The Secret to Becoming "Well Armed"
Go to the mirror and straighten your arm down by your side. That's right. Right now. Take a look at your triceps and you'll notice three distinct "heads." Can't see them? We better get to work.
Nothing looks more impressive in its relaxed state than a meaty pair of triceps. When the arms are hanging loosely at the sides in a short sleeved shirt, it's the triceps which dictate the overall appearance. All too often, novice trainers work the biceps to death in an effort to increase arm size. It would make more sense to put the emphasis on tricep training since they comprise the majority of the arm's potential size. If the tris look good, your arms will look good.
As indicated in their title, the triceps are made up of three separate muscles. Although these muscles work in tandem, certain movements will stress one more than the other. It's nature's way of assuring efficiency. Even though the muscle moves in one direction, at various points, if one part fails, another picks up the slack. (The body's an amazing mechanism, isn't it?) If bigger muscles are your goal, you have to hit them from all angles.
It's important to note that proper form is essential to effective triceps training. A common mistake when working the tris is the practice of using too much momentum. Controlled steady movement is a must. If there's one lesson that should be required to comprehend before proceeding with this exercise program, it should be: "yanking" a weight from point A to point B is not the goal! Working the muscle through the full range of motion is.
A good time to work triceps is after working the chest or shoulders. Any pressing movement utilizes the triceps, therefore, they'll already be warmed up which allows you to approach your first tricep set with full intensity.
The following routine is designed to hit all three heads of the triceps. Let's start with the first exercise.
Standing Tricep Pressdowns: Emphasis -- The Lateral Head
This exercise is a favorite for bringing out detail and separation. Begin by grabbing the pushdown bar with an overhand "false" grip. That means the thumbs remain on top of the bar. In this way, the hands become extended "handles", eliminating the tendency to squeeze the bar too tightly. Keep the hands 12 inches apart.
Start with the bar level with the lower pec line and in a smooth controlled movement, press downward until the arms are fully contracted.
Return to the original position in a slow, steady fashion.
Stay conscious of keeping the torso upright. It's natural to want to use body weight to assist in pushing the pulley down. Make the triceps do the work! After the first set of 10-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat for as many reps as you can manage. You should already be feeling a pump in the tricep muscles by this time.
MRI studies have shown that tricep extensions are an extremely effective movement when it comes to recruiting the muscle fibers of the medial head which creates that coveted "horseshoe" appearance. It also allows for a greater stretch of the triceps than almost any other exercise.
Grasp a single dumbell firmly with both hands and place your palms flat against the underside of the upper plates.
Bring the elbows close to the sides of your head and lower the weight slowly. Allow the dumbell to extend behind your head until the hands go as far down your back as possible.
There's no need to "jam" the elbows at the completion of the movement. Once the arms are straight, the triceps have worked to full extension. Forcing the elbows into a locked position will only cause unnecessary stress to the joints and tendons.
Executing this movement in a seated position will prevent cheating, since you won't be able to spring the weight up by bending and straightening your legs.
Single dumbell extensions are outstanding for accentuating the sweep throughout the lower portion of the triceps. Do 2 sets of 10-12 reps.
Kneeling Rope Pulls: Emphasis -- The Long Head
The kneeling tricep extension with a rope pulley requires intense concentration. It's all triceps!
This exercise requires a bench approximately 16" high, positioned sideways, and a rope pulley attached to the upper section of a cable station.
Facing away from the pulley, grasp the rope behind your head.
Kneel down on the floor. (You may want to brace your feet back up against the frame.) Place your elbows on the bench in front of you, shoulder width apart. Keeping your head down, extend the rope forward.
When returning the rope to the original position, be sure the hands go back as far as possible (your hands should almost touch the back of your neck) while keeping the elbows on the bench.
Push forward in a smooth controlled motion.
Contract hard at the full extension point.
Go heavy! This is a terrific mass building exercise and in order to derive the most benefit, it's imperative to use substantial resistance.
Shoot for 2 sets of 8-10 reps. Once you've reached failure, continue with a few partial reps at the extended portion of the movement. Don't quit until it burns. By the time you finish the second set, your tris should be cooked. But the fun isn't over yet. For total obliteration, you'll need to do one more exercise.
This movement is affectionately named because the range of motion looks as if it comes precariously close to clonking you on the forehead. Try not to let that happen okay?
While lying supine on a flat bench, take an overhand grip on a loaded barbell. Either a straight bar or an EZ curl bar will work well for this exercise.
Hold the barbell overhead at arm's length. Bend the elbows so the bar comes down to the top of your head. Return to the starting position. The elbows, of course, should be the only joints moving throughout the exercise.
Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps or until you reach failure.
Skull Crushers are tough but they may well be the best movement for packing overall mass onto all three heads of the triceps.
Stick with this routine and before long you'll be sprouting hefty slabs of beef on the backs of your arms. Then the only thing left to do is make sure you're stocked up in short sleeve shirts.
Admit it. Your back training hasn't been nearly as intense as it could be. How do I know that? Take a look around most any gym and you'll see for yourself. With all the super-smooth machines and cable devices designed to train the back, it's almost as if an entire generation of bodybuilders have dismissed the most effective back developer there is -- the barbell row.
The main reason for the abandonment of the barbell row is the fact that it's so very uncomfortable! Unlike pulley pulldowns, low cable rows or even machines that are intended to simulate the action of a barbell row, a free weight row requires the back to stabilize on its own accord. Nothing on which to lay face down, no back supports, no knee braces, no platforms -- just the natural support of your spine and the erector muscles in your lower back. And if that isn't tough enough, the bent over position places additional stress on your ability to breathe. Top it all off with the fact that the hamstrings are placed under tension (in order to stabilize the upper body) and it would appear there are too many factors working against you in order to efficiently work the latissimus muscles you're looking to target. However, the perception is flawed.
When the body is braced, the lats may be more specifically isolated but the end results are sub par. That's because the back is a muscle group that works as a unit. The latissimus, rhomboids, and erector spinae are all components integrated to work in tandem. Even the trapezius gets involved, yet most bodybuilders treat this muscle group as a separate entity. They think of the traps more as shoulder muscles but what they don't realize is that the traps extend down along the spine to the erectors. When these muscles contract, they effect muscles throughout the back. For instance, when the traps are activated, the scapula moves down and in, resulting in deeply etched grooves throughout the back. When performing exercises like lat pulldowns, these muscles barely come into play! That's the reason why so many trainees who rely on machines have shallow backs. They may have decent lat development in that there's some width when viewed from the front, but when they turn around -- nothing.
If you want thick, dense muscle throughout the back it's imperative that you work the muscles in which nature intended -- as a group. The back must be forced to stabilize, and all the muscles forced to work. It must also be worked heavy, with no support and no assistance. That means awkward, breathing debilitating, painful, uncomfortable barbell rows. There's no way around it.
Proper technique when performing barbell rows is of utmost importance. Loose lifting and heaving of the weight won't work the muscle sufficiently and can lead to potential damage. It's necessary to remain strict and contract completely. Again, a very uncomfortable action, but one that's vital if complete development is the goal. Remember, the function of the back is not only to pull, but to arch. By not completing the "final" phase of the exercise (the contraction), full development is impossible.
The back must also remain in a contracted position in order to prevent injury. As long as the lower back is flat and slightly arched, it's virtually impossible to injure, yet back injuries are the most common of all training impairments. This is almost always the result of hunching the back, which compromises the integrity of the small muscles in the lower region. This explains why some people can hurt their backs merely by picking up something light with incorrect posture. Yet, as soon as the lower back muscles are stabilized, it's possible to lift tremendous poundage -another example of how the back is designed for heavy lifting.
Now that we've established the need for barbell rows, let's examine proper technique.
A common lament among novice trainers is they have a hard time "feeling" the back, (out of sight, out of mind) When rowing, you must envision how the muscles are moving in order to get the best results.
Keep the poundages light for the first set and concentrate on the muscles throughout the full range of the movement. When you're ready to go heavy, you must be prepared to sacrifice a little form in order to handle more weight.
At all times, you must emphasize squeezing and contracting throughout the concentric phase.
Bend down in front of the barbell while staying conscious of keeping the lower back tight.
Grab the barbell with an overhand grip. (Note: Using an underhand grip is an excellent variation that will place more emphasis on the lower lats. Incidentally, the underhand barbell row was a favorite of Dorian Yates -- which is as good an endorsement as I can think of.)
Maintaining the arched back position and keeping the arms extended, use your legs to raise yourself up until your torso is parallel to the floor. The legs will remain slightly bent.
Row the bar up and just under the chest. Once the bar is in the contracted position, hold it and contract the back muscles together for two seconds.
S-l-o-w-l-y lower the bar down, once again staying aware of keeping the back arched. Think of your arms as handles, serving as "hooks" for the back muscles. Make your back do the work!
At the end of the set, bend the knees to lower your body in order to return the bar to the floor.
That's all there is to it -- but it's easier said than done. Heavy barbell rows are brutal. They not only demand a lot physically, they require extreme concentration in order to derive ultimate benefit and prevent injury. They aren't a "knock out a few sets and get it over with" exercise by any means! They're the real deal. And when you set your mind and motivation toward making them the main movement in your back workouts, you're going to see some drastic changes. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that all you need for a great back are chins and barbell rows. Everything else is just fluff.
Make Barbell rows the sole exercise in your back training routine for one month. In this way, you'll accurately determine the difference this one movement makes. Work in the 10 rep range, making sure you can complete at least 6 reps with perfect form but can't complete more than 12 reps without a little "cheat." Shoot for 8-10 sets. And prepare for some serious sweating.
Thick, defined back mass from all angles will be yours. All you need to do is supply the effort. It'll be worth it, though. You're going to look big and broad -- coming, and going.
10 Bodybuilding Myths That Must Die!
"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." This hackneyed expression still holds true, and when it comes to bodybuilding, it's more relevant than ever.
How do so many misnomers and half-truths make their way into the muscle building foray? The main reason is a phenomenon known as "parroting." Once a belief, a theory, or a methodology is accepted as credible, its influence spreads and soon it's repeated by authorities and laymen alike until it soon becomes standard thinking. Opposing viewpoints are often looked upon as erroneous due to the fact they contradict what has become known as "correct" thinking. It's the "flat earth" mentality. It sounds reasonable. Everybody agrees. But it's wrong. Nevertheless, if you want to disprove it, you've got your work cut out for you. After all, it's easier to believe a notion that has been repeated a million times than one which is being uttered for the first time.
In the case of bodybuilding myths, what is too often accepted as fact may not only be a worthless endeavor, it can be far from benign. Utilizing improper techniques, poor dietary choices and most grievously, irresponsible drug use, will not only hinder your goal of maximum muscularity and optimal strength, it may actually inflict harm on the body you're trying so ardently to develop.
Some of the practices stated in this article may be open for debate. If nothing else, keep an open mind to the logic of each statement. As is always the case, everyone is different and what works for one may not work for another. Yet, if you've been going by "the book" and are dissatisfied with your results, maybe it's time to re-evaluate some of your bodybuilding tactics.
Common Conception #1: Heavy training hits the larger white muscle fibers, therefore, you must train heavy if you want more mass.
Maybe not. The biggest factor is your individual body type. For example, powerlifters aren't big because they lift heavy. They lift heavy because they're big! Some people are born with more white fibers than others and those are the people who will respond best to heavy training. (4-8 reps per set) Of course, some heavy training is necessary for everyone in order to build even the limited amount of white fibers, but if you're the type who has more of the thin, red muscle fibers, the 1015 rep range may result in more overall development.
Common Conception #2: When attempting to lose fat, several smaller meals are superior to three larger ones.
This isn't necessarily so. Although smaller meals will provide a more even blood sugar level and distribution of nutrients, the bottom line is still how many calories are ingested over the course of time. A big problem with eating smaller meals, more frequently, is the fact that no meal is truly satisfying. That leaves you always craving food and "nibbling" more calories than you should. What also may occur is, after a day of small, unfulfilling meals, you finally crack and go for the pepperoni pizza! For some people, fewer larger meals provide a satiation that lasts for many hours, resulting in less cravings and less overall calorie consumption.
Common Conception #3: Aerobics should be performed on an empty stomach for maximum results.
This is a theory which has gained popularity even though it cannot be accurately gauged. It's based on the premise that, if the body is deficient in carbs, it will more effectively use fat for fuel. But carbs are present in the body even if no food has been ingested for hours. Another fact to consider is, if the body is carb depleted, it quickly goes into a catabolic state, especially when subjected to long duration repetitive stress. (i.e. aerobics) Considering these facts, the practice of running on an empty stomach could be working against your goals.
Common Conception #4: If you've never used steroids before and are thinking of starting, you should take advantage of your virgin receptors and use a high dose for the most gains.
This one sounds almost too stupid to be believed but this philosophy has gained considerable credence through the ramblings of several self- professed drug gurus, many of whom permeate the Internet. Following this mentality, why not recommend that since gains from weight training are quickest when beginning a program, beginners should train everyday for 4 hours a day! The exact opposite is true. In the case of steroids, because the body is so receptive to a new stimulus, very small doses will usually bring outstanding results. Bombarding the body with excessive dosages will only result in a greater tolerance, which will subsequently require higher and higher dosages in order to obtain results in the future.
Anyone who encourages excessive use or superphysiological dosages is irresponsible and untrustworthy and should be ignored, regardless of how knowledgeable they may be in the chemistry of anabolics.
Common Conception #6: In order to avoid injury, a weight belt should be worn at all times.
There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this theory. A belt produces a false sensation of security because it produces a tight, compressed feeling. In no way does this protect the muscles of the lower back. Learn proper technique and it's almost impossible to injury yourself. Depend on a belt for protection and you're headed for trouble.
Common Conception #7: Rest is as good as sleep.
Wrong! The body recuperates much more completely when in a deep sleep. Just being inactive doesn't cut it. Nothing will make you feel weaker than being in a sleep deprived state. At the same time, almost any problem or illness can be cured with a good nights sleep. If you want the most muscle growth, sleep eight hours a night. Nine is better.
Common Conception #8: Time released nutrients are better absorbed.
The body absorbs nutrients in a very efficient manner called digestion. There's no need for time released nutrients. Along the same lines, constipation is a subject often addressed in those ancient health manuals yet almost never mentioned in contemporary bodybuilding magazines. No wonder -- it isn't exactly a compelling topic. What's interesting to me is that the absorption of nutrients is such a hot topic but the proper elimination of waste may very well be the most important aspect in getting a constant flow of fresh nutrients to your muscles. Also, the longer you're "backed up", the more toxins are released into the bloodstream.
Common Conception #9: Have a high glycemic carb drink immediately following a workout.
Part of the reason for aerobic training is to deplete carb calories. Why put them right back? Protein would be a better choice but even this theory is overrated. The bloodstream contains nutrients, even after working out. (unless you've been fasting) Food timing isn't an exact science. The body doesn't know if your work out is over after you walked on the treadmill or after you walked home from the gym. The fact that your metabolism is elevated following a workout makes it a great time to burn excess calories. Rehydrate with water, not empty calorie sugar drinks.
Common Conception #10: You don't need supplements, only food.
True, unless you want the biggest advantage that you can have. No doubt about it, many supplements are overpriced, underdosed and downright ineffective. What supplements such as vitamins and anti-oxidants will do is put the body in its ultimate anabolic state which in turn will lead to maximum muscle growth. They'll also guard against overtraining and illness by saturating the system with the necessary nutrients for repair and recovery.
Nothing here is written in stone. If a particular practice has worked for you, by all means continue it. But if you've been wondering why something should be working, and isn't -- or if some ideas never quite clicked for you --it may be time to consider a new path. It isn't always easy letting go of a belief you've followed for some time, but when something isn't working for you, doesn't it make more sense to let it go and move on to something that does? Think about it.
7 BODYBUILDING DON'TS
We all do bad things. At times, it's due to an oversight or a lapse in judgment. On occasion, the misconduct is a gamble which didn't pay off. They almost never do. If you mess up, chances are you'll pay the penalty--sooner or later.
Training is no different. Sometimes the repercussion is immediate--a pulled muscle or a strained ligament. The damage can also be developed and compounded over time; the result of either misinformation or more often, ignorance.
Before you can avoid a mistake, you have to be able to recognize it. Experience is still the best educator but that in itself can hold back progress. Once you think you know all the answers, you stop the search. Along the way it's possible to pick up bad habits without realizing it.
If you've been at the weightlifting game for a while, you know what to do. But that's only part of the process. It's knowing what not to do that can often make all the difference on the road toward a better body.
The following are the most grievous "don'ts" you can make during your workout. Think of them as the seven deadly sins of bodybuilding! They are designed to help in creating the ideal physique in the least amount of time, while avoiding setbacks. Learn them. And avoid them at all cost.
1) Don't Get Distracted.
There are several variations of this. In some cases, it's a matter of lacking focus. It's easy to get caught up in a conversation with a fellow gym member or your training partner, yet these seemingly innocuous pleasantries can unwittingly sabotage a workout. Effective training requires concentration. Plus, when you work with a sense of urgency and purpose, you continue to move forward. Dawdle along the way and success always seems out of reach. When training for musculature that is refined and shapely, it's imperative to get a pump. A pump is impossible if the rest periods between sets are too long. Any routine that exceeds one hour is counterproductive. (I'd go as far as to say that working any one bodypart for more than 15 minutes is counterproductive). At that point, the muscles and nervous system are being taxed beyond which they can recover. You may be able to tolerate the strain, but it won't grow you any muscle. It's necessary to keep rest periods short in order to overload the muscle properly. Once that's done, there's no need to beat it to death.
2) Don't Forget To Stretch.
For most people, stretching is boring so I'd rather not get into a lot of details. At any rate, stretching does more than keep muscles supple and elastic, it may help potentiate future muscle growth by expanding existing muscle fibers. So stretch!
3) Don't Use High Reps for Abs.
It stands to reason -- any exercise where you can perform hundreds of reps isn't working the muscles very strenuously. For optimum development, the abs need to be worked like any other bodypart -- against resistance. The best "resistance" for the abs is to force them to stabilize. Don't fall for the myth that working the abs hard will cause them to overly enlarge. The rectus abdominals are a very shallow muscle group. It would be virtually impossible for them to increase as much as an inch in thickness. Thinking that the abs can get too big is as dumb as thinking that high reps will make the abs smaller. It just doesn't work that way. If you can't see your abs, the answer lies in your diet, not in endless repetitions of ineffective movements. Keep in mind also, the clarity of your abs is determined by anatomy. This fact becomes aptly evident by observing children who have very low bodyfat. Some kids will have tight little abs popping out while others will look smooth, even if they're skinny. So don't obsess if your abs don't look like a magazine model. Work the muscles and let the chips fall where they may.
Attempting a one rep max is the best way to injure yourself. You may get away with it for a while, but sooner or later, ... SNAP!...you're out of commision for a long time. Many factors come into play when deriving intensity from a set and how much you can lift for a single rep is virtually inconsequential to muscular development. When you show up at the gym, check your ego at the door.
5) Don't Neglect or Overwork the Obliques.
Some bodybuilders allow the obliques to atrophy in order to keep the waist as small as possible. Yet, muscular obliques can add a finished look to the torso. But don't go overboard! Unlike the abdominals, the obliques are a thick muscle which develops quickly. Multi-sets of side sit-ups on the hyperextension machine and sidebends with heavy dumbells can cause the obliques to widen, thus destroying your symmetry. A set or two once a week is plenty for keeping the obliques tight.
6) Don't Be A Free Weight Snob.
Let's end this debate right now. Machines aren't better or worse than free weights. Unless, a machine's movement feels awkward (as is the case for me with the HammerStrength machines) there's no reason why they shouldn't be used. All that matters is the stress on the muscle. It isn't the machine that does the exercise -- you do the exercise.
7) Don't Get Thirsty.
Once you're thirsty you're already in a state of dehydration, and dehydration is extremely catabolic! Remember also, muscle is 90% water. If you don't keep up your fluid intake, a pump is nearly impossible. Have some cool, fresh H2O on hand at all times.
Any one of these mishaps can bring the best bodybuilder's progress to a screeching halt. By avoiding them, you can sidestep a multitude of pitfalls, plateaus and impediments. If you catch yourself slipping back into an old bad habit-- stop-- and tell yourself; "Don't do that!" It's better to not develop a bad habit than to try and break one -- both inside and outside the gym.
"INSIDE - OUT" TRAINING
There comes a time in everyone's life where it's apparent that things just aren't working. You may be applying yourself to the utmost of your ability but if the effort is ill directed, the desired results will most probably not be achieved. In other words, if you're running east to find a sunset, it doesn't matter how fast or how long you run, it ain't there.
That is why it's necessary to sometimes take a different approach -- look at the problem from a new perspective. This is what makes bodybuilding more than just a physical activity. In an effort to "outwit" the constant adaptation process and find new methods of inducing growth, a little creativity is in order. This is where "inside-out training" comes into play.
What is inside-out training? The principle is simply to approach an exercise from the opposite perspective. Most bodybuilders have used an apparatus for something other than its original intent. A few examples may be using a cambered bar for rows or employing the tricep rope for curls. Yet most of the machines available in most gyms are approached in a more conventional manner. Using the "inside-out" principle we can mutate the action involved with most machines to incorporate several functions even their designers hadn't thought of!
Let's start with the pec deck. As we all know, the pec deck was designed to be a more effective version of the dumbbell fly, but bodybuilders soon began using it as a rear deltoid developer. By facing the machine and placing the triceps on the pads, you would then contract the scapula forcing the posterior deltoid to work in a way that no other movement or free weight exercise can.
Let's stay with the pec deck for a moment and examine the inside-out approach. How else can the movement of this machine be utilized in a more unorthodox fashion?
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