After years of working with both athletes training for sports and models seeking to look hot on film/camera, I ‘ve realized is that these two populations share one very important quality: the desire to win at all costs.
Male and female models sometimes do some un-holy things– from running 10 miles per day with dumbbells to binge eating and purging— to achieve a certain look. Why?
One reason is that models and actors must remain “in-season” all year round to be ready for roles and castings.
The other issue many models/actors/competitors face is that they are constantly being judged and be-rated by fellow models, their booker and the guy at Dunkin Donuts admiring their latest Magazine Cover.
What this boils down to is that training for models/actors is traditionally centered around not getting worse (versus improving physical appearance). And this is exactly what we must change in order to achieve and continue to develop a healthy lean and muscular physique.
The truth is that successfully training this population is all about proper coaching, education and encouragement in addition to very strategic program design. In the following article I will give you a window in how to do just that:
1.Understanding the subject: The majority of models and actors we find have little background in the gym beyond bodypart splits and bicep curls.
As a result, most can be considered beginners who benefit from 60-90 days of total body workouts, multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts and chin ups along with movement training to improve posture and optimize how our client’s carry themselves down the runway and across the silver screen.
The other crucial addition to the items above is mastering the weight of one’s body. Aside from our main lifts, bodyweight exercises are the corner stone of the programming which revolves around frequent travel and unexpected scheduling.
This means perfecting and progressing movements such as push ups, split squats and various jumps will be crucial to progression outside of the gym (where the majority of our work will take place). The question is how to progress these moves after a certain point?
While adding external load has it’s limits with bodyweight, two elements which fit the bill are volume and speed of movement. Because explosive movements have been shown to improve motor unit recruitment and fast twitch muscle fiber activation, including plyometric and explosive movements in a superset or complex can be an extremely efficient means of bodyweight strength training.
We often include several bodyweight complexes or supersets without clients as an alternative for “weighted” lifts. For a beginner, a progression may look something like this:
• Phase one: Tempo push ups
• Phase two: Tempo push ups + Explosive push ups
• Phase three: Feet push ups + Explosive push ups + Tempo push ups
2. Understanding the sexes: While I understand very little about dating the opposite sex, I can claim to have a fairly good window in to their body and mindset. After a general foundation phase, one very real difference with female subjects is that they require a greater volume of both upper body and hip dominant exercises. If the hallmark of a good training program is to “do the opposite” of daily life (desk posture and sitting) this means a pre-dominance of vertical pushing and pulling movements to develop the shoulders and upper back along with hip dominant exercises to achieve muscular balance.
This will allow to client to better hold themselves in an upright and aesthetically appealing posture versus appearing “boxy and bulky” look of a caveman via rounded shoulders and a man belly.
3. Consider conversion: While it has always been my feeling that the biceps, triceps and smaller muscle groups receive sufficient stimulation from the main lifts in our program without the use of isolation movements, the one exception to this rule is during the last 30-60 days of a program where the focus becomes fatloss and the development of strategic muscle tone.
Referred to as our “conversion” phase, we have found that improving blood flow to areas such as the arms, shoulders, stomach and hips via low load postural and isolation exercise can give the extra “push” the client needs.
By also including mobility work for the joints surrounding these areas, we can emphasize improved range of motion for optimal strengthening and recovery. In practical application, this means performing extra mobility and stability work for specific areas before cardio or main lifts.
4. A time for all seasons: While hitting the gym a few times per week can maintain results, the only way we can really improve physical appearance is through a period of dedicated focus.
Much like an athlete’s “off-season”, this generally consists of a 3-4 month period devoted to functional hypertrophy and strength. The key is convincing your subject to take a few months off (this is often during spring/summer break when many casting directors, photographers etc go on vacation or during the winter holiday period from November to Early January)
For a population is that is used to starvation diets and deprivation, this period of time often comes as a welcome reprieve and allows for a mental “deload” from accumulated stress.
5. Intensity versus volume: Undoubtedly the most influential aspect of how I program for this population is that of block periodization. While athletes have time to focus 90 minute sessions on the concurrent development of speed, power, strength and conditioning, effective programming for models/actors must accommodate their erratic schedule.
Because this usually involves short blocks of time between casting or travel, sessions should be condensed (15-30 minutes) to focus on 1-2 defined goals. On means of doing so is to break up the workout in to several specific blocks:
• 10-11 AM- Casting
• 11:30-12:00 PM- Main lift
• 12:30-1 PM- Lunch
• 1-3:30 PM- Rehearsal
• 4-4:30 PM- Auxiliary work + Conditioning
6. Supplemental workouts: While short, focused blocks of work allow us to achieve our objectives in a time efficient fashion, the other issue we face is being in the gym multiple times per day. Luckily this is fairly easily circumvented by supplemental bodyweight workouts which can be performed in one’s hotel room or outside. With our “main lifts” providing the intensity for development, bodyweight workouts can then be programmed to supplement needed volume.
Our clients have had great success with 10-15 minute intervals and timed circuits which act as both conditioning and strength training with a reduced risk of overtraining. Here is an example.
7. Squats and deadlifts rule mars: An overlooked benefits of squats and deadlifts is that they are amongst the most potent therapies for the release of testosterone in males (though the Bulgarian split squat has recently been shown to elicit similar release, I am sticking by my story). For individuals who have deprived themselves of food and the opportunity to be under the iron, I can think of few better means of developing functional muscle mass and confidence in physical abilities than gaining new PRs and releasing aggression in the gym.
Though purely my own observation, I have watched many formerly quiet and meek individuals gain speaking roles and “leading man” appearance via a healthy diet of multi-joint lifts.
8. Single leg deadlifts kick ass on Venus: Though I am all for women training like men, I must say that I draw the line at squats and deadlifts for my female figure/model clients. Because the life of a female model involves wearing heels, sitting for long periods of time and preconceived notions about getting “too bulky” the reality is that lifestyle and perceptual factors out-weigh the potential benefits of these amazing lifts.
With this in mind, my go-to options for hip dominant development are single leg movements such as 1 leg RDLs, shoulder elevated hip lifts and reverse lunges. While the absolute system load of these movements is inevitably lower, I prefer the versatility of these movements in the ability to change angles and target different areas of the backside.
Often we will utilize combination movements such as this 1 leg RDL in a complex of three exercises (Bent leg/straight leg/bowler squat) to do just that.
9. Roadwork is required: As much as we all despise aerobic cardio, a solid running program remains (at least for me) the X-factor for aesthetic appearance. While circuit training can beat up the body, my clients are able to utilize some form of aerobic cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis to burn extra calories. This is crucial for those who need to meet a certain deadline or achieve a specific look.
For my more advanced clients, one protocol (which I admittedly stole from someone smarter than myself) we utilize to torch stubborn bodyfat is a short interval circuit (which releases stubborn bodyfat) followed by 30-45 minutes of traditional aerobic cardio.
The idea is that after releasing bodyfat from stubborn fat stores via interval training, we burn it off via performing work at or near the aerobic threshold. The is performing this protocol when insulin levels are low (either first thing in the morning or 5+ hours after a meal).
This technique is generally performed during the last phase of training to allow us to incinerate the last few areas of blubber before our client’s big day (warning: this will NOT spot burn fat and does not work for those with more than 5lbs to lose).
10. Psychology versus physiology: The x-factor we must consider in training clients (especially those in training those in the entertainment industry) is the stress they are placed under on a daily basis. For example, if my client has just been screamed at by her booker for being fat who or told by a casting director she needs to lose 20lbs to win a big role, this is probably not the best day to execute a planned session of smash a PR or execute 100 burpee for time (please note I would NEVER give this to anyone)
Likewise for someone that is on a diet or under a lot of pressure, the ability to scale a workout is crucial to success. The key with this in our experience is to monitor daily subjective indicators of stress such as heart rate (taken first thing in the morning or before the session), the quality of last night’s sleep and RPE (I ask the client how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10 BEFORE the session begins).
If any of these factors are off, we will scale back items such as volume, weight and overall intensity to ensure the client still receives a training affect without undue stress to the system.
11. Getting in the habit: The other factor we must assume with the majority of the clients we see is that very few have decent nutritional habits. While crash dieting to lose weight for an upcoming role is one thing, staying on this diet indefinitely (what usually ends up happening) is quite another.
In an industry pre-dominated by eating disorders, the best thing we can do to ensure our clients a long career is to educate them about proper eating. The biggest struggle we will face with 99% of this type of client (and really any fatloss client) is that eating more is actually the key to losing fat.
Rather than force feeding too much information, I have found the best strategy to do so is focusing on 1-2 “digestible” habits which are adopted over a period of weeks or months (such as picking consistent times of day to eat or eating breakfast).
Once these habits have been incorporated in to the client’s routine, we simply move down our list of objectives until we have achieved our long term goals. Whatever the case may be, the important point is to communicate with your client via email, text and after sessions, etc to re-inforce our targets. Doing so allows us to troubleshoot problems the client is having and truly encompasses our work as coaches.
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