Guys like to look strong.
That’s why you go to the gym, that’s why you “do arms” in the gym, and that’s why you want a six-pack. The current fashion for a strong muscular appearance is arms and a six-pack, because that’s what you’ve been taught by fitness magazines and “gurus.”
It wasn’t always this way.
You’ve all seen pictures of 18th Century guys dressed in knickers and tight knee socks. The fashion 250 years ago was muscular calves. Calves in the 1700s were the six-pack of the era.
Even then, they missed the boat.
In my opinion – since I’m a strength coach – you should be training for strength at the gym, not abs. Abs, and arms, quads, lats, and all other aspects of muscular appearance, are a side-effect of strength.
Strength is an actual, measurable quantity, one worth working to get, for it’s own sake. And when you get really strong, you’ll look that way.
The key to a muscular, athletic appearance is your back and hips, most especially your “traps” – your “yoke” in Newspeak.
The Trapezius are the muscles above your shoulders on either side of your neck, that attach your shoulder blades and collarbones to your spine, from the base of your skull all the way down to the middle of your back – your traps are really back muscles.
Your traps, and your lats, hips, and thighs are the hallmarks of a muscular appearance. Traps are showy muscles, and they indicate strength because they stabilize your neck, which will also be muscular from the same training.
Next time you watch an action-adventure movie, look for the Muscular Protagonist character.
He may be a bad guy, like the stereotypical “Bane” in The Dark Knight Rises, or a marginally good guy, like Matthew McConaghey’s Van Zan in Reign of Fire. But he’ll have traps and a muscular neck, the first things you’ll notice.
Lots of guys have nice arms, but the difference between a Calvin Klein ad and a fearsome physical appearance is the yoke.
Most importantly, traps can be seen through your clothes. They stand proudly from your shirt, no matter what you’re wearing.
Abs can’t be seen unless you’re wearing a tight t-shirt, and you don’t normally embarrass yourself like this. Unless you spend lots of time naked in public, abs don’t really help your public muscular appearance.
You already train your arms, so start thinking about a muscular appearance from the backside forward. Traps, lats, hips, and thighs make your muscular appearance a certainty. A man with strong “posterior chain” – hips, back, and traps – stands out as a man who doesn’t just look strong.
So, how is this accomplished?
The deadlift is your most important tool in the fight for size in the right places.
The deadlift works everything you want to grow. It’s the best trap developer in the gym, and the good news is that traps grow very fast – they’re one of the fastest-growing muscles on the body, if they’re worked hard. And deadlifts build lats, hips, and thighs too, all at the same time.
The deadlift forces you to get strong the right way – with the bar in your hands balanced on your feet, the way Nature intended you to work. Exercise machines just don’t do the job, as you have no doubt already figured out.
If you want to look strong, you have to get strong. And strong you’ll get from the deadlift.
The deadlift can improve for years, with the amount of weight you’ll eventually be able to lift climbing well over the twice-bodyweight mark. The lift is perfectly safe if you make sure to do it correctly. And slow steady progress yields amazing results in a shorter time than you’d imagine.
But the payoff is huge.
HUGE traps, forearms (it’s a grip exercise too!), a thicker back, wider lats, full muscular hips and thighs, and a tighter waist are all the results of deadlift training. Along with the confidence that comes from being truly strong.
Make deadlifts a part of your routine today, and you’ll be investing your time wisely.
Mark Rippetoe is the author of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, Practical Programming for Strength Training, Strong Enough?, Mean Ol' Mr. Gravity, and numerous journal, magazine and internet articles. Rip was a competitive powerlifter for ten years, has coached many lifters and athletes, and has given seminars to thousands around the country.