Athlete/Celebrity Workouts

Upper Body Advice from Fitness Pro Aleksandra Kobielak

Hit Above the Belt.

Upper Body Advice from Fitness Pro Aleksandra Kobielak

You lift. You sweat. You push yourself every time you work out. And yet, you seem to get nowhere. Does this describe your training efforts? Is your upper body unresponsive to your repeated attempts at improvement? You don't have to take it lying down. Get off the canvas and get back in the gym - Aleksandra Kobielak has some powerful secrets that'll provide a knockout punch to your flabby abs, languishing lats, aimless arms and slumping shoulders. With this talented IFBB pro in your corner, you'll get that championship-caliber body you've been fighting for.

Shouldering the Load

M&F: What do you think is the bodypart most women overlook in their training?

Aleksandra: I'd have to say shoulders, definitely. We're so busy focusing on our butts and busts that we tend to forget about the rest. But having well-defined shoulders can actually make your butt look smaller! You'll get the V-tapered look that slims and contours all at the same time, simply by bringing up your shoulders.

M&F: What are some exercises you'd suggest to bring up your delts?


Aleksandra: I like to do dumbbell lateral raises. They really hit the side delt muscle, the one that makes you look wider and more sculpted. I'd also suggest overhead presses for the entire shoulder area, also done with dumbbells so you get a more complete range of motion.

M&F: I notice in your training routine that you give shoulders their own day. Why is that?

Aleksandra: Shoulders are one of the areas I'd like to bring up in my physique. Giving them their own day enables me to completely focus on and exhaust them without having to worry about training another bodypart.

Weighty Issues

M&F: Do you train with heavy weight and lower reps or lighter weight and high reps for your upper body?

Aleksandra: I use both heavy and light weights, depending on the time of the competitive season as well as my current goals. If my goal is to bring up a bodypart or gain some size in a particular area, I'll lift heavier and with fewer repetitions. If my goal is to get lean and defined, I'll go lighter with more reps.

M&F: Do you prefer to use free weights or machines?

Aleksandra: That's a difficult question for me to answer, because for me, machines are like the newest and greatest technology! In Poland, it's difficult to find well-equipped gyms, and even if you do find a gym with machines, chances are they're outdated or broken. I'm used to using free weights for my workouts, because that's what I'm usually given to work with, but when I come here [to the United States] I love using machines. They give me a really different workout, and I get sore in all new places. For women who live in the U.S. and have access to a good gym, I would definitely recommend using both free weights and machines to hit your muscles in the most complete way possible. Hey, if you're lucky enough to have a well-equipped gym, use it to your advantage!

M&F: Because of your equipment limitations, do you often do bodyweight exercises when training upper body?

Aleksandra: I do, yes. I do a lot of pull-ups for my back - I'll usually use a wide overhand grip to help develop width in my lats. Occasionally, I'll do dips for my chest and triceps, but not often. And I always do a lot of unweighted crunches for my abs.

M&F: What about push-ups? Do you find those to be a good move or not?

Aleksandra: I do so many push-ups in my fitness routine that I don't feel like I need to do them in my weight training. But I highly recommend push-ups for women who don't compete. They're great for building a strong chest, shapely shoulders and strong triceps all at the same time.

M&F: Do you use any advanced techniques in your training?

Aleksandra: Off-season I like to pyramid my weights up from set to set, dropping the repetitions accordingly. This helps me build and maintain a good amount of muscle tissue. But precontest, I do descending sets. In this technique, you start with a fairly heavy weight, and each time you reach failure you go to a lower and lower weight and do more and more reps. I've found that before a competition, this technique helps me get a lean, defined look while preserving my energy for my routine practice, which I do every day.

Bringing Up the Rear

M&F: What bodypart have you had the most difficulty with?

Aleksandra: I would say my back. I don't genetically have a wide back, so I worked really hard in the beginning to bring that up, to create the illusion of a smaller waist and butt. To bring it up initially, I used heavy, heavy weights and did wide-grip everything - pull-ups, pulldowns, bent-over rows. Everything wide grip.

M&F: What recommendations would you give a woman who is having trouble bringing up a bodypart, like you had trouble with your back?

Aleksandra: I would tell her first to train it alone, and not with another part, like I'm doing now for shoulders. I also recommend using heavy weights for a period of time, say 2-3 months. This is the only way to push your muscles into growing. And, no, you won't look like a man! Try lifting heavy for a few months, then cut back and use higher reps and lighter weights for a few months. If you're still not satisfied with your development, do another course of heavy weights and see where it gets you.

Six-Pack Science

M&F: What do you consider to be your best bodypart?

Aleksandra: Definitely my abs. I've never really had to work too hard to get them into shape, and I really like training them.

M&F: What do you do for abs?

Aleksandra: I typically train abs every day or every other day and am a big fan of crunches. Nothing fancy, just plain old lying-on-the-floor-with-your-feet-on-a-bench crunches. But I do four sets to failure.

M&F: How many reps does it take you to reach failure?

Aleksandra: It depends on the day. Sometimes 50, sometimes 1,000 reps. I don't believe that your muscles are really working until you feel them burning. After you start to feel it, then you begin the real work.

M&F: Besides crunches, what else do you do for abs?

Aleksandra: Not much, really. Occasionally, I will do decline crunches with a 45-pound plate behind my head. In that case, I do four sets of 20. But really, seeing your abs has a lot more to do with diet than it does with which exercises you use to train them.

M&F: What sort of diet do you follow in order to stay lean and toned through your abs and waist?

Aleksandra: I eat clean year-round for the most part, and eat 3-5 meals every day. I limit my carbs to morning meals, and I never eat sweets. I replace a lot of my starches with vegetables in the evenings, and I eat a lot of chicken, fish and lean steaks. Before I came to the U.S., I almost never ate red meat, and now, especially precontest, it's all I want! You also have to do cardio to see your six-pack - at least five days a week of 45 minutes per session.

M&F: Do you take any supplements?

Aleksandra: Yes, I use amino acids and L-carnitine before competition, as well as HMB and glutamine to help me keep my lean muscle mass when I'm dieting. I also religiously maintain a specific vitamin regimen. I don't take multi- vitamins, but instead take everything separately. For example, a B-complex doesn't work for me. My body is so clean that I notice a difference in my energy and body only when I take B6 alone. M&F: Any final words?

Aleksandra: Train hard, be consistent and work everything in balance to avoid injury and look good in tank tops!

Fitness competitor Lara McGlashan is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She has a master's degree in screenwriting and film from the University of Miami and a bachelor's from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached at


Snapshot: Aleksandra Kobielak

Birthdate: Jan. 24, 1971

Birthplace and Current Residence: Gdansk, Poland

Height: 5'4"

Weight: 130 pounds

Recent Competitive Highlights: 2002: Fitness Olympia, 15th; Jan Tana Classic (fitness division), 8th; Slovak Pro Fitness, 3rd.

Do they have American jokes in Poland like we have Polish jokes here? The most popular jokes are those about an American, a Russian and a German...

How does the rest of it go? Well, you're American - you won't get it!

How do you say "abs" in Polish? Brzuch, but don't try to pronounce it without professional help.

What is your favorite cheat food? I make my own fat-free, sugarless cakes.

Weekly Training Split 1. Chest, triceps
2. Back, biceps
3. Off
4. Shoulders
5. Legs
6. Off
7. Cycle repeats.
Aleksandra works her abs every day or every other day.


Target: Upper back
Performance: Position one knee and the same side (nonworking) hand on a bench for support. Hold a dumbbell in your free hand, arm straight toward the floor. With your head up and lower back arched throughout, lift the dumbbell up to your side (as shown). Your elbow should move straight up toward the ceiling, and your shoulder should move backward as your back flexes. Hold the top position for a two-count, then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the start, letting your shoulder move forward slightly in the process.

Target: Biceps
Performance: Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip. The bar should start near your hips, with your arms slightly bent and relaxed. To start, flex your biceps and curl the bar up toward your shoulders - your upper arms should stay locked at your sides, so only your forearms are moving. At the top, squeeze, then lower to the start position (don't let the bar rest against your body) and begin the next rep.

Target: Anterior delt
Performance: Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and let them hang at your sides. Turn your working hand so your knuckles are forward and your palm is back. Keeping your elbow fairly straight, lift your arm straight out in front of you until it reaches a point parallel with the floor, then return to the start. Complete all reps for one side, then switch sides, or alternate arms with each rep. Or, to save time, raise and lower both dumbbells simultaneously.

Target: Obliques, upper abs
Performance: Lie back on a decline bench set to an angle representative of your ab strength (a high angle, as shown here, if your abs are strong, or a lesser angle if you're new to ab training). Place your fingers lightly on the back of your head to support it, and curl up, twisting one elbow to the opposite knee as you reach the top. Lower yourself back down, but don't let your shoulders touch the bench before beginning your next rep. On each rep, alternate the knee you twist to.