Designing your plan isn’t just about selecting good exercises. It’s about the picking the best options for you body.
If every workout were created equal, then all plans would deliver the same results and consist of the exact same movements. While most training plans do boil down to some commonalities, there’s a reason why so many of the best bodies in the world are built with very different strategies.
Part of it has to do with understanding the science of strength, muscle, and fat loss.
The other side? Making sense of what you see in the mirror, and how it impacts what exercises are best for your body.
Whether you want to admit it or not, your genetics greatly influence what you should be doing in the gym. Notice I didn’t say how much you could accomplish. This isn’t about excuses of small arms, beer bellies, and chicken legs.
No, this is about leveraging a basic understanding of biomechanics and movement to build more muscle and become more of a badass.
Put away the science books because here’s the quickest anatomy lesson you’ll ever receive with the best payoff: a better looking body.
Create a Better Workout
Instead of blindly doing the most popular exercises, make sure these movements are right for you. The most popular exercises–bench press, deadlifts, squats, and rows–should be a part of any program. But sometimes, the traditional version of the lift can cause problems or injuries. Part of the solution is fixing the weaknesses that make it harder for you to perform the movements correctly.
The other approach? Making slight modifications so you can still train at the highest level without putting your body into a difficult position, especially if you’re doing the corrective work to fix your body.
Use the tips below to determine if you might be susceptible, and then train in a way that fits your body.
The Exercise: Barbell Bench Press
Who Struggles: Guys with long arms or shoulder issues.
The Fix: Yes, the barbell bench press is an awesome ego lift and a popular way to start Monday. But it’s also a big reason why so many guys walk around with bum shoulders. And in the case of taller guys with longer arms, it’s enhanced because the shoulder joint is more vulnerable for rotator cuff problems.
Instead, substitute with floor presses (which minimize the distance traveled), neutral grip incline dumbbell presses, and weighted dips and pushups.
The Exercise: Barbell Back Squats
Who Struggles: Tall dudes
The Fix: The king of exercises is also the king of lower back pain for tall guys. Sensing a theme here? Does that mean to avoid squats completely? Of course not. But mimicking the movement without always placing a heavy load on your back will reduce the likelihood of injury.
Instead, focus on single leg movements like Bulgarian split squats and heavy dumbbell step-ups. And then mix in landmine front squats, an innovative option from Ben Bruno. Place a barbell in a landmine (or corner of a room), load one side with plates, and perform like a front squat. You keep the same pattern, but save a world of stress on your knees and back.
The Exercise: Deadlifts
Who Struggles: Short arms, poor ankle and hamstring flexibility
The Fix: Deadlifts are an incredibly effective exercise…if you can work your way into proper starting position. Short arms, long legs, or poor flexibility can cause you to round your lower back when you try to pull the bar from the floor.
To reduce the difference, you can pull sumo style or place on bar on a rack (or risers) about 6 to 8 inches from the floor. Still having issues? Glute barbell hip raises to add lots of extra weight and strengthen your backside muscles.
The Exercise: Rows and Pullups
Who Struggles: Men and women with “baby mitts”
The Fix: You know what they say, the smaller the hands the smaller the pulling weight. Grip strength might be one of the most underrated aspects for all lifts. The greater the grip, the bigger the lift. But when you have small hands life in the gym becomes much harder.
While you shouldn’t stop doing pulling exercises, you should be strategic about how to increase your strength. Farmer’s walks and suitcase carries will be the best to way build your grip strength in a way with minimized risk. Just hold the weight as long as you can, and increase the load as a way to build your strength.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.