Lately, due mainly to time constraints, I've had to get creative in some of my workouts as far as how I perform an exercise. Case in point, if I have 15 minutes to do a workout (sometimes I only have ten!) and it's back day, for example, I will employ intensity techniques as well as using the basics with heavy weights and I will reduce rest time between sets.
Now, one other thing I will do is called “exercise combining”. For example, on deads I will do deads, go right into shrugs and then go right into bent rows – all one exercise, all one set. Now, as the weight gets heavier I have to drop the shrugs and rows but in the course of 5-6 sets, I've done 3 exercises. Another example is biceps – there's so much you can do with biceps! Lately, I've combined the EZ curl with the body drag curl (a Vince Gironda favorite). I do one rep of each and count those two as one rep, so I shoot for 6-8 “combined reps”. Add in heavy weight and what an exercise!
Also on biceps, I will start sometimes with seated incline curls, as I fail I'll go right into seated dumbbell curls, as I fail on these I'll go right into standing alternate dumbbell curls, all one set! One of my all time favorite exercises of this type has to be the lying EZ triceps extension/pullover/press – a great triceps movement and one I first started doing back in the 80's. Here's how you do it: lying on a bench with your head just off the end, perform “skull crushers” to failure, go right into pullovers, keeping the bar close to your head and your elbows in tight, then go right into close grip bench presses. You should shoot for 6-8 reps per movement and it's all one set.
Now, on the extension part you can bring the bar down behind your head and out if you like or even combine the two versions during your set. One other thing I do is use two bars on pulldowns, I have a angled standard bar attached as well as a V handle attached. When I fail with the angled bar I go right into the V bar and I can get another 3-4 reps. The simple action of changing to a bar that puts your hands in a completely new position allows more reps and hence, more stimulation.
I don't do this type of exercise combining with every muscle group but adding unique twists can make an exercise more effective and more fun as well as save you a lot of time! Of course, adding in intensity techniques allows you to train hard in a short amount of time: drop sets, supersets, rest pause, static holds, burns, to name a few. A short workout is better than no workout at all as long as you work hard. Short does not have to mean easy!
The Uses of a Power Rack
I train at home in a gym I designed. The power rack, which is not as common in many commercial gyms as it once was and certainly not used as often as it once was, is the cornerstone piece of equipment in my gym. I do probably 70% of my movements in the rack. Using a rack provides several advantages - the first is safety – you don't have to worry about dropping the bar on your neck during a bench press because if you fail, you have the pins there to catch the bar. You can use as much weight as you can handle in a rack – again you have the pins there to hold the bar. You can set the bar wherever you want for any exercise you want because you can put the pins anywhere you want. So, I squat, bench, overhead press, do bent rows, deads and cleans in the rack.
You can also use a rack for two other important reasons – working the weak link in your range of motion on exercises like the ones I just mentioned and working a partial range rep with weights beyond what you can usually handle. There's nothing quite like the feeling of doing very heavy partial squats in the rack – you walk out and think you're about to snap in half from the monster weight on your back, yet you pull it of and knock 4-5 short reps! While I advocate full reps, a partial rep like this allows you work beyond your comfort level and get the feel of another 100-200 pounds on your back and expose your quads to a greater amount of overload than usual.
You can also use the power rack to overcome weak points along the range of motion in an exercise - such as working the bench press in your weakest point. Simply set the pins at the level you want to work and perform your partial rep. In the bench press, for example, the push off your chest is usually the weak link so that first 1-2 inches is what you'd want to work. That's the beauty of a rack, you can work in short increments, you can work the full range and you never have to worry about safety.
So you have the benefits of attempting to strengthen the weak links in your movement, work the strongest range only and to focus on a full, quality contraction over several sets. The rack should be the centerpiece of every home gym and the centerpiece of your commercial gym workouts! Can't find one in your gym? Then change gyms!
Exercises You Should be Doing
There's a lot of exercises that we tend to neglect for various reasons yet they provide the biggest bang for your buck. Exercises such as dips – a great chest, shoulder and triceps exercise – deadlifts – how many people really do this exercise? - squats – by these I mean deep, full squats – power cleans (and the power clean and press) and chins to name a few.
How many of us change these over to something easier without realizing that in the process we lose the effectiveness? Never change off a compound, free weight movement for a machine or an isolation movement. You lose to much when you do this. Why? The compound movements involve several muscles all at once: the primary, secondary and stabilizer muscles. Squats, for example, involve some 200 muscles and work the entire body. It's been said squats alone can account for a 10% increase in upper body size. I would put dead-lifts and power cleans in the same category.
One of the reasons these type of exercises affect the whole body is the large amount of natural hormone production they generate, something I have written extensively about in recent articles. What bodybuilder doesn't want an increase in testosterone and GH? As well, bench presses involve not only chest but also deltoids, triceps, lats, your legs act as stabilizers plus you're pushing off with the legs, you should grip the bar hard so now we have forearms, dips involve most of your upper body in varying degrees – you get the idea.
Most machines and many free weight moves are more isolation exercises: leg extensions, concentration curls, flyes, and so on. Machines take out many of the secondary and supporting muscles as do the free weight isolation moves. This presents some problems - you're working less total muscle with less weight plus you lose any hormonal benefit. Many of these types of moves, historically, were considered “pre-contest definition” moves. Back in the days of Arnold, they would use, for example, the concentration curl to bring out the biceps “peak”. Now, that's mostly genetic and if it's not there, it's not there.
Leg extensions, as well, were used to “define” the quads, never to build mass. Fast forward to today and these types of exercises are the more common ones you see being used in many gyms, excepting the hardcore places. Now, these moves can have there place (pre-exhaust supersets come to mind) and it does depend on your goals but if mass is your goal you must work the basics with progressively heavier weight!
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