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WARNING… Potential to twist precious men’s panties in a bunch. I ask you to read on with an open mind, and to read the whole damn article to get a sense of the context I was shooting for here.
But first, an analogy disguised as an extremely unlikely tale.
A Body Builder, a Powerlifter and a CrossFitter walk into a bar (I know, but bear with me here). They each order their drinks. The body builder, in his baggy colorful pants and stringer vest requests to the barkeep, “hey bro, I’ll have a scotch and sparkling water on the rocks, but hold the scotch”. The Powerlifter, in his knee high socks and T-shirt that reads “Bottles & Barbells” shouts to the bartender “give me whatever beer you recommend”. The Crossfitter, sporting his local CrossFit Box tee and stance socks, asks the bartender for a shot of tequila.
The CrossFitter downs his shot and bellows “TIME!”, but then quickly realises he’s no longer at the box. The other 2, slightly confused about what just happened, shrug their shoulders and start sipping on their drinks. Since the CrossFitter is done with his drink first, he gets the conversation started.
CrossFitter – “Can I ask you fellas a question?”
Powerlifter – “No I don’t do Paleo”
CrossFitter – “That wasn’t my question”.
Powerlifter – “Oh, sorry buddy, then shoot”
Bodybuilder – “I’m interested to see where this is going, this could get interesting. Please tell me you are not asking us to join the cult?”
CrossFitter – “Nah man nothing like that. Actually I wanted to get y’alls opinion on somethin. Now this could ruffle some feathers, but I’ma throw it out there.
The other two guys sit up tall, anticipating the impending topic of discussion, or argument depending on what question is asked.
CrossFitter -“We are all in damn good shape right? But in your opinion…. What do you consider to be the ultimate male physique? I mean, like, what are all the things that contribute to that, ya know?.
Bodybuilder – “Bro, that’s a pretty cool question. It’s a no-brainer for me. Arnold epitomises the ultimate male physique for me. His muscular development, symmetry and work ethic were second to none.”
Powerlifter – “Yeh man and Arnold was strong as hell too. I mean, surely strength & power is important too?”
CrossFitter ‘ “I hear you both, But is it just about how big you are? How strong you are? What about fitness? Surely a physique is also about what you can do with your body too?
Bodybuilder – “I see your point bro, but if we are talking about pure physique here, hands down bodybuilders know where it’s at!”
Powerlifter – “I dunno man, I think Mr CrossFit has point. I mean we’ve all seen those bodybuilders pumped full of drugs and can hardly squat a plate on each side. That shit is pretty embarrassing.”
CrossFitter – “Yeh man, I have so much more respect for guys like Arnold who really trained with Intensity but could still move. I mean look at Tom Platz. that guy squatted like an animal. I got mad props for that.”
Bodybuilder – “I can’t disagree. Although, not all bodybuilders are created equal though bro. I think we can learn a lot from each other. From my world, we can show how to bring up weak body parts and create greater symmetry and muscular awareness.
Powerlifter – “Can’t argue with that brother. I think powerlifters can teach you how to get brutally strong and crazy powerful. Strength and power are a huge part of masculine physicality. I mean I know Ronnie is crippled now, but that guy was a fricken animal as far as strength goes”.
CrossFitter – “That’s the thing, I think the ultimate male physique is something you have to define for yourself. I would much rather give up some size, be relatively strong for my size, but be able physically capable of just about any task thrown at me. I guess it just depends what’s important to you.
Bodybuilder – “I’ll raise a glass to to that bro”.
Powerlifter – “Cheers to that brother”.
What We Can Infer From A Bizarre Conversation
Now, I know what your thinking… There’s no way in hell that conversation would have been that amicable in real life. Maybe not. But the message I hope is clear. There are many facets that make up an incredible rig.
So what I share with you today is not a definite statement of what the Ultimate Male Physique is. Oh no no no, rather it is my own definition of what I feel contributes to the Ultimate Male Physique.
I can actually relate to all 3 of the athletes above. I started lifting at the gym 18 years ago to improve my ability as a young, dumb and full of cum teenager trying his damndest to become a decent rugby player. When I moved to Dubai 7 years back, I got into somewhat competitive CrossFit for around 5 years, eventually even competing as part of a team at Regionals competition. I’ve also spent time going through Powerlifting and Weightlifting focused blocks of training.
My current focus is packing on as much lean tissue as physically possible, and so my training focus has somewhat adapted and evolved again. Now there are 2 key takeaways I feel from this.
- The industry has done a good job of making people feel they have to identify in a particular area of training. There’s no reason you can’t have a relative amount of balance to your training approach.
- With that said, there are benefits to having a greater degree of focus and specificity at certain periods in time. It’s often just much more efficient this way to avoid unnecessary competing demands.
Perception & Understanding is Shifting
The way people are looking at training nowadays is starting to change. The way coaches view training is also starting to shift. Luke Leaman, founder of the Muscle Nerds, is a great example of this. The Muscle Nerds have helped make it popular again to dive a bit deeper, examining health biomarkers such as Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG), Blood Pressure (BP), and Heart Rate Variability (HRV). One of the biggest shifts in mindset is their “Least Mode to Beast Mode” type approach. Where steady state cardio was seen as a sure fire way to lose all of your gains, and was only used as part of a fat loss phase, they’ve flipped the switch on this rhetoric. You have to earn to right to ramp up volume and intensity
Slowly, it’s becoming common knowledge once again to make sure you have a strong aerobic base, as that will actually contribute to an increased ability to maximise muscle growth. An improved fat oxidative pathway, created through lower intensity activity, actually helps improve your ability to utilise the glycolytic pathway. Therefore, this will help not only maximise training output, but also increase mitochondrial density and the ability to recover between training sessions. As we all know, your training sessions are only as good as your ability to recover.
Joint integrity and mobility is something CrossFit, Powerlifting & Weightlifting athletes place great importance on. Proper preparation and potentiation is certainly also becoming more commonplace in the physique development world. All good physique coaches are prescribing relevant prep work pre-session.
Building An Insane Rig
Now when it comes to constructing an incredible physique, I will say that a more traditional hypertrophy approach, in my opinion, will be the most efficient way of doing so. That doesn’t mean that the traditional big sexy lifts can’t feature at some point (that’s of course if they fit you biomechanically) or that metcons or conditioning is necessarily off the table depending on where you are at currently. Let’ park those for the moment, and in the meantime I will lay out the key considerations for exercise selection in the quest for building an Adonis like temple.
I pride myself in teaching the Big 3 (Squat, Bench & Deadlift variations) and the Olympic Lifts pretty damn well. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone is structurally built to move like a chinese weightlifter. Where squats are great for one individual to build thunder thighs, they can be a recipe for disaster for the next individual. Structural limitations, soft tissue limitations and risk vs reward all have to be considered. Coaches need to refrain from pushing their personal bias on clients.
Efficiency Vs Inefficiency
Hypertrophy is all an inefficiency game. Strength is all about efficiency. Therein lies a key difference. The more skilled an individual becomes at a movement like squatting for example, the less effective it becomes for hypertrophy. Simply put, the adaption created is neurological for the most part. To give you an example, with my background in CrossFit and Weightlifting, squats are not a great hypertrophy movement for me. I am far too neurologically efficient at the movement to get that type of response. Put me on a hack or pendulum squat and it’s a whole different ball game. That doesn’t mean I can’t make the squat less efficient by manipulating the lever arm, tempo or the order I perform it in my session for example. All things considered, I get a better hypertrophy response when I get locked down, braced, stable and perform movements where my quads have nowhere to hide and my glutes and hamstrings can’t pitch in anywhere near as much. In short, you have to select exercises which actually provide the desired stress response. For less experienced lifters who can move safely, squats may well be a swell choice.
How often you can train in a week is going to play a role in how your training may be set up. How often per week and how long can you train for in each session? 45 minutes to an hour tops? Is 90 minutes doable? What equipment do you have access to? Do you travel often? Practicality is often overlooked but definitely has a significant impact on your approach. For the sake of this article, I will lay out what I feel is optimal if you have control of the above for the most part.
Getting Your Bang For Buck
In other words, where should most of your effort be directed exercise wise?
There are 3 key mechanisms to hypertrophy; Mechanical Tension, Muscular Damage and Metabolic Stress (or Metabolite Accumulation). Without diving into the nitty gritty of each of these mechanisms, it would be wise to direct most of our efforts towards those exercises which are going to maximally stimulate the greatest hypertrophy response.
Creating tension in the mid to lengthened position will bring about the greatest amount of mechanical tension and muscular damage, so prioritising these makes sense. That doesn’t mean heavy work shouldn’t be done in the shortened position, it’s just that it makes more sense for some muscle groups over others.
A great example of this is quads vs pecs. Leg extensions are fantastic for emphasising the short position at a mechanical disadvantage and can be loaded up fairly heavy. With the pecs, you are almost always going to have mechanical advantage in the short position, so it does not make sense to focus so much effort here, but rather direct effort towards metabolic stress in the pec’s shortened position.
Tune in next week when Ross brings you Part 2 of this article.
About the Author
Ross Gilmour is a specialist in applying broad movement principles and methods to specific clients and contexts. The precision of execution is an absolute non-negotiable! Programming in order to build strength, add muscle or improve athletic performance is a real passion of his. Ross also gets an immense sense of reward from helping active populations recover from injury, bridging the gap between rehab and performance.