The basics might stay the same, but science is always finding new twists on them. Coach’s sister magazine Men’s Fitness rounds up the latest tips and tricks to help you add muscle faster.
Modify Your Moves
Photography: Glen Burrows. Model: Tom Wright
If size is the aim, training takes on a different tone. Here’s how to change the classics accordingly
Step away from the bench – you’ll get more pec activation from moves that aren’t just about pressing. Switch your press-ups for “squeezers”, as done by the BarStarzz calisthenics team. Start with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart, and squeeze them together (they shouldn’t actually move inwards) on the way up. Do three max-reps sets, every other day.
“Unfortunately the best biceps move is the least practical,” says strength coach Chad Waterbury. “If you can hang a rope up somewhere, do ten climbs, two or three times a week for all the stimulation you’ll ever need.” Not an option? Do neutral-grip pull-ups (palms facing in) or pull-downs using your gym’s double-D handle to give your guns similar stimulation.
Dips done properly – with your elbows tucked to your sides – might be all the triceps training you need, but once you hit the 30-rep mark, switch to the Russian variation. Drop into the bottom of the move, shift your weight backwards onto your forearms, then push forwards again and come back up. The (nasty) goal is ten reps.
Forget wrist curls and work these muscles alongside everything else. Fat-grip training is the key – either invest in a set of Fat Gripz or wrap a towel around the bar for pull-ups, rows and dumbbell curls.
No leg extension machine? No problem: do the natural version. Start on your knees with your upper body raised off the floor, then lean back slowly, using your quads to control your descent. You might need to use some momentum to get back to the top, but the goal is to ascend and descend without using your hands.
Don’t chase the weight on shoulder moves: your rotator cuffs will struggle to handle the stress. Instead, use light dumbbells and strive for perfect form – when you’re doing lat raises, for example, do one rep, then hold at the top for ten seconds, two reps and 20, all the way up to four and 40. Rest for a minute, and repeat twice.
Sure, shrugs will do the job – if you go heavy enough – but for better and quicker gains, switch up to the snatch-grip high pull, which hits the rhomboids, shoulders and mid-back for shirt-stretching muscle. Using a wide grip on the bar, pull it explosively upward, keeping your elbows higher than the bar and aimed slightly backward. Then let the bar fall back to the start position.
You need to hit it from all angles. To do the job, pick a rep count that’s roughly a third of the number of pull-ups you can manage in one set, then do three sets of this number of normal-grip pull-ups, three sets of close-grip and three sets of wide-grip, with 60 seconds’ rest between sets. Once you can do all nine sets with perfect form, increase the reps by one for your next workout.
They won’t activate themselves. Before you squat, use the fire hydrant: get on all fours, then bring your knee up and out to your side, like a dog marking its territory. For more activation, straighten your leg – if your glutes start twitching, it’s working.
The Nordic hamstring curl is a fine move – and, according to studies, a solid way to protect your hamstrings from sports-based wear and tear – but it’s not easy without someone to hold your legs. Use a lat pull-down machine as an improvised spotter: get into the machine with your shins on the seat and ankles tucked underneath, then lean away from the machine, holding on to the handle.
You don’t need machines or added weights. Do single-leg calf raises with your fingertips against a wall for balance – no bending at the knees or waist. Aim for three sets of max reps (each leg) and when you make it to 20, stop using the wall. The increased motor unit recruitment will add both power and muscle.
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