Everyone wants to look good in their bathing suit or tank top. That’s why this is the time of year when gyms get crowded and everyone is doing biceps curls to build the most famous muscle of the upper arm.
But it just looks silly to have great biceps if they’re not balanced by other well-built muscles. Here’s the secret known by nearly every athlete: The same hard-core resistance exercises used to quickly sharpen athletic chops also build hard-to-get definition and curves relatively fast—and very efficiently.
For example, take that neat little cut between the glutes and the back of the thigh on the bodies of elite ice skaters, football players or cyclists. It makes the booty look firm and rounded. Do you want that look? Then do deadlifts. This simple movement of picking up a weighted bar from the floor is one of the most multipurpose exercises you can do, working the glutes, hamstrings and quads, core, lats and back, as well as forearms.
Like all resistance exercises, proper deadlift form is essential to get the desired results. Start with the bar lightly touching your shins, arms hip-width apart. Stick your butt out a little and focus your eyes up, where the ceiling and wall meet. While keeping both your back and arms straight, bend at the hips and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, knuckles up. Inhale deeply before lifting the bar. As you lift, shift your weight to your heels. As you complete the lift, put your shoulders back and clench your butt tight. Continue to hold your arms and back straight as you bend over to put the bar back on the floor. That’s one rep.
Do three five-rep sets three times a week if you’re under 40, twice a week if you’re over 40. Start with light, easy-to-lift weights.
Would you like to have a diver’s lower back, with ripped columns of muscle on each side of the spine? Do “good mornings” to build spinal erectors. This movement is deceptively simple—hold a weighted bar behind the neck, bend over so the torso is parallel to the floor, stand up again.
But it’s actually a very technical exercise; the slightest rounding of the back can cause injury, as can a sudden shifting of the weight of the bar. To keep the weight in place, you have to balance it perfectly throughout the exercise. Good form for “good mornings” requires a straight (never curved) back, with the head slightly lifted up. Make sure your body is in a straight-up-and-down position, not leaning forward. If you’re forward, the bar weight will shift forward, possibly putting you off balance, which may also cause injury. Start with lightweight plates until you’re accustomed to balancing the bar. Slowly bend over from the hips until your back is parallel to the floor; slowly bring your back upright again. This movement will strengthen your core and build glutes as well. Sets and reps are the same as with deadlifts.
When it comes to arms, you may be looking at your biceps, but the same person who looks at your butt will also be looking at your triceps, the muscle on the back of the upper arm. Look at any Jazz player to see how attractive the curves and indentations of well-built triceps can be.
One simple movement will build good triceps: the pulldown. Use a lat pulldown machine. To work only the triceps, start in a standing position with the bar or grips at shoulder level. Keep upper arms tight to your sides; they should not move during this exercise. Place hands shoulder-width apart or closer, and keep the shoulders back. Pull down until your arms are straight, then slowly bend your hands back up to your shoulders.
Triceps are small muscles, so be careful not to overwork them. Three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps every other day are enough for both athletic and cosmetic purposes.
What’s the best thing about using these exercises to build your summer body? First, they build a lot of lean tissue—and females will build curves, not bulk. Second, muscle requires lots of nutrients. It takes constant metabolic energy, or calories, to feed muscle. So as you get stronger and more muscular, you’re also building a 24/7 fat-burning machine. Who could ask for more?