Bust boredom in your workouts and get the most out of the common machines at your gym with these five unique exercises
Versatility isn’t an attribute limited to switch-hitting infielders and infomercial products. (Hey, who hasn’t needed their Ginsu knife to slice through nails and tin cans?) Indeed, at the gym, you can find this trait in an unexpected place – the typical machines that populate weight rooms.
For instance, did you realize you could do biceps curls on two different types of back machines? Or train your legs on an assisted pull-up machine? The following are five ways you can squeeze brand new benefits out of the same old equipment, thus giving you more options to keep your workouts fresh and your muscles growing.
1. Shrugs on a Standing Calf Raise Machine
Shrugs with a barbell or dumbbell are excellent trapezius builders, but both have one limiting flaw: the strength of your grip. Without straps, if your grip gives out before your traps, you’re forced to end the set prematurely. Doing shrugs instead on a standing calf raise machine eliminates this issue. And although a calf raise machine comes with a limitation of its own – the amount of total weight on the stack – a beginner or intermediate lifter who hasn’t advanced to super-heavy poundages can benefit from adding calf-raise machine shrugs to their regimen. Performing them is simple: Step into the machine, feet centered on the toe supports, body upright, back and abs taut, with your shoulders squarely under the pads. From there, shrug your shoulder caps upward as high as you can, then lower them deep and repeat. Make sure the machine is adjusted so the weight stack does not touch down at the bottom of each rep.
OPTION B: Another machine option for shrugging? If your gym has one, try using a flat-bench press machine, straddling the seat and taking a handle in each hand.
2. One-Legged Presses on an Assisted Pull-Up Machine
Outside of pull-ups and dips, the assisted pull-up machine may seem pretty limited in what you can do with it. But did you know you could also work your legs on it? By using the platform where your knees usually rest as a footplate, you can do presses one leg at a time – a handy option if a leg press isn’t available or if you’re just looking for an occasional twist to add to your usual leg-training regimen. To perform it, place one foot on the side support, the other in the center of the knee platform; you should also brace yourself by holding onto the rails with both hands. Then, flex the muscles of your thigh to press the platform down until your leg is straight, pause for a second and reverse, bringing your knee back up until your thigh is parallel to the floor before starting the descent into the next rep.
3. Lying Biceps Curls at a Seated Row Station
Biceps training can get tedious. After all, there’s only so many ways to do a curl, and curling is the one and only viable way to work your bi’s. So a lot of keeping your biceps routine invigorated is cycling in new exercises, and that’s where lying curls come in. For this exercise, you lie flat on the bench of a seated row station, feet firmly on the platforms, knees partially bent, holding a short straight bar or short cambered bar attached to the cable. From this position, bend your arms, doing a curl the same as if you were standing up, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout. The benefit of the lying curl is the reduction of body english – when you stand, you can use your hips to help swing the weight up, but in a prone position, it’s just your biceps versus the weight.
OPTION B: You can also do this lying on the floor in front of a lower cable pulley, which allows you to keep your legs flat and out of the way of the range of motion.
4. Overhead Curls on a Seated Pulldown Machine
Here’s another biceps curling option – sit in a pulldown machine, take an underhand, shoulder-width grip on the bar overhead and keep your upper arms alongside your ears. Now, curl the bar down behind your head, hold and flex your biceps for a moment, then slowly re-extend your arms.
5. Calf Raises on a Leg Press Machine
Of the five variations outlined in this article, this one is the most common. But if you haven’t tried calf raises using a leg-press machine, you’re missing out on an incredible way to attack your gastrocnemius, the larger, thicker muscle on the back of your lower leg. Here’s how you do it: Sit in the machine and place your feet at the bottom of the platform, your toes and balls of your feet on it, your heels off the edge. Then extend your legs to straighten your knees, release the safety latches, and start doing full calf raises. Be sure to work through a full range of motion, with complete flexion at the top of each rep and a deep stretch at the bottom. To give each calf undivided attention, this movement can be done one leg at a time.
OPTION B: Calf raises can also be done on a hack squat machine, by hanging your heels off the bottom edge.
When you glance at some of those old black and white pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, taken in the original Gold’s Gym in Venice on Pacific Avenue, what’s most noticeable about his physique is his massive chest. It is full and thick and when he does his side chest pose it swells up and seems to stick out a mile. Just standing there relaxed it appeared thick and dense like two massive slabs of beef sitting on his rib cage.
In fact a lot of the old school guys had thick chests back in the day, Lou Ferrigno, Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu, but it seems these days very few bodybuilders have that really impressive chest development. Thick, sweeping chest muscles have been overtaken by monstrous front delts making it obvious where all the pec muscles went.
When Arnold was growing up, everyone trained chest and biceps and didn’t pay as much attention to other muscle groups, like shoulders for instance. Since shoulder muscles were weaker, they didn’t take over all the work when training chest. Stretching the shoulder girdle and chest was a common practice years ago in an effort to expand the rib cage and increase the overall measurement of the chest. Inadvertently this created more flexibility through the chest and shoulders so when a bodybuilder performed a full range of movement on his chest exercises, his chest muscles were flexible enough that the load was not as easily transferred to the shoulder muscles which would then do much of the work.
When chest muscles are not very flexible they can only stretch so far before they will either tear or the load will be transferred to another muscle group or connective tissue in the shoulder joint. If you are doing dumbbell presses for instance, as you lower the dumbbells to your chest you will reach a point where your chest muscles cannot stretch beyond. If you continue to lower the dumbbells past that point then the shoulders will take over most of the work. If that happens you will feel tightness in your shoulders at the lower part of the movement and after doing the set your shoulders will feel pumped and burning. When you over-stretched at the bottom of the movement your shoulder muscles took over the workload. You thought you were training your chest and just doing your best to perform a full range of movement but instead you have just trained your shoulders, which explains why your shoulders grow but your chest doesn’t.
One obvious solution might be to perform partial movements when training chest (meaning not lowering the weight all the way down to your chest). While partial movements have their place in an advanced training program, your chest muscles won’t be getting much work if the range of motion is limited by inflexibility. The further a muscle group has to travel when performing an exercise, the more work it does and the more it will grow. Muscle inflexibility will stop your progress cold.
Increasing flexibility and Range of Motion is the goal
- Muscle tissue can be trained to be more flexible by stretching regularly. But it’s always important to ensure your muscle tissue is warm before you try stretching it. For the next 4 weeks, do 3 sets of pushups to warm up and stretch for a couple minutes between each warm-up set. For the first set of pushups just go 2/3 of the way down to keep your shoulders out of the movement until you are more flexible. After stretching between the 1st and 2nd set, the rest of your pushups should be full movements.
- Stretch between every set during the entire workout.
- Since your chest has not been doing all the work during your chest training you will have to teach those muscles to contract through the entire movement because they are used to your shoulders taking over at the bottom. Start with a weight about 50% less than you normally use and add weight each set. Be prepared to use a lot less weight than you have been doing because you will perform your reps slowly going the same speed up and the same speed down like a hydraulic piston.
- When you get to the bottom of the movement feel your chest muscles stretch and then don’t go beyond to the point where you feel your shoulders stretching. As you get more flexible you will be able to go deeper but you will always gauge the depth you go on your chest exercises by whether or not your shoulders are involved in the movement and not how far the weight travels.
- Don’t use weight training as a stretching exercise, stretch between sets and after you train. Using your sets to stretch your chest muscles will just involved your shoulders in the work.
- Finally, lay off your front delt training for 4 weeks while you do this chest specialization program. They could probably use a break anyway while your chest catches up.
- Train chest 2 times a week for 4 weeks then return to your normal training cycle.
|Pushup – shoulder width hand spacing||3||15|
|Incline dumbbell press||4||10|
|Flat dumbbell press||4||10|
|Dumbbell pullovers-elbows bent
(Keep tension on your chest through the whole movement and pull the weight over with your chest. Be sure not to lower the weight too far or you will feel it on your triceps)
|Pushup – wide hand spacing||3||10|
|Flat barbell bench press||4||12|
|Decline barbell bench press||4||12|
|Incline barbell bench press|
Shock Treatment Series: Part I
It’s easy to think that bodybuilding is just about building big muscles and getting lean enough to show them off. It’s easy because getting big is easy and so is getting lean, or at least it’s easy compared to balancing all that muscle development so that your body is symmetrical and proportionate. The problem with easy is that one day you look in the mirror and realize you have lagging muscle groups that seem so far behind the rest of your body that you think they will never catch up.
Size for the sake of size is meaningless. We’ve all seen those guys with one or two incredible body parts and nothing else. Building a well-developed body that is both symmetrical and balanced is what bodybuilding has always been about.
That’s easier said than done because despite how much hard work you do sometimes, there are muscle groups that simply refuse to co-operate and grow. This series of training articles is designed to help solve any problems you may have with one of those stubborn muscle groups.
Build Those Stubborn Calves
Calves are the one muscle group that almost everyone trains incorrectly. Isolating the workload on muscle groups that have only one fulcrum (one joint involved in the exercise) like seated calf raises for instance is theoretically the most direct way to train a muscle group and in most cases that theory holds true. Calves are a different animal, pun intended, because of how the lower leg is constructed so just isolating the movement isn’t enough to necessarily make them grow.
The Gastrocnemius muscle or calf muscle is attached to a tendon that attaches on the other end to your heel (your Achilles tendon). The Achilles tendon is very strong and if you train your calves improperly it is very easy for some of that workload to be transferred from the muscle to the Achilles tendon. That will logically result in a lot of work with very little return in the way of calf muscle growth.
If you have calves like a homing pigeon and no matter what you do they refuse to grow, then try these four things for 8 weeks and just see if those calves don’t start turning into cows.
- Keep constant tension on the calf muscle during the entire set
When you are training calves you want to avoid movement that will transfer the load onto your Achilles tendon from your calf muscles. The best way to do this is to keep constant tension on the calf muscle through the entire set by keeping your calf flexed as hard as possible through the complete arc of movement. This will be hard to do the first few times you try as you need to teach your muscles to stay contracted while they move through the movement of the exercise. It’s easiest to learn this by starting with seated calf raises. Position yourself in he calf machine and remove the safety placing the load on your calves. Reach down and feel your calves as you apply tension to your calf muscles by flexing them. Slowly raise the weight keeping your calves flexed. When you reach the top of the movement flex as hard as you can for a 3 count then slowly start to lower the weight while keeping the muscle tight (this is the tricky part). You will really need to go slow and concentrate on keeping your calf muscles flexed. By holding your hand on your calves you will be able to tell if the tension goes away or remains through the whole movement.
- Don’t over stretch during your calf exercises
When you stretch your calf muscle as far as it will stretch under a load, it becomes hard to keep tension on the muscle and if you can’t keep tension on the muscle then it can’t contract as hard as it possibly can, stimulating growth while you lift the weight. If you over stretch on the bottom you will take the workload off the calf muscle and distribute it elsewhere which will result in a lot of work with very little calf muscle growth. You only need to lower the weight a little but not all the way to get enough work done to grow.
- Don’t bounce to get higher on your toes at the top of the movement
So often you will see a bodybuilder bouncing at the top of the movement trying to get a peak contraction. Since the Achilles tendon and not the calf muscle is being used to lift the weight into position there is very little benefit from getting the extra height. At very best you perform an isometric contraction at the very top of the movement after the weight has been bounced into place and isometric contractions are not effective for building size. As you perform your calf raise with tension on the calf muscle through the whole movement you will reach a point at the top of the movement where you cannot go any higher without bouncing. Don’t Bounce! When you are at the top of the movement just hold the contraction for a 3 count then start back down again. Getting as high as you can on your tip toes by bouncing is completely ineffective for building calf size and just because your muscles are burning doesn’t mean they are being stimulated to grow, it just means you have a high amount of lactic acid in your muscles from metabolizing glucose. You can get a burn and not have stimulated your muscle effectively enough to grow.
- Keep your movement slow and steady – same speed up, same speed down
By performing each calf exercise with a controlled, steady pace, it is much easier to keep constant tension on the calf muscle and you need that tension to be able to contract hard enough to stimulate growth. Think of your car for a minute. It will go 60 miles an hour but it takes a few seconds to get there. Your muscles will contract very hard but that is not instantaneous. If you keep tension on the muscle all the time it is much easier for that muscle group to contract near 100% of it’s capability much quicker. The harder you can contract through a movement the more that muscle group will ultimately grow. Theoretically, the purpose of weight is to force the muscle to contract harder by adding resistance but in the real world the load is not always handled by the muscle alone. Keeping tension on the muscle will help focus as much muscle building tension on those stubborn calf muscles as possible.
Sample 8 week calf program – train calves no more than 2 times a week for 8 weeks
|Seated calf raise||4||10|
|Standing calf raise||4||10|
|Single leg – leg press calf raise||4||10|
May 6, 2008 Training Tips
Add a muscle-building twist to your next workout with these five innovative uses for the power rack.
You’re probably familiar with the power rack – a tall, metal-framed structure usually found in the free-weight area of the gym. It’s also likely that, if you include barbell squats in your training routine, you’ve done them within the confines of one.
However, outside of squatters, most power racks see about as much action as the local library on a Friday night. With this article, we at ProSource are hoping to change that, introducing you to five other exercises you can perform in the rack, for your back, chest, traps, shoulders and legs. There are many others – indeed, there are multiple options for every body part – and once you get a taste of its worth, we’re sure you’ll find your way to the rack in almost every workout. Sure beats an evening of amateur poetry reading, doesn’t it?
1) Bench Press Partials
The power rack can play a valuable role in improving your bench press max, allowing you to focus on a specific portion of the range of motion by setting the safety rods at a corresponding height. For example, say you’re having trouble getting 315 pounds through the midpoint of the rep to full extension. To work on it, place a flat bench in the power rack, and set the rods so they “catch” the barbell just below the midpoint. Then put 315 on the bar and try anywhere from three to five sets of 1-3 reps each in the upper range of motion, pressing the barbell from the supports to full extension. Rest the barbell on the rods between each rep. After a few chest workouts that incorporate these partials, you may find your strength has improved enough to allow you to get 315 on a regular bench.
2) Behind-the-Back Shrug
The power rack is a great place to do standard barbell shrugs. And it’s an even better place to do a variation favored by eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney – behind-the-back shrugs. By setting the safety rods just below your typical shrug range of motion, an awkward part of the exercise becomes easy: Picking up the barbell to get into starting position. Simply bend slightly at the knees and grasp the bar behind you with an overhand, palms-facing-back grip. Another benefit of doing this move in a power rack? You can rep until complete failure, as you can put the bar straight down without having to maneuver it onto hooks or dropping it to the floor.
3) Seated Military Press
Seated barbell military press stations are quickly becoming a rarity in health clubs, both because of insurance reasons and an unfortunate lack of popularity among the lesser motivated among us. However, as long as there is a power rack present, you can still perform this excellent delt-building exercise. Place an adjustable bench that goes all the way up to a sitting position, or a low-back seated bench, in the rack. Set the two barbell support pins at a point above your head, where you can lift the bar off of them while seated, and insert the safety rods at a point just below the bottom of your range of motion. Not only can you do military presses in the rack, but you can do them without the need of a spotter, which is a necessity in a traditional military press station – if you fail, just drop the bar to the strategically-placed rods, and you’re free and clear. Heck, maybe the disappearance of military press stations isn’t such a major loss after all.
4) Three-Quarter Rep Deadlift
Deadlifts from the floor are one of the most effective exercises you can do for your legs, back and as a synergistic power generator through your whole body. But, similar to the bench press, you can work through the upper range of motion by setting the rods – in this case just below your knees – to help you improve your max. Three-quarter rep deads are also a solid stand-alone exercise for use during your back routine; this range is where your back sees most of the action in comparison with your legs, which generate much of the force needed to lift the bar from the floor.
5) Inverted Pull-Up
This back exercise, a variation of a traditional pull-up, resembles an upside-down push-up. Set the two pins at a height 6-12 inches above your hips and lay a barbell across them. From there, get under the bar in a plank position, grasping it overhand style. Your whole body, except the heels of your feet (which remain on the ground throughout), should be off the floor in the starting position. To rep, pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, then lower and repeat.