Mike Israetel’s RP Bodybuilding Posts
Some Mass Gain Tips:
- Leaner individuals gain more muscle when they mass than fatter individuals. If you’re male and can’t see your abs at all, you’re better off losing fat so that you can put on more muscle later, rather than just gaining mass now and getting even fatter.
- Eat mostly the right stuff to fuel your training and your health, but have some fun too. Night time junk food consumption can be a part of most massing plans, especially if done only a few nights a week. Get your good food in, train hard, and in the evening have some fun eating junk. This beats not having any junk (psychologically) and beats eating junk early in the day and messing with your training performance (physiologically).
- Gain weight slowly each week and in 2-3 month intervals. If you gain much faster than a pound a week, you’ll not gain much more muscle than if you went slower, but just more fat you’ll have to burn off later. If you try to gain weight continuously for longer than 3 months or so, your body begins to respond more poorly to hypertrophy training and because all gains will be some muscle and some fat, you’ll get too fat to gain muscle at best rates if you try to gain for too long. Gain for 2-3 months, maintain for 1-2, cut for 1-2 months, and repeat for best results in the long term. That’s more or less how I went from wrestling in the 103 weightclass in high school to weighing a bit more now.
- When you choose to start a massing phase, commit to the process. Yes, you’ll temporarily get a bit smoother and that’s OK. Trying to stay your leanest at all times is a good way to never put on much size. Training and diet are cyclical processes. Just like you can’t be peaked to be your strongest at all times, you can’t be your leanest at all times. Do what it takes, look ‘ok’ toward the end of mass and during maintenance, and you’ll look GREAT over the long term.
Having a healthy relationship with food/eating:
The MOST important element of success with a fat loss diet is to have a healthy relationship with food. This means among other things that:
- Fat loss diets DO NOT strengthen your relationship with food, they strain it. If it starts out weak, it might fail and disordered thoughts and eating patterns may result… some of them long term in nature.
- If you don’t have the healthiest relationship with food, it’s imperative to work on that BEFORE you start a diet.
- There’s no rush to get healthy and certainly no rush to get lean. If you do it right, you can set up a lifetime of looking your best and being healthy. If you do it wrong and rush the process, you may find yourself fighting diet-created demons that are even tougher than the ones that pushed you in to dieting too fast in the first place.
Some qualities of a ‘healthy relationship with food/eating’:
- Not being overly emotional about food in general. This means mostly that you can eat food for logical reasons only (nutritional programming, for example) and are not often overwhelmed with emotional reactions or attachments to food.
- Your life’s main sources of happiness are diverse, including friends, career, family, pets, hobbies AND food. Food does not hold a central position in determining your happiness or lack thereof far above and beyond those other features.
- Not being overly attached to food. If you have to eat certain foods, bland foods, or less/more food than ideal, you tend to think that’s usually ok and not a big deal.
- You have fundamentally healthy eating habits, focusing most of your calorically adequate but not excessive intake on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats/protein sources and healthy fats.
- You don’t tend to view food as ‘good vs. bad’ and understand that long term habits determine health and appearance/performance, not single meals. This usually means that while most of your diet consists of foods from point D above, you enjoy the occasional junk food with no big reservations.
- You view bodyweight, appearance, performance and health on a spectrum, not in binary ‘good vs. bad’ terms. If you weighed 155 today but weighed only 152 yesterday and you don’t want to gain weight, you’re not upset, or at most 1.5% more upset, not 200% more upset (upset in proportion to the size of the perceived issue, if upset even at all).
- You understand your value and worth outside of your purely body-related metrics. Your value in your career, family, friendships, and other facets of life that can’t be conveyed in a bathroom selfie (so you know I’m struggling lol!)
All of these are on a spectrum. There is no ‘perfectly unhealthy relationship’ or ‘perfectly healthy relationship,’ just a continuum.
Re-establishing your healthy relationship with food/eating:
In relation to my last two posts on a.) the need to establish relatively healthy relationships with food and eating before dieting and b.) defining what such a relationship actually entails, here are some thoughts to consider about HOW to work on improving your relationship with food/eating:
The process of re-establishing your healthy relationship with food can involve the following process of 4 phases. Each phase is only begun when the last phase is no longer a struggle and feels completely natural and worry-free. For some this means the phases take weeks, for some, months. Rushing the process is almost never a good idea… you’re doing this to HEAL, not to « get it done and move on. »
Phase 1: Unattached Eating
You don’t count, track, plan, or alter your food intake in any structured way. You eat ONLY what you want, when you want. Keep training hard, don’t look at the scale. Sooner or later you’ll have had your fill and you will legitimately have addressed every craving so much that you’ll likely start to miss some kind of structure. For most people this will be by far the hardest phase.
Phase 2: Nutritious Choices
You don’t track or plan any amounts of food, nor do you weigh in on the scale. But you start to focus on getting MOST (not all) of your food from fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein sources and healthy fats. Still eat junk when you feel like it, but keep most of your food healthy. This phase ends when eating like this feels habitual and perfectly natural.
Phase 3: Rough Macros
Keep eating like in Phase 2, but determine your rough maintenance macros and follow them on most days to a decent degree of precision. Eyeballing macros is ok, and formal meal structure or number is not necessary. This phase ends when you’re habitually hitting your macros worry-free and with no pressure.
Phase 4: Counting and Measuring
Maintenance diet in which your eat for particular macros every day, you plan meal numbers, macros and food types in accordance with your training and waking/sleep schedule, and you start to weigh yourself again. When this feels natural and habitual, you’re likely ready to try another fat loss phase of 2-3 months in duration, maintain, then go from there!
MUCH more detail available on this in the female dieting book we wrote at RP
If you’re interested in being guided through this process, Kevin Gatti specializes in working with females in just such situations and may be able to help you out and coach your through just such a process.
DISCLAIMER: this is for those that have taken their dieting to the extreme and suffered psychologically for it and are now in that grey area between diagnosable eating disorder and mildly poor eating relationships. This advice is thus for those folks. If you are not at that extreme, trying a toned-down version of this process might work best. If you’re more extreme, seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist to work on your disordered eating patterns is highly recommended.
Chest Training Tips:
- Flat and Incline Barbell Presses are still king for chest development. Most chest growth programs should be built around them.
- If you want your biggest chest, learn to arch and retract during pressing like a powerlifter. A small arch and big retraction exposes your chest to more of the stress of the work, prevents your shoulders from taking over the movement too much and keeps your shoulder joints safer.
- A big stretch and full lockout on each rep are important for full development. I pause every rep at the bottom for more stretch and safety. If you’re into ego lifting, you’ll be giving up gains and getting hurt more often.
- Strict dumbbell and cable flyes are great for direct pec work, but the weight used is very far behind in priority to strict technique and full ROM. If you use too much weight and your flies look like presses, you have a problem.
- Machines can be great for variation and for occasional intensity techniques like drop sets.
- Chest can be trained 2-4x per week with a total of 15-25 sets per week of 6-20 reps at various times. Just like with all other moves, getting stronger slowly over time with strict technique is the ticket to size.
Tips for Cable Flyes:
- Unless your training is very advanced or you’re hurt, it’s best to do these after your heavy compound chest pressing of that session is done. Flyes are great for added volume, but won’t be able to supply the very high forces also important for growth. Doing heavy pressing first ensures that you get the best of both worlds and don’t just use flyes to tire out your ability to press.
- As always, technique is paramount. The cables allow tension through the whole ROM like even dumbbells cannot give, so take advantage by not only stretching at the bottom, but by holding the peak contraction at the top. Especially for stronger lifters, I recommend pausing at the bottom to keep the lift safe. Elbows should be barely unlocked to reduce stress on them, but any sharper an angle and the movement starts to look more like a press than the flye it’s supposed to be.
- This video was an actual work set. Yes, I’m using very little weight. That’s on purpose because it keeps this isolation move safe and keeps the reps higher to get the volume I’m using this move for. Wanna go heavy? Great! They make barbell benches and inclines for that. If you use cable flyes to feed your ego, you also probably borrow your mom’s car to hang out with your friends cause you’re 16 years old.
Upper Chest Tips:
- It’s not rocket science. Focus on incline movements. You’ll see some emg studies on various other moves (reverse grip pressing, for example) being great for upper pec stimulus, but take those with a big grain of salt, as just a few studies don’t mean all that much in the grand scheme. Especially when almost all athletes don’t do any of these funky moves. Now, feel free to try them, but don’t just think the cutting edge stuff is all you’re gonna be doing.
- Balance specificity with overload. Yes, isolation moves like incline flyes and cable flyes are great, but they are best done in conjunction with the heavy incline compound pressing of barbells and high volumes of pressing of dumbbells. Don’t get carried away with isolation moves and make sure to get your big pressing done.
- To adapt AND recover, have some weekly chest workouts that DON’T focus on the upper chest so that those fibers can heal and resensitize to further growth. So if you have 3 chest training sessions per week, make 2 of them upper pec oriented but keep one that avoids direct upper pec stimulus.
- Use great, consistent technique and track your progress to make sure there’s no question mark about your long term gains. How much can you incline barbell and dumbbell press for a max set of 10? Make sure to occasionally (every couple of months) test your limits with good technique so that you can SEE these numbers going up and don’t have to just try to eyeball gains from your bathroom mirror. If you used to do 185 for 10 in the incline but you can now do 205 for 10… your upper pecs are probably getting bigger!
Avoiding Common Mistakes on the Incline Dumbbell Press
- Don’t go too heavy.
Dumbbells are inherently unstable. This instability is detected by your nervous system and your top-end force production is capped. Like trying to jump high when standing on ice or trying to squat a lot from a bosu ball. The whole purpose of heavy weights is to generate high forces, and since dumbbells can’t do that, why use them for it? Use them for volume. In addition, because of instability, heavy dumbbells can more easily misgroove and can get you hurt, never mind how annoying it is to get them into position. If you want heavy (which is great), they make barbells for that!
- Don’t cut your ROM
Very related to using dumbbells that are too heavy is the mistake of using dumbbells in a shortened range of motion. A bunch of folks neither go up nor down all the way, robbing themselves of full muscle activation and stretch-based hypertrophy as well. Most do this for the same reason they go too heavy: ego. It’s pretty simple… do you want to get jacked or do you want to fool yourself into thinking you’re strong? Dumbbell pressing can be very humbling. I have incline pressed 335lbs for 10 with pauses and I only use at most 100lbs on these; usually 80 or even 70 on down sets. Do the right thing. You show up to the gym to grow, not to show off.
- Don’t touch the dumbbells to your mid chest
Some folks confuse incline presses for flat presses and try to push the dumbbells forward during the motion. That makes the move awkward and actually reduces upper pec involvement. Push the dumbbells up in a vertical line with respect to gravity and touch the outsides of your front delts at the bottom for that full stretch. To those used to flat pressing, this will in fact feel like you’re pressing almost up and back, but you quickly get used to it.
- Don’t bounce out of the bottom
More ego problems, and a great way to get hurt. Try full pauses at the deepest stretch (touching the weights to the outsides of your shoulders) to mitigate this temptation.
Front Delt Training Tips:
- Compound Pushing movements for chest work will take care of almost all front delt stimulation. This means that for folks training chest regularly, MRV for specific front delt work is as low as 6-10 working sets per week.
- Almost all lifters will get more than enough front delt work from compound pushing alone and won’t have to do any specific work most times. From a bodybuilding perspective, front delts that are too small for the physique are incredibly rare, and it’s the rear and side delts that need the work.
- Because front delts get hit so much during chest training, most specific front delt work (if you’re even doing it) should usually be done after chest work, in that same session or later in the day. Spreading your front delt work out too much over the week can leave your front delts too fatigued for your chest work and interfere with that chest work.
- Best exercises for front delts are all the pushing moves, and among them strict overhead pressing is king. Barbells are key, but seated, standing, smith, dumbbell, and machine work is all good for variation. You can use front raises sparingly, and when you do, I recommend a supinated (palms up) grip with a full ROM and low weight, focusing on sets of 10-15 and on slow eccentrics. Remember, heavy presses already took care of the heavy work, so the lighter stuff is reserved for isolation.
Side Delt Training Tips:
- Exercise Selection
The best exercises for side delts are usually a variation on upright rows and/or lateral raises. Barbell, dumbbell, smith machine, and cable upright rows, and dumbbell lateral raises. Cable and machine laterals can be ok, but in my experience are usually inferior to the aforementioned exercises. In the end you have to do what you feel hits them most, but be honest. Don’t just do moves you like or are good at… do what hits the muscle.
- Exercise Technique
As with most muscles but ESPECIALLY side delts, making sure to use strict technique allows you to get the actual target muscle to do the work, reduces injury risk, and lets you know if you’re actually getting stronger vs. using crappier technique to get the reps. Use the biggest ROM you can use without pain, which for most means lateral raises and upright rows find the upper arm at or above parallel to the ground at the top, and for many, another 10-15 degrees higher than that. Oh and if you’re swinging much, you’re doing the exercises wrong.
- Rep Ranges
For upright rows, as few as 6-8 reps can be done on occasions. But for most times, and pretty much all times for lateral raises, reps of 8-20 keep the exercises safe on he shoulders and provide the volume and metabolites needed for growth.
For most lifters, side delt maximal recoverable volumes are some of the highest of all muscle groups. The small, fatigue resistant and quickly recovering side delts can handle around 25 working sets per week, with almost everyone capable of 20 a week and many able to handle 30 or more.
Side delts recover fast for most lifters. Training them 2x a week is the bare minimum for anything resembling best results, and for most lifters, 3-4 times a week should be even better. One or two of those sessions can be easier than the others to promote recovery-adaptation.
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Lateral Raise Tips:
- The use of weights too heavy for proper technique is a huge problem for many people doing lateral raises. The cool thing is, there ARE exercises for these muscles in which bigger weights can be used (upright rows, shoulder presses, barbell face pulls), but lateral raises are not one of them. I can strict upright row 135 for sets of 10, can overhead press 245 for sets of 10, but only use around 40lbs for laterals, just to give some perspective. Anything much under 8 reps per set is probably too heavy a job for laterals.
- Going higher usually activates the delts more. So long as it doesn’t bother you, go above parallel each time.
- Arm bend can be anything you want, but the more you bend them, the more weight you have to use and the more your grip becomes a limiting factor. I prefer elbows just slightly bent to keep that joint safe but keep the weights low.
- Milking out the eccentric can be a great way to get more out of this exercise. Don’t just let the dumbbells drop down each rep.
- It’s ok to swing a little to keep your balance and accommodate for the change in center of mass through the motion. But that’s different than swinging to get the weight up. You KNOW the difference when you’re doing it, so don’t BS yourself!
Tips for Rear Delt Development:
- Heavy compound rowing and vertical pulling moves are the biggest factor to rear delt development. It’s from these that you’re getting most of your rear delt stimulation and because you do them as part of your back training anyway, you’re almost all the way to full rear delt development just by training your back! This means that you won’t ever have to do a TON of specific work for rear delts.
- When training your medial delts (future post to come), there is a considerable amount of rear delt involvement. This coupled with back training greatly lowers your rear delt MRV. However, your MRV for rear delts will still be between 12-18 sets per week on average even with these factors taken into account. Why still so high? Because for most lifters, the rear delts recover incredibly quickly and can handle a ton of work.
- Because they recover quickly, rear delts can be isolated 3-6 times per week, and I’d venture to say that for this muscle, even 2x a week might be missing out just a bit of growth gained by going up to at least 3 sessions. If rear delt development is a big goal for you, this means that you might train rear delts during most if not all of your training sessions for the week. And what about having a « rear delt day » in your split? Leave that to the bros.
- Going along with point 1, we can see that back training has largely taken care of stimulating the big, fast twitch fibers of the rear delts. This is the beginning of the argument that when you isolate the rear delts, you should use lighter weights (10-30 reps) and more metabolite techniques (supersets, drop sets, etc.) because the heavy conventional training is already taken care of with back. The other part of the argument for training rear delts lighter is technique-based. ONLY with lighter weights can you execute the NEAR-PERFECT techniques needed to actually isolate the rear delts. As soon as you start moving heavier weight, there is a huge temptation to use other muscles and that basically turns into more back or medial delt/trap training really quick. When you train rear delts, focus on technique FIRST and the feel/burn/pump second.
Dumbbell Upright Row
This is one of my favorite medial and rear delt exercises, the dumbbell upright row. A couple technique rules I use:
- I go as high up as I can without pain. If you can go higher, do it, but if not, just keep your ROM to whatever is pain free.
- Always lead with the elbows up.
- Hold at the top for a split second.
- I like to pull up and back to make sure medial and rear delts are hit, not front delts.
- Always go down under control and all the way.
- Anything heavier than your 10RM on these will just be an unstable attempt at max effort and yield little results. Sets of about 15 reps work best for me on this exercise.
- Pull the dumbbells slightly out to the sides as you go up instead of keeping them closer together in front of your body. This makes it more of a delt and less of a biceps exercise.
Triceps Training Tips:
- The triceps are a big, strong muscle. Such a muscle can benefit greatly from heavy loading and compound or semi-compound moves. The best tricep builders in my experience are:
- Skull Crushers
- Overhead Barbell or EZ Extensions
- Close Grip Bench and Incline Presses
You can do all kinds of other work and should for full development, but most (maybe 2/3 on average) of your triceps work should come from those moves.
- As is the case with all muscles, stretch under load is important. And especially in the case of the triceps, peak contraction is important too because that’s often when the triceps take over the most in pressing. In addition, more motor units are recruited during full ROM lifts. If we all got paid a dollar for every tricep extension done without full stretch or lockout, we’d all be very rich, which is not a great state of affairs. Yes, full ROM and peak contraction mean less weight used. But guess what? Heavy triceps training is already taken care of during presses! Isolation work should be kept higher in reps and of course high in quality. Wanna big a big man? Incline close grip 225 for sets of 12 instead of trying to be a one-arm cable extension quarter-rep hero.
- The MRV range for direct triceps work tends to be between 15 and 20 sets per week. Rarely over 20 because triceps are so heavily involved in pressing moves for the chest and shoulders (and the long head in pulling moves, too). So the muscle’s volume tolerance is quite high, but direct work doesn’t reflect nearly all the volume the triceps can handle.
- Triceps can take a lot of damage and can take a while to heal. 2-4 weekly sessions for them are best, with very advanced lifters possibly only having one or two big triceps sessions and a second or third much easier triceps session to promote recovery/adaptation.
- Splitting up triceps training can take many forms, but a very productive split involves alternating overhead work (oh extensions) with horizontal work (skulls) or with downward work (pushdowns, dips). This develops the whole muscle without overreaching any parts of it and works to reduce chronic injuries.
Biceps Training Tips:
- Barbell, EZ bar and dumbbell curls seem best, but cables can be useful at times especially for drop sets and variations.
- Vary grips once a mesocycle (straight, EZ, hammer, etc.) but don’t do any grip that hurts your wrists, shoulders or elbows even when you’ve played around with hand spacing.
- You’re not in high school and the other sex doesn’t give a shit how much you curl, so cut out the partial reps and swinging. Curls should be done with full range of motion and as little swing as possible if you want bigger arms.
- Most people’s biceps don’t take on much damage and heal very quickly, which means they should be trained more often, probably 3-6 days a week for most. Training my biceps more frequently was one of the best decisions I ever made for arm size. There should not be a ‘biceps day’ in your program.
- 15-30 sets is the typical MRV for biceps, so you’ll have to spread that out over 3-6 sessions. On some days you can train them earlier in the workout with more volume and intensity, on others you can train them with less volume and intensity towards the end of a workout. Using different exercises for those different days can provide excellent variation and promote recovery/adaptation while minimizing overuse injury potential.
- You can build impressive arms by compound pulling only, but to get maximal development you should isolate the biceps with curls. Chest flies done right can also provide some eccentric loading to the biceps.
- Many people will respond well to intensity techniques such as drop sets, ultra high rep sets and occlusion training for a metabolite stimulus. Just make sure not to overuse them and keep conventional straight sets with progressing weight in the 8-16 range for around 2/3 of your bicep training.
- When taking pics of your biceps, make sure to do it in a bathroom no-pic zone and include folks just walking by to use the john in your pictures.
Forearm Training Tips:
- The VAST majority of your forearm training will be in front of your computer, at home, by yourself. JUST KIDDING!!! (I hope). Ok seriously, the vast majority of your forearm training will come as secondary work from gripping weights during your normal heavy training, especially in pulling movements.
- For your normal pulling training to transfer best to forearm growth, make sure you only use straps WHEN YOU NEED THEM. I see guys strapping into pulldowns, for example, and that just tells me your forearms need serious work. For heavy bent rows and deadlift variants, strap up for sure (cause you don’t want to limit your back via your forearms), but for the rest, use just chalk and let your grip get some work.
- If you choose to do direct forearm training, your MRV here will be between 10-15 sets per week in most cases. I recommend using barbell and dumbbell wrist curls (where you let the weight roll all the way down to your finger tips, then curl all the way back up to squeeze and repeat slowly) as well as grippers (Ironmind, for example) for most forearm training. Use 8-20 reps per set and do QUALITY contractions, getting a full ROM and holding peak contractions for a second or two. You don’t isolate this muscle to just heave weight around… your pulling already does that.
- Isometric holds are ok, but a.) Isometric contractions don’t cause as much muscle growth as dynamic ones and b.) your pulling training already accomplishes this effect.
- If you choose, train your forearms either the day after back training or at the end of a back session. Don’t train back before your forearms have healed, or you’ll interfere with the growth of both muscle groups.
- Don’t expect overnight results. Forearm growth takes a long time, and the surefire way to get big forearms is to gain weight over time and get your back stronger… the direct work is icing on the cake.
Quad Training Tips:
- The typical MRV for quads is between 15 and 25 sets per week. Some very big and strong lifters will fall under 15 per week, some smaller lifters esp females might tolerate just over 25 sets per week.
- Most will benefit from between 2 and 4 quad training sessions per week. Because quad training is so disruptive and fatiguing, it’s usually best to have half the sessions very overloading and half as easier sessions. A good way to do this is by having one session type be very quad focused (heavier weights, higher set numbers, more proximity to failure), then the next session train quads easier (lighter weights and/or lower set numbers and less failure proximity). A great setup example of this is to focus on quads on the quad session and train hams and glutes easy, then go hard on hams and glutes the next session while backing off on quads.
- In any quad exercise you employ, full range of motion is a must for full development and the independent hypertrophic stimulus of stretch under load. There’s NO pump and soreness like that of full rom quad moves. In addition, less weight on the bar has to be used, which means less fatigue and less wear and tear. And always use good technique, staying tight and in stable position.
- The most effective exercises for quads are movements that heavily tax the quads, but are compound and allow for heavy loading (not leg extensions!). Some of these moves include olympic-style high bar squats, deep leg presses and hack squats. You can totally use other moves (lunges, belt squats, etc) but there’s not much you can’t do with just those big 3, mostly focusing on squats themselves.
- Typical rep ranges for growth can be between 6 and 20 reps, with higher reps (30+), occlusion training and drop sets being used on occasion. For fatigue and sustainability reasons, I’d only do this once every couple months but a total of 100 reps in the leg press with 1 minute rests between mini-sets with a weight you can do for 30 reps on the first set is WILD. Do 2-3 sets of squats for 10’s after and your quads will BLOW UP.
Special Quad Training Techniques:
In an earlier post I already went over quad training basics. Just a few special technique tips here, mostly for the metabolite training phase or those who have some trouble getting their quads to grow.
- 30RM Leg Press Fun
Not a typo, yes, 30. Get within 2 reps of failure each time for a total of 4-6 sets with 1 min rest ONLY. Full ROM a must. Just 2-3 sets of 12 in light squats after and say goodbye to proper walking for the next few days.
- Occlusion Hack Squats
Tie off your quads as high as possible at the hips with a tight tourniquet. Put your 20RM on the hack squat and get to work, only taking the tourniquets off every 2 sets, and only taking a minute break between sets. Full ROM reps for 4-6 sets, 2 shy of failure each set. Finish the workout off with 2-3 sets of 12 in the high bar squat. Again, forget walking for a few days.
- Leg Extension HELL.
After 3-6 sets of squats for 8-12 reps, put your 30rm on the leg extension machine (if it doesn’t bother your knees). Each rep should move up quick, take a FULL SECOND to hold at the top, and the eccentric should take 3 whole seconds. Reach 1 rep from failure, then drop the weight by 10lbs, rest only 30 seconds, and repeat. 5-8 sets total. Now, at the end of the last set, put your hands behind your head, take your high bar squat stance with only bodyweight (no bar), and begin squatting. Take 3 full seconds on the way down, stop just short of lockout on the way up, and NEVER pause to rest. Do as many squats as you can. Once you can’t get up, you’re done for the day!
PS: If you do one of these workouts, the other quad workouts in that week should be much easier to allow for recovery.
PPS: If you do one of these and get it on video, I’d love to see it and laugh at/with you!
Common Mistakes in Quad Training:
- Avoiding squats
Squats are painful and uncomfortable. There are dozens of other quad exercises to choose from, so why do squats? Because they work best, and pretty close to every set of the best legs ever has been built with a foundation of squats. If you’re having trouble feeling them in your quads or they tend to get you hurt, your first priority should be to work on your squat technique, not abandon squats.
- Not squatting for best quad stimulus:
If you’re not feeling squats in your quads, make sure you try the following:
- Stay as upright as you’re able.
- Keep your stance as close as you can to shoulder width. Narrower is ok but no big bonus. Much wider is no longer as quad-taxing.
- Squat as low as you can with good technique.
- Buy and use weightlifting shoes. For many they make a night and day difference.
- Use sets of 6 reps or more most times. The only place you feel heavier than that is in your connective tissue.
- Partial ranges of motion:
Full range of motion gives you that combination of tension while stretching that yields the most growth, and by going through full ROM, you stimulate all parts of the muscle. Check the ego at the door and use full ROM on all quad moves.
- Low frequency training:
Your quads don’t grow for a whole week after a single training session, so why would you only train them once a week? Try 2-3x a week for best results, spreading out your usual weekly volume over those sessions.
- Using too many exercises per session:
You can spur new growth by doing exercises you’re not accustomed to. But if every quad session you do squats, hack squats, leg presses, extensions and lunges, what do you use for variation later? Try sticking to only 2-3 quad moves per week for 4-6 weeks at a time and then rotating out the old moves and rotating in the new moves. If you need more volume in any session, just do more sets or drop sets! 3×10 is no magic formula, and there’s nothing wrong with 5×10 or 6×10.
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Hamstring Training Tips:
- Because of the complex nature of the muscle, hamstrings are hit best by both doing hip-extension movements (such as stiff legged deads, good mornings and glute/ham raises) and leg curls. Splitting these two types of exercises up into different weekly workouts can be a good approach. For example, Monday you can do lots of stiff legged deads, Wednesday you can do lots of curls, and Friday you can do lots of glute-ham raises.
- Attention to proper technique can make a world of difference in hip-hinge hamstring movements. If you let your back round too much or your knees bend too much, tension is taken off of the hams and transferred to the spinal muscles and glutes respectively. Keep your chest up, back arched, and knees just slightly bent on all stiff legged deads, good mornings, and glute/ham extensions.
- Hamstrings take on a lot of damage, so they can take a while to recover. 2-3 sessions per week will be best for most.
- Always go through a full range of motion. Get a deep, painful stretch at the bottom (make sure you feel it in your hams) of all hip extension movements and get a full contraction at the top of all leg curls. For safety and to make sure the hams are being targeted, I recommend doing the eccentric over 2-4 seconds and pausing all hip extension reps at the bottom for a split second before going back up. Leg curls should also be squeezed at the top for a split second and lowered slowly.
- Reps should be between 5 and 15 most of the time, since hams tend to be a bit more fast twitch. But, match your exercise to the rep range. Save sets of 10+ for leg curls (so that your back doesn’t fatigue too early like it will with hip extension moves) and save sets of 5-10 for the hip extension moves (since low reps on isolation moves are a bit riskier and possibly not as effective).
- Every mesocycle, choose new variations of exercises and progress through weights and volumes. Try high and low bar good mornings, regular and sumo sldls, glute/ham and back raises of all kinds, and lying, seated, and one-leg curls.
- Stiff legged deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts are the same exercise in bodybuilding.
Calf Training for Muscle Size/Bodybuilding:
- Exercise Selection
Because the calves are composed of two distinct muscles, we can consider the best type of exercises for each. The gastrocnemius is the superficial, upper ‘diamond shaped’ part of the calf. The soleus is the deep, longer part of the calf, and its muscle belly is more uniform down the length of the shank. Gastroc training will use a variety of calf raises with a straight knee, while the soleus can best be targeted with a bent knee. Any raises work, but they have to conform to the technique rules below to be most effective.
- Exercise Technique
Because of the design of the calves, they take a ton of damage from being put in a stretched position under load, additionally, they are well designed to generate a peak contraction, as they don’t really run into any other muscles (like your hams do when your glutes stop you from leg curling further up). Exercises that accentuate the stretch and contraction are thus very prized, and should be preferred over ones that don’t. For example, calf raises with dumbbells should be done off of a ledge or step and stretched deep, not just done standing on a flat surface. Because of the design of the muscles and their attachments, bent-leg calf work does not target the gastrocs, so it should only be done if soleus work is desired.
- Rep Ranges
On average, gastrocs tend to me much more fast twitch than the soleus muscles, which are mostly slow twitch. Soleus muscles thus grow much less than gastrocs, which is usually a good thing because small gastrocs and large soleus muscles tend to give the calves a ‘kankle-like’ appearance. However, some individuals have very large soleus muscles and small gastrocs (‘long calves’), so they are better off doing a lot of soleus work because all the gastroc work in the world won’t help them much. For soleus-dominant or otherwise slower-twitch folks, higher reps and shorter rests are best, with reps as high as 30 and rests as short as 15s. For faster twitch folks, heavy sets of 8 reps or so can be best, with up to a minute rest between sets. For most of us, a mix between those two is best, biased slightly to the heavy side.
Highly variable and depends a TON on average fiber type. Slower twitch folks can get up to 30 sets a week no problem. Faster twitch folks might cap out at 10 sets. Ironically, this means that people with the biggest calves usually need to train them the least.
Very fiber-type dependent, just like MRV. Slow twitch can train once every day or other day, fast twitch sometimes just 2x per week. Generally, if your calves aren’t sore, train them.
As with all other lifts, add weight over time! But don’t sacrifice technique to do so.
The usual high volume, metabolite, low volume sequence likely applies, but with variation in length. Faster twitch folks will spend more time in the high volume phase and have very short (maybe 2 week) metabolite phases. Slower twitch calf owners will spend some time with conventional high volumes, but might spend much longer in the metabolite blocks.
What are the ‘secrets’ to a big back?
- Stick mostly to compound basics like bent rows and pull-ups.
- Use strict, full ROM.
- Use between 5 and 20 rep sets depending on the training phase.
- Train back between 2 and 4 times per week.
- Do between 15 and 30 working sets per week depending on your MRV.
- Progress in weights used slowly and steadily; regular 10lb PRs are the ticket to size, not 50lb PRs once in a blue moon.
- Eat for size and give it YEARS. Big backs don’t grow overnight.
Tips for training traps:
- Most of your trap growth will come from movements you already do for other bodyparts. Full range of motion bent rows, upright rows, deadlifts of all kinds, squats (traps used to keep a good frame) and overhead presses will all give a great start to your traps without any dedicated work.
- Because of #1, the MRV for direct trap work will only be between 10 and 15 sets per week for most experienced trainers. Still pretty high because traps tend to recover very rapidly and be very fatigue resistant.
- When training traps, your focus should be on FULL range of motion for max development of the muscle and to make sure you’re actually using your traps. Putting 6 plates on each side of the bar and doing ‘the funky chicken’ dance where you bob your head down to pretend your traps actually moved the weight mostly just pisses away good training time. Each rep should start from full scapular depression and end in a 1-second hold at the top of full scapular elevation.
- #3 implies that the weights used for shrugs will not be high, and that’s correct. You wanna be a big man and lift heavy, grow a pair and deadlift. Trap training isn’t ego training if you actually want big traps.
- Reps between 6 and 20 depending on weight, and make sure to vary exercises every mesocycle or so from barbell shrugs to cable shrugs to dumbbell shrugs to bench shrugs (where you lie face down on a 60 degree incline bench and shrug from that position).
Glute Training for Muscle Size/Bodybuilding:
- Exercise Selection
There are 7 classes of exercise I’d say target glutes in a pretty significant way. Before that list, it’s critical to mention that A TON of your glute stimulus will come from deep squatting, RDLs, bent rows, and the many other exercises you do for back and legs. But for more specific glute work, the following movement categories are very effective:
- Glute Bridges
- Glute-Ham or 45 degree back raises
- Sumo squats
- Sumo deadlifts (especially deficit)
- Glute machine kickbacks
- Exercise Technique
Squatting and deadlifting activate glutes maximally at the bottom of the movement, the lower the better. For the specific glute moves, there is likely benefit to exaggerating the peak contraction as well. So with glute training technique, always do full rom and don’t just heave the weight around; squeeze the glutes hard at the top for a split second.
- Rep Ranges
Anything heavier than 5 reps and you won’t be able to guarantee that glutes don’t get lost in the noise, especially if you’re not very in touch with yours. 5-15 rep sets are best for glutes.
For growth purposes, glute-specific weekly MRV tends to be between 10 and 15 sets per week. TOTAL MRV for the glutes is much higher for most, but leg and back training swallow up a bunch of that.
Glutes are a huge muscle and need their recovery. Also, because they are used all the time in other bodypart training, they get plenty of extra work and basically a ton of ‘light sessions’ for recovery just by being used as supporting muscles. 2-3x a week direct training is a good range for most who wish to bring up their glutes.
Seek to add weights to the bar (5-20lbs) every week while adding or maintaining set numbers and keeping reps constant. You get big glutes not by doing 1 million reps but by getting strong in the 5-15 rep range on the glute movements.
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Using Deadlifts for Muscle Size/Bodybuilding:
- Exercise Selection When using deadlifts for muscle size, numerous effective variations can be employed. This allows both for exercise staleness to be minimized and for certain muscle groups to benefit from more direct focus (directed variation). Good choices include:
- Conventional Deadlifts (all around back development)
- Deficit Deadlifts (back and glute development)
- Sumo Deadlifts (glute and adductor development)
- Deficit Sumo (glute and adductor development)
- Stiff-legged deadlifts (same as RDLs) (hamstring development)
- Partial deadlifts (for when you want to save leg MRV)
- Exercise Technique
You can only grow long term if you stay mostly injury free. By far the worst kind of injuries to have to suffer through are the preventable ones. I recommend ALWAYS having a neutral or lordotic spine (never rounding) and stopping and starting all reps). Always keep your arms straight. Always keep the bar close to your body. Fuck around with bad technique if you wanna get hurt and grow less; it’s as simple as that.
- Rep Ranges
Spinal erectors and hams tend to grow well even from reps as low as 5s. Anywhere from 5 to 15 reps is a good range for deads, with anything much over 15 becoming either a technique/fatigue limitation or a grip limitation, not much of a stimulus.
For growth purposes, deadlift weekly MRV tends to be between 5 and 10 sets per week. Yep, not much, as deads are VERY fatiguing.
Once a week seems plenty for deads. Of course you hit the muscles involved with other exercises on other sessions during the week, so once a week is not all the muscles get in total. I’d place deads as far away from your heaviest squat and bent row days as possible to make sure there is minimal interference.
Seek to add weights to the bar (5-20lbs) every week while adding or maintaining set numbers and keeping reps constant. You do deads because they are heavy, so make them heavier over time. Want a big back? Add 50lbs to your 10s deadlift ability over a year or so and you’ll have one.
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