Look Like Barbie, Lift Like Ken

Posted on by Ben Bruno

This past weekend my client Megan Graham took 3rd place in Miss Bikini Universe. She did a fantastic job, and I am very proud of her.

As great as she looked in the competition, pictures don’t tell the whole story.

Of course I’m proud that she did so well, but I’m even more proud of all the hard work she put into the preparation. That’s the stuff you don’t see in pictures.

Megan came to me about 12 weeks ago on a referral from my friend Bret Contreras. She had her sights set high on competing in Miss Bikini Universe and the goal was clear: to get in the best shape of her life with particular emphasis on the glutes.

Lots of people talk about wanting to get in the best shape of their life, but few are actually willing to put in the work necessary to do so.

Megan’s not one of those people. To say Megan is dedicated is like saying Wedding Crashers is just a good movie. Sure it’s a good movie, but it’s more than that; it’s an off-the-charts awesome freakin’ movie. But I digress.

Seriously though, Megan may be the most dedicated person I know. She lives right smack dab in the heart of Boston where it’s not necessary to have a car, so in order to come to the workouts, she rents a car and drives over an hour—each way. Now imagine doing that a couple times a week, and often on Sundays. Yea, told you she was dedicated.

She never missed a workout and never made any excuses. There’s a lot to be learned from that.

Having the right attitude might be half the battle, if not more. That’s the part you can’t really teach. Once you’ve got that down, it’s just a matter of executing the plan, which is actually pretty simple. And fun.

Step 1. Get the form down cold.

Megan was already doing a lot of good exercises but her form was just a little off, especially on glute exercises. Rather than using her glutes to do the work, she was compensating my using her lower back. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t getting the glute development that she was looking for, and she was having some serious back pain.

As boring as it might be, Megan and I took the first couple sessions to backtrack a little bit and really work on using the glutes and mastering the exercises. We did the same thing for pulling movements (rows, chin-ups, etc.) to make sure she was using her upper back. I can’t stress this part enough. It’s very hard to develop a connection with the muscles on the back side of the body, but it’s imperative that you do so for long-term success in order to develop them to their fullest potential and also so that you stay healthy for the long haul and avoid injury.

And oh yeah, good form also allows you to handle heavier loads, which brings me to step 2.

Step 2. Get strong as hell

Once we got the form down, Megan’s focus shifting to getting as strong as possible.

And strong she got. No pink dumbbells or foo foo exercises for this girl.

Megan had grown complacent using much lighter weights than she was capable of, so once she removed those mental barriers, her progress was astounding. She’s incredibly strong, regularly showing up guys much bigger than she is. Yes, guys.

I often joked: looks like Barbie, lifts like Ken.

Here are a few highlights from her training over the course of the prep.

225 pound hip thrusts for 10 reps. I like to make sure to pause the reps at the top for a second to keep the set under control and ensure the glutes are doing the work rather than extending from the lower back.

12 feet elevated inverted rows. If you’ve never tried these then you probably don’t appreciate just how hard these are to do well.

Funny story. We were working out at a gym and Boston one time and it was time for inverted rows. A guy (pretty muscular, wearing Under Armor…you know the type) was already using the TRX so we politely asked to work in. He was doing them with his feet on the floor and his body at a 45 degree angle to the floor for sets of 8. Imagine his surprise when little Megan goes and grabs a bench to elevated her feet and promptly knocks out 12 reps with perfect form.

[Said guy walks away with his tail between his legs]

Valslide Leg Curls. This is a great low-back friendly to work the posterior chain. If you keep your hips elevated for the entire set like Megan does in this video, it’s very challenging.

Front Squats. Go as low as you can go before your pelvis starts to tuck under. Safety first.

Goblet Valslide Lunges with a 50 pound dumbbell. She makes these look easy, but I can assure you they aren’t.

That’s just a snippet, but it gives you a good idea of Megan’s strength.

Combine that with a good diet (that’s another post all together) and good things happen.

A lot of women out there could really learn a lot from Megan. Guys too, in fact.


  • Sam Thomas

    Sometimes backtracking, or “resetting” as I call it, is in order. It is so easy to move up in weight and slowly start sacrificing form in the name of progression. I’ve also taken to making weight increases in the 5% range to ensure form doesn’t suffer. Sure, it takes longer to start pushing (and pulling) more weight, but I’d rather do it the right way.

  • http://n8trainingsystems.com/ Nate Palmer

    Ben, you are the man. Congrats to you and Megan.

  • DanielAipa

    awesome work ben. and congrats to Megan.

  • Treds

    Awesome, every girl should read this and learn from her.

  • Meg.

    A little bit of girl love going on!..Tiny but mighty..Love it..

  • Antonia

    Great article. I hope you will post the one about her diet too.

  • Denitza Neville

    Great post! Congrats to Megan! Awesome work, Ben!

  • timshel01

    Imagine for a moment if we were a country of fit people like Megan and not like the typical couch potatoes that’s so prevalent . Congrats to both of you…

  • http://www.samanthamenzies.com/ Samantha Angela

    Great post. Are there any variations for those valslide leg curls without the valslide?

    Also, what was her diet like?

    • http://twitter.com/theuninutter howard oneal myers

      i actually do that same movement (valslide) on the ball some days, but you could just get furniture slides from a hardware store. i paid 9 bucks for them well worth it

    • Flashbullzeye

      You could do those valslide exercises with a folded towel on a smooth surface like tile or wood floors. No need for the fancy, expensive equipment.

  • http://www.itrainthereforeieat.com/ Stephanie @Itrainthereforeieat

    I love this…Congrats to her and thanks for sharing, especially for including all of these videos! It’s great to see someone her size lifting so much weight, and doing it so well. I had to take my squat weight way down for a few months just to work on form, but it was worth it, my form and strength have both improved so much since then!

  • Alexiasophia

    I love this!

  • Kathy

    I would love if you could post the diet plan. I hear losing weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Do you think that’s true?

  • Patti

    She is one strong woman. Impressed.

  • Ckrelations

    Dude, she is hot. Well done Ben!

  • Mike

    Guy went away with his tail between his legs? (dont remember tye exact expression). Well this is pretty silly. I have no doubt that she is strong… for a girl. However her 12 reps is at like half bodyweight that the muscular guy had… Dont start at me with “it only matters how many times you lift your bw, not the whole weight lifted”. Whole weight matters.

    • Mike

      Other than that – great article ! 😉

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