Archive for October, 2007

The Magic Number for Building Muscle

When looking at most popular muscle building workouts you need to understand that most forms of training have just been passed down for decades from one generation to the next, without the inclusion of rational thought. Sometime in the 60’s sensible muscle building programs started becoming less and less prevalent with the rapidly growing usage of anabolic steroids.

In days gone by, men like Steve Reeves and Paul Anderson trained with far more sensible, lower volume muscle building programs, but these started to disappear during the 60’s. By the time Arnold got to Gold’s Gym in Venice for the first time, high volume, bodypart splits were the widely accepted way for everyone who wanted to build muscle and gain strength to train.

This type of training is not based on rational thinking but just on the fact that “it’s what everyone else is doing.” The proponents of these training methods will always blindly tell you that “higher volume training is needed to build muscle.” Says who? I can tell you for a fact that the University of Chicago isn’t wasting time examining the effects of Jay Cutlers workouts. There are no studies saying that you need 8-12 sets per bodypart to build muscle. However, there are, in fact, studies that show the exact opposite; that one set is just as effective as three when it comes to building muscle.

The proponents of this type of training will also tell you that higher volume training is associated with higher levels of growth hormone secretion. What they don’t tell you is that almost anything you do elevates GH. Extreme temperatures elevate GH but my biceps don’t get bigger every time I take a shower. The increased GH secretion is not enough to make the slightest difference whatsoever in the muscle building process.

For the drug free lifter who does not possess muscle building genetics quite up to par with the Austrian Oak, training this way is a huge mistake. Not only does it drain your amino acid pool and glycogen stores but it dramatically increases your recovery time between workouts. If you do 8-12 sets for chest on Monday you can not recover from that workout and be able to train again for seven days. So you are only getting one growth stimulus per week or fifty two per year. Now if you reduce your volume to the point where you can recover faster and more efficiently without draining your amino acid pool and glycogen stores so greatly, you can train bodyparts twice per week instead of once. Now instead of 52 growth stimulating workouts per year for each bodypart, you can now do 104.

To train more often you absolutely have to lower your training volume. The total sets per workout should be kept low and the total sets per exercise should be even lower. Contrary to what a lot of the popular programs out there today prescribe, there is rarely a need to do more than two sets per exercise when you are trying to build muscle. If you can’t get the job done with two sets you probably aren’t training hard enough. In theory you should be able to get the job done with just one set but I like to use two just to be safe and make sure all bases are covered. The second set is basically an insurance set.

The are only a few times you should do more than two sets per exercise. If you are a raw beginner who needs more sets just to practice and perfect your form then you should probably do more than two sets. If you are doing speed exercises such as cleans or box jumps you should also do a few more sets. Finally, if you are varying the reps and weights, you can do more than two sets. For example if you are doing two sets of three with 315, a set of five with 295 and a set of eight with 275, you can get away with more than two sets. But other than that, you should never do more than two sets of any exercise with the same weight for the same reps.

There are a few different approaches you can take to doing your two sets. The first approach is to go balls out on your first set and then drop the weight a little bit on your second set and use it as a sort of backoff set. Theoretically this will allow you to give your most effort when you are freshest on your first set. The second approach is to hold a little something back on your first set and instead use it as a hard, working warm up set. Then you go balls to the wall on the second set. It has been suggested that a heavy, but not all out set, before your money set can serve as a neural primer and arouse your nervous system thus making the second set even more effective. The third option is to not take neither set to the limit but instead just do two very hard sets to clean failure. Each option works very well but you will have to experiment to see which is best for you. The most demanding method would be to do two all out death sets to failure. This can work but may be a bit hard for most people to recover from.

Whatever option you choose will be far better than the normal, mindless nonsense of doing 4-6 sets per exercise and you will get far better results. Better muscle gains with far less work? Sounds like an unbeatable plan to me.

Jason Ferruggia is a world famous fitness expert who is renowned for his ability to help people build muscle as fast as humanly possible. He has trained thousands of clients during the course of his 14 years as a professional fitness coach, including over 500 athletes from 20 different sports. Jason has written hundreds of training articles for top ranked magazines and websites and has authored four books. He is the head training adviser for Men’s Fitness Magazine where he also has his own monthly column dedicated to muscle building. For more great muscle building information, please visit: http://gain-muscle-now.com/musclesecrets.php

1) Deadlift- Not many weight training exercises work as many muscle groups and build muscle as fast as the deadlift.  The neck, traps, upper, middle, and lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, biceps, forearms, and abs are all utilized in the deadlift.  No other exercise is a better test of overall body power.  While uninformed people always ask, “how much can you bench,” the question they really should ask is, “how much can you deadlift?” A deadlift is the most basic exercise anyone can do.  Bending down and picking a weight up off the floor is the one weight training exercise that mimics everyday real life situations.  Most people will rarely find themselves on their back needing to push a heavyweight off their chest but everyone has to bend down and pick things up. If you could only do one exercise to build muscle this would be the one to do.

2) Squat- The squat has been known for years as the “king of all muscle building exercises” and for good reason.  I’m not talking about sissy boy half squats either; I’m talking about real below parallel, full squats. If you don’t at least break parallel it’s not a squat.  Like deadlifts, squats involve an enormous amount of muscle mass and stimulate the release of anabolic hormones such as testosterone.  This is great for building muscle fast. The squat is probably the most revered exercise among serious lifters and the power rack is considered our sacred ground. If you ever want to develop any kind of real lower body strength and build muscle fast, you have no choice but to squat.

3) Chin up- Not many exercises will build muscle in the upper body like chin ups. Known as the upper body squat, chins stimulate nearly every muscle from the traps down to the abdominals. Any exercise that allows you to move your body through space as opposed to moving a weight or fixed implement around you has a much higher degree of neuromuscular activation, and therefore a much greater potential to elicit gains in size and strength. Look at the development of male gymnasts and you will see for yourself what years of chin ups and dips can do for the upper body. If you want to build muscle fast, be sure to include chin ups in your weight training program.

4) Parallel Bar Dip- A close second to chin ups as one of the best upper body exercises for building muscle fast, and for all the same reasons. If you want big arms you had better include dips in your training program. No other weight training exercise will add slabs of muscle to the triceps as effectively as dips. A huge chest and enormous pair of front delts are also a pleasant side effect that comes with regularly performing this outstanding muscle building exercise.

5) Hang Clean & Push Press- A total body muscle building exercise which hits the calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, lower and upper back, traps, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and forearms.  Although it is, by definition, an Olympic lift, it can be done in more of a strict manner to really target the traps, upper back, and shoulders. When done in this manner, it is not performed solely with the intention of developing explosive speed like most Olympic lifts are performed. Doing the clean and push press in this manner is a form of power bodybuilding and will really blow up the traps and shoulders. If you could only pick one weight training exercise for building muscle, this might be the one. It’s a shame you don’t see this in more bodybuilding programs.

6) Bench Press- This is one of the three powerlifting exercises and along with Military Presses, is the greatest of all pressing movements for building muscle in the upper body.  When looking at the effectiveness of an exercise, the questions to be asked are what will allow the lifter to use the most weight and what exercise involves the most muscle mass.  The bench press meets both of these prerequisites and besides being incredibly effective as a muscle building exercise, it is one of the best measures of upper body power.

7) Military Press- Also known as the front press, this was once considered the number one measure of upper body power and was the premier muscle building exercise for the upper body.  In the old days of strength training most people didn’t even do bench presses; every weight training exercise was done standing up. Bench pressing was looked down upon as a show lift and real men only did overhead presses to build muscle.  Bench pressing took over with the development of powerlifting and bodybuilding and the military press took a back seat.  It is still however, a great measure of upper body power and should be done by anyone interested in building an impressive set of shoulders and building overall muscle mass throughout the upper body.  Even though some uninformed doctors will have you believe that overhead pressing can be dangerous, old time strong men argue that there would not be as many shoulder injuries as there are today if the military press had remained the upper body weight training exercise of choice.  Equally effective variations of the military press include the push press, push jerk and split jerk.

8) Bent Over Rows- When it comes to building muscle in the upper back and lats, bent over rows are hard to beat. This weight training exercise can be performed many different ways; palms up, palms down, wide grip, close grip, to the abdomen, to the sternum, with an ez bar or with a straight bar.  However you do them, nothing will develop thickness in the back like rows will, and anyone who has been involved with bodybuilding for a while will tell you there is nothing more impressive than a well developed back, muscular back.

9) Good Mornings- Although they are a rarely performed weight training exercise by a large majority of bodybuilders, good mornings remain one of the staples of a good size and strength gaining program. Powerlifters seem to be the only ones who know about the muscle building properties of this outstanding exercise. The reason this muscle building exercise is often avoided is that good mornings are brutally hard work. But that hard work brings huge rewards. Good mornings will build muscle fast and pack tons of size on your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. They are also one of the best weight training exercises to help improve your squat and deadlift, which is the main reason they are a mainstay in powerlifting.

10) Pushup- Yes, you read that right, I said pushups are one of the best weight training exercises to build muscle fast. For a beginner pushups are the absolute best muscle building exercise to do for the pecs, delts, and triceps. However, as you make progress and get stronger pushups become too easy and are usually forgotten about. That is a huge mistake. There are several varieties of pushups that can be used by intermediate and advanced lifters such as elevated pushups on pushup handles, dumbbells, or chairs. Pushups can also be done on gymnastic rings hanging from chains and suspended a foot or so above the ground to make them even more challenging. When either of these versions of this awesome muscle building exercise becomes too easy you can have a partner hold weight on your back, use a weighted vest or even drape heavy chains across your back. If you are looking for more variety, Hindu pushups are another great version of this exercise and can sometimes humble even the strongest of men.

So there you have it, the best weight training exercises for building muscle fast. All the food and supplements and drugs in the world are worthless if you train like a Nancy boy.  Machines and isolation movements are as effective as running on a treadmill when it comes to getting big and strong. Stick with the weight training exercises above; make them a staple in your training, and start saving up for a new wardrobe. Its time to build muscle fast!

Jason Ferruggia is a world famous fitness expert who is renowned for his ability to help people build muscle as fast as humanly possible. He is the head training adviser for Men’s Fitness Magazine where he also has his own monthly column dedicated to muscle building. For more great muscle building information, please visit: http://gain-muscle-now.com/musclesecrets.php

When it comes to constructing the ultimate weight training program to build muscle, exercise selection is a very important component. You build muscle fastest with compound weight training exercises. Any bodybuilding program that focuses on machines and isolation weight training exercises is a complete waste of time.

Below are the worst weight training exercises on the planet and should be avoided at all costs if you want to build muscle fast.

1) Smith Machine Squats- Squats are one of the best weight training exercise you can do in order to build muscle fast. Doing them on a Smith machine however, is a huge mistake. Squatting in a Smith machine is very hard on the knees and causes the lifter to develop what is known as a pattern overload syndrome. The smith machine isolates the legs while taking the trunk out of the movement. In a normal free weight squat your lower back and abs must stabilize the weight and every muscle group must work in unison. This is how the body functions, as a unit, never in isolation. This can lead to severe imbalances and injuries.
 
2) Leg Extensions- Compound weight training exercises are the best muscle building exercises there are. Leg extensions are an isolation movement which do very little to build muscle. This movement also creates shearing forces on the knee and should be avoided at all costs.
   
3) Abduction/ Adduction machines- This is the one where you sit with your legs spread and strapped into the machine. You perform this weight training exercise by opening up or spreading your legs and then closing them. This is another isolation movement which will do nothing to build muscle. On top of that, you will look like a girl if you do it.
 
4) Abdominal Crunch Machines- The abs never work in isolation in the real world. In fact, the abs do not ever contract consciously. They contract unconsciously as a way to protect the spine. The abdominal muscles never work without the use of the hip flexors yet these isolation crunch machines are specifically designed to take the hip flexors out of the movement. For these reasons, this is a very ineffective weight training exercise for building muscle.
 
5) Ab Roller Devices- This apparatus is a version of the aforementioned crunch machines and is another useless piece of equipment. This device takes the neck completely out of the movement which is exactly what you don’t want to do. Contracting and or flexing the muscles of the neck during an abdominal crunch is exactly what you want to be doing and is physiologically correct. Another waste of time in the quest to build muscle fast.
 
6) Smith Machine Bench Press- The bench press is a great muscle building exercise but doing it in the Smith machine is not a good idea. Much like the Smith Machine Squat, this exercise will cause you to develop a pattern overload and will lead to injury. Pressing on the Smith Machine isolates the pressing muscles and completely eliminates the use of the stabilizer muscles, such as the rotator cuff. This will lead to imbalances that can transfer to serious shoulder injuries. You can’t build muscle when you are injured.
 
7) Bench Dips- This is another weight training exercise that I did for many years and now regret. I routinely did this exercise with four 45 pound plates on my lap. Little did I realize at the time that bench dips put your shoulder in a very dangerous position and can eventually lead to serious problems. While this exercise is useful in building muscle it is also dangerous. If shoulder safety is a concern I recommend that you avoid this exercise and stick with parallel bar dips for building muscle.

8) Concentration Curls- When it comes to weight training and building muscle, everybody’s favorite bodypart is biceps. Chin ups and barbell curls are the best weigth training exercises for building huge biceps. Concentration curls are not. This is a pure isolation movement which supposedly puts a “peak” on your biceps. The only problem with that is the fact that it is physiologically impossible to peak your biceps. Muscles grow evenly along the entire length of the tissue from origin to insertion. When looking at the effectiveness of an exercise one of the key determinants in the results that it may produce is the amount of weight that can be lifted. In a concentration curl it is very difficult to lift a great deal of weight and thus it renders the movement ineffective. If you want to build huge biceps, avoid concentration calls.
 
9) Bench Press to the Neck- This was a big favorite muscle building exercise of Larry Scott and Vince Gironda. It was supposedly a great muscle building exercise for the upper or clavicular pectoral muscles. The problem with this movement is that it will absolutely destroy the shoulders and can easily lead to a pec tear. This is one movement that you should stay very far away from in your quest to build muscle fast.
 
10) Old School Pec Dec-This is the supposed muscle building exercise machine which has you bend your arms ninety degrees while externally rotating. You place your arms on the pads and then proceed to bring the pads together in front of your body. This is not only dangerous for the shoulder but is absolutely useless and will not build muscle at all.
 
11) Knee Break Squats- As mentioned earlier, the squat is the best weight training exercise there is for building muscle. Some trainers and coaches have advocated initiating a squat by first breaking at the knees rather than the hips in an effort to put more stress on the quadriceps muscles. The problem is that this also puts unnecessary stress on the knees and severely limits the amount of weight that can be lifted. Squats should be initiated by first breaking at the hips and sitting back and down, not by breaking at the knees and pushing your knees forward as you descend.

These weight training exercises are listed in no particular order. Unfortunately there are many other weight training exercises that are performed on a routine basis by many lifters that are also useless and dangerous. Those listed above just so happen to be the worst. If a weight training exercise causes pain, you should always avoid it. If a weight training exercise is supposed to target a certain muscle group in isolation and requires you to use extremely light weights it is usually best avoided. The exception to this rule would be prehab and rehab type exercises such as external rotation exercises for the rotator cuff.

Train hard, train smart and focus on the big, basic, compound weight training exercises and you will build muscle fast.

Jason Ferruggia is a world famous fitness expert who is renowned for his ability to help people build muscle fast. He is the head training advisor for Men’s Fitness Magazine where he also has his own monthly column dedicated to muscle building. For more great muscle building information, please visit: http://gain-muscle-now.com/musclesecrets.php