Archive for January, 2014

The muscle groups of your upper legs may very well support the core muscles of your body when you’re lifting but the lower leg muscles of the calves must work hard to stabilize the body through every movement while bearing the total weight of the body and any additional loads – twisting, raising you up onto your toes, lowering your onto your heels, twisting your feet.

It’s vital that your calves support you through every movement or you risk serious injury. Likewise, it does little good to train the rest of your body but leave your calves alone. You won’t be able to effectively stabilize the weights you’re moving and lifting outside of general workouts – meaning there’s no practical application for your muscle mass. Plus you’ll look like you’ve got chicken legs.

Instead of wasting all the time doing agonizing squats and deadlifts without supporting your overall mass, start working through these top 5 exercises for increasing your calf muscles to ensure that you establish and maintain a well-rounded workout.

The Anatomy of the Calf Muscle

The calf muscle is a group of muscles that are balled into a large group in the upper portion of the lower leg just below the knee. This group is made up of 2 muscles that combine to make up the whole of the calf muscle.

• Gastrocnemius – The calf muscle that is most visible from the exterior of the body. This muscle attaches at the Achilles tendon and originates just behind the knee on the femur where it crosses the knee joint

• Soleus – This is a deep muscle that is not visible when looking at the leg externally. It lies beneath the gastrocnemius on the rear portion of the lower leg.

The function of the two muscles together is the elevate the heel both with the leg straight and when the knee is bent. The action of bending the heal is used in a variety of movements – walking, jumping, running, squats, etc.

The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Calf Muscles – The Breakdown

The calf muscles can be worked in a variety of ways but they are a specialized muscle group that receive very little activity and attention unless they are specifically targeted. These top 5 exercises for the calf muscles will help you maintain a balanced workout in conjunction with other exercises so that your overall wellness and physical tone remains in balance.

Some of these exercises require the use of weights while others use little more than natural physical resistance. For additional resistance in any exercise you can add additional weight by using body straps or free weights (or by increasing the resistance of a machine if one is used.)

Top Calf Exercise #1 – Standing Calf Raises

This exercise can be done using either a dedicated machine or a calf block. The number of reps you do for this exercises will vary depending on your current calf mass and workout routine. Test different ranges to see which works for the density of your calf muscles.

Stand under the machine pads or bar with the balls of your feet on the calf block. Start with your heels low, approximately 2 to 4 inches below the block. This will offer the best stretch on your calves. Slowly raise yourself up on the balls of your feet as high as you’re able and contract your calf muscles as you reach the peak. Hold briefly and lower under control to repeat.

Top Calf Exercise #2 – Seated Calf Raise

This is a workout that is necessary to achieve complete development of the calf muscles. While this movement is similar to the standing calf raise, the seated calf raise will actually target the lower muscles of the calf (the soleus).

Sit with the machine pads resting on your thighs. Again, drop your heel to 2-4 inches depending on how flexible you are. Raise again and squeeze the calf muscles once you reach the top. The rep range for this workout, as well as the standing calf raise, should between 10 and 20 depending on the needs of your body and what you can tolerate.

Top Calf Exercise #3 – Leg Press Calf Raises

This is a tried and true exercise that has been in use for years known also as the donkey raise. Because of the nature of the exercise it has the most potential for getting a deeper pull in the calf muscles. The workout can be intensified with added weights, so you can avoid having to do calf presses with someone sitting on your back.

Sit on the leg press machine and hold the sled with only your toes and the balls of your feet. Do not move with your hips or knees and instead put all the movement into your ankles. This puts all the emphasis on your calf muscles and nowhere else in the leg.

Top Calf Exercise #4 – Box Jumps

In many lifting exercises you need to have explosive strength in your legs. The box jump offers that, as it’s a functional exercise made to give your calf muscles far more power and “spring”. This exercise can train your muscles to react and contract much more quickly, and will deliver some serious tone to your calf muscles.

Stand on the balls of your feet and you toes in front of a box, with the height appropriate to your limitations. Jump onto the box and land again on your toes and the balls of your feet. Jump back down to the floor and repeat for 8 to 10 reps. Do not use dumbbells or other held weights during this exercise as you may need your hands free in order to catch yourself if you trip.

Top Calf Exercise #5 – Dumbbell Jump Squat

While this movement does also work the upper leg muscles it focuses a great deal of attention on the calf muscles as well and is an integral part of any whole body workout. Like the box jump, the dumbbell jump squat can help add explosive power to your workout routine. This form of workout helps to develop muscle quickly – increased mass equals a higher metabolism and a better calorie burn through your other workouts.

To perform, simply place yourself in a position for a standard squat and lower your body into the squat, moving to the balls of your feet and toes as you do so. Once you’re at your lowest point, propel yourself up and explode upward into a jump. Land on the balls of your feet and immediately move into another squat. Use dumbbells for this exercise to increase the difficult, but avoid using a barbell. Dumbbells will provide a lower center of gravity and give you more central control of your balance.

You’ll see the best results by adding the top exercises to build your calf muscles to your usual workout routine. When working on increasing muscle mass in the lower legs, remember that it’s important to take in the proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises and never push yourself beyond your daily limit. Give your body the appropriate time to rest and recover between each workout session as a damaged muscle group is a useless muscle group.

Derek Cromwell is a graduate of the Success Works SEO Copywriting Certification program and founder of Thunder Bay Media. He fancies himself as a website copywriter, peddling content marketing and copywriti…  View profile

“7 Tips To Help You Power Up On The Bench Press”

Let’s face it, we all want a big bench press. There is something magical about the bench press. It’s the feeling you get when you pump the chest, deltoid, and triceps up, working the weight up and down.

There’s no other feeling like preparing for a large bench press, getting your mind and body ready, lying down on the bench and wrapping your fingers slowly around the cold Olympic bar.

As you look at the shiny chrome bar, you concentrate only on the weight, you hear nothing else but the sound of your own breathing. You feel strong. You have to love that feeling!!

With that being said, I see way too many people using the bench press as a means to simply show off and to totally abuse the movement. I see it everyday, and I cringe every time I see someone trying to move a weight that they couldn’t even take off the racks.

So, what I’d like to do is to give you some bench press tips that will help you get over your plateau or to help you get on the right track to help pack on the muscle and power to your bench press.

Bench press tip #1 – Prioritize your chest

It is of the utmost importance that you train your chest first and foremost. Your priority should be on making your chest the main focus of your training. Chest should be number one and your other body parts number two. In order to do this, you must train chest alone. Do not train any other body part when you train chest.

All of your energy must focus on your chest. You will have to cut down on the amount of energy you expend on other body parts, saving it for the chest workouts.

You cannot continue to go full out on other body parts while turning up the throttle on your chest workouts. You want your chest to recuperate fully before each workout, otherwise, you’ll exhaust your body and your bench press won’t go anywhere.

Bench press tip #2 – Added progressive resistance

If you want to boost your bench press by 10%, you’re going to have to continuously add progressive resistance. Progressive resistance is to add more weight over different time periods at varying rep cycles. What you want to do here is find out how much you can currently bench press.

Take that number and multiply it by 10%. For example, lets say your current bench press is 250 pounds. Take 250 pounds and multiply it by 10% and you have your goal. In this case it is 275 pounds (250 x .1 = 25 pounds plus 250).

I think even the most advanced trainer can attain a 10% increase in their bench press, especially if you’ve never done a bench press specialization routine before. The next step is to plan out how you need to attain your goal in the upcoming weeks. A 10% increase over a 8 to 10 week period is possible depending on your training development.

Of course, what you don’t want to do is go for all out one rep maximums every chest workout. This will lead to burn out and/or torn pec. Trust me, you don’t want this.

Your goal is to make small improvements while slowly lowering the amount of reps your do. You want to use progressively heavier weights while reducing the amount of reps you use.

At the end of the cycle, you may try for a single max. In each of your progressive sets, you will add progressive resistance to each set. That is, you will add more and more weight until you reach your desired amount of reps for that set.

It is important to note that you will not be taking your first couple of sets to failure. The very last set should be taken to failure. Also keep adding weight each week as you get stronger.

Bench press tip #3 – Proper form and mechanics

Make sure your bench mechanics are correct. Proper form is inducive to optimal growth and strength. Focus on moving the weight with your chest allowing for a controlled and fluid movement.

Drive the bar up with muscle strength. Follow these techniques and your will ensure that you achieve full stimulation of the pectoralis muscles.

• Always warm up properly first and foremost. Start by warming up by performing two sets of 15 to 20. Always stretch before, during and after your chest workout. You want to be warm when you start doing the bench press.

• Use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. What you want to ensure is that your elbows are directly under the bar and are vertical in the bottom position. A quick trick to doing this is to use an empty bar and lower it to the bottom position. Your elbows should be vertical in this position. Don’t space your grip to far out and don’t space your grip too far in.

• The most important part of bench pressing is ensuring that you set up you pec girdle correctly. Lie back on the bench, take a tight grip and press your shoulders down toward your waist and back into the bench. That is, push your shoulder blades together and puff your chest out. Make sure that you thrust your chest forward when you start.

This way, you set up your position that is optimal for pressing the weight. It will take some practice but after a couple of sessions, you should get the hang of it.

• Always use a spotter when using the heavier weights. Never feel that you won’t need a spotter because you will. If you are in doubt about the weight, always ask for a spot. Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck on the bench with a couple of hundred pounds on your chest.

• Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor with your butt on the bench at all times. Don’t lift your legs or put them on the bench. I don’t know why people always do this. It takes away from your core power since you want stability and the only way to do this is to keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. This way you have balance and you are able to adjust to the different stages of the lift. Remember, don’t place your feet on the bench and always keep them flat on the floor. Don’t move your feet around while you are doing the lift since this will take away from the success of your lift.

• Try using chalk on the bar. I know, sounds too simple but I’ve noticed that if my grip feels good on the bench, I usually have a pretty strong workout. Simply add some chalk to the bar and you’ll notice a difference immediately.

• Grip the bar hard. Really give it a good squeeze and get a feel for the weight. Find the proper grip spacings and pretend like your revving up a bike with both hands and squeeze. This way, you push your shoulders down and puff your pec girdle up.

• As you un rack the weight, slowly lower the weight and never drop it. Always keep your eyes on the bar, and lower it in a slow and controlled manner.

• Always inhale as the weight comes down and exhale as the weight goes up. Try taking a nice deep breath through your nose on the way down and exhale through your lips on the way up.

• Lightly touch your chest at the bottom of the movement and never bounce the weight. Once you start bouncing the weight, you take away from the effectiveness of the exercise. Remember, you want to build power and size in the chest so this means controlling the movement at all times.

• Keep your elbows in a vertical line with the bar. That is, your elbows should be directly under the bar. This way, you work the chest and keep the movement controlled.

• Use an over hand grip. I seen this one guy use an underhand grip and the weight slid off his hands and on to his chest. He had 520 pounds on the bar. Ouch! Plus, I find the underhand grip a little unnatural.

• Always make sure the weight is controlled. Once the weight starts to get away from you, lighten the load. You can get it next workout.

• Remember, you want to be completely warm before the bench workout. When I’m gearing up for a hard and heavy bench workout, I’ll drink one cup of tea ½ hour before I workout. However, you must remember to drink one or two glasses of water before your workout as caffeine tends to sap your water.

• If you need to see an illustration of how the bench press looks, click here to go to building muscle 101’s weight lifting exercise page.

Bench press tip # 4 – Use core chest exercises to support the bench press

When I mean core, I don’t mean cable cross overs or pec deck. I’m talking basic chest movements that support power and size. You will want to include movements like the bench press (of course!), incline presses, and dips.

Nothing fancy here, just the basics. With a full week to rest your chest between workouts, and reduced intensity for your other body parts, you should be able to pack on the weight. Remember, use core movements for your other body parts as well such as squats.

Squats are a must and should be trained once a week. When you are doing the bench press, you will actually use some of your leg power to help you power up the weight, provided your legs are flat on the floor.

For some strange reason, squats tends to make your whole body strong. So hit the squats hard on your leg day. You should also be doing core movements for your shoulders, back, and arms. This includes deadlifts, barbell bent over rowing, military presses, close grip benches and barbell curls. Forget the isolation movements when trying to improve your bench press.

Bench press tip # 5 – Boosting deltoid and triceps strength

If you want a strong bench press, your gonna have to have strong delts and triceps. These two muscles are fundamental when doing the bench press.

If you have weak triceps, your gonna have a weak bench press. Remember that when you do the bench press, the first muscles to give out are the delts and triceps. Therefore, to achieve a big bench, you have to concentrate on improving these two body parts.

You should design your program to improve not only your bench press but also to improve the secondary muscles that support the movement. Chest should be completed on day one in your program with delts and triceps being completed on day four.

This allows ample time for your pushing muscles to completely recover. The shoulder and triceps workout uses core exercises to support maximum power and strength. Remember, concentrate on core movement such as close grip bench pressing for your triceps and military style pressing for your shoulders.

Bench press tip # 6 – Using supporting movements to blast through your sticking points

I remember when I first started out and all I lived to do was bench. After a couple of months, my bench went stale and I was starting to actually get weaker. So, one of the owners of the gym gave me some very important advice. Stop bench pressing for awhile. Yep, stop benching altogether and start using dumbbells.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Stop bench pressing! Not a chance. However, he convinced me that I was at a plateau and that I needed to use other movements such as the dumbbell bench press to concentrate on my sticking point. Which of course was the bottom part of the movement.

I decided to give it a shot and he showed me the correct way of doing a dumbbell bench press. To really get an effective dumbbell bench press, you must really lower the weight slowly and go past the point where the bar stopped. This way, your not limited by the bars range and you get a better range of motion.

After awhile, I really got the hang of the movement and after a couple of months, I hit the barbell bench press again and wouldn’t you know it, my bench press sky rocketed.

If you’ve found that you are at a sticking point with the barbell bench press and have been for quite some time, stop doing the barbell bench press and start using dumbbells. Your body is telling that it’s tired of the barbell bench press movement.

Bench press tip # 7 – Increase your caloric intake by 500 calories per day

I’m not going to lie to you, your not going to make huge strength gains if you’re dieting to lose weight or your not eating properly. I cannot stress the importance of quality nutrition when it comes to adding strength and building muscle.

If you really want to increase your bench press, your going to have to start eating right and in the proper amounts. There is simply no way that you are going to get stronger if you eat poor meals, 2 to 3 times a day with each meal spaced 4 hours apart.

What you need to do is make sure that you get quality nutrients into your body every 2 hours. Try adding an additional 500 “quality” calories to your diet every day. I don’t mean an extra cheese burger, I mean real “whole” food. For more detailed information on this subject, please see building muscle 101’s weight lifting diet page here.

There you have it, follow these techniques and bench press tips and you may well be on your way to a monster bench.

You enter the gym, mind made up that you are going to have the training session of a lifetime. You have your camo Chuck’s on, your Affliction t-shirt two sizes too small, and your head phones blasting DMX. Then you see him. Standing over by the curl rack (squat rack); the inverted triangle of manhood, the one, the only, Captain Upper Body. Pecs pumped, shoulders rippling, back wide as the day is long. Then you look down to see two toothpicks known as legs poking out of the bottom of his shorts. “That just ain’t right”, you think to yourself and get to work.

Seriously, how many of us have seen the scenario go down at our training centers? More often than not right? What many people fail to realize is that the human body, just like trees, grow from the roots up (or legs up in our case). Many people neglect to train legs for various reasons, but the truth is this-you can tell who is serious and who is not in the gym by seeing if they are training legs. So get serious with these three tips and make like a tree and grow!

1. You gotta squat and deadlift:
Sorry, but you MUST squat and you must deadlift. No, leg press is not acceptable (unless you have an injury that prevents you from squatting and/or deadlifting). These two movements utilize a TON of muscle and really work your body from head to toe. Not to mention the insane amount of growth hormone they dump into your blood. Try any and all variations of these two lifts. Box squats, rack pulls, zercher squats, deficit deadlifts. The point is this-SQUAT AND DEADLIFT.

2. Overload to Overcome:
You cannot rep 185 for months on end and expect either your squat or deadlift to go up. It won’t happen. The human body is the most efficient machine at adapting the world has ever known. Coach Buddy Morris has said that it takes the body two-three weeks to adapt to a new training stimulus. With this knowledge plan your workouts wisely. By using progressive overload, you can disrupt this adaptation so that you continue to get stronger and build more muscle. Simply put, add 5-10 pounds to the weights you are using and try to set rep PR’s. Once progress stalls, drop the weights down a little bit and start the same process over again.

3. Single Leg Work:
Make sure to include single leg work into your routine. Not only does it stabilize the knee, it also activates the quads and helps to eliminate any imbalances you may have. Try lunges, step ups, split squats, anything that requires one of your legs to be the prime mover without the aid of the other leg. In addition, it requires tremendous core musculature recruitment to stabilize yourself when doing these lifts so you have the added benefit of getting in a good “core” workout as well.

If you are sleeping on your lower body training you need to wake up and get to work. As your lower body grows so to will the rest of your body. Leg training, the Kryptonite of Captain Upper Body-get on it NOW!

Sample Low body Workout:
1. Squat 5 x 5
2. Rack Pull work up to a 3 rep max
3. Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 8 @ 65% of DL max
4. DB Split Squat 3 x 10
5. Weighted Crunches 3 x 10

Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author and renowned strength coach. Jim is an expert for Men’s Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff. He speaks regularly at clinics, conferences and seminars about the Diesel Method. His distinctive and comprehensive training approach has helped athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all skill levels attain their goals and “Achieve Beyond Potential”. Jim is an active student of strength athletics and is always seeking new ways to innovate and provide a unique perspective for gaining muscle, rehabbing injuries, improving performance and building better athletics.

You can get Jim’s Accelerated Muscular Development program here and learn exactly how to gain muscle and get shredded in the shortest time possible.

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