Aesthetics and the Strength Athlete

The Aesthetic Lens for the Strength Athlete
By Julia Ladewski

Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought, “Man, my shoulders/arms/chest/legs could use a little size”?  Have you ever taken a long, hard look at your programming and wondered why your bench/overhead press/squat/deadlift have stalled?  As athletes of the strength game I think we’ve all done that.  Sometimes we take a stab in the dark as to how to fix it and sometimes we have a legitimate plan. It’s easy to look through the strength lens to fix the aesthetic problems, (e.g. my bench is weak, so if I build that up, my chest will get bigger) but have you ever looked through your aesthetic lens to fix your strength problems (e.g. my quads are small, so if I bring those up, it will help my squat)?
This basic concept came to me recently.  Last May and June I competed in a figure show and two physique shows.  Considering I only had three months to prep and diet I fared well,  but also learned some very important lessons in the process.  As I look back on my pictures I can see two distinct areas that were lagging behind – my shoulders and my quads.  “If I ever do another show,” I thought, “I’m definitely going to need to bring those areas up.”  As I slowly transitioned out of bodybuilding training back to powerlifting I realized that my raw squat wasn’t where it should be, and my bench press had stalled.  I put 2 and 2 together and realized my aesthetic weaknesses were also my strength weaknesses.  I can distinctly remember thinking,“If I can bring up my shoulders and quads now, I bet my lifts will improve as well.”  I’m sure this concept is not new, but I think my revelation is one that can help a lot of strength athletes who have never considered it.  Consider the young man with no lats.  I bet his bench suffers, particularly off the chest.
How about the middle aged mom with poor posture and no upper back? I bet she has trouble keeping position in the squat.  The meathead dude with no glutes?  Can’t lock out a deadlift.

Matt Mendenhall didn’t have any aesthetic weaknesses

Needless to say, I decided to address my weaknesses.  My normal powerlifting template was a 4 day a week plan that followed a conjugate style of training. I had 2 lower body sessions and 2 upper body sessions. I had to find a way to add my shoulder and quad specialization to what I was already doing. What follows is how I incorporated more quad and shoulder volume into my training and how it has helped my geared powerlifting as well.

Lower Body Max Effort Days:
After completing my max effort squat or deadlift for the day I performed one of the following for 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps:
•    Front Squat (shoulder width stance)
•    SS Yoke Bar Squats (shoulder width stance)
•    Manta Ray Squats (shoulder width stance)
•    Leg Press (shoulder width stance)

Upper Body Dynamic Days:
After completing my speed bench, I performed one of the following:
•    Floor Press
•    Incline
•    Benching with a Catapult/slingshot
•    Dumbbell press

While those movements definitely added volume to my bench, I decided to move my shoulder work to the day after my upper body dynamic day. This allowed me to do a little more volume than I would if I kept it on bench day.

Extra Shoulder Day:
This day had an overhead press exercise followed by accessory shoulder work done Mountain Dog style.
•    Overhead press
•    Swiss Bar overhead press (varying grips)
•    Dumbbell overhead press
•    Arnold press
•    Side Laterals (reps, slow eccentrics, chains, etc)
•    Partial Side Laterals, heavy

After a few months of consistently doing the above I noticed that not only had my raw strength increased, my shirted bench and geared squat were on the rise as well.  In March of 2013 I squatted 413 in full gear, and in November (after focusing on my weakness) I squatted 375 in just briefs.  At the same meet in March I shirt benched 275.  Just a few weeks ago I doubled 260 (which will be my opener in March), and hit 280 for an easy single.

Try this approach yourself.  Take a long hard look at your aesthetic weaknesses and see what you can take away from it to help your strength gains. Devise a plan and be consistent with it.  Your results will soar to new heights.

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