by Anthony Ditillo
A few days ago the two owners of my gym and I had a very interesting discussion concerning the fellows training there and the seeming lack of gains they made recently, though all of them were training regularly for quite some time. We came to the conclusion that the men who looked pretty good, when compared to the average guy, looked that way for the most part two years ago when my two friends took over management of this gym. In other words, these guys looked the same as they did two years ago. And they had been coming in six days a week and training for close to two hours each day for all this while.
Now something must be wrong. But what could that something be? All these guys ate pretty good, most of the time, and many of them were taking protein supplements to supposedly aid them in their gains. Yet they were not growing in size or strength nor were they becoming leaner or more muscular. A few of the other guys did gain muscular bodyweight but they were no stronger at the heavier bodyweight.
So, in reality did these men gain anything either? And if the truth was that they did not, then that meant that the majority of the men training at my gym for the last two years were simple maintaining what they already had. Ad this mere maintenance was taking twelve to sixteen hours per week training time, not to mention the additional time to and from the gym and the added expense of food and supplements. Something was definitely wrong and something had to be done to help whichever of these men had the ears to hear and the mind to decipher what had to be learned.
After much debating on the subject we came to some pertinent conclusions which I shall pass on to you in this article, for these mistakes are the very same mistakes the majority of you are making in your training, and that is likely why you are not progressing as far and as fast as you would like to. I am sure if you take the time to read and reread what I have outlined here for you and apply it, the results will be pleasing.
First and foremost, the major mistake you men are making is incorrect exercise style. You simply will not perform the movements correctly. In the beginning, when your body is not used to much in the way of physical exertion, any lifting, no matter how incorrectly performed, will increase the muscles to a certain degree. But this will not continue forever. There comes a time when all such progress will come to a halt, unless you cut back on the excessive cheating and heaving, lighten the poundages somewhat and begin to actually feel the movements.
Muscles do not just grow overnight and they do not grow in response to vague stimulation. In order for the muscles to greatly increase in size, you have to place direct, intense demands upon them. Intensity can either be obtained through performing as many repetitions per set as you humanly can, using heavy weights, or you can increase this intensity by decreasing the rest time between sets thereby performing more work in a shorter period of time, or you can greatly increase your training volume and neither decrease your training rest periods or perform any set to maximum burnout and still increase your intensity due to the great increase in volume. All three will work. As my coach used to say, “There is more than one way to Rome.”
You men with heavy bone structures will undoubtedly enjoy using rather heavy poundages and forcing the reps to the max, burnout for each set. Your heavier constitution will allow you to do this and still recuperate, while the lighter-boned man will probably enjoy further success by greatly increasing his workload for each muscle group and performing each exercise slowly and strictly with great concentration. Both will work for either type. And no matter which style you decide upon you must remember to perform the exercise movement with correct, slow, grinding repetitions in order for the muscle fibers to receive the growth stimulation they need to further respond.
Every time you bounce a bar when doing any kind of press you are robbing the pressing muscles of the very thing they need to further respond. You cannot increase muscle size by working the joints using excessively heavy weights with heaving, thrusting movements, since such exercise style will totally neglect the muscles and favor the tendons and the joints and this throwing and swinging around heavy barbells will not increase muscle size to any degree. Your repetitions, whether high or low, should be performed with great control for best results. I mean great control on both the raising and the lowering in these kinds of movements done for this purpose. The lowering is just as important as the lifting, for they both work hand in hand in increasing your muscular development.
I would also suggest that you attempt to make any movement a full range movement. What sense does it make to use an exaggerated wide grip on your pressing movements when this wide grip will actually decrease the length of the movement and the amount of contraction that can take place? If all you wish to do is to show how much weight you can lift, such techniques might be excusable, but if you desire to build muscle size such antics are a complete waste of time.
I would advise all of you who seek to increase muscle size to use a medium stance when squatting, with no wraps of any sort until you can perform six to ten repetitions with double your bodyweight in this style, and only then begin to use knee wraps, belts, suits etc. By this time the muscles will already be large and strong and the lifting aids will enable you to quickly increase your limit poundage for a single rep, should you care to see just how you compare to lifters in your weight class. But for increasing your muscle size, use a medium stance and do not use wraps.
Another movement which many of you fellows are performing incorrectly for the results you seek is the bench press. In fact, I would venture to say that for the most part all of your pressing movements are done with the same silly mistakes. First, you try to use weights far too heavy to be used correctly and your style is actually an eyesore to behold. Why would you want to use a collar-to-collar grip on the bar when this wide a grip will undoubtedly sooner or later injure your shoulder joints due to the unnatural stretch and strain such a grip implies. The wideness of the grip will also cut down on the length of the movement to such an extent that it will only be half-performed. And half movements done with a bounce and kick will get you nowhere fast in the muscle size department.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply use a medium grip and weights light enough for you to PRESS and not PUSH or THRUST to completion? Do you think that the top powerlifters of today got their strength and development from continuously cheating in their competition movements? Well, if you do think that, then you’re wrong. For the most part, especially during the off-season, these men are doing lots and lots of heavy bodybuilding/assistance movements and this means relatively lighter weights, higher reps and strict, slow, correct exercise form. This, combined with the heavier power movements, is where they get their size from. It works for them and it can work for you if you have the sense to try it.
In ALL your pressing movements use a medium shoulder width grip on the bar. Your muscle size will increase and the development will go hand in hand with greater usable strength. Use a repetition scheme that goes somewhere between six and ten for the most part. Use as many sets as are necessary to thoroughly congest the muscles before going on to the next exercise or bodypart. These repetitions should be done slow and steady with continuous tension on the muscles being worked for best results.
I notice a lot of you performing your pulling exercises entirely wrong for what you desire. What sense does it make to do a bentover row with weights so heavy it looks more like an exaggerated deadlift than a row? You are supposed to feel the movement in the lats and somewhat in the biceps, but most of you complain of feeling this movement mainly in the lower back. This is because you are ashamed to use 135 and slowly work up to a heavier weight, so you load the bar up and away you go, jerking and pulling the bar around like you’re engaged in a wrestling match with it. You’re NOT supposed to fight with the bar, you’re supposed to exercise with it.
Another movement almost always done incorrectly is the seated cable row. Why do you use so heavy a weight that you have to use every muscle in the body just to get the movement started, and in reality the arms are bent to such a small degree that the lats are barely utilized, it at all. For the most part, the lower back and the hips get the brunt of the work when done in this style and is it any wonder that your gains in lat size don’t come around with such a foolish way of performing the thing? Why not lighten the weight and keep the torso inclined to the front, kept stiff and tight as a support, pull with the arms and upper back and perform enough reps to fully work and congest these areas? Doesn’t this seem to make more sense? Who cares how much weight you can’t use properly? Are you actually interested in developing muscle size?
Your dumbbell work also gets adulterated somewhere along the line. You perform lying flyes as if they were dumbbell bench presses and fail to see your purpose in doing the exercise. There is no sense in doing flyes with a weight you can barely press. And the dumbbell bench presses are no better. Most of you do them with such a shortened range of movement, quickly work up to the 100’s and are confused when no development results.
When performing dumbbell laterals for the shoulders, why do you use such heavy weights that the movements are nothing more than rapidly swinging up and down with no hope of or attempt to control them on your part. Do you think that if you can swing 50 lb. dumbbells you are going to increase your shoulder development? How can you, when you would have a hard time using 30’s, done slowly and correctly. You have got to reach a point in your exercise where the muscles are taxed to the limit. This is intensity. You can get to this point with light weights and higher reps or you can get to this point with much heavier weights and lower reps. It’s up to you. But you must reach this point! What most of you do is try to stay away from this point by cheating through the movement and the discomfort. This is your basic mistake and you are avoiding the very event which will give you what you want. You are trying to avoid muscle fatigue, and you cannot obtain much in the way of continued progress without this fatigue. You can’t have one without the other.
Some of you try to cheat your way to continued improvement. Some of you fatten yourselves up as a way of getting heavier and thereby obtaining larger size and, inadvertently, heavier poundages. Some of you do absolutely nothing and remain absolutely same, year in and year out. And what I have tried to do is to show you some simple examples of your precious self-deceit.
You guys who are trying to ‘bulk up’ had better take a long range look at what you are trying to do, for the majority of you will end up only fattening up and in five or so years will be trying to lose this now-precious, then-excess weight. You can get much heavier and less muscular – at the same time. You can overeat and look bigger and more massive to the eye, but with your shirt off the truth comes out. You are smoother and filled for most part with fat and water.
I would advise the majority of you to follow a high-protein, high-carbohydrate, moderate-fat diet for most of the training year. Eat small meals throughout the day so as not to tax the digestive system to any great degree. Figure out your ideal training weight and simply determine the amount of food you consume to maintain this weight without too much difficulty. If you add more to this amount, do it in small increments and wait for the results to show, and here I am talking not to underweight beginners, but to intermediate trainees.
Work your muscles with your training until they are thoroughly fatigued and train each bodypart as frequently as you can and still recuperate from the exertion. Train as long as you can and as often as you can, keeping recuperation in mind. Pick a repetition scheme that your mental attitude and body can tolerate. Perform each and every movement with proper form, with no exaggeration in the performance and let the training poundages take care of themselves, and they WILL increase in time, providing you do not bounce, or cheat, or heave . . . you have nothing to lose but your mediocrity.
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