It’s almost become a cliche in the strength and conditioning world to admonish someone who wants to build a particular muscle, or group of muscles, strictly for the “look”. This feeling is so common place I recently saw a local trainer posting online that he, “doesn’t respect anyone who trains to look a certain way instead of performing better.”
Now, of course he’s entitled to his own opinion BUT… not only will I outwork him in the gym and outrun him on the track but I’ll do both of these things while looking significantly more badass than him doing it. Maybe that’s a big egotistical of me to say but to be honest, that’s not something that bothers me anymore. I train HARD and I train hard because I want to perform well, I want to feel good, I want to be strong and do I also want to look like someone you could cast in a Marvel movie next week? You’re goddamn right I do!
Before we even get into the muscle that will give you the “look” that I’m talking about the first thing we need to get out of the way is that it’s ok to want to look good. We’re bombarded with “self-help” advice about “just doing things for ourselves”, “running our own race” and “not worrying about what other people think”. Sure, there are times and situations where these pieces of advice are important and you should focus on, and take pride in, your own progress and your own goals BUT there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to straight up win a race. Not just “your own race” but a real, competitive race. There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying the fact that people are going to admire your arms or your abs or your seemingly new jaw line as you get in better and better shape.
When I’m out for a run, shirtless, and people comment on my abs or my arms or (as odd as it was the first time) my glutes - do you want to know how I feel? Honestly? I feel great! It’s fun to have people recognize your hard work and admire the body you’ve built for yourself and if that’s something you want then I don’t think you should be made to feel badly about that - I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone with a body I’d want who preaches only training for function anyway!
So with that out of the way, what are the areas that will have you looking like a superhero? Don’t expect anything mind-blowing here, millions of guys have already figured this out which you can easily see going into any gym, any time of day, anywhere in the world.
The areas that will have the greatest impact on the impression your physique makes are:
I know right, duh! So what can I tell you about this that you don’t already know? Well, if we can agree that millions of guys have already figured out that these are the muscles they need to build to have the look they want then what are they missing? Walk through any gym and you’ll realize that the vast majority of guys are missing the correct information to build these muscles the way they want to.
What are they missing?
The biggest mistake guys are missing, and maybe you’re missing, when it comes to building up these areas is focus. Obviously I don’t mean focus on the areas, I’m not sure there are many guys out there skipping their arms workout, what I mean is focus on the essential movements and rep schemes they need to make meaningful progress with these areas.
Here are the 3 key movements you should make sure you’re including in your program, with their appropriate performance targets to build you into what appears to be a walking, talking action figure:
Chest and Triceps: Dips. Dips are absolute dynomite as a strength AND muscle builder. You should be looking for sets of 10 with at least 90 pounds of additional weight. I haven’t met anyone who could do this and didn’t have significant pec and tricep development.
Shoulders: Barbell Military Press. This is a bit of an old school lift but there’s a reason bodybuilders and strongmen depended on this movement for decades: it works! You should aim to strict press your own bodyweight and 70 to 75% of your bodyweight for 10 reps.
Biceps: Barbell Curl. There are a million different bicep curls and variations out there but it’s hard to beat the tried and true straight up barbell curl. When you can curl 50% of your body weight for 10 reps we’ll really be talking!
Next time you’re looking at your training program I would keep these movements and performances in mind. The program that leads you to those results is one that will make you immune to the trainers who think that training for looks is “stupid” because not only will you look better than them but you’ll be out-performing them too!