I’m opening up my bag of tricks and pulling out some quick things you can apply immediately to your workouts to make them more effective. No need for big changes or restructuring what you’re doing, just throw these tips into your current plan and reap the rewards.
1. Harder, Slower, More
For hypertrophy purposes, you’re better off finding ways to make a given exercise harder, as opposed to the typical method of the masses involving finding the easiest possible way to get the load from point A to point B. Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting…different story. Body comp training, if you’re making an exercise easier you’re making it less effective. As a qualifier, I’m not talking about making exercises so difficult and weird that it looks like something you picked up at Clown College, or Bosu Ball University. Earlier today I went to 24 Hour Fitness (an excruciating rarity) and spent the first 10 minutes trying to find my way out of the Kids Club day care and get into the gym…then I realized that I was in the gym, and all the toys and balls laying around were being used by full grown adults. Madness, I tell you. What I am referring to, is taking an exercise and making a slight adjustment that forces you to initially make a 10-20% reduction in load. Note the emphasis on slight and initially, which is different than huge and forever. When done properly, this load reduction will result in more muscle growth instead of less. A large, chronic reduction will encourage less growth. However, if you plan on usurping the inflatable lawn castle wrestling throne at your nephew’s annual birthday party…you may want to incorporate some one leg/one arm bosu ball overhead presses and curls. As long as the kids don’t weigh over 20-30lbs you’ll be all set. A prime application of this method is the Kneeling Tricep Pressdown. During a typical standing pressdown, it’s a slightly easier position to cheat from than when your spouse is in a coma. Most people stop about halfway through the eccentric phase (90 degrees of elbow flexion) then try to lean into and climb over the bar as if they were trying to force an unwilling partner into fellatio. This turns the whole movement into an ineffective exercise for the sternal head of the pecs, and it’s an embarrassment to us all. This movement is performed just like a standing tricep pressdown, just done on the knees and with a full range of motion. Some stations are poorly designed so that from a standing position you can’t even achieve full ROM when you’re trying too, this eliminates potential problem as well. When breaking the 90 degree plane in the eccentric phase, decelerate the weight until your forearm is completely impeded by your bicep, take a slight pause, and press the weight down. Do not allow the elbow to drift forward of the torso at any point. Avoid any sort of rebound at the top of the movement to optimize both elbow health and efficacy of the exercise. Performing this movement from a kneeling position eliminates cheating, incorporates a far greater static activation of the torso/midsection musculature for stabilization (unlike a standing pressdown which ends up activating the abdominals dynamically for leverage/cheating), and forces the triceps to work quite a bit harder. The other alternative is to perform the exercise lying back at about 60 degrees on an incline bench, facing away from the weight stack. This will eliminate lean-cheating, but also requires less postural control during the movement. It’s a great way to do it, and better than standing, but performing it on the knees provides a whole new dimension to the movement.
Keeling Tricep Press Down Start
Keeling Tricep Press Down Finish
2. Spread the Floor Apart
This trick is pulled from the world of powerlifting, and something that I rarely get through a training session without having to verbally cue. When deadlifting and squatting, beginner, intermediate and even advanced trainees tend to get a case of “lazy knee” which is basically the knees diving inward during exertion. This is a quick way to counteract that tendency.
Gluteus Medius insufficiency is typically the root of this problem, as the weak and or inhibited GM allows the femur to rotate internally during the difficult parts of the set. This is often exacerbated by tight illiopsoas and adductor muscles which are very common. By envisioning spreading the floor apart and pushing outward on the sides of your shoes during the difficult parts of the eccentric and concentric phases, you force your nervous system to pick up the slack and improve recruitment of the gluteus medius, and your knees will stay in proper forward alignment. This is a quick fix, and typically a sign of bigger problems that need to be addressed. Pre-set activation techniques for the GM are extremely valuable here as well, for more on this read my article Neural Enhancement Training HERE.
Knees Diving Inward
3. Stretch or Train the Antagonist
I discussed this concept in the Inner Circle a while back…here’s the scoop, adapted from that discussion:
Total Volume for ADS = 6,325lbs
The other option is to apply static stretching techniques to the antagonistic muscle (as long as you’re not training it in that workout). This minimizes neural drive and unwanted counterproductive contribution, working in a similar way as the above method. This comes in handy for times when you don’t want to apply the same training volume to an antagonist muscle but still reap the benefits of ADS.
While the stretching method works, it won’t cause the same passive enhanced motor unit activation as ADS. To really maximize this method you’ll have to focus on explosiveness and trying to move the weight as fast as possible during your sets.
4. Train Arms with High Frequency
We’re looking for 2-3 sets each of elbow flexors and extensors towards the end of your workouts, 3-4 days per week. Being a relatively small muscle group, arms recover fast and can take it. Performing a full arm day once or twice a week gives them too much recovery for optimal growth. This method keeps the arms more full and vascular all week long, and let’s face it…that’s pretty much what we’re all after anyway. I like to organize splits like this:
|Upper Body– Horizontal Push and Pull + Arms (2×6, 1×12- one exercise each for biceps and triceps)|
|Lower Body– Hip Dominant Legs|
|Upper Body– Vertical Push and Pull + Arms (2×6, 1×12- one exercise each for biceps and triceps, different arm angle in relation to torso from first upper day)|
|Lower Body– Quad Dominant Legs|
Most people will do well off of a 2×6/1×12 protocol with arm isolation work when structured into a high frequency program, alternating between bicep and tricep double stations. Here’s an example of how this should look:
|D1: Incline DB Curl (45 degree bench): 1×6 @ 50lbs|
|D2: Incline DB Extension (30 degree bench): 1×6 @ 50lbs|
|D1: Incline DB Curl: 1×6 @ 50lbs|
|D2: Incline DB Extension: 1×6 @ 50lbs|
|D1: Incline DB Curl: 1×12 @ 32.5lbs|
|D2: Incline DB Extension: 1×12 @ 32.5lbs|
You should look to use around 65% of your 6RM for your set of 12. If you fall well short of 12 reps, you’re better off sticking to a lower rep protocol. If you get more than 12 reps, you may want to bump the rep scheme up a bit. Examples:
- Lower rep scheme: 2×3, 1×6
- Higher rep scheme: 2×10, 1×20
That being said, many people need to keep the reigns on total volume, and should stick to 4 total sets, and a 2×10-12 scheme. If you’re sleeping less than 7.5 hours a night, under a lot of stress, or experience significant soreness after workouts, you should probably stick to two sets per exercise. Experiment. Or hire me. Check back next week for Marc’s Bag of Tricks round two, at this point we’ve just opened up the bag and started peeking in…
Marc’s Bag of Tricks – Part I