Since my previous text submission 5 days ago: '10 ways to boost your appearance', I have recieved 20+ private messages asking for my routine in the gym. To me, this is an indicator there is a gap in knowledge for readers of TRP.
A newbie who comes across TRP is told to lift. He reads the sidebar and picks a beginner program like stronglifts or starting strength to build a strong frame and foundation. After around a year, his lifts start to stagnate and while he has put on a decent amount of muscle he wonders: 'what now?'.
Instead of just pasting my routine in here for newbies to blindly follow, I thought I would go a bit more in depth and offer advice for what has given me the best results with a lot of experimentation in the gym, professional advice from coaches, and a lot of reading.
To show I am not talking out of my arse, here is a pic I just took with my mobile. To those wondering I weigh 174lb @ 5'11". I've been gymming on and off (due to injury) for a couple of years now.
Disclaimer: I believe 90% of the people who read TRP are interested in maximising their muscle growth and getting as 'big' as possible, as fast as possible. The other 10% are simply interested in getting stronger. This advice is catered towards the 90%
So, let's get straight to the point:
What's my #1 tip for maximising muscle growth?
CONTROL THE WEIGHT
Too often I see countless gym bros and skinny newbies cheating their way through their routine. It is a crime a very large majority of the gym population are guilty of. But, if you think about it; how many of the people that go to the gym actually achieve the results they want? (Answer: less than 10%).
Now, there are multiple ways to think of this 'rule' of mine:
Is very simple. Fight gravity.
How often do you see people curling absurd amounts of weight and simply let the weight fall down to their hips after the peak contraction? Are you guilty of this?
This doesn't just apply to curling, every movement should have a controlled tempo.
The contraction phase (the muscle shortening) should be fast and explosive. Aim for 1 second.
The peak phase is the end of the contraction. Really squeeze the muscle and force blood into it to pump it up. Mind muscle connection is very important for safe and effective lifting.
The eccentric phase is the one that is neglected by the majority of lifters. This is the extension of the muscle.
For example: Lowering the weight to your hips after a curl, dropping down into a squat, or lowering the bar to your chest during bench.
Aim for a minimum of 3 seconds to complete this phase. If this phase is something you have neglected, you will have to lower the weight you are using without a doubt.
Why is this?
Well, if you think about it, contraction and peak is only 50% of the actual movement you are doing. If you neglected the eccentric phase and simply dropped the weight and relaxed the muscle you are only performing 50% of a proper rep.
Therefore, if you introduce the eccentric portion of the lift and use a 5 second rep tempo (1,1,3), you will jump from 50% resistance to 100%!!
If you didn't use the peak phase either, you will jumping from 40% to 100%!
So essentially you are doubling the amount of work your muscle is doing simply by fighting gravity!
You will notice you will get strong as hell and your muscles will get a ridiculous pump if you focus on getting 100% out of every rep.
Conclusion: Leave your ego at the door and use weight you can fully control!
☆EDIT☆ i assumed this was common sense, but as swift_rage pointed out, there are some small exceptions to this rule. If you are maxing out on the deadlift or bent over row, it is perfectly fine to ignore the eccentric phase and drop the weight. This is to prevent injury. Trying to resist 150kg falling from hip height is asking for trouble!
This is pretty simple. Maintain correct form at all times. If your gym has them, check a mirror for reference. If they don't, film yourself. If you can't get the form right, look at ways to engage mind muscle connection to muscles that aren't working how they should.
The most common exercises I see with the worst form are squats, bent over rows, and pullups/chinups.
Everyone should be able to do low bar squats unless you have restricted mobility due to injury. If you can't, hire a powerlifting coach to show you the ropes. Actually, even if you can low bar squat, I recommend seeing a coach anyway to grasp basic programming for strength. I will talk about this later on.
If you want to do high bar squats, this is what helped me get ATG with good weight (I currentlt do 200lb for 5x10).
Stretch your hip flexors, quads and calves every day.
If you see a pole, practice body weight 3rd world squats whilst holding onto it. Lean forward, backwards and to the sides until you feel a stretch in your calves/shins. Hold. These should take around 2-3 minutes.
note: It's okay to let your back round, the goal is to stretch your shins out.
Once you have acheived your desired level of mobility then you can reduce the frequency of stretching and third world squats. I simply do them as a cool down after my lower body routine 2x a week now.
Do RDL'S and hamstring curls at least once a week.
If you can front squat, front squat at least once a week. If you can't, do goblet squats.
The idea of all this is to increase mobility, and strengthen the core and hammies. It's very easy to build strong quads and to neglect your hammies/glutes, especially since most of us sit down all day.
☆Bent over row☆:
Your back should be parallel to the floor. That is proper form. I don't care what your local gym bro says, if you really want huge lats, then you will do it.
Before you start the movement, suck air into your gut and brace like you're about to take a punch. Let your knees bend slightly and your hips slide back, like you're about to get fucked doggystyle, and row the weight off the floor. Control the bar on the way down, exhale. Take another breath, brace and repeat 5-6x. This will work your core and posterior chain as well as your lats. Do not do these and heavy deadlifts on the same day.
If you don't use an ab wheel as part of your core workout I suggest you start. It has immense carrover to the pullup and chin up.
The pullup is pretty simple. Start hanging from the bar with your legs crossed, look at the ceiling, and try and pull your sternum to the bar, whilst squeezing your scapula together and elbows down and back.
The chin up is essentially the same, except you can get away with looking ahead, focus on pinning your elbows to your sides, and try and pull yourself 'through' the bar during the peak to get a good pump.
Do not swing your legs. Do not bob your head. Do not let yourself drop down during the eccentric phase. This will ruin your shoulders and elbows.
If you can't even do one pullup or chinup, don't use the assisted pullup machine. Grab a stool and a resistance band, wrap one end around the pull up bar and the other on one of your bent knees. Jump up to the bar and fighting gravity; lower yourself as slowly as you can. Repeat 5-6 times for as many sets as you can manage.
Yes you will look dumb, but once you can do 3 unnassisted pullups, you can start the russian fighter pullup program. When you can do 12 unnassisted pullups/chinups in a row, add weight.
Look up the valsalva maneuver. This is essentially creating a ball of pressurized air in your diaphragm to stabilize your spine and therefore your lower back.
Focus on breathing into your gut instead of into your lungs. Your shoulders shouldn't rise and fall with your breathing. The only thing that should move is your gut. When it is full of air, you simply 'squeeze' your core like you are going to take a punch.
You do not have to do the valsalva maneuver for every exercise, but when you are doing a movement that uses the posterior chain or lower back it is essential to prevent injury and increase strength.
Now that we've covered some simple ways to increase the effectiveness of the way you lift weights, I'll quickly glaze over some other important topics:
No matter how hard you work in the gym, you aren't going to see much progress if your body is covered in a blanket of fat. If you are >15%bf, you need to focus your attention on what you are putting into your body, and not what you do in the gym. Here is a quick chart you can use for reference if you don't know your bf%.
There are plenty of articles, research and even TRP submissions with info on cutting bodyfat down. If enough people are interested I will consider putting together a post on this in more detail, otherwise:
- Eat a good portion of vegetables, and have complex carbohydrates every day before and after you work out for energy and recovery.
- Minimize packaged foods, soft drinks and generally refined sugar and breads.
- Consume plenty of fish, chicken and red meat. If you can't cook: learn.
- Remember to eat a small serve of healthy fats like nut butters, olive oil and avacado every day.
Here's an example.
That's my lunch and dinner everyday (with meat variations of course) it looks boring, but when you marinate the meat for 48 hours in low-sugar honey bbq sauce it tastes amazing.
That's all I have for now, for those that are interested, I'll also include my routine below so I stop getting pm's about it
This is a modified powerlifting routine, with increased accessory volume for more muscular hypertrophy instead of density. Track your weights lifted, emphasize a 5 second tempo and ensure adequate rest (2-3 mins for compound movements and 60 secs for asseccory movements).
All exercises in brackets are a week 2 variation, to give some variety and optimize muscle growth.
Exercises with +'s are compound movements and should be no more than 5x6 imo. Accessory exercises should be around 5x10-15
HERE WE GO!
+Incline bench (+flat bench)
Decline db press (incline db press)
Incline dumbbell flys (cable flyes)
Finish off with 5x sets of decline push ups to failure.
+Deadlifts (+Bent over row)
+Weighted Wide grip pull-ups (+Weighted chin ups)
Db row (wide grip cable pulldown)
One hand cable row (straight arm pulldown)
Db kickback (skullcrushers)
Rope pulldown (overhead db arm extension)
Reverse grip BB curl (Hammer curls)
Concentration curls (preacher curls)
LEGS (2X A WEEK)
+Squats (rotate between high bar, low bar and front squats to hit your legs from all angles and ensure even development.)
Db lunges (BB lunge)
Leg extension (+leg press)
Lying or seated hamstring curl (+RDL's)
☆Seated and standing calf raises☆
Calfs are a problem area for most, until very recently I was the same. Do the following and they will grow:
50 rep sets with light weight. Rest for 60 secs. Super set with standing calf raises and repeat 5x. Focus on squeezing the calf at the top of the movement and don't 'bounce'. Control your descent and explode up.
note it's important to do both seated and standing variations of calf raises as they work different calf muscles. Standing hits the gastrocnemius and seated works the soleus.
SHOULDERS + CORE:
+Overhead BB press (+seated DB OHP)
Upright rows (face pulls)
Lateral db raise (cable lateral raise)
Front db raise (cable front raise)
Bent over db lateral raise (bent over cable lateral raise)
hanging leg raises