The first months of training are the most productive ones for any person who goes to the gym and put some interest in his training. Despite the aberrations in the form of “beginners routine” some monitors commit (sessions lasting several hours, supersets, circuits, divided routines, even chin-up ands dips for people who hasn’t done a single exercise in his life), the stimulus that working with overloads supposes for someone who had not experimented it before, will make his muscular mass be forced to grow.
But, unfortunately, what comes after that is not so simple any more. The acquired habit occasionally makes us look for “shock methods” to stimulate the muscular growth; methods that sometimes can be frankly surprising. Although, after all, isn’t this about surprising?
In fact, the key to produce the muscular growth is the surprise. The surprise that forces our muscles to make new adaptations which entail the increase of its size. That is why the progression of the kilos used is vital for the development.
The use of the same exercises and the same loads is the straight way to stagnation (and that when the weariness has not come before, the boredom and even quitting the gym). That is the reason for the search of surprise is obligatory, to make way for a new one when the organism has adapted to the previous stage.
A good solution to any stagnation form, in fact it is an authentic shock treatment, is to do full squats. Yes, squats; independently that you want to increase the size of groups such as chest or back. It is evident, and it would be puerile to deny it, that doing squats will directly affect legs, but also the other groups will feel the effect as the whole organism in general, due to such strong stimulus that will force them to grow.
Because who really wants to see his muscular size increase has to look for the general growth, not focus his efforts on just one group. It is impossible that the arms grow, for instance, a couple of centimetres, without increasing the corporal weight. That is why we have to look for exercises that produce the growing, as squats.
The complete leg curl, also known as squat, has been always called ‘the growing exercise’.
For over thirty years Peary Rader, the ‘Iron Man’ editor, the most serious magazine that has ever existed in the irons world, insisted that there was no exercise, or combination of them, that could even reach in effectiveness the results obtained from the correct execution of the squat.
Like other technicians with very established reputation, Rader noticed that the mentioned results were not only limited to legs, but the profits, in strength as in muscular size, were also evident in groups such as chest and back, or even in shoulders and arms.
As can be supposed, if doing squats (sets of 20 repetitions with the maximum load possible alternated with breathing pullovers was the most used) was effective to increase the muscular mass in the 70’s, it still is now. The reasons for this is not often heard can go from the great variety of existing machines and apparatus in any modern gym to the discovery of new working methods promising spectacular progresses with less effort.
In fact, the problem lies in this last, the effort. Doing sets of 20 repetitions of squats, trying to increase the loads on the bar every time it is done, implies a terrific effort, it produces a simply tortuous feeling. Who has never done this before cannot imagine, not even closely, what this means.
This, with no doubt, is what make people stay away from squats. But, you know what? It works! Yes, it works better than any other system that can be imagined. It is hard, very hard; I would dare to say it is brutal, but don’t fool yourself: nothing that does not demand blood, sweat and tears in return would provide you a single gram of muscle. That physique most of us dream of is not sold in bottles, neither offered in operating rooms of the best plastic surgeons. You have to gain it at the gym. As all good things in life, you have to fight for it; it is not a gift.
A routine to gain muscular volume, based on 20 repetitions sets of squats and a bunch of basic exercises attacked in the same line (trying to use heavier loads each time), is not something that can be done every day. It is not about going to the gym and spending there three hours a day.
You have to look for quality in the training; that is what produces muscle, and not quantity, which is more like doing social life out of a club. To achieve the first it is not necessary to spend more than an hour at the gym, and with three weekly sessions it’s more than enough. You cannot train hard and frequently; you can do one thing, but not both at the same time (and I assure you the one that gives you muscle is the first one).
Recovery is vital when it is about gaining muscle, but if one of you have doubts I recommend you to follow the routine I’m about to describe. If after doing it you still feel like training the next day, we’ll talk.
The first thing is to do a good warming up. Five minutes of general moves, to help the body sweat, and a stretching session long enough to start attacking the first exercise. I suggest starting with the sitting military press. The ideal place to do it is the power cage, placing the safety bars at shoulders height to avoid any risk in case you cannot complete the repetition by yourself.
In case there is no cage at you gym you can do it placing the bar on some supports, using a partner’s help both to grab the bar as to cooperate with the solution of any problem that may occur. The exercise can be performed standing as well as sitting, both variations have the same effect at muscular level, but I prefer the second one when it’s done on a bench with back support, the back well stuck to it.
This takes lot of tension off the lumbar zone and prevents from the risk of injury. The first set has to be done with the bar unloaded. About twenty repetitions are enough to warm up the shoulders properly. Doing another warming up set, or not, should be according to the weight used by each one of you.
For the first effective set we have to load the bar with the weight we use to do ten repetitions. Grab the bar with both hands in pronation and with the grip wider than shoulders width. With the initial position well set (the back well stuck to the back support, the feet strongly positioned on the floor, the bar grabbed as indicated before) you have to fully extend your arms until bringing the bar above the head.
The subsequent flexion of the arms, to complete the negative phase, has as its final point the zone of the collar bones, from where the extension will start again to complete the second repetition. Go on this way, one by one until doing twelve. Yes, I know I had said you have to load the bar with the weight you use for ten repetitions, but you have to clench your teeth and try to go further.
You have to give your utmost to complete those extra two repetitions. Surely the high spirit of your training partner, indispensable to train hard, will be decisive to get through to the end of the set.
If you have reached the twelve repetitions it’s time to do a little increment in the load for the second set. Not too much: two and a half kilos at the most. The small, but constant, weight increases allow the progresses. In case the repetitions of the first set were between eight and eleven, you have to keep the weight constant. Of course, not reaching eight repetitions is a synonym for an excessive load. In any case, this second set is the end of the military press work.
After that, we move to the ‘old’ bench press. It is probably the most popular exercise in the world, and surely, one of the worst performed. You have to firmly lie on the bench. The feet against the floor, the gluteus, back, head, all on the bench. The grip should be slightly wider than the one used on Military press, but nothing like those vast hand separations seen on bench championships.
Here we are talking about muscular development, not lifting. I’ve talked about using progressive loads (used as a ‘weapon’ to increase the size of the muscles), but not about establishing a world record. We are only interested in surpassing ourselves. Therefore, the repetitions done with bounces, those who seem capable of breaking your chest into parts, are completely forbidden. All of them should be performed with strict control, well focused on the muscle that has to do all the work: the pectoral.
On the negative phase the bar must be brought to the collarbones area, keeping the elbows perpendicular to the trunk, which avoids an excess of work for the triceps. The lifting should be straight upwards. Pure pectoral work, especially when the two sets of twelve executed repetitions are completed with the same premises than the previous exercise.
Statement that are also valid for the third exercise: the bar row. Hands are placed in pronation, with a separation a bit wider than shoulders width. The trunk has to lean front, the lumbar zone be very “tight” and the back, flat. Pull from the bar towards the stomach (is the best way to isolate dorsals and to avoid the work of biceps) and extend the arms to go back to the starting point.
The warming up is essential, for which we have to proceed as we did in the previous exercises. Two sets of eight to twelve repetitions are the prelude before going for the main ingredient of the routine:
The squats. With the bar placed on the supports and these placed at the needed height (much better if we have the already mentioned power cage) the bar is loaded on the shoulders and strongly grabbed with both hands, the closer possible to allow the flexibility of shoulders and wrists. The trunk remains upright, the sight front and the head as a prolongation of the spine.
The feet must be separated at waist width or slightly more (slightly does not mean those excessive separations that are seen in the lifting competitions). The flexion of the legs well controlled and ‘feeling’ that the muscles are working and this must be done until the upper part of the thighs is parallel to the floor; not more neither less.
The recovery, the extension of the legs, has to be either hasty. That sensation of wanting to finish as soon as possible must be avoided; nobody forces us to train and since we do it because it’s our will, we have to take the most out of it. That means being well focused and feeling that the muscles are moving the chosen load.
Precisely here, in the chosen load, we must have a comment. As in the other exercises, we must choose the load with which we normally do ten repetitions, but please, no one stop when reaching the twelfth repetition: we have to extend the set a little more. Twenty is the number of leg curls and extensions we have to complete to say the set is done.
It’s hard, very hard, brutally hard. It is necessary to take several deep breathes between one and another repetition: you have the feeling there is not enough air in the room, but if you put in ‘the necessary’; if you really want a physique different from the rest, the set is completed.
You end exhausted, covered in sweat, wanting to lie on the ground and wait there for an end to the world, but I’m sorry, we have to go on. Where you have to lie on is a bench previously prepared and, holding a ten or fifteen kilos dumbbell, not heavier!, we have to do other twenty repetitions of breathing pullovers. Is the ideal moment for this exercise, when the heart beatings are skyrocketing and our rib cage is ready to suck all the air in the world.
Although it seems impossible at first sight, you can recover from this. Maybe ten minutes will be necessary, especially at first, but we have to do one last set. Exactly the same. I do not recommend the increase of the load to be higher than one or one and a half kilo; we leave it for the next session. But we must keep on suffering.
There is, however, and alternative: the straight legs deadlifts. You can choose this exercise for the second twenty repetitions set and alternate it with the pullovers. I recommend you to do it on a bench, or a high platform, to prevent the discs from hitting the floor and shortening the path. The bar is grabbed with both hands in pronation and separated at shoulders width.
The knees are slightly bent, to avoid risks, and one by one we have to get through the twenty repetitions and, of course, following that we have to do another twenty repetitions of pullovers. It is enough.
To all those who have problems to gain muscular mass I would only suggest you a little work for the abdominals and calves, but really, with the previous thing you have more than enough. You won’t need specific work for the arms, posterior shoulders, neck or forearms. You just need hard working. The described routine, performed twice or three times a week and trying to increase the load on each session is the ideal recipe to make those lazy muscles grow.
All this can be absolutely useless if the feeding is insufficient. Training this way, eating enough is an obligation, especially when the routine, due to the increasingly heavier loads, becomes harder and harder. Who has problems to increase his muscular mass will be loosing his time if he doesn’t combine a routine like this with a considerable amount of quality foods, where proteins and carbohydrates should be the most important part.
The hard training must be complemented with a ‘strong’ nutrition. To those who can afford it, I would recommend you to use quality supplements, at least one that will add protein and enough carbohydrates so your diet does not have deficiencies in these nutrients.