I’ve been lifting a long time, about 16 years, 11-12 of which I would call serious, and what most others would call obsessive. In that time, as I gained muscle mass, leaned out, and improved my proportions, I have increasingly been subject to questions from others at various points in the lifting spectrum…..beginners, advanced lifters, and even those I think are much better than me.
I hear a lot of the same things…..
How did you get such huge legs/traps/pecs?
I’ve been training for 6 months and nothing is changing.
I’ve done 8 rep sets, 15 reps sets, and super sets, and nothing works.
Why am I not growing?
I have done a million different programs and none of them are working.
What can I do to get bigger biceps? A bigger back? A tighter stomach?
Make the Most of Your Training: Problems
So instead of tackling each of these individually with the dozens of people who ask, I am going to apply and define some basic principles I use to get MORE out of what I am ALREADY DOING. Sometimes you do not need to program hop, bounce from YouTube vid to YouTube vid, increase your reps, DECREASE your reps, do your reps upside down and backwards, you just need to PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING. There is no reason to look for 300 variations on 10 exercises when you are not maximizing what you are already doing on the 10.
Let me give examples.
Let’s talk bad form…..
I am often in the gym, doing my thing, and look over to see some (usually guy) with a loaded barbell looking like a demented see-saw trying to do bicep curls.
Personally, I do not know how his spine is intact, as he is heaving his whole upper body backwards and basically just rocking the weight up, throwing his hips into it and really doing a fine job of taking his biceps completely OUT of the movement.
Then I look to my left and see a girl doing dumbbell rows by slinging a weight up and down, pivoting through her hips and heaving up so a row becomes some sort of weird torso twist move. Between the high speed of the movement, the pendulum-like bounce, and the twist, I am pretty sure she is not working her back/lats any better than Bicep Boy is getting his biceps.
And that is just form issues…….
Then we have speed.
Larry is over there lifting with proper form but going so fast he is turning tricep push downs into Advanced Cardio 101.
There is zero mind-muscle connection, no focus nor attention paid to the squeeze/contraction; there is just mindless factory-like repeated motion.
After speed issues we have improper weight choices……
Anna is doing dumbbell bench press but is going so light the weights are all over the place, and her 3 sets of 15 look like they could be 3 sets of 45.
And Mortimer is piling up as many plates as he can on the barbell, again for some curls, and he is determined to get those 8 programmed reps, but each rep looks like a form tragedy performed by a lame buffalo pressed into service.
It’s ugly, guys.
Make the Most of Your Training: Explained
So instead of asking how you can CHANGE your program, into infinity, never getting where you want to go, what exercises you need to be doing instead of what you are already attempting, and turning this whole endeavor into some rocket neurosurgeon slapdance farce, slow the hell down, Bicep Boy, and look at what you are CURRENTLY DOING.
One: In general, DO THE FUCKING MOVEMENT CORRECTLY.
A bicep movement, should primarily hit biceps.
If you are curling standing up, your back and pelvis should be staying mostly straight, and rigid, not swinging to “help”.
Your elbows should be fairly static and straight(ish) down at your sides, and your shoulders should not be in play to swing the whole bar up. It’s a BICEP CURL, which means the biggest “mover” as far as joints go will be elbow.
I would advise you research EVERY DAMN MOVEMENT IN YOUR PROGRAM, online, by looking for vids by the pro’s…..not some guy in his mom’s basement with a half-ass squat rack, but someone with clear muscle mass, length of time in the sport, and obvious knowledge.
And when I say EVERY MOVEMENT, I mean it.
Half the time shit you think you are doing right instead looks like a clusterfuck when compared to how it is actually meant to be done. I actually look for and follow pro’s on Instagram, as they often will post training vids….and you damn well know they know what they are doing.
Two: OK, so how do you do the movement correctly?
SLOW IT DOWN, CHARLIE BROWN.
I would advise you AT LEAST DOUBLE the time spent on EACH REP….and that means both extension AND contraction.
I would bet this also means you will have to decrease the weight, because increasing time under tension is a workout in itself.
It has the added benefit of making you PAY ATTENTION TO THE MOVEMENT, feel what is actually working, and allowing you to see if what muscle you are utilizing is actually the one you intend to. When you slow it down, you can feel the squeeze, feel the stretch at the extension, and actually use your MUSCLE to perform the movement rather than using swing/inertia/momentum/bounce/rebound.
Three: Stop getting hung up on HOW MUCH WEIGHT YOU USE, and HOW MANY REPS you are SUPPOSED to hit.
This works both ways.
If you are aiming for 3 sets of 10, and by the end of third set you are still hitting 10 reps without issue, my guess, if form and execution are good, you are going TOO LIGHT.
I use this strategy:
I aim for 3-4 sets of 8-10, 10-12, 12-15, etc.
I work up across sets, my first working set is the one where I hit the high end of target, and it is moderately hard.
THEN I increase weight next set, sometimes just marginally, and see if I can repeat that 10 reps.
Sometimes I will get 10, sometimes I will get 8. If I get 10, I up the weight again, if I get 8, since it is the bottom end of my “goal” I will often just repeat that weight again for last set.
This method is excellent in that it does not “lock you in” to a weight.
You can intuitively change what you are doing based on your performance that day.
If my first set of 8-10 is a half dead 7, I DECREASE the weight.
If it is an easy as pie 10, I am going to significantly increase the weight.
You get the idea.
And there are no prizes here for amount of weight used.
I would rather get 15 excellently performed and totally exhausting reps of rear dumbbell raises with the fucking 5 pound dumbells, than bust out the 25’s for a sloppy half-ass tendon-tearing 10, that do not reach my goal which is to TRAIN MY REAR DELTS EFFECTIVELY.
As a powerlifter it has been very hard to get out of my own head and pick up small dumbells, to do less weight on the stack, to load up less weight on the bar, but I am working towards a different goal (hypertrophy) and thus a different mindset is needed.
Leave your ego at home, and do what you came to do.
Annnnnnnd that’s it guys.
Focus on getting the most out of shit you are already doing BEFORE you move on to changing everything.
I bet this aggravates the piss out of half of you, who are mad I did not reveal any secrets, perfect exercises, perfect programs, or unknown universal truths. Just like in dieting, there are no quick fixes, or one-line solutions.
Most of the time you need to look at what is already happening, AND MAKE IT BETTER.
Actually, this is one of the easiest ways to get more out of your lifting…..just clean up what you know, do it better, improve it, and you don’t need to go nuts with variation (yet…..because once you master these basics you will need to start playing with your method and training programs…..but that’s a lecture for another time).
(Disclaimer: Sorry if this was a rambling mess, but y’all by now know how I write…..a stream of consciousness in the form of mind-vomit, onto the screen and then into your eyeballs. Don’t look for that to change anytime soon….this old dog ain’t learining THAT new trick. :D)