“ The Real Secrets of Bodybuilding ”
I'II bet the title of this article raised a few excited hairs on the back of your neck. You have no doubt read a number of times that there are no secrets to building a superior physique - just hard, persistent training, plenty of good food and supplements, enough rest, and a dash of genetics. After all, if there were some secrets, certainly someone would have let the cat out of the bag by now!
Well, boys and girls, it's time that somebody enlightened you. You may already know some of what you are about to read, but chances are that even if you do, you've been ignoring it.
Looking at any mechanical device does not usually give the slightest clue as to how it works or how it is put together. However, if you were to tear it down, piece by piece, you would no doubt wind up with a much better understanding of how it goes together as well as how it works.
This principle works the same way with nearly everything in life. If you fmd yourself in a money jam or with a romantic problem, a systematic tear-down will help you to see just what is what. Then you'll have a much better chance of putting things back together correctly. This theory also works very well when it comes to bodybuilding, so let's tear bodybuilding down into its component parts.
The first factor that comes up will obviously be size. Oh, yes, mass is still king! Then you have shape, proportion, symmetry, hardness and vascularity. Most other terms are simply synonyms for these terms or varying degrees of them. (For a very good break-down of all of the popular descriptive terms in bodybuilding, pick up a copy of Sliced by Negrita Jayde and the late Bill Reynolds.)
Most of the terms used to describe a physique pertain to contest condition. I'd like to deal here only with the essentials of bodybuilding - namely, critical mass, general muscle shape and proportion. These three factors are very closely related since shape and proportion greatly enhance the illusion of size.
To illustrate this fact, it is probably safe to say that you have seen lots of different bodybuilders, both amateurs and pros, pictured in the magazines. If you have ever had occasion to see one of these same athletes up close and in person, you doubtless noted one of two circumstances. The athlete in question was either bigger than you had thought or not as big as you had expected. That is because when you see them up close, you can assess their proportions more accurately relating to their surroundings. Lee Haney is very big in person, while Steve Brisbois is surprisingly small. But Steve's shape and proportion make him look huge! (He also happens to have one of the best proportioned and most complete physiques in the world.)
Now, one matter I feel needs to be cleared up before we go on is the difference between proportion and symmetry. Most people think that these two terms are interchangeable, but they, in fact, have very different meanings. Proportion is the size and shape of one bodypart relative to other bodyparts. Symmetry, however, refers to the balance of these proportions to the corresponding proportions on the opposite side of the body. In other words, if you were to divide the body down the middle and fold it over onto itself, the sides should match perfectly. Good luck! Nobody - but nobody - has perfect symmetry. Check out a photo of Arnold doing a front double biceps pose. One biceps is long and full, while the other is shorter and has a peak not unlike the Rock of Gibraltar. Some people have very good symmetry; others do not. (Look a little closer at the pictures in this magazine. You'll see what I mean.) This phenomenon is largely due to genetics and deserves another article. With that out of the way, let's get into size, shape and proportion.
When it comes right down to it, most of you know the basics of building size. But size alone does not make for a winning physique. The real secret is to create the look of greater size by building shape and proportion. (OK, so that much you've heard before.) There are, unfortunately, many well-muscled people who have no flow to their physiques -just a bunch of big muscles thrown together onto a frame with no visual relationship to one another. This is the type of body that, if the individual bodyparts were to be photographed and shown to you, you'd think they belonged to several different people. This doesn't make for a very pleasing look. The bodyparts should flow together harmoniously.
Starting at the bottom and working our way up, let's tear the body down into some of its component parts and fmd out just how size can be enhanced through training for these two qualities of shape and proportion.
The calves are notorious for being difficult to build. Even with the worst genetics in the world there are a couple of tricks you can employ to get the most out of your lower-leg development.
First, to pack the most size on your calves, concentrate on seated calf raises instead of
Around to the back of the thigh, our next subject is the hamstrings. It seems the large
I like to view the midsection as more than just abs and obliques, so we will include the lower back in our midsection discussion. The first secret to a small, tight midsection is don't use much (if any) resistance in your exercises. The only area of the midsection that really needs extra resistance, other than bodyweight, is the spinal erectors of the lower back. If you use weight in abdominal exercises, you build muscle. (That makes sense!) A little muscle goes a long way as far as abs and obliques are concerned. You don't want to ruin your proportions with a thick waist, even if the thickness is muscle. This is all too easy to do, and unfortunately, many trainees have done it. Remember, the smaller the waist is, the bigger everything else will appear. You want your midsection to be tight and tapered. Besides, your abs get worked with resistance in nearly every exercise you do in the gym since they are needed to stabilize the body to some degree in just about every position. Proper diet is the key to making those abs show. (Yep, that's another article too.)
The abdominal crunch is without a doubt the most efficient ab exercise there is, and it works the entire abdominal wall, not just the upper abs. At my gym, The Dungeon, we do what we call "football crunches." This movement utilizes a small football - actually it's a squeaky dog toy - placed under the chin while crunching, to keep the movement strict. Just lie on your back on the floor with your feet elevated. Your thighs should point up to the ceiling but be angled ever so slightly away from the torso, and your calves should be parallel with the floor. Do not, however, rest the lower legs across a bench. Once the exercise gets difficult, you'll tend to push on the bench with your legs, bringing the hip flexors into play and taking tension away from the abs. Cross your arms across the chest or lightly rest your fingers on your abs to feel them contract. Now crunch up to a position where your shoulder blades are off the floor. This is the starting position of the crunch. From this starting position tension will remain on the abdominal muscles throughout the entire set, and that's just what we want. Now, from this "half-crunch" position, pull the torso towards the pelvis as far as possible. If the football under your chin squeaks, you used your neck and traps for momentum by throwing your head forward, and that repetition doesn't count towards the number of reps in the set. If the football falls from its place under the chin as you return to the starting position, you went too far down too fast and undoubtedly arched your lower back. This is another indication of cheating, and that rep doesn't count toward your repetition goal either. Everyone seems to enjoy crunches done in this fashion. In fact, that little squeaky toy sometimes causes quite a bit of laughter. If you don't have a squeaky toy, perform your crunches in the manner described, takjng special care not to flex the neck during the movement. Do this by ensuring that there is always room for three fmgers between the top of your chest by your collarbone and your chin. Closing that gap any tighter indicates cheating and a less effective exercise.
It's probably a good idea not to use the various forms of leg raises to hit the lower abs, because of the fact that most of the work is actually done by the hip flexors that originate on the upper leg bone and cross through the pelvis, inserting to the lower back. Too much hip flexor work can create strength imbalances, strain the lower back, and actually weaken the abs. If your diet is good, and you do your crunches correctly, specific lower-ab work may not even be necessary. If, however, you feel the need to work the lowers more directly, reverse crunches are good.
Everyone knows of at least a few situp or crunch variations to hit the obliques on the sides of the waist. Some are good and some are not so good, but the main point that should be kept in mind when sculpting the obliques is that you don't want them to overdevelop and give a wider appearance to the midsection. So, as with the abdominal wall exercises, don't use resistance.
The best movement for the obliques that I know of is the standing side crunch. From a standing position with the left hand holding some type of upright for stability, place the right hand by the side of your head with the fmgers lightly touching your ear. Now lift your left leg up until the thigh is parallel to the floor. By twisting at the waist so that the right elbow and the left knee cross at the mid-line of your body, you work both the interior and exterior obliques quite strongly.
I feel it is best to stay away from standing and seated twists as this motion places a shearing force on the spine and can lead to problems. Side bends with a heavy dumbell tend to widen the waist and compress the spine into an awkward position. They too should be avoided.
I've never cared much for the vast array of abdominal machines on the market. Many of them simulate the movement of the abs quite well, but you need to use additional resistance to get anything out of the exercise since you are in an upright position. Here again too much "building" of the abs will throw off your proportions big time. Not good. I will use an ab machine now and again just for a change of pace, but I don't even have one at my gym - never will.
I'm sure you've all seen the gizmos and contraptions advertised on TV promising "a flatter, tighter stomach." Please, don't even give them a second glance! These people have obviously put more money into marketing than into their products, and they are cleaning house selling these worthless products that after about one week of use spend eternity out in the garage, under the bed, in the attic, or in the basement behind the hot-water tank! My wife works in retail, and she tells me that the stores can't keep these things in stock. As soon as the commercials hit the airwaves, people stampede the stores to buy them. (I guess the old saying is true: "there's a sucker born every minute.")
Let's move around to the lower back. Unlike the abs and obliques, the spinal erectors of the lower back must be trained with resistance. This is one area you want to "muscle up." I can't stress enough how important a healthy, strong lower back is. I don't believe I've ever seen anyone with too much muscle in this area. Usually it is just the opposite. Most trainees do not possess enough development here. A smooth look in the spinal erectors indicates that a bodybuilder is not in his or her best condition.
Most of the commercial gym low-back machines you see are prerty good, and I suggest using them if you have access to them. But don't neglect the free-weight exercises such as the barbell good morning and low-back extensions. Always use smooth movements, and take care not to strain yourself in these movements.
Most people know low-back extensions by the name hyperextensions. This is really not an appropriate name because excessive hyperextension of the back can cause back problems. Never hold your hands clasped behind your head while doing this exercise as that will cause the low back to arch too much. Instead, to keep the back flat, try crossing your forearms over your chest. It works for me!
Just as in back extensions, it is equally important to keep the back flat while executing
On to the upper part of the torso. Let's talk chest first and then move around to the upper back and lats.
As with any muscle or muscle group, there are only so many ways to work the chest - two to be exact. From there you have countless variations on a theme.
The two movements for the chest - more accurately the pecs - are pressing movements and hugging movements. You will no doubt need some of both of these types of exercises to build a proportionate chest, as very few people are genetically gifted enough to build great pecs using only pressing exercises, and I don't believe anyone can do it with just hugging movements (flyes and pec-dek crunches) even though this motion is the main function of the pectoral muscles.
Many people call the flat bench press the squat of the upper body. I could not agree less! For my money, dips (done a certain way, of course) are much better. Dips work the outer chest, giving a wide, flaring effect to the torso when it's viewed from the front. I happen to adhere to Vince Gironda's method of dipping, but unlike Mr. Gironda, I don't feel you must have V-dip bars to perform the exercise effectively. Parallel bars will work fme as long as they are spaced the correct distance apart for the individual, and as long as the trainee's hands are angled correctly. As far as bar spacing is concerned, you are usually stuck with what is available. At The Dungeon our parallel bars are fully adjustable up to 40" apart. Hand spacing is usually suggested at 28 to 32 inches, which I feel is OK for some people, but too much for some and not enough for others. That's where those adjustable bars make all the difference.
More effective for sculpting a shapely, proportionate chest is the flat bench press to the neck with a fairly wide grip on the bar and the grip positioned so that the fmgers angle slightly in. This movement can be done with free weights or on a Smith machine. I prefer the machine version, but whichever you use, be sure to keep the elbows wide and back towards the ears.
For most body structures these two movements alone go a long way towards building a great chest. Remember, we are not just talking about mass here. We want each muscle group to have a pleasing shape, too. Those flaring pecs will make your whole upper body appear even bigger. Are you beginning to get the idea that your training goals should be aimed more towards shape and proportion than just sheer size?
Dumbell flyes can also be very effective in a chest program, as can dumbell presses. I guess the point I'm trying to drive home is that, while most folks rely on the flat bench press for complete chest development, the truth is that it probably won't do the job -not by itself anyway. Any time you do bench presses, be they flat, incline or decline, be sure to line up your pectoral girdle, as trainer John Parrillo would say, by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down, and keeping your sternum high. This "set-up" procedure should also be used during flyes and pec-dek crunches.
Just as with the chest, there are two main types of movements for the upper back - rowing motions and pulldown or pullup motions. (Same thing, only different.) Rowing motions take the form of barbell and dumbell rows, seated cable rows, T-bar rows, and all of their variations. All of these variations have one flaw in common as practised by most trainees. They use their arms too much to move the weight, and their backs get very little stimulation.
The way around this problem is to be certain to squeeze the shoulder blades together at the beginning of each repetition. The arms should never bend until the last bit of shrug has been squeezed out by the shoulder blades. Then, at the top of each rep, really crimp your upper-back muscles together for a deep contraction. The truth is, the only reasons you use your arms in any back exercise at all are (1) to connect your back to the resistance, and (2) to get the resistance from the point of the initial shrug to the point of the final contraction.
Pullups and pulldowns have an infinite number of variations, and each one must follow
In pullup movements always start from a dead hang. This will give you the full stretch you need for a complete range of motion. From this dead hang position, shrug your shoulders down and back, thus pulling your entire body, except for your arms, a couple of inches closer to the bar. Now pull up by pushing down with your elbows, and squeeze your shoulder blades down and back at the bottom for that all-important final contraction.
For pulldowns start with the same stretch position and shrug down. This time, instead of your body traveling in an upward direction closer to the bar, the bar will be pulled a few inches closer to your body. You will know you have achieved a full, complete shrug when your shoulder girdle is pulled down so low that it won't go any lower without the elbows bending. That is when you start to push the elbows down into your sides.
A common trait of all back exercises should be the grip. I fIrmly believe that a false grip is best on all back exercises. Gripping with the thumbs on the same side of the barbell, dumbell or whatever tends to minimize the biceps involvement during back exercises. It's tough enough to keep the biceps as neutral as possible during any back exercise, so every little trick helps.
The shoulders, or more accurately the deltoids, are next on our little journey. Full, rounded delts will go a long way towards making your physique look bigger. And they create this wonderful illusion from any angle. The down side is that you can't hide weak delts, so all three heads of the muscle must be built proportionately for the best visual effect.
One of my delt-training ideas will undoubtedly be scoffed at by many. "Leave the front delts alone!" That's right - don't train front delts! Or actually, don't train front delts very much. You see, the front delts get more than enough stimulation indirectly. Every time you do any type of pressing movement from any angle for the chest or delts, the front deltoids are heavily involved; therefore, direct work for the front delts is unnecessary. In fact, it can cause problems for your proportions. Overdeveloped front delts create a round-shouldered appearance that detracts from your V-taper. In my work as a personal trainer the only people I advise to do direct front-delt work, like front raises, are powerlifters, those whose front delts are a weak link in their bench press, and bodybuilders who need some separation in that area for an upcoming competition.
Too much front-delt work causes what I like to call "a-pair-a-pecs syndrome." When the front delts are overdeveloped, it looks as if the trainee has two pairs of pecs. Tell me that doesn't mess with your proportions!
On the other side of the coin we have the rear delts, which most people pay too little attention to. These delt heads can be a little boring to train, but I've never seen them overdeveloped on anyone, and they can add so much to a physique. Don't train them as an afterthought as so many do!
Of the three deltoid heads the lateral heads need the most attention. They hold the key to the wide look. For that reason lateral raises should play a very important role in your deltoid training. I'm talking about strict lateral raises, not the average "heave-ho" style that most people like to practice. So the secret to the illusion of greater size and better proportions in reference to the deltoids is to keep the front deltoids in check while maximizing the side and rear heads of the muscle.
While we are in the region of the shoulders, let's hit on the trapezius. The traps are pretty easy to develop. In fact, the middle and lower traps get plenty of stimulation while you're working the back. It is a good idea, however, to give the top portion of the traps some individual attention. It doesn't take too many sets if you work them hard - and, of course, you always work hard! Right?
The best movement for the traps according to most folks is shrugs. These can be done with dumbells or with a barbell. The weights in either case can be held in front of or behind the body. Using dumbells to the rear is good since it takes the lats out of the movement almost completely. Just turn your hands so that the palms face out towards the rear at an angle from the body. Using a cambered bench-press bar is also very good as it does not rub up and down the body, and shrugging is made easier.
Another great trap exercise is upright rows behind the back. Again a cambered bar works great for this, but a straight bar will work fine too. This is a partial movement but very effective for working the traps. You start with a shrug to the rear, then continue to pull up with the elbows. You'll feel it!
And speaking of upright rows, go easy on upright rows in front of the body -you know, the regular type. They cause inward rotation in the shoulder joints which can result in shoulder problems.
From the traps we move out to the arms. What weight trainer doesn't love to work arms? Unfortunately, most trainees who seek arm size go about it in the wrong fashion. Since the triceps make up about two-thirds of the upper arm's size, it makes sense to concentrate on the triceps when trying to increase arm size. I suppose it's because of the fact that the biceps are more of a "show" muscle that everyone seems to be so conscious of them. Once you understand how important the triceps are to building pure size, you can shift your focus from biceps to triceps.
Most people not only mistakenly do more sets for the biceps, but they also put forth more effort when working biceps. Another error. The tricepsare very strong muscles and can handle a ton of hard work, so don't be afrajd to really bury them in the gym.
Now that you're ready to make the triceps a priority, there are a few facts you need to know so that you can get the most out of your triceps workouts. As you are no doubt already aware, the triceps, like the deltoids, consist of three heads. The most important of these heads is the long head which appears on the inside at the back of the upper arm. Concentrating your efforts on this aspect of the upper arm will bring out the most triceps size. As for arm shape, nothing complements the belly of a full biceps like the low-slung belly of the triceps long head when you're hitting a double biceps pose - front or rear!
The way to get the most bang for your buck from this muscle is to use triceps exercises in which the arms are raised in line with the head. This can be achieved in a variety of exercises from a variety of positions. The reason for this priority is that, of the three heads of the triceps, only the long head stretches across the shoulder joint. Placing the arms up beside the head puts your arms in the right mechanical position to most effectively work the long head.
All forms of lying triceps extensions, seated triceps extensions, and high and low cable triceps extensions will do the trick. Any movement that stretches the long head will emphasize that long head. When you choose your triceps exercises on any given day, just be sure to include some of these movements, and you will greatly increase the size of your triceps, as well as enhance their shape and proportion.
Now, about those biceps that we just tried to diminish in importance ... Before going any further, I'd like to explain that no muscle group is less important than any other. The most important muscle you have is the one you are working now. If you're working biceps, nothing is more important than giving your biceps your all.
Back to the biceps. When you think of the function of the biceps, the fIrst action that comes to mind is bending at the elbow to raise the lower arm. Although this is clearly a function of the biceps, their other function is to supinate the wrist - i.e. turn up the palm of the hand. If you want to fully develop the biceps, you need to work both functions. Everyone knows about supinating the wrist while curling with dumbells, but you can only go so heavy with dumbells. If you really want to build good size, standing barbell curls are the ticket. But how do you supinate with a barbell? You can't, of course, but you can get the same effect. Try holding the bar with a wide grip. Just outside shoulder width will be perfect. And, whatever you do, don't relax your grip as you get to the top of the curl. This wide grip, together with a good, healthy squeeze on the bar, causes the wrists to supinate just enough to create a stronger contraction in the biceps at the top of the curl. Try it right now without a bar. Hex your biceps. Now turn your thumb out and feel the biceps contract harder. That stronger contraction means more quality work for the biceps. More quality biceps work means better biceps development.
Another trick to better biceps development involves another mistake most trainees make. Not working the brachialis, which lies sandwiched between the biceps and the triceps, will shortchange your biceps development. Although the brachialis don't need as much work as the biceps themselves, they do require some direct stimulation. By building up these muscles, you push the overlying biceps up, making them appear bigger. The best exercises for the brachialis include any type of curl with the grip in a palms-down position or a thumbs-up position. Scott curls, otherwise known as preacher curls, work the brachialis strongly even with the regular palms-up grip. When you stretch your arms over the Scott bench, the long heads of the biceps go partially slack, making them incapable of a good contraction. In other words, they aren't in a position to work very hard. As a result, the brachialis take up a great deal of the workload. And a bigger brachialis means a better biceps, with a better peak and less gap at the elbow. This is how the silly rumor got started that Scott curls lengthen the biceps. Biceps length is dictated by genetics. You can't make them longer. They just appear longer from Scott curls because of the increase in brachialis size pushing the biceps up higher. Curls performed in the thumbs-up style are usually done with dumbells and are called hammer curls. Personally, I prefer to do hammer curls with a triceps bar. That way I can use more weight to hit the brachialis even harder. Remember, you can always use more weight with a bar than in a corresponding movement with dumbells.
The last muscle group we need to look at is the forearms. Some people say you can build good forearms by just gripping the bar or dumbells tightly whenever you work out. Well, if you are genetically predisposed to big forearms, that is probably true. For most of us, however, it isn't quite that simple.
Reverse curls hit the forearms decently as a result of the fact that you can't cradle the bar. You must really squeeze it, and all of the important grip-squeezing muscles lie in the forearms. Hammer curls will also stimulate the forearms for the same reason, but to really hit the forearms right, you need wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. A small, square bench works best for these movements. Instead of sitting on a regular bench with your forearms resting on or sandwiched between your thighs, squat down in front of the little bench and rest your forearms on it with your hands just over the edge. Then drop your butt low over the other side of the bench.
In this way you can work heavy by off-setting the weight with your own bodyweight. Very effective ! In case you don't know whether you are genetically gifted in the forearm department or not, there is a way to make a pretty accurate assessment. Where do you wear your watch? Yeah, I know - on your wrist! But what part of your wrist? Is it on the hand side or the elbow side of the knobs of the forearm bones? You see, if the flexor and extensor muscles of your forearms have long bellies, you no doubt wear your watch closer to your hand. If the muscles have long tendon attachments, your watch will feel more comfortable on the elbow side of the knobs of your forearm bones. What's the difference? Well, muscles with longer bellies and shorter attachments tend to build easier as well as larger. It's like the difference between high and low calves. So, if you have long bellies in your forearms, you may be able to develop adequate size from simply squeezing hard each time you pick up a weight. But I'm not that fortunate!
Well, there you go! Some secrets to build greater size, the illusion of greater size, and better overall body proportions. And I'll bet I was right, too. You already knew some of these secrets, didn't you? I'll bet that's not all I was right about - I'll bet you were ignoring most of them!
reprinted with permission by MuscleMag
[ Return ]