The Real Beach Muscles and How to Get Them
One of the things that I like to talk about with my female clients is obtaining the “X-Factor”. This conversation usually occurs within the first few sessions, once I have a rapport with them and they understand I am odd, yet still accept me for who I am.
When I bring the X-Factor up to them, a hush usually falls over the room and a few objects fall over from a mysterious wind.
A few lights flicker on and off, too.
“What did you say, Kasey? You watch the X-Factor?”
“No, no…well, yes…but that’s another conversation…I’m talking about your upper back.”
“Oooohhh what about it?” (ok, they usually don’t appear that intrigued, I’ll admit)
“You see, for females especially, a strong, defined upper back is very rare. In fact, it’s similar to seeing an albino cobra.* It just doesn’t happen. Hence, why it is called the X-Factor. It’s what can separate you from every other simply “skinny” female out there.
Take a look at the 2 photos below. Which one looks better? (looking at the upper back, primarily)
I’m hoping you said picture #1. If you didn’t…
Anyway, the girl in picture #2 has what are referred to as winging scapula, or weak back syndrome.
Picture #1 trains her posterior chain (backside). Picture #2 could do any number of things, but she sure as heck isn’t working that backside.
Note: Guys hang with me. I’m talking to you, too, and all of the advice to follow applies!
Now, if you were following closely, I sort of ended my fake conversation up there, I do not pull out 2 photos and show them to my clients. In that scenario, they usually ask,
“So what’s the big deal about having an upper back?”
“Why, I’m glad you asked client blank!”
“Let’s step out of the fact that it simply looks way better. A strong upper-back equals better posture. And better posture means you will look leaner all over, particularly the midsection.”
At this point, they are sold. For me, as a trainer, it’s great, because it MOTIVATES them to work their posterior chain, and gives them something tangible to shoot toward.
Stepping outside of that convo for a second, I am a HUGE proponent of females picking up weights and training like beasts. However, I had noticed over the years that females are kind of like guys with exercise selection.
All about those beach muscles!! Press, press, and press some more.
Welllll…the upper back needs to be added to the beach muscle list, if not be made THE beach muscle, in my opinion
After all, why not be the complete package???
I think there is an inherent fear about getting “broad” and looking like a man, but trust me, unless you are popping mad testosterone and maxing out on the daily, I can pretty much assure you that training your upper back will only result in great things. Sure, it might “feel “different to have a back with some muscle, but it won’t visually look large and in charge.
I had a client who was all about getting the X-Factor and she was getting better and better, until one session, she was doing chin-ups and all of a sudden it was like magic! There was definition and everything looked “together”. One person in the gym even commented, “Wow, look at that!”
She finished her set and I yelled,
“You got the X-Factor!!!”
I burst into a victory lap around the gym, doves were released from the rafters, and I’m pretty sure I saw a few people crying. It was a dramatic scene.
Ok sorry, so let’s get serious…how do you get an amazing looking upper back that will turn heads at the beach and the boardroom (remember, I mentioned better posture…unless you work somewhere…unconventional).
#1: Train Your Upper Back
But this is the most important point. You have to do horizontal and vertical pulls and you have to do them more than you press. More than likely, you are already front-dominant anyway, so the tables need to be turned.
Now, there are several options you have for pulling exercises, but I will give you my top 2 for each category;
I absolutely love this exercise, because all you have to focus on doing is pulling your shoulders down and back and aiming to pinch the blades together at the top. Of course, you should squeeze your abs and glutes, but that won’t be too difficult.
Video starring Tilita Lutterloh, my friend and colleague, otherwise referred to as “Ms. X”
I suggest doing isometric holds with the batwings. You will feel things you have never felt before the next day. And it will feel awesome.
TRX Inverted Row
Inverted rows are ridiculously hard, but serve as an amazing way to train the X-Factor. That’s why I love the TRX for these. You can set the difficulty by where you place your feet, so it’s much more user-friendly than trying to get underneath a barbell horizontally. Plus, I like the neutral-grip you can assume with this, as opposed to a completely pronated (overhand) grip.
If you don’t have access to a TRX, go ahead and purchase one. It will be one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your quest for greatness, because you can use it almost anywhere and it travels super-easy. But seriously, upper back training can be difficult in hotel rooms without equipment. The TRX solves that dilemma by coming with a door anchor.
Obviously, I understand if you can do a chin-up, you already have an X-Factor, but for those of you who cannot (which is probably most of you), there are ways to regress a full chin-up to make them more “accessible” without just throwing you on the lat pulldown machine and sentencing you to mediocrity. I like chin-ups versus pull-ups because it works more of the biceps and I also find it’s easier to keep the shoulders down and back.
If you have access to an assisted chin-up machine, that’s a start. I’m not a huge fan of them, but if you are in the very newb stage, it serves a purpose. Just keep the ribs down and glutes tight and when you get around the plate 10 stage, it’s time to move onto…
You can do iso holds at the top to start, and then progress to doing negatives (slow, slow eccentric, or lowering, phase), and then lastly, onto doing full chins.
Here’s Tilita demonstrating each of those;
When you are able to get 8-10 solid reps with a medium-to-thin band, it’s from my experience that you will be able to at least get 1-2 full chin-ups on your own.
Close-Grip Lat Pulldown
I know, I referenced the lat pulldown as “mediocre” just a little bit ago, but that’s only if you disregard chin-ups all together. Placed in a program with chin-ups, pulldowns can have powerful effects on the development of the mystical X-Factor.
I like having clients do some form of vertical pulling at least 2x/week, so one day will usually revolve around chin-ups, while the other will hit more “accessory” moves, like these close-grip lat pulldowns.
#2: Do deadlifts
Honestly, I could give that advice in any blog or article and it would be valid. Because deadlifting is greatness.
When you deadlift, you not only dominate the upper back, but also your butt, back of the legs (hammies), and…everything else.
When you deadlift properly for long enough, your back gets so solid, that you almost can’t slouch forward even if you want to. Someone the other day saw me at my computer and was like, “Kasey, how do you sit so straight like that?”
I lit a cigar, turned, slowly blew the smoke out, and said,
#3: Do loaded carries
I reference these almost as much as I reference deadlifts. But it’s because they justify it.
On the surface, it seems like they are just for the grip, but when you keep a solid posture, your upper back takes a beating. And that means more X-Factor.
To sum up, do more pulling exercises, do deadlifts, and carry around heavy weight. Not only will this get you your very own X-Factor, but you’ll find yourself losing body fat and looking all-around awesome.
Dominate All Life,
*there was no joke an albino cobra loose in Thousand Oaks, CA earlier this week!
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