June 12

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Balance your body – what Da Vinci taught us

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Leonardo da Vinci's art depicts the human body in its most perfect form - beautiful and balanced. Discover the right way to craft your body into a masterpiece. To achieve a great body you need good looking muscles all over. Muscles that compliment each other. If you've got definition and size to the front, you need it at the rear. If you don't think about working the muscles you can't see, you'll end up out of balance.

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Making sure you're balanced isn't just about looking good.

Out of sync musculature can lead to poor posture, injury and pain. Spend too much time bench pressing and you'll have a tight, restricted chest and hunched shoulders. Over time, you could develop a stoop.

However, complementary exercises can address the bench press' potential for deterioration of posture. Think the lat pulldown and reverse flyes. These moves will shape and bring balance to the upper rear torso. It's the same for all other body parts.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci wasn't a personal trainer, but he certainly knew how to create the perfect human form.

He wasn't just an artist - he was an anatomist and an avid student of the human form. The 'scientist-artist' created great works of art that reflected the beauty (and ugliness) of the body.

Vitruvian Man is his most well-known piece of anatomical art. It's based on the thoughts of the Roman architect Vitruvian who attempted to identify the exact proportions of the human body.

Da Vinci has sketched the perfect male front on.

The figure's arms are by his sides and imposed again outstretched. There's also a scale shown at the bottom - Da Vinci used this to capture the body's classic proportions using Vitruvian's calculations.  These make for interesting reading.

We are as tall as our outstretched arms. The distance from the top of our forehead to our chin is equal to one-tenth the height of our body. Likewise, the distance from our wrist to the top of our middle figure is also 10% of our height. Our height is equal to 24 times the length of our palm.

Da Vinci painstakingly applied these principles to Vitruvian Man.

Balance Your Body - What Da Vinci Taught Us

How do you get your proportions right?

Ali's chest and shoulders were perfect - he was not hunched forward with bowed arms. Instead, he was broad, balanced and defined. His awesome punching power was directed through a great set of abdominal muscles built into a triangular torso. 

All this stood on top of some of the strongest and most athletic legs found at the time. This beautifully balanced body allowed the Champ to "dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

Know your body type and create balance

Most of us will not be blessed with the perfect body like Ali or Vitruvian Man.

Perhaps we'll be linear - slim with little body fat, small muscles and narrow shoulders and waist. Perhaps we'll be round - bigger boned with large muscles, plump and have more body fat. Physiologists call these two body types ectomorphic and mesomorphic respectively.

The third major type, mesomorphic, is characterised by Vitruvian Man and Ali's muscular looks.

In reality, most of us will have a little of each body type in us. Depending on our genes, lifestyle and exercise habits though, we'll more than likely lean towards one.

For example, sumo wrestlers are endomorphs, while marathon runners ectomorphs. To be efficient, a marathon runner can't afford to carry any more muscle or fat than they need.

A distance athlete, however, will need to have a mesomorphic and ectomorphic body type because he or she needs to be lightweight but still have a muscular physique to perform at their optimum.

In summary, we can challenge our genetic make-up and shape our own balanced physique.

Know your body and train it for the best balance

Mesomorphs (muscular)

Mesomorphs respond well to weight and CV training and can sustain low body fat levels. They can perform both minor and major muscle group exercises very effectively.

Mesomorphs can vary their energy balance to gain or lose weight relatively easily. They can also be quite free with their food choices. Mesomorphs should do 2-3 15-minute CV sessions a week.

Endomorphs (round)

Endomorphs respond well to weight training because of their natural strength.

They can develop large muscles and can be good at burning fat due to their muscles' ability to increase metabolism. They will get the best results from more moderate intensity CV training.

However, they'll have to do more than mesomorphs and ectomorphs to reveal and shape up their muscles. They need to burn a greater number of calories. They should do 4 x 30-minute CV sessions a week to achieve their perfect shape.

Ectomorphs (linear)

Ectomorphs find it easy to lose weight and keep it off.

This is problematic for developing muscle to balance their appearance. Much of their success will depend on diet. They will have to optimise their protein and carbohydrate consumption and consume more calories than they normally would. This will allow them to build muscle.

They should also emphasise training quality over quantity and allow plenty of time for their muscles to recover after workouts (around 48 hours). Their CV training should be restricted to 2 x 20-minute sessions a week so as not to compromise lean muscle gain.

You can read more about how to determine your body type by reading this article on the ISAK Restricted Profile and what it can tell you.

Pair up to balance

So, now you know the body type you need to know how to get the best of your weight training.

A great way to do this is to train 'paired' muscles. The human body has over 430 skeletal muscles that we can control. These muscles are paired with one another to perform complimentary movements.

If we had no triceps (muscles to the rear of the upper arm) we would not be able to put a cup down on a table. If we had no biceps (muscles to the front of the upper arm) we'd not be able to pick it up. This, like the quadriceps & hamstrings pairing (muscles to the front and rear of the thigh), is a well-known combination. You may be less familiar with some others.

Balance, not symmetry

Remember, your goal should simply be a balanced and efficient body. Nature doesn't produce symmetry - that's not the goal here.

By making sure no particular muscle group becomes significantly over-developed, you can set yourself up for a lifelong training career.

Paul Stokes Perth Personal Trainer Sports Nutritionist Group Fitness Instructor Massage Therapist

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs. He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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