How to develop a female cover model's physique
Guest Article by Ben Coker
When we see a female cover model, there are two aspects of the physique that women aspire to have. The first is the ‘leanness’ or level of fat on the body achieved on the whole by effective nutrition and calorie expenditure. The second is the shape of the muscles on the body that give the female body a desirable shape. Many fail to appreciate that it is the hypertrophy of the body’s muscle fibres that develops those much admired contours that women seek.
In this article, I will clarify the mechanics behind successful exercise selection and ordering in a programme that will yield a cover model body. I will also dispel some myths and stigmas that surround women and weight training.
Firstly, dispelling some myths…
In the past some women (and indeed some men) have questioned the value of resistance training for women and in many cases have recommended avoiding such exercise due to social stigmas. From the outset I would like to dispel those misconceptions and rid of any lingering doubt in your own minds. Evidence clearly indicates that not only can women cope with and adapt to the stresses of resistance training but there are substantial benefits to be obtained from it,, including raising self-confidence!
It is well documented that women have, on average, 15- to 20-fold lower concentrations of testosterone than men do. With testosterone being one of the main anabolic hormones in the body, it should be obvious that given the same training stress, a female’s compensatory response in terms of muscle fibre hypertrophy to that stress will be lower compared to her male counterparts. In short, ladies you just can’t get that big…your hormones won’t let you!
Regardless of this, the biological process that brings about these changes in men and women is still the same and so the methods that are used to affect progress are also the same. There is no sensible reason why resistance training programmes need to be different for men and women!
But what about women like this – don’t they lift weights?
Yes they do. However, you need to understand that they are among the few; the exceptions to the norm of total population of women that weight train. It is widely known that in top level female bodybuilding the use of exogenous testosterone (amongst other ergogenic aids) helps females to build muscle that their otherwise, normal testosterone levels would not allow them to attain.
It is also postulated that larger than normal increases in lean body mass and circumference in some women (such as Olympic power athletes not using exogenous drugs) are due to genetic dispositions: higher than normal anabolic hormone levels; a lower oestrogen to testosterone ratio; a greater hormonal response to resistance training. In some cases the individual ability to perform more intense resistance training activities can also lead to such occurrences.
Cover Model Programming: Exercise choice and order
- Use Structural lifts…
I think the easiest way to address the topic of developing a cover model look, is to think of it in terms of performance and pro athletes. These men and women both train for performance and rarely do you see an athlete that is out of shape. As Mark Ripptoe writes, ‘In both architecture and human beauty, form follows function. Always and everywhere, the human body has a certain appearance when it performs at a high level…and this appearance is usually regarded as aesthetically pleasing’.
The staple lifts of any athletic performance programme will be any combination of the following exercises; squats, deadlifts, over-head presses and Olympic lifts. These are all multi-joint, structural exercises (those that load the spine directly or indirectly) and the majority of them involve the lower body to a large degree. These exercises produce great results in performance and aesthetics and therefore should undoubtedly form the foundations of any programme so make sure you are doing them.
Simplistically put, exercises that load the spine produce the most amount of stress across the entire body and lead to an enhanced endocrine response as the magnitude of cortisol, testosterone and growth hormone (GH) elevation is greatest when large muscle mass exercises are performed.
Due to a different hormone profile between men and women, the rate and magnitude of change in strength and mass in women will differ from that of men. The research shows that the testosterone response to acute training in women (if it occurs at all) is small,,,, however there are still significant increases in serum GH levels in women. This is especially true when rest is short (1min.) and a 10RM resistance was used.,
In light of this, GH becomes arguably the most important anabolic hormone in women. It is essential therefore to use an exercise protocol that stimulates the largest GH response to enable the hypertrophy of muscle fibres which will provide added shape to body parts. As mentioned above, this is best done with the use of moderate to high intensity and volume with short rest intervals. The induced elevation in serum GH will enable an increased transport of amino acids across cell membranes and the resultant increase in protein synthesis.
The role of GH goes further than simply helping to build muscle and shape body parts though. It also helps with increasing lipolysis (fat breakdown) and increased utilisation of fatty acids which is essential when trying to lose body fat in your quest for the cover model look. It’s also worth noting, whilst on a fat loss focus, that as these compound lifts use a larger number of muscle fibres and so increase calorie expenditure as more muscle mass is using energy to contract. Such lifts also ramp up metabolism throughout the day due to the anabolic recovery and adaptation processes they have set in motion.
- Perform additional accessory exercises after the structural exercise…
Don’t pre-fatigue muscle groups with exercises that isolate body parts. This serves to limit performance in the important structural lifts. By performing structural exercises first, they are not pre-fatigued by other exercises that yield lesser results in terms of fibre recruitment and hormonal responses. This means that you can lift heavier weights in the structural exercises and further heighten the stress response from these influential lifts in short leading to heightened hypertrophy and metabolic demands.
After the main lifts have been performed (using the GH maximising protocol: 10RM, 60 second rest), serum concentrations of GH are elevated. This means that the effect of all subsequent exercises performed are heightened! Use these exercises to specifically target certain muscle groups by adding extra work/volume in this newly created optimal environment. This is an effective way of bringing up lagging body parts to achieve that balanced look.
- Get some conditioning done.
Remember I said that I felt that results lied in the methodology of performance athletes? Well if you look at what the common denominator is between pretty much all athletes, you will find that they all move. That too means you too need to move.
Now how you move is also important. Long slow distance running is in my opinion horrible but maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Here is my reasoning. Not only is it boring and time consuming but if used extensively, it has detrimental effects on strength and power.,, Moreover, bear in mind that being so lean and lacking in muscle mass and shape (as long distance athletes are) is not the way a cover model looks. Think about an endurance athlete such as Paula Radcliffe and more of a power athlete such as Jessica Ennis, who looks more like a cover model and dare I say healthier? And then think about how they differ in their approach to training…
Get sprinting, flipping tyres, boxing, swinging sledgehammers and kettlebells, go run some hills and pull some heavy sleds. Not only do these types of conditioning sessions take less time, help you to build muscle and not compromise strength and power, but they also burn more calories!
The calories that are used for energy explicitly to perform the activity are only a part of the equation. The other part is often forgotten about by many people looking to get in shape. The raised metabolic demands placed on the body in the recovery period (think EPOC, tissue repair and remodelling to get a basic idea) mean you burn more calories throughout the day after a high intensity conditioning session then from a long slow run on a treadmill.
Sample Cover Model Workout Programme:
There are many different ways to split the week up in terms of training; upper/lower, push/pull, body part split etc. Here is just one of many ways to combine everything together to achieve an effective programme and get that cover model look.
The main things to remember are:
1) Perform the structural lifts first as they produce a greater stress response and enhance the rest of the workout.
2) Use a rep range and rest period to further optimise GH levels (8-12 reps, 60 seconds rest).
3) Get some high intensity conditioning done and of course…
4) Always look to increase the weight lifted. You may notice I have said 8-12 reps instead of the earlier prescribed 10. There is a reason for this. To enable progression having a variable rep range helps. Use an 8RM (lower limit) weight until you to attain the upper limit (in this case 12 reps) then increase the weight by say 1-2kg. You will find that your reps on the new weight will drop down to say 8 again. Use this weight until you can lift it for 12 before you increase the weight again. On the whole, continued improvement lies in progressive weight on the bar, even for women.
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Ben Coker BSc, CSCS, is Head of Strength and Conditioning at Elite Kinetics (www.elite-kinetics.com). He holds a degree in Sports & Exercise Science from Loughborough University in the UK and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist under the NSCA.
Through the use of intelligent and effective, yet no BS in nature, strength training techniques, Ben has helped develop athletes to their fuller potential. He has worked with National level UK Javelin throwers, Strongmen, MMA fighters, Bodybuilders, Powerlifters, and Rugby players, right down to your recreational warrior. He practices what he preaches from years in the trenches and extensive education delivering outstanding results to whoever he trains.
Ben regularly posts training articles on his website, www.elite-kinetics.com and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org