose fat, this myth is even more prevalent among guys trying to gain muscle. While it is true that you need extra calories to gain weight, where you get those calories will determine how much of your weight gain is muscle and not fat, how good your joints feel, how quickly you recover, how healthy you are, how well you perform (in and out of the gym) and ultimately how good you look. Don't be lazy when gaining muscle and use junk food to bulk up. Even 4000-5000 calories is doable with clean foods. Unless you honestly need more calories than that (and some do), make them clean calories - it will make a difference. Click HERE for more info on calories.

16. Get into parasympathatic dominance
The intense training required to stimulate growth is a big stress on the body that requires the body to be in more of a sympathetic dominance (i.e. fight or flight mode). However, it is the time away from the gym where your body recovers and grows. Outside of training, try to keep your body in parasympathatic dominance - which is the rest and recover mode. Note: this will help raise your testosterone levels and promote muscle growth and recovery. This is especially important for ectomorphs (hard gainers who are naturally really skinny) as they tend to be stressed and worried most of the time.

While there are many great stress management techniques that can help, simply doing slow, deep breathing from your diaphragm is a great way to shift into parasympathatic dominance. Also, learn to chill and don't sweat the small stuff. Don't obsess over every little detail like the exact angle of your incline bench or the best placement of your pinky finger for dumbbell curls to maximize the biceps peak - these are not deal-breakers! Don't stay up all night reading training articles to find the "perfect program" (it doesn't exist). Relax and grow.

17. Sleep more
Sleep is a tremendous opportunity for growth and repair. It also creates a better hormonal profile for building muscle and burning fat. More sleep is a key ingredient in elite athletic performance and the amazing physique transformations that actors make for movies. While you may not be able to sleep 10+ hours a night, do the best you can to get more sleep and a better quality of sleep. It will make a huge difference in your results.

18. Be coachable
Many of my male intern strength coaches quickly discover that they enjoy coaching females more than males. No, this is not just because the ladies are better looking, but rather that they are more teachable. Most guys come into the weight room with the attitude, "I know what I'm doing." Most women on the other hand come into the weight room without the ego. As a result, they get good coaching and make amazing progress. Take a less from the ladies, check your ego at the door and be coachable, teachable and open to expert advice.

19. Find a real gym or train at home
Coastal Fitness' squat racks, plates and barbells,
the sign of a real gym!
Most gyms are not catered to what you need for effective training. If your gym does not have squat/power racks, does not let you deadlift and does not allow chalk, you need to find another gym. If you live in the Langley, BC area, I highly recommend Coast Fitness a fantastic semi-private gym owned by my good friend and respected colleague Ryan Jobs. Another good option for many people is to simply get a power rack, a quality barbell, lots of plates (and of course chalk) and train at home. In short, find a place that lets you train properly.

20. Follow a solid, appropriate program
Your complete guide to looking and
feeling like an athlete!
While it is vitally important to work hard, you also want to work smart and follow an appropriate program. Many guys make the mistake of trying to follow an elite, drug-using bodybuilding or powerlifting program. While it is important to have a goal-appropriate program, it is also vitally important to have a level-appropriate program. Beginners will make the fastest possible progress following a beginner routine, not an advanced one. For a complete guide to stripping fat off your body and looking and feeling like an athlete, check out my ebook Athletic Training for Fat Loss. It is will teach you how to train, how to develop a customized diet plan and provide you with several complete training programs for beginners, intermediates and advanced trainees. Click HERE for more information.

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