Weight Training Guide: Back to the Basics for Improved Gains..

Back to Basics

Advanced Weight Training Guide for Athletes & Long-Term Proven Studies

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Everyone admires the incredibly thick development the top bodybuilders display, and thousands of young men and women slave away in the gym trying to achieve equal results. The trouble is the exercises they're doing-cable crossovers, leg extensions, concentration curls-aren't going to help them get huge. These movements certainly have a place in the routines of advanced bodybuilders who want to refine their mass. Most of the people going nuts on pec decks, however, don't already have pecs as thick as a pot roast and are essentially wasting their time.

Very little of the world's muscle was built through isolation exercises. It comes instead from compound movements performed with heavy free weights-the basics. Even genetic freaks like IFBB pros Mike Francois and Kevin Levrone make squats, dead lifts and bench presses the foundation of their workouts. Let's look at the basic exercises for each bodypart.


Barbell squats. Most bodybuilders find squats too uncomfortable to perform, so they switch to Smith machine squats, leg presses and hack squats. Unless you have a severe knee or lower-back injury, that's a big mistake. Squats take a lot out of you, but they give a lot back in return. Not only do they add mass to your legs, they give your whole body a jolt toward growth.

Because you have to balance the bar, squats are harder to perform than other pressing movements. To do them correctly, place the bar in the wedge between your neck and traps and descend to a position where your thighs are parallel (or just below parallel) to the ground. Then drive up to a standing position. Don't lock your knees at this point, because doing so will not only take resistance off your quads but may also damage your knees. Always wear a sturdy lifting belt and avoid leaning forward during any part of the lift.

Squatting inside a power rack with pins set in your bottom position is far safer than relying on spotters. Knee wraps will let you use more weight but should be reserved for your heaviest sets, if used at all.

Barbell deadlifts. There are two kinds of dead lifts, regular and stiff-legged. The regular dead lift is one of the three power lifts, and with good reason. It develops size and strength in your legs, hips and lower back. You can do this movement with your hands placed on the bar either between or outside your legs. Begin with the bar on the floor.

Squat down and grip it with one palm facing up and the other facing down. Pull the bar up to your waist using the strength of your legs and hips. It's much like a squat except that you pull the bar from the floor rather than pushed it up. About halfway through the movement the muscles in your lower back kick in. This exercise is a favorite of Francois, who has lifted more than 700 pounds.

The stiff-legged dead lift hits the hamstrings and will pile on far more mass than leg curls. Once again you start with the bar on the floor, but instead of bending and straightening your legs, you bend from the hip- not the lower back-and pull the bar up to either your knees or waist. Pulling to your knees keeps the tension on your hams, while going up to your waist involves the lower back in the same way as regular dead lifts.

If you want to lower the bar to your toes, you have to use a dead lift platform or a box. Since this movement requires a good deal of flexibility, I suggest that you try it with light weights until you get the hang of it.


Barbell rows. This exercise was in danger of becoming extinct until Dorian Yates became Mr. Olympia. Everyone saw his rugged, manta ray-like back, pored over articles that described his back training and discovered that this was his "secret." Dumbbell, T-bar and cable rows can't compare to the effectiveness of barbell rows in developing back thickness.

You can either lift the bar from the floor or from a rack at waist level. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, using an overhand or underhand grip. Dorian uses an underhand grip with his palms facing away from his body, as this puts his biceps in a stronger position. Rather than bouncing the weight up and down the way most people with crummy backs do, keep your torso bent at about a 70 degree angle and make an effort to pull the bar into your abdomen and hold it there for a one-second contraction.

Lower the weight slowly, letting it stretch your lats. I recommend using a lifting belt here, and it's a good idea to stretch your back after each set by holding onto a stationary bar and stretching your lats.

Chins. Most bodybuilders prefer pulldowns to chinups. Not only are pulldowns easier, but you get to see that weight stack traveling up and down like an elevator. If, however, your goal is to develop your upper back and lower lats, wave good-bye to the cables and start chinning. Wide-grip chins hit the rhomboids, teres major and infraspinatus. A lot of people take this 'wide grip" literally and splay their arms out as if they were on a crucifix.

Doing this won't widen your lats, but it will prevent a full range of motion. You should place your hands on the bar just a few inches on either side of your shoulders. This is the point at which a chinning bar begins to bend, if it has a bend. Wrap your hands over the bar, putting your thumbs on the same side as your fingers in order to keep your biceps out of the movement as much as possible pull your upper chest up to the bar, and contract the muscles of your upper back for a one-second count. If you can do more than 10 of these in slow, perfect form, you can go ahead and strap some weight to your waist.

For lower-lat development the underhand chin reigns. The traditional bouncing style you see grunts in the military doing is incorrect. Using a narrow (hands six to 10 inches apart) underhand grip, pull your lower chest up to the bar and squeeze your hits hard. Lower slowly to just above a dead hang. Keeping the tension on your lats will let you perform more reps and work them harder.


Fiat-bench presses. Yes, most of you already do this one. The question is, Do you dolt the right way? We've all seen the 400-pound tag bench press: one guy, his back arched, straining to push the weight up while his spotter pulls up with all his might. Take away the spotter, and that 400 pounds would pin the guy to the bench.

The correct way to perform a bench press is to take the bar off the rack with a shoulder-width grip and lower it slowly to your chest. Then explode up and squeeze your pecs hard in the lockout position. You should start with incline presses on.


Barbell curls. You probably see this exercise performed with ludicrous form more often than any other. To do it the right way, take an underhand, shoulder-width grip on the bar and keep your elbows down and at your sides. It's very important not to let your elbows come forward as you curl. Do not lean back or swing the weight up. Curl the weight slowly and strictly about five-sixths of the way up and squeeze your biceps hard. Don't let alternate workouts, making sure the angle is no greater than 30 degrees to keep the stress on your upper pecs, rather than your front delts. If you can't feel this movement in your pecs, you're using your shoulders and triceps to get the weight up the bar go back toward your upper chest.

You can occasionally do alternate dumbbell curls, which let you supinate your hands, or preacher curls with a straight bar, just to give yourself a little variety.


Dips. This is often considered primarily a chest exercise, but it's great for packing meat onto the backs of your arms. By keeping your torso straight up and down and squeezing your triceps hard at the end of every rep, you really focus on working your front delts and triceps. Your hands should be close to your body as you lower into the bottom position. Your own bodyweight is usually not enough, so you should add weight by hanging plates off a special belt that most gyms have.

Lying triceps extensions. You can do these on either a flat or a decline bench, and an EZ-curl bar is usually easier on your wrists. With your elbows pointing straight up, lower the bar either to your forehead or behind your head, then drive it back up to lockout. Be careful not to bounce or use heavier weights than you can handle, or your elbows and shoulders could be in trouble-and remember, they call this movement the 'skull crusher."

Close-grip bench presses. These hit the triceps the same way dips do, so it's not wise to perform both movements on the same day. Have a spotter liftoff the bar after you take a six-to- 10-inch grip. Keeping your elbows down and your arms at your sides, lower the weight and then explode it up, tensing your triceps.

Focus on adding weight to these basic exercises, and you'll eventually have the kind of mass that can be refined and polished. If you truly want to be huge, forget those sissy isolation exercises and bust you butt on the barbell basics.

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