Build a Stronger Physique by Conquering Your Fear of “Meathead Lifts”

Written by Philip Walter on Mar 4 at 11:58 pm in free weights, itBODYnature, resistance training

Get the physique you want by destroying fear of lifting big.

Photo courtesy of ericmcgregor

The physical fitness component of the Brickhouse Bodymind total fitness program is primarily designed to develop balance and coordination, improve cardiovascular conditioning, and make modest strength gains through the use of simple but effective bodyweight exercises. Sometimes, however, the desire for more significant strength gains demands a different sort of workout routine.

Whether you’re relatively new to physical fitness, or an old pro looking to improve muscle definition, the most effective way to build lean muscle mass is to demand that your muscles lift progressively more and more weight. Assuming your nutrition is up to snuff, your muscles will soon adapt to this increasing demand by making more muscle. This improves your physique and also helps you burn more calories on a daily basis.

While most of the people I advise don’t care much about gaining a significant amount of muscle mass, only a few are without some desire to increase muscle definition and amp up the “brickhouse” factor in their physique. Only problem is, many of these folks, particularly females, are not doing the right things to get them where they want to be. What they tend to do is lift lighter weights over more reps using isolated exercises and nautilus-type weight machines.

This is total maintenance mode, and it’s not a particularly efficient way to work out. It will help keep the muscle tone you already have, but if you are at all interested in improving your physique and muscle definition, you’re really going to have to change your mindset a bit.

Fight the Intimidation Factor

In my experience, the average person sees a guy squatting a big stack of weight, barbell about to snap in the middle, his eyes popping out of his skull, and thinks No way that’s for me. That person then ends up in a never-ending maintenance mode using machines that take away the need for his or her body to stabilize itself and restrict the range of motion he or she can employ in any given exercise. But the truth is exercises like the squat and deadlift aren’t just for big strong “meatheads” competing for Mr. Universe one day. These are classic multi-joint movements that are fantastic for building strength and improving muscle definition.

Don’t be intimidated. There is no shame in working out with just the bar. That thing does weigh 45 lbs by itself.

Another thing that keeps people, particularly women, away from powerlifting is the idea that they are going to get too bulky and become unattractive.  It is a HUGE myth that lifting like this is bound to make you HUGE.  Bodybuilders supplement their nutrition heavily in addition to lifting big to get big.

People also seem to think they will hurt themselves doing these exercises. It is simply not true that these exercises are inherently unsafe. In my experience there is only one reason people injure themselves doing these movements – improper technique. The causes for improper technique are:

  • Lifting too much weight, compromising what you know to be good technique.
  • Allowing your concentration to slip during exercise, compromising what you know to be good technique.
  • Being unaware of proper technique to begin with.

First Things First

If you want to improve your muscle definition and in the process trim some body-fat, you might consider embarking on a strength training experiment. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Learn proper technique – This is job number one. Without good technique, all is for naught.
  • Track your progress – Once you’ve got a plan, keep a training log to track your strength gains. This helps you keep up with where you’re at, and it makes for great fun to watch yourself get stronger.
  • Concentrate on lifting more weight in a shorter period of time – This is the definition of power. It is the most efficient way to work. Lifting heavier weights with shorter sets will give you the most bang for your workout buck.
  • Recruit a friend – It’s always great to workout with a friend. You can help keep each other motivated and challenge each other to work harder. And especially if you’re a girl, uncomfortable breaking into the realm of the meaty guys, having a friend with you lowers the intimidation factor when making the jump from machines to free weights.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend this 10-week beginner’s program developed by Medhi at stronglifts.com. There are numerous similar programs out there, but his is freely available in e-book format and is truly accessible to anyone. He explains proper technique and lays out a concrete plan to make strength gains, including how to de-load when you’ve reached your limit.

The moral here is classic “meathead lifts” like the squat, deadlift, and bench press do not have to be scary things, nor are they only of use to those who want to be world-class bodybuilders. If used intelligently, they can help even you transform your physique into one that is stronger and more pleasing to your eye.

My favorite way to employ these movements is in a yearly 10-12 week progressive loading program to complement my normal bodyweight exercise program.

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  1. […] is of course not the first time I’ve sung the praises of these exercises (check this post out for more), but they’re just so good for developing core strength I couldn’t help writing […]

    Pingback by My Favorite Ab Workout Ever | Brickhouse Bodymind — February 22, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

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