How To Get Fitter And Look Good At The Same Time

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Christian Thibaudeau is a world-renowned strength coach and author who has worked with elite athletes in a variety of sports, and competed as an Olympic weightlifter and a bodybuilder.

First let’s make one thing clear. It is definitely possible to build a muscular, lean body while making strength, speed and power gains. In fact, I would say that training like an athlete and turning yourself into a performance machine is actually the best way to get an aesthetically pleasing body.

Lift off

If you want to build muscle, forget body isolation exercises such as dumbbell curls and focus on compound lifts such as bench presses, barbell squats and deadlifts.

Sprinters and rugby players perform these moves in sets of one to three reps, using as much weight as possible. But if you want to get stronger and add functional muscle, you need to lower the weight slightly and aim for four to six reps per set.

I recommend focusing on one compound exercise per workout. Aim to complete five sets of four to six reps of that lift, paired in a superset with an exercise that works opposing muscle groups – so push presses with chin-ups or bench presses with barbell rows. Rest for 20-30 seconds between the first and second exercise, then for two minutes after the second exercise to complete one superset. Once you’ve finished all five, reduce the weight of the main compound lift by 30% and complete 30 reps of it in as few sets and as little time as possible for an extra muscle-building boost. 

Walk this way

To get lean while maintaining muscle mass, ditch the treadmill and focus on strongman-inspired metabolic conditioning exercises such as sled drags, farmer’s walks, walking lunges or prowler pushes. These develop stabilising muscles and improve your posture, ensuring you look good when in motion or stationary. 

Ideally, do these exercises using a 1:1 ratio, so you work for one minute then rest for one minute. This will make your metabolism work harder. To improve your strength gains, try adding five rounds of one of the strongman exercises as a finisher to each of your compound lift workouts. I had a client who added 30kg to his deadlift in a month without practising deadlifts because heavy carrying had improved his grip strength and reinforced his glutes and lower back. 

If you’ve got time, I would also add two weekly sprint sessions. Warm up, then perform six rounds of 60m sprints with 60 seconds’ rest between each, then two 200m sprints to finish. It’ll be tough, but if you can manage a combined six sessions per week, you will make huge strength, power and speed gains and have a fantastic physique to show for it.



Former web editor

Between 2014 and 2015, Andre Jackson was the web editor of Men’s Fitness UK, which predated and then shared a website with Coach. A love for climbing ropes and boarding slopes, he doesn’t have the most traditional of workout plans but he’s obsessed with finding out how much protein he can get from everything. His favorite gym move is double wave battle ropes, his favorite sports are football and snowboarding, and his personal best is conquering a V6 bouldering climbing wall.