In the exercise world, there are tonnes of myths – 90 percent of which you’ll never see me even bother to address on this website. As for the 10 percent that remains, I like to look to the finer particulars when it comes to debunking fallacies. Today’s topic: Building muscle.
Typically, a lot of folks after muscle may be wholeheartedly doing what they’ve seen and read to be the “right thing”, keeping an eye out for strict form on their exercises, adding appropriate volume to their exercises, and lifting for high sets and less reps. And that’s fine… But a little more thought can go a long way towards making the most of your efforts. A couple of myths that surfaced lately have been gettin’ at me, so what better place to crack down on them?
The bentover row is an excellent exercise for developing the muscles of the upper and lower back. I personally like to incorporate it into my own mass programmes and those of my clients for quick results. I’ve noticed and would like to address a persistent debate that exists regarding this exercise.
Among the people who actually know how to lift weights, I’ve noted two main groups – The first group will come into the gym, and grab the bar, bend to around a 45 degree angle to the ground, retract the scapulae, and perform a set of bentover rows with excellent isolation. The second group will do the same thing, but begin the movement with a slight "toprock" - An extension of the lumbar vertebrae. The first group would go up to the second group and say that they are “cheating” on the lift, and incorporating more than what is needed to perform the lift, arguing that if they need to do all of that body English, the weight is too heavy for them to perform correctly.
The question is – which group is correct?
The first style listed above is perfectly fine, as the lower back remains still and there is no ancillary movement other than the rowing action of the shoulderblades and arms. The great majority of the work being done is by the upper lats, lower traps, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and scapular muscles. The problem is, the product of such a fixed position is a lowered cap (or ceiling) on the amount of weight that can be lifted. This can hinder a lifter who wants to add size. And, I’ve always liked to look at the bentover row as a “mass builder” exercise.
This is where the second style can come in quite handy.
Adding a small lumbar extension first will produce slight starting force on the bar before the actual row is performed. This allows more weight to be lifted. The key however, is to maintain the same lordotic curve in the lumbar spine as normal, and to make sure to not finish in a higher position (or a position closer to standing) than you had in your original starting position. The benefits of applying this technique are more than one thinks:
-more weight can be lifted
-Though possibly less active in the concentric portion of the lift, the upper back muscles now have to deal with much more weight on the eccentric portion of the lift. Think of a push press versus a standard shoulder press. The same principles apply.
- Remember that the lower lats are also partially involved in a lumbar extension, as they attach to the P.S.I.S (posterior superior iliac spine). As such they will be more worked with a small lumbar extension to start.
- The spine erectors and Q.L. will not be holding an isometric contraction during the set (as they would be in the first style), making it slightly easier to maintain lordotic arch in the spine without gradually slipping into an unwanted spinal curve.
Before you run to your local gym, hear me out. Yes, this is a tool and technique that needs to be practiced and can successfully be applied to add some solid mass. Just because I’m advocating a lumbar extension at the beginning of a bentover row, it does not mean you can go from putting 1 plate on the bar, straight to putting 3 plates on the bar and go through a tremendous range of back extension. Work within reason. Check your ego at the door, be safe, and get big!
This is one myth that I’ve been meaning to bust for a while. Lots of guys for some nonsensical reason believe that any capacity of athletic training has no crossover into size training. And they could not be more incorrect.
As a former sprinter at the university level, I definitely noticed a common thread: The most developed parts of my own and most of my competitors’ bodies were the legs. As far as my own sprint training went, there were two things that I did the most in my practices – sprinting exercises and jumping exercises. We did lift weights – heavy weights – but nowhere near the amounts of volume that say, a bodybuilder would use to increase the size of his quads, hams and glutes. Despite this, size remained.
Where am I going with this?
Well, if you ever learned anything about physiology, you’ve probably learned that muscles contain certain amounts of high-threshold motor units. These units are responsible for activating fast twitch muscle fibres – the very same ones that are accountable for lifting heavy, being the strongest, and growing. Why not change things up once in a while and incorporate them into a weight training programme to help your muscles pack on some added size?
There are many methods to apply. Here’s an idea of a 6 week program that could give you some quick size gains.
On your plyometrics day, you can find an open space (soccer field is ideal, but open gym space may work) and perform :
Box Jumps – 6x6 – choose a box high enough to be a challenge. You should have to tuck your knees to make it up onto the box. Try to emphasize the quietest, softest landing on the box to absorb shock.
Bounding – 4x20 strides – emphasize a strong knee drive in sync with arm drive for propulsion. Your goal should be maximum height and distance on each stride.
Plyo Push Ups (or if more advanced, Crickets) –4x15 seconds – Simply perform pushups explosively enough for hands to leave the ground. Don’t “clap” the hands when you’re airborne – it’s just asking for broken fingers. As for crickets, perform pushups and simultaneously contract the glutes so that the entire body leaves the ground. Keep the knees as straight as possible while in the air.
Split squat jumps - 4x15 seconds – Start in a split squat bottom position and explode upwards. Switch legs and land in split squat position with the other leg forward. Aim for maximum vertical height on each jump.
During this phase, eliminate the plyo-specific day from your training cycle, and on each of your body part split days, where possible, incorporate contrast sets into the workouts. Contrast sets are, in short, a way to trick muscles into “overfiring” to maximize their output between 2 sets. Basic barbell movements like squatting, deadlifting, standing press, and bench pressing can be contrasted with unloaded movements that simulate the same pattern. Below is an example of some movements with their contrast set counterparts:
A1) Barbell Back Squat – 10 reps
A2) Bodyweight Jump Squats – 10 reps
B1) Barbell Deadlifts – 10 reps
B2) Standing Broad Jumps – 10 reps
C1) Bench Press – 10 reps
C2) Plyometric push ups – 10 reps
D1) Standing Press – 10 reps
D2) Med Ball Overhead Throws – 10 reps
When incorporating plyometrics to your routine, remember that the idea is to make your muscles contract maximally in the shortest possible time. This means that every single rep of every set has to be a maximum effort muscularly. Speed, power, and explosiveness are key. Go hard or go home! Not only will a system using this method add size to your lean muscle, but the added anaerobic effort will increase your metabolic demands and help you burn more body fat. On top of this, it doesn’t hurt to have more athletic capacity to your muscles so you’re not just a hulking mass of nonfunctional size who can’t wipe his own ass. Just sayin’.
Muscles can get bored of the same thing easily. There is a large window to what's "right" and what's "wrong" in the exercise world, and that window becomes larger still when we're talking about bodybuilding, adding size, and building muscle. What you may perceive to be awesome results could be, well, awesomer. It’s just a matter of applying the right tweaks at the right times, to spark a jump in your performance, and a jump on the scale reading.« back to previous page