Archive for the ‘Muscle and Strength Matters’ Category

Having strong and healthy shoulders is crucial when it comes to physical activity. The shoulders are used in some way for most muscle building exercises. Bench press, military press, pull ups and even squats involve the shoulder muscles to varying degrees. The shoulder is the most mobile joint on the body, meaning that it has the greatest range of motion. For this reason it is also quite unstable and has a high risk of getting injured. Go to any gym and you’ll come across people who have injured their shoulder in some way at some point. In some really bad cases a shoulder injury can mean that you can’t even put on a shirt without pain let alone lift weights. If you want to continue to develop muscle and strength then it’s really important that you look after your shoulders.

Tips on keeping shoulders healthy

Here are some simple tips to help keep your shoulders healthy. These may seem obvious but it’s amazing how many times you see people go straight into lifting weights without any warming up.

Note: Only follow these tips are if your shoulders are currently healthy and pain free. If you already have a shoulder injury, you should get it seen by a doctor and look into rehabilitation exercises

1)      Warm up the body thoroughly – We all know that warming up before exercise is important but I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure your shoulders are nice and warm before lifting weights. So make sure you get your body temperature up by doing whatever works best for you. I prefer rowing as it also warms up the shoulder area better than the something like cycling

2)      Warm up the shoulders – Once you’re warmed up it’s time to get the blood flowing around the shoulders. Stand with your arms held out to the side and make small circles in a clockwise motion, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Do this for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat again but this time move in an anti clockwise motion. Repeat this for as long as it takes for the shoulders to feel warm.

Now pick up set of light dumbbells and perform a set of side lateral raises, front raises and bent over reverse flies. This will warm up the anterior, medial and posterior heads of the shoulder, in other words the front, sides and rear.

3)      Start light – Start with a light weight that you can easily do 10 reps on for the first set. Gradually build up to your working sets. Going heavy on the first set risks injury. I find that I feel stronger on the heavier weights if I’ve done a couple of lighter sets to ramp up to my working sets.

4)      Don’t perform heavy, and low behind the neck presses – Pressing heavy weight behind the neck puts a lot of stress on the rotator cuff. It’s even worse if you lower the weight below your ears. Personally, I try to avoid heavy behind the neck presses altogether.

5)      Perform pull ups or rows in between pressing sets – I find that if I perform a set of pull ups in between my shoulder pressing sets, I feel stronger and more stable when I press. This isn’t a superset but just alternating sets between pull ups and shoulder presses. Remember, it’s important to perform as many pulling movements as you do pressing to keep the shoulders healthy and physique balanced.

6)      Include rotator cuff exercises – Rotator cuff exercises are often neglected but are crucial to maintaining healthy shoulders. There are a range of exercises that you can do. The link below describes in details the importance of the rotator cuff and exercises to strengthen it.

7)      Perform band pulls – One of the causes of shoulder problems is bad posture caused by sitting down all day. In order to help avoid this you should perform band pull aparts on your off days. I normally do about 100 of these in 5 sets of 20. I also perform them from varying angles. This well help strength  the posterior part of your shoulders and maintain a good posture. You’ll need a resistance band which is pretty cheap. The video below is one I found on YouTube and demonstrates various band pull movements.

Building muscle and strength isn’t the most complicated thing on earth but there are some common mistakes that can really limit your progress. It’s not just beginners, but even experienced gym goers that can end up making some basics mistakes.  So, whether you’re just starting out on your muscle and strength building journey or a seasoned lifter, avoid these 10 common training mistakes to ensure you keep improving:

1)      Being inconsistent – One of the things I’ve learnt is that consistency is king! Being consistent with your workouts, nutrition, and rest is one of the most important factors that will determine your success in building muscle and strength.  There is no point in having the perfect week working out, pushing yourself hard and then following it up with nothing for weeks.  Or, there is no point making sure you never miss your chest workout and being inconsistent with your leg workouts.This will lead to an imbalanced physique.  So, whether your plan is to workout 3 days a week or just 1 day a week, make you are consistent and have a program that you stick to. Each workout and each quality meal will add up over time and contribute to building a stronger and more muscular physique.  

2)      Quitting – A lot of people start on the path to building muscle and strength, but many quit before they really begin to see results. Remember, it’s a journey, and sometimes it’s going to be hard. There will be times where you have brilliant training sessions and set personal bests and other times you will struggle to increase your strength. You may even have to try out numerous approaches to training and nutrition to see what works for you. But whatever you do, stick with any given routine long enough and you’ll see results, and once you do you’ll never want to quit.

3)      Not eating properly – You know what they say, you are what you eat! You could have the most effective workout plan and really train hard in the gym, but all this is wasted if you don’t have proper nutrition to fuel your training and help repair your muscles. When you lift weights, your muscle fibres are broken down and it’s only when you are resting that they are rebuilt stronger and bigger. You should put in as much thought to your nutrition as you do for the actual workout.  If you don’t, then you’re really limiting your muscle and strength gains.

4)      Not doing compound movements – A lot of people will spend hours in the gym performing isolation exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions or dumbell flies for chest.  Focusing primarily on in isolating individual muscles isn’t the best way to build a strong a muscular physique.  People that do these are basically majoring in the minors and not getting the most out of their workouts. You’re workout needs to be focused on doing the compound movements such as squats/leg press, bench press, shoulder press, rows etc… By doing these exercises you are working more muscle groups that will all be getting stronger.  Isolation movements can be fitted into the end of your workout as assistance exercises. Personally, I aim to base most of my routine around compound movements and very rarely isolate things like biceps. The compound pulling and pushing movements will work muscles such as the biceps and triceps anyway.

5)      Not training the legs – We’ve all probably seen the guys with  a really muscular looking chest and big arms but  skinny legs.  Not only does this make the physique look unbalanced it’s also one that isn’t truly strong. Training the legs also helps your whole body get stronger and the benefits can be carried over into other lifts such as bench press and shoulder presses. So if you want to build a balanced physique, make sure you work your legs.   

6)      Not pulling enough – A common mistake a lot of people make is to concentrate too much on pushing movements such as bench press and not balance this out with pulling such as barbell rows. This leads to muscle imbalances, can lead to a slouching posture and even lead to shoulder injuries. You should ensure that you balance your training by performing as many pulling exercises as you do pressing.  This will help keep your shoulders healthy, improve your posture and even give the illusion of a bigger chest.  I often train chest and back together and ensure that for each pressing set that I do, I do the same number or even more sets of pulling movements.

7)      Using bad form – It’s all well and good using compound movements as the staple of your workout, but if these are done with bad form, you’re wasting your time. More importantly, you’re increasing the risk of serious injury. So if, when you are squatting, your back is rounding or you can only manage 2 inch knee tremblers, then you should lower the weight and perform the exercise with correct form. Quality, perfect form reps are much more effective and safer than bad form reps with a heavier weight.  When you begin, it might take you some time to perfect your form. Don’t worry about this because once you have perfected your form you’ll be able to make good progress safely.

8)      Comparing yourself to others – There is nothing wrong with a bit of competition, but you should know your limits. There will always be someone bigger and stronger than you. When you go to the gym there will be a range of people including, beginners, seasoned bodybuilders and power lifters with huge amounts of muscle and strength. Don’t be fazed by this and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.  Remember, everyone started as a beginner. More importantly, know what your own goals are and stick to them.

9)      Thinking that you need supplements to build muscle and relying too much on them – Certain supplements can be a useful aid in helping you to reach your goals. But that’s just what they are, supplements. Too many people fall into the trap of relying on supplements and they end up taking the place of proper nutrition from a balanced and varied diet made up of whole foods. In truth, you can build a muscular and strong physique without supplements and the only things you really need is a good workout and program and good quality nutrition from food.  So don’t fall into the trap of believing all the marketing, supplements can be useful but there isn’t any magic formula that will make you gain muscle and build strength. The only thing that will do that is lifting weights and proper nutrition from whole food.

10)   Overtraining – When it comes to building muscle and strength, more isn’t necessarily case of better. When you work out, you are essentially breaking down the muscle. The body then needs rest and nutrition to repair and build the muscle.  Overtraining occurs when your body hasn’t been given the chance to recover. It can result from working out for too long, to frequently, not eating properly or not getting enough rest.  Spending 3 hours in the gym everyday doesn’t mean you will get stronger and bigger. You could end up overtraining and could actually lose muscle and strength because the body isn’t getting the chance to rebuild. So’ if you’re starting to feel weaker, getting aches and pains and feel exhausted all the time, these are just a few of the symptoms of over training and it’s time to take a break. Giving your body time to rest and recover will ultimately mean you’ll come back with more motivation and feeling stronger.

Opposing muscle Supersets to supercharge muscle gains

One of my favourite muscle and strength building tactics is to use supersets in my training.  Super sets are a great way to boost your muscle gains, build endurance and also get more done in the gym in less time!  On some days, if I’m pressed for time due to other commitments I will base my entire workout around supersets using opposing muscle groups

What is a superset?

A superset is one where you perform two exercises one after the other without resting in between. It is effectively combining two sets into one.  Generally people tend use supersets towards the end of their routine and combine exercises targeting a particular muscle group. For example, many people will perform a superset for triceps using close grip bench press immediately followed with an isolation movement such as cable tricep extensions.

Opposing Muscle supersets

Now, same muscle group supersets are great, but if you really want to turn up the intensity of your workouts and build some serious overall muscle, try incorporating supersets using only compound movements that utilise opposing muscle groups.

Not only will opposing muscle supersets allow you to get more done in less time, they can improve the circulation meaning that muscles can work more efficiently with more oxygen. You’ll also get an awesome pump and even find you can lift more and do more reps on the second exercise. Many a bench press personal bests have been set even when it has been performed immediately after a set of rows! I personally find that I often feel stronger on the second exercise than if I had started with it.

My favourite superset at the moment is weighted Pull ups + weighted dips. This is an awesome superset that hits the back and biceps and the chest and triceps. Sometimes I do the pull ups first and other times I’ll start with the dips. But whichever order I start with, it really leaves the muscles pumped. Seriously, try super setting with opposing muscle groups. You will really feel it working!

Another favourite superset of mine is barbell row followed immediately by bench press or vice versa.  Here are just a few examples of great opposing muscle supersets.  Remember, as with all exercises, only use a weight that you can do perfect form with to avoid injuries and get the most out the workout.

Opposing muscle superset examples

1)      Bench Press + Bent over barbell rows

2)      Bench press + Pull ups

3)      Barbell rows + Dips

4)      Pull ups + Dips

5)      Standing barbell shoulder press + pull ups

6)      Bicep curls + tricep extension

The possibilities are limitless so why not include supersets into your workout and see yourself pile on the lean muscle, get stronger and burn fat.

Get Strong to Look Strong

I often get asked by people the best way to build a stronger, leaner and more muscular looking physique. It’s not just newbies but people who have been training for a long time with little success that often ask the same question. It’s worth noticing that in most cases the emphasis is always placed on the ‘look’ part. However, it’s surprising how often one simple fact is overlooked in the quest to look strong and more muscular. This simple fact is that, in order to look truly strong and muscular you need to first get stronger.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m just stating the obvious, and you know what? You’re right, I am. But as obvious as this is, I continue to see countless guys spending hours in the gym working on isolation exercises and machine weights. Don’t get me wrong, machine weights such as chest press and isolation movements such as bicep curls have their place in a well balanced muscle building routine, but relying on these alone will not allow you to develop a strong muscular body and burn fat.

So, what do you need to do in order to get stronger so that in turn you can build muscle, burn fat and ultimately look strong? Well, you need to have a muscle building routine that involves working multiple muscle groups. This means that the majority of your workout should consist of compound exercises using free weights. 

What are compound exercises and why focus on them?

Compound exercises are movements that require more than one joint and more than one muscle group to perform. They are the best way to build bigger and stronger muscles and are the most efficient use of your time the gym. For example, the barbell benchpress isn’t the just the best overall chest builder but also works your triceps, deltoids and requires stabilising from your back, biceps and abs.  So, if you have one guy who spends 1 hour doing bicep curls and tricep kickbacks and another guy who spends just 15 minutes performing barbell bench press, who do you think will make better overall gains? The guy doing the bench press of course! While the guy doing the bicep curls and tricep kickbacks might develop ‘big arms’, he won’t have the more complete development and strength as the one performing the bench press. The simple reason for this is that the compound movement works more muscles, causing more muscles to grow and get stronger.

So if you take the example above and apply it to the rest of the body and focus on getting stronger on the compound exercises, you’ll develop an overall stronger body that will inturn look more muscular, leaner and stronger.  I’ve listed the main compound movements below. Make these the main part of your muscle building routine and couple it with a good clean diet and rest, and you’ll be on your way to a strong, lean and muscular body.  In the following blogs I’ll include examples of routines that use these compound exercises to build strong lean muscle and burn fat.

Top strength and muscle building compound exercises to get strong to look strong

1)      Barbell Squat

2)      Barbell Bench Press / Dumbell Bench Press

3)      Barbell Bent over row

4)      Barbell Deadlift

5)      Barbell Standing Shoulder Press

6)      Pull ups (Body weight or weighted)

7)      Dips (Body weight or weighted)

One more thing to add is that if you look at the main exercises of any strong and muscular looking sports person, be it a pro body builder, rugby player or 100m sprinter, you will find that they prioritise the compound movements bacause these give the most bang for your buck and allow you to pack on the most amount of muscle in a shorter time.

Note: Please make sure you learn how to perform the above exercises with absolute perfect form. I can’t stress this enough as the last thing you want is to have an injury caused by bad form. Only use weights that you can perform the correct form with and don’t be afraid to start light and work your way up as you get stronger.

Good luck and get strong!


Strong Muscle Project

Posted: September 6, 2012 in Muscle and Strength Matters

Hi, welcome to the Strong Muscle Project. This is a blog dedicated to building a strong, lean, muscular and athletic body naturally.  As time goes by I’ll post updates about my training, muscle building meal recipes, training routines, tips and instructional videos. Watch this space!