Have you ever considered why some people, no matter how dedicated or how hard they train, end up looking worse? Well, this article explains the reason behind the mistakes they’re making, and more importantly, tells you what you can do about it.

What’s Your Favourite Exercise?

If you asked most bros what their favourite exercises are, I would hazard a guess that the top answers would include biceps, chest, lats, traps and abs. Maybe the ladies would give a few different answers such as the glutes, but I’m only speculating.

The “Show” Muscles

So, take that list of exercises and tell me what they all have in common!….

Have you got it yet? They are all mirror muscles – these are all muscles on the front side of the body (I know the lats arent, but you can still see them – they are your massive wings that cause you to scrape through doorways). I call these the ‘show’ muscles – fellow bros show off these muscles on the beach and in the changing rooms, while other bros judge their worth based on the size of said muscles.

The “Go” Muscles

Now I’m only messing with the bro thing – I have no issue with anyone who wants to train hard and better themselves. However, by focussing on the show muscles many people overlook, or at least, give less attention to, the muscles on the back of the body. These are the ‘go’ muscles. This includes the mid back, the glutes, the hamstrings and the spinal erectors.

Think about the professionals at the peak of physical ability – athletes, boxers, Olympic lifters, footballers, rowers, swimmers, grapplers etc. They all rely on having phenomenal strength and power in the muscles on the backside of the body – athletes have glute horsepower, boxers have hip synergy, footballers need power endurance in their hamstrings, while grapplers need barn door strength in their backs so they can pull their opponents about.

So with respect to performance AND function, it’s a crime to overlook the musculature on the back of your body. There are few greater mistakes.

So Why Does This Matter?

By only focussing on what you can see in the mirror, you will be losing out on performance, however, it’s a no-brainer that whenever there is asymmetry within the body the risk of injury is also drastically increased. I’m sure most of us have had an injury that was caused by doing something in excess or by not being balanced. My forearm flexors (grip strength) get pounded during kettlebell work and sports massage, and as such, I’ve developed elbow pain because my forearms extensors are lagging behind.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Here is the problem – as we get older certain muscles become tighter and certain muscles become weaker. This has a HUGE impact on our posture, strength levels, muscle building capability AND on our chance of injury. Well, guess what?! The muscles that tend to get tighter are the mirror muscles, and the muscles that get weaker are those overlooked muscles on the back.

The muscles that tighten as we get older are called tonic muscles. These are postural muscles and tend to be suited to endurance. These include:

  • Upper Traps.
  • Pecs.
  • Biceps.
  • Hip Flexors.
  • Piriformis.

The muscles that weaken are called phasic muscles. These are fast twitch and are suited to movement (e.g glute power for sprinting). They tend to lengthen as they get weaker. These include:

  • Rhomboids (back).
  • Middle Back.
  • Deltoids (especially rear).
  • Triceps.
  • Glutes.
  • Deep Abs.
  • Obliques.

Have a think about this for one minute. If we are training the mirror muscles all the time, then they will likely be tight from overuse anyway. Then as we get older, these same muscles get another sucker punch because they are pre-destined to get tight. In contrast, our already underdeveloped muscles on the back of our body then get weaker and longer as we age. This asymmetry just got a whole lot worse!

And The Biggest Mistake Of All…

I’ll give you one final point to consider – modern lifestyle has largely become sedentary for many people. Too much sitting and computer work causes us to develop tight hip flexors and lengthened rear delts and mid back! So, take our training style, the tonic/phasic factors AND our sedentary lifestyle into account, and you end up with Neanderthals with big pecs and biceps but the posture of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

P.S. if you forget which muscles are in each group, just remember:

  1. A bear chases you up a tree – the muscles you use to hang on for dear life are the tonic muscles.
  2. Your caveman great grandfather is chasing a woolly mammoth and throws a spear at it – the muscles used to run and throw the spear are the phasic muscles.

What Can You Do About it?

This is the easy part, and you can take comfort in the fact that your posture is mostly within your own control. I’m going to keep it simple and tell you exactly what you need to do here – you need to strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight ones and voila; you’ll be more resistant to injury, have a much better looking physique and look great even in the later stages of your life.

Include these stretches every time you train (at least 3 or 4 times per week). Hold for a minimum of 2 minutes.

  1. The Doorway stretch – this lengthens the pecs and the anterior delts (straighten the arm and you get the biceps in there too).
  2. The Couch Stretch – this lengthens the hip flexors and quad muscles.
  3. The Pigeon Stretch – this stretches the piriformis and the glute complex.

Include these strengthening exercises (at least 2 to 3 times per week)

  1. Facepulls (hit the rhomboids, rear deltoids and middle back) – 50 reps however you like, whenever you like.
  2. Banded Hip Thrusts (the glutes) – mix it up, with and without added weight – 25 to 75 total reps.
  3. Hardstyle plank and side plank variations – 2 to 3 sets, chuck them in the warm-up.
  4. Add a horizontal row exercise such as a TRX row, bent over row or chest supported row. This will awaken the whole of the middle back – 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

And there you have it! An easy way to become balanced, more healthy and look better, and fix those simple mistakes.

One final point. Dan John’s recommendation for one exercise to cover all these strengthening exercises in one hit? The Single-Arm Clean and Press (kettlebell or dumbbell). This exercise, when executed correctly, works ALL the phasic muscles!

Now, go and get bulletproof,

Coach Craig.

Author - Craig Peterson - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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