Body Conquest Articles | Train Smart and Hard

on Tuesday, 16 April 2013. Posted in Training

Train Smart and Hard, Not Long and Dumb.

Champion bodybuilders, I mean the true-blue, dinky die, unadulterated champions do things differently to the average gym junkie. I mean, they have to if they reach the upper echelons of this great sport. One of the things that separate them from the wannabes is their preparedness to do the things that others shun. Titleholders put themselves out there and do the hard yards, whether its within the training, dieting or preparation phase, put simply they will go the extra mile that the hacks just wont. This article concentrates on exercise choice. Exercise choice is a major variable in exercise prescription and your choices of exercises should be given careful consideration. Too many trainees choose exercises that they like, that stroke their ego or that they feel are easy and comfortable to do. Sound familiar? The problem is, it's at the expense of muscle development. So perhaps it's time to sit down and re-assess the exercises that you do for particular body parts and ask yourself whether you could be making more wise choices.

Most of you reading this article right now probably have really decent muscle size, but do you have awesome muscle? In the bodybuilding fraternity there are some traditionally "sacred cows" when it comes to choice of exercise. Interestingly, some of these are the exercises least seen in commercial gyms around Australia. Like what for example? Well, how many times have you seen someone place the pin right down towards the lower end of the plate stack and proceed to rep out sets of lateral pull downs either to the back or to the front? Let's not get fussy? On the other hand, how many times do you see really big guys stand under a chinning bar and psyche themselves up for a 3 to 4 balls-to-the-wall set of chins? I'm guessing your response is "often" to the first and "hardly ever" to the second.

Yet quite often that guy who is doing lat pull-downs, week after week, month after month, year after year is the guy wondering what he can do to make his lats flare out the way he wishes that they would. Perhaps if he stopped blindly worshipping the lat pull down bar and started paying attention to the chinning bar, he might get the result that he is after. He hasn't figured it out yet, that if it hasn't worked thus far, it ain't going to work. This guy may not need to change the intensity of training, the number of reps or the number of sets....what he needs to do is take a long hard look at the choice of exercises that he is performing.


The number of possible joint angles and exercises is as limitless as the body's functional movements. A change in angle affects which muscle tissue is activated. Muscle tissue that is not activated won't benefit from the exercise being performed as no tension develops in that fibre. Exercises are usually described as primary or assisting exercises. Primary as the name suggests works the major muscle that you are trying to work, sometimes called the prime mover. More often than not they are also the compound exercises and include such staples as bench press, squats and hang-pulls. Assistant exercises aid in the movement produced by the prime movers and train the smaller muscle groups, for example, close-grip bench press and bicep curls. It is usually the compound, multi-joint exercises that pack on the pounds of muscle, rather than the single joint exercises that quite often do more for shape and symmetry than for size. Therefore, for the purpose of this article

Why don't the big guys most often chin the bar? Well, it looks, sounds and feels better to be pulling down a whole stack of weight plates rather than trying to perfectly execute the task of lifting ones own body weight via the use of the latissimus dorsi rather than lats and a whole lot of biceps. It is easy to succumb to the senses and choose comfort and heavy weights over due diligence, discipline and difficulty. However these are the types of choices that those with truly exceptional physiques will make on a consistent and regular basis. Chin-ups will undoubtedly build impressive width and thickness to your back, with the added bonus of helping to pack on solid inches on your arms by stimulating growth on your biceps, brachialis, brachia-radialis and pronator teres.

Chin-ups involve the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rear deltoid, the rhomboids, the middle and lower portions of the traps, the elbow flexors and the pectoralis major.

Due to the variations on grip there are variations on ways to perform a correct chin up. Your most basic chin-up is the supinated chin-up (underhand grip). This type of chin-up has a great range of motion. The starting position begins with a bar grasp where the palms are facing upwards. The hands should be held at shoulder width or slightly narrower. The arms should be straightened in a fully extended position with the torso in line with the upper arms. To begin the upward movement, the upper back and elbow flexor muscles will be recruited whilst the elbows are drawn down and back. The ascent continues until the chin clears the bar. During the upward movement the pulling action and the leaning back action must be done simultaneously. Upon descent, exhaling begins and the trunk should come back to an upright position. The repetition is complete only when the arms are fully extended and the shoulder blade should be elevated to complete the range of motion. The legs should stay in line with the torso as much as possible. You should also avoid flexion of the hips, as this will lower the quality of the exercise.

I am inclined to agree with the astute Charles Poliquin when he states that "there is no such thing as a best grip for performing chins". To attain an all-rounded upper back musculature you should perform chin-ups with a myriad of grips to recruit as many fibres as possible from a variety of angles.

I learned what I know about bodybuilding from those of the "old-school", the traditionalists within the bodybuilding ranks if you like. I am definitely a big believer in heavy compound classic movements. However I am also savvy enough to know that there is sometimes the need to make necessary adjustments if that approach isn't working for you. Gym rats blindly worship the bench press and I am not about to make this an article on damning it, but again, how many times do you see the same trainee bench press week after week only to never make any apparent gains? One of the things I would encourage is a different choice of exercise. What, and not do bench press anymore I hear you say incredulously? Well, up to you, but I hate to break it you guys, but many pro bodybuilders haven't done free weight bench presses in years. Champion bodybuilders such as Tom Prince and Jay Cutler don't bench press, but would you suggest that they have an under-developed chest? So, what I am suggesting here, is to explore your options further on your choice of exercises.

Why is it that we hardly ever see dips for chest being performed any more? I'll tell you why. Because they are damned hard to do properly, that's why. It is far more comfortable to lie down on a bench and press out a few sets of perfunctory bench presses and tell yourself that you have trained chest hard. Maybe you have. But could you have derived a better chest workout from doing some dips instead, or as well as?

Don't let ego fool you into thinking that you are training like a champion. Going the road less travelled is sometimes the champion thing to do. Not because it's less beneficial, not because it won't get you to your destination, but because it's the harder (but more effective) route to where you want to go. No doubt you don't need a refresher course on how to bench press, but maybe you do need a reminder on how to dip. Dips for chest is a compound movement that primarily works the chest muscles, and are performed relatively similar to the triceps method except that you are leaning forward, which works more of your lower chest. Using the parallel bars (remember them, the two bars about 16 inches apart from each other, more than likely gathering dust in the corner of the gym somewhere for all the wrong reasons) grip the handles and push yourself up to your starting position. With elbows close to the body and hips straight, lower your body until your shoulders are slightly stretched. Then, push your body up in the same posture and repeat. Options are to bend and cross your legs or keep them straight. If body weight is not enough to satisfy your requirements, then you can always add weight by using a dip belt. Yes, they are hard, not they are not as comfortable as the bench press or the flyes, but they are excellent as a mass builder, make no mistake.

One of my pet peeves, and I'll bet it's one that you inadvertently noticed during your own training without even meaning too, is that most trainee's will always choose to lying leg curl, standing leg curl or even seated leg curl before they dead lift. Hamstrings get a raw deal anyway, as most tend to focus far more on their quad development, not realising that increasing calf and hamstring strength will inevitable help increase quadriceps development anyway. I am not sure whether it's a case of "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome, so they don't develop hamstrings or why exactly this is usually the case. However, when you walk in to your gym next, observe the way that most people train hamstrings, and I think you will find that most will use machines to do the job.

Undoubtedly dead lifts are a difficult exercise to conquer.....no argument there. If performed wrong it can really do some damage. However, done carefully, dead lifts are considered to be a significant mass builder of the hamstrings and the lower back, whilst having an impact on the glutes also. Why then don't people do them? Again, because most will gravitate to the easier option, any of the machine curls and justify the use of them as opposed to dead lifts by saying that "they can use more weight on the machines". Maybe initially, but once you have grasped the fundamental techniques of dead lifts, you'll be packing on too much muscle on your legs to be worried about the weight that your lifting in the gym.

How do you dead lift? Well, briefly as I can, load up a barbell on the outside of the squat rack handles so that you can pick up the weight and step back. Grab the weight with an overhand grip. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement. Make sure to look up, and keep your back straight. Bend your knees and lower the weight until it rests on the ground. Straighten your legs and bring your back up to a vertical position at the same time without leaning backward. Your arms should be straight at all times. Put the weight back down and do it again in the same manner. Just to reiterate, this exercise is difficult.....that's why people don't do it! So when you have finished you should be totally exhausted after you have completed your final set. Make sure that you give your all to dead lifts as it is an exercise that deserves your utmost respect. Sure, it's gruelling, but bodybuilding isn't meant to be easy, and if it was, what a boring sport it would be. If you happen to short with relatively long arms, this exercise was unearthed especially for you, so I really challenge you to put in and do them in your next hamstring/lower back routine.

If your reason for not including dead lifts in your routine is because of the potential for injury, my response is this: Firstly, make sure you learn to do them with flawless technique and you reduce your chances of injury dramatically. Secondly, are you sure that's not just a cop out? Thirdly, instead of traditional dead lifts you can perform what's known as "top dead lifts". You can do these on a Smith machine or a power rack. Set the safety catch or support bar so the bar can't go below knee-level. That was you focus mostly on your back instead of legs, hips and glutes, and you significantly reduce your chance of injury.

What I am suggesting you do is revise your own program and make sure that the exercises that you are choosing are relevant to your goals. Could you be choosing other exercises instead of what you are doing at the moment? Are you a victim of ego or comfort? Be honest with yourself.do you choose the "easier" exercises, and could you challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone? As long as you use good form, the examples cited, as well as various others such as trading the leg press for squats, dumbbell pullovers instead of flyes, French press instead of triceps press downs will challenge you, but will also help to pack on the pounds and skyrocket your development. Bodybuilding today is based on profound knowledge of the human body and how it is affected by exercise. It requires dedication, discipline, motivation and constancy, and sometimes it also requires a re-evaluation of what you are doing to reach your desired physique. If you have stopped making gains, if your muscle growth has come to a stagnant halt, stop and have another look at your choice of exercises.