Posts Tagged ‘Lean Muscle’

Whenever I get asked about a good exercise for the back, the first one I always suggest is the pull up. This is one of my favourite ‘go to’ exercises. Pull ups are great because, not only do they help you develop a muscular, strong and V-shaped back but they also hit your rear deltoids, blast your biceps and help your forearm and grip strength. They’re also brilliant because, providing you have a decent pull up bar, you don’t even need to go to the gym.

However, despite how awesome pull ups are for building upper body muscle and strength, I very rarely see people include them in their workouts. Now, if you are seriously heavy you’d be forgiven for using the excuse that your body weight is too much for you to lift. But even then, I don’t think body weight is really an excuse that most people should use. I’ve seen Olympic hammer throwers crank out 10 plus pull ups with added weights hanging around their waist. These are guys whose bodyweight alone is around 120kgs!

A lot of people obsess about how much they can bench press or bicep curl but many neglect the need to develop a strong back. A lot of guys will just do a few sets of half baked lat pull downs with a weight that is a fraction of their body weight. This isn’t going to help to build a strong back and arms.

But I can’t do pull ups, you say?

More often than not, when I suggest doing pull ups to build the back, the responses I get are “but pull ups are hard” or “I can’t do any pull ups” or “I can only do 3 pull ups”. Well, so what if they are hard or you can’t currently do any. That’s all the more reason to do them! Think about it, if you can’t do any now, but in a few weeks or even months have worked up to being able to do 10 or even more bodyweight or weighted pull ups, you’ll be much stronger and will have a strong muscular back and arms to show for it!

How to increase the number of pull ups you can

I’m pretty sure most of you know what a pull up is but just for clarity, I’m talking about the kind where you hang off a bar and pull your self up so that your chin is above the bar and your chest almost touches the bar. Use complete range of motion i.e. a complete rep is one where you start with your arms straight at the bottom postion and pull your self up so that your chin is above the bar and then back down again. The best way to increase the amount of pull ups you can do, and the technique I used is to do the following:

1)      Set your self a target such as 20 reps

2)      Start your first set and do as many pull ups as you can

3)      Rest for a minute

4)      Let’s say you performed 3 reps on the first set. You have 17 reps to go

5)      Continue to do more sets of pull ups until you have completed a total of 20 reps. Note down how many sets it took you to do 20 reps and how many reps in each set. For example you may do 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 which is 10 sets.

6)      The next time you perform pull ups, your target is to do the 20 reps in less sets than last time. You also want try and do more reps in the first few sets. So you might do 7, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. As you can see, while the sets have remained the same, you managed 7 reps in the first set so it’s still an improvement

7)      Keep doing this at least twice a week until you can 20 reps in 2 sets of 10 reps or even better. Once you get to that point you can start thinking about using a belt to add weight for increased difficulty.

Band assisted pull ups

If you currently can’t do any pull ups and have really tried to do one, I mean really tried, then you can start by doing band assisted pull ups. These are a bit difficult to describe and are best illustrated by the video below. That isn’t me in the video by the way, its just one that I found on YouTube and demonstrates assisted pull ups well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TindOf7zyXM

No more excuses

So now you have no excuse not to do pull ups. Include them in your workout and say hello to a bigger and stronger back coupled with bigger biceps, forearms and improved grip strength.

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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!