Workout Like a Photographer
If you’ve ever spent much time around photographers, watching their YouTube videos, browsing their Instagrams, or perhaps reading their blogs, you’ll most likely have noticed that photographers are usually super attractive. How do these beautiful super beings maintain their great looks? Come on, dude, you read the title; you know this is about working out. Photography is the type of job where you will spend all day on your feet, running around, carrying gear, and not taking the time to eat. Do you want to look like Adonis and have fun snapping baller shots of moss on rocks and brooding teenagers? I’ve developed a workout that will do just that for you. 3 days, 6 exercises, each focusing on practical strength to help you get better shots.
NOTE: I’m not an authority on anything fitness related. I don’t substantiate any of these claims, and you should definitely learn more about fitness and weight training before doing this stuff. Attempt anything at your own risk. I’m not getting sued over this blog is what I’m saying. In fact, don’t even read this post less you are tempted to pick up a weight and throw out your back. You’ll 100% most probably get hurt if you do any activity ever so just don’t. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! STAY OFF MY LAWN!
Arms & Shoulders Workout
Endurance – It’s a well known fact that the only two metrics for how strong someone is are their benchpress max and the size of their biceps, and when it comes to biceps, nothing beats the curl. The thing about curls is there is an endless number of ways to do them, and various curls can strengthen your bicep in different ways. The most popular and arguably the most effective curl is the concentration curl which uses the power of your super smart brain to tell your dumb muscles to grow.
Sit down, take a dumbbell in one hand, put your arm just above your elbow against your thigh, lift while only moving the forearm, slowly lower back to starting position, and repeat.
Stability – If you are anything like me, you haven’t gotten a good wrist workout since Wii Sports came out in 2007 and you had to wipe that cocky smirk off of your Pappy’s face when he talked about his bowling skills. However, leaving your wrists weak will leave your more susceptible to camera shake. Good camera control is crucial and harder to achieve with heavier camera systems making wrist strength even more important with SLRs or medium format bodies.
Kneel in front of a flat bench, hold dumbbells out in front of the bench with your forearms resting on the bench, curl your wrist upwards, slowly lower your wrist back to the starting position.
Alternating Deltoid Raise
Endurance – I’m frequently shooting with two full-frame camera bodies with f/2.8 zoom lenses on a harness. That’s a lot of weight to carry around and move on a shoot, and moving both cameras around and keeping them from bumping into wedding cakes, flower girls, and drunk uncles is an all-day workout for my shoulders. The deltoid raise is, perhaps, the best isolated shoulder workout a beginner can do. Plus, your shoulders will look like 1999 Brad Pitt’s so that’s a plus.
Stand up and hold a pair of dumbbells at your side, keep you elbows slightly bent, slowly raise the dumbbells to shoulder height in front of you, slowly lower down to starting position, then alternate and raise directly out to your side, slowly lower down to starting position, and rinse and repeat.
Close Grip EZ Bar Curl
Speed – You can’t get enough curls in your workout so double down with this alternative version which focuses on lifting with your hands in a close to on-camera position. You’ll be less encumbered by your camera which will help you lift it into position with more confidence and precision. This is the key to speed and not missing an unexpected shot.
Stand up and hold a barbell or EZ curl bar (which is a barbell with some bends in it for angled grips), position your hands about a palm’s width apart, curl the barbell forward while keeping your upper arms stationary, slowly lower the weight from your chest back down to starting position.
Control – If the bicep is the Mario of the muscles then the tricep is the Luigi. Bigger, better, and neglected by everyone, triceps are more important while shooting than you would think. The body up is a push up for your triceps instead of your chest, so you can cheat on these and go from your knees if you need a little help getting started. The tricep is important for stability with your arm in motion, so panning, zooming, and walking are all easier to control with your camera in a ready position.
Start in a plank position with your weight on your toes and forearms, keep your body straight, your forearms shoulder-width apart, press down with your palms, straighten your arms while lifting your body, then slowly lower yourself back down.
Endurance – When you are ready to leave humanity behind and become a fearsome beast swinging from chandeliers and snarling while taking Pulitzer-Prize-winning photos one handed, you’ll need to have big traps. Your strength from this area will help you to carry more gear easily, hold your camera in a raised position longer, and increase your stability. You’ll also be able to tear the lid off a jar of pickles without turning it which is an impressive bar trick to say the least.
Stand up with a dumbbell in each hand, lift the dumbbells by raising your shoulders, lower your shoulders to starting position.
Core & Back Workout
Control – Abs have long been considered the sexiest of muscles, but did you know they are also useful for real world tasks? I sure didn’t, but a few far leans while shooting made me suspect that there may be some reason to have abs besides attracting Jersey Shore cast mates. Spider Crawls will destroy you and rebuild you better than ever, and they will give you much more core control.
Start lying prone on the floor, support your weight on your hands and toes, your arms should be out and bent 90 degrees, raise one foot off the ground, bring your knee towards your elbow, return to starting position and alternate feet.
Stability – The bread and butter exercise of every 14-year-old guy with a special someone to impress despite no good reason to take off his shirt. Crunches are great for getting the most out of commercial breaks and increasing your core strength to give you a much more stable platform for hand held camera work.
Lie on your back with your feet on the ground, put your hands on your head, push the small of your back down into the floor, roll your shoulders off the floor, pull with your abs, hold for a second, and lower yourself back to the ground.
Endurance – A pirate’s favorite workout, planks are great for practicing for your next life as a bridge or gymnastics springboard. Too many bad puns? Okay, planks are good for building up your abdominals and core strength to resist fatigue and keep you moving all day.
Lie on your stomach, support yourself with your forearms and toes, keep your body straight, hold for as long as you can.
One Arm Dumbbell Row
Speed – Have you ever seen an old person holding their back because it hurts? That’s because they didn’t do enough of these bad boys. The row is a great exercise for getting your middle back along with your biceps, lats, and shoulders. The result? More control and stability bringing your camera to the ready position so you can draw faster when those unexpected magic moments happen.
Stand to one side of a flat bench with a dumbbell on the ground, place your leg on the bench, lean forward and support yourself with your arm, your back should be parallel with the floor, grasp the dumbbell with your free hand, pull the weight towards the side of your chest, squeeze with your back as you do so, lower the weight back down, repeat for each rep before switching sides.
Stability – If the mention of pull ups gives you cold sweats and flashbacks to middle school gym class, you might want to see a psychiatrist. My pappy used to brag that he could “do a hundred of these one-handed back in the military. Once ya get past thirty it really separates the men from the boys. Now pick up my remote, and fetch me another brewski.” So I guess that’s not really relevant, but you have something to aspire to now… Pull ups will give your lats some much needed attention to help with your all-day endurance and camera stability.
Grab the pull up bar with your palms facing forward, grip width may vary for different effects but slightly wider than shoulder width is a good place to start, pull your torso up until the bar touches your upper chest, hold for a second before lowering yourself down to the starting position, repeat until failure. (For those who can’t do a pull up unassisted, you will need a spotter or an assisted weight pull up machine.)
Endurance – The deadlift is the quintessential I-actually-workout-not-just-go-to-the-gym exercise. It is one of the best compound exercises and, when done correctly, is a great full-body workout even by itself. I say when done correctly, because there are some nuances you don’t want to be ignorant to when you start doing these exercises because this is a great way to throw your back out too. Don’t be scared off by what I’m saying, these are easy to do correctly with a little thoughtfulness and can single handedly make you strong enough to carry around as much gear all day as you can imagine.
I’m not even going to describe this one because you need a professional. Here’s a guide.
Stability – Lunges are great for photographers who take a lot of low angle shots. Leg strength when down low is even more important for taller photographers. Lunges increase not only stability, but also endurance which anyone who has sore legs after a shoot can appreciate. You can add some dumbbells to your lunges to take it even further.
Stand straight with optional dumbbells in each hand, step forward with one leg keeping your other foot firmly planted, lower your body while keeping your front shin straight, push back up with your front heel, repeat and alternate feet.
Endurance – Buns of bronze for everyone! The butt lift is easy to do and can really fill out those pants. It’s also a great way to keep up on shoots with uneven terrain where your legs are planted every which way. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet shoulder-width apart, push with your heels while lifting your hips until your back is straight with your thighs, hold for a second before lowering yourself back down, and repeat.
Stability – Like lunges, goblet squats are amazing for those who like to get some low angle shots. Goblet squats are all the fun of squats, with the added benefit of mimicking the balance of shooting with a camera. This makes for one of the single most effective exercises to improve your shooting stability.
Stand with a kettlebell or dumbbell held between your chin and chest, place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, keep your shins straight as you lower your butt until your hamstrings meet your calves, keep your back straight through this movement, pause and push off with your heels to return to the starting position.
Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise
Control – The calves are a problem area for most people, running is a great way to build them up, but for folks with less time on their hands or severe allergies or something, SDCRs are excellent. For times when you need to be on your tip toes to shoot, the stability, endurance, and control that strong calves give you make a massive difference for the better.
Stand with dumbbells held at your sides, place the balls of your feet on a wood 2×4 with your heels touching the floor, raise your heels by contracting your calves, hold for a second, slowly lower your heels back to the floor, and repeat.
Stability – Thigh adductors are a necessary embarrassment. There is no other workout anywhere near as good at targeting the leg adductor muscles, but there is no other exercise that makes you feel like you are at the gynecologist in front of all the gym goers like this one either. Embrace this shame, it will make your mind strong and build your confidence up. Plus, when you can hold a 1/30th second exposure at 200mm with no image stabilization and it is tack sharp, you can tell the haters to fall back. Then roundhouse kick them into the crowd of your swooning admirers. Then fly away while breathing fire. Anything is possible with this one.
Sit down at the thigh adductor machine and follow the instructions on the thigh adductor machine, don’t make eye contact with anyone.
Stability – To finish off this workout plan, you have to include the side lunge. This exercise is what inspired me to write this post. I was shooting a wedding and moving in and out of the aisle as the wedding party and bride came down. The side lunge is a near perfect mirror movement of what I was doing, and had I been doing them at the time, I wouldn’t have been left with sore legs for three days. Since adding these into my leg day workout, I have been much happier to shoot mid-aisle. I promise you will be too.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly, keep your head up and back straight, step laterally to the side, extend the knee of your planted foot and bend your stepping knee, shift your weight to the side, settle into a side lunge, pause at the bottom for a second and return to the starting position.
I hope you all can take something away from this workout plan, even if it is just adding an exercise or two to your current workout.
Remember, always start with light weights when trying an exercise for the first time. Be safe, and don’t hurt yourself trying to impress that cutie on the elliptical machine. Don’t forget your cardio. Always use proper form. Don’t eat too much fiber before leg day. Don’t take your camera to the gym. Don’t sue me if you hurt yourself. Consult a doctor if your workout lasts longer than four hours. In some rare cases, regular exercise when paired with a healthy diet can lead to long life and feelings of happiness. Exercise should not be attempted if you are currently nursing. If you experience death, stop your workout and call your doctor immediately.
Illustrations based on photography from exercises on bodybuilding.com. When you hurt yourself and sue please direct your lawyer to my contact page.
Trivia: receive 10% off a poster or banner design or get 10% off wedding photography when you email me the correct answer to the following question with the subject “Workout Trivia” (offer valid through January 16, 2016 and may not be combined with any other offer.)
If one were to attempt a weight lifting course using only their camera of about three to five pounds, what school of strength training would be most effective?
I am wondering if the pickle jar lid trick works for jams.