Posts Tagged ‘stretch’

For the last four years or so I’ve been on a mission to find the most effective methods of improving my physique and building muscle.

While I don’t believe there are “secrets” as such, I’ve seen enough people come into the gym year-in and year-out doing things in a less than optimal way… and they have the lack of results to show for their effort. This tells me that there are better ways to do things than to just picking up a set of weights, throwing them around and expecting results.

The following tips are not your run-of-the-mill suggestions that pop up all over the place, they are real life, effective ways to get the most out of your time.

TIP 1: Unplug music

The main advantages to having your MP3 player plugged into your head is that that it wards off chatty folks at the gym, and also gives you the ability to listen to something better than the Justin Beiber tracks the gym may have on.

The downside however is that it can distract you from the task at hand, so if you do have your own music try taking out the earbuds right before each set (including warm ups) so your mind can be completely on the movement.

TIP 2: Iso-contractions between sets

This works especially well with biceps and calves. Do these contractions in-between sets where the muscle you’re flexing is NOT the primary mover. For example, flex calves between sets of squats, or flex biceps between sets of chin-ups.

This is discussed in detail in my post on: How I added an inch to my arms

TIP 3: Record diet and training

This is a tough habit to adhere to, but like all habits becomes easier as time goes on. Every time I fall away from the practice of writing down my diet and training I also seem to stagnate in my progress, then I return to it and realize I should have been doing this all along. With diet, it is really helpful to keep a journal so you can remember what you ate, how long ago, when you’re due to eat again and then have the ability to assess the results. similarly logging your training helps you to continually ensure you are progressing.

The most affordable resource for this available is here: Buffer’s complete diet and training log.

It also becomes especially productive to record your food intake when you are incorporating the following powerful tip…


The ultimate goal of “physique artists” is to: improve the muscle:fat ratio. So whether you are looking to put on lean muscle or cut away fat, calorie cycling has been proven to be the most effective natural way of accomplishing either.

When dieting to burn fat, adding a high calorie day every 3-4 days will “trick” your body into keeping your metabolism high via the hormone leptin.

When eating for mass you can limit the amount of fat you put on by lowering your caloric intake strategically for short periods of time, which has the added benefit of compelling your body to use nutrients more effectively when they are in surplus.

TIP 4: Utilize multiple muscle functions

Our tendency is to do the same movements over and over (eg, bench press), which only focus on a single function of the muscle; by doing movements that strengthen other functions we tend to have a better balanced and more developed physique.

A simple google search will help you find the functions of a given muscle. I also address many of them in other blogs, specifically:

Chest: Building a Man of Steel Chest

Legs: Ninja Turtle legs

Arms: How I added an inch to my arms

Shoulders: Cannon Ball Shoulders

TIP 5: Incorporate core work

The primary function of the core muscles is to stabilize the spine. So You are essentially doing core work every time you sit upright during any exercise, and even at your desk at work.

A very creative way I’ve found to incorporate these muscles even more is by utilizing them during certain back movements by including a “pelvic thrust”. The main exercises this works well for are straight-arm pulldowns and deadlifts.

NOTE: I’ve seen people use the pelvic thrust on squats, and I urge you NOT to do this. It can be extremely dangerous!

TIP 6: Take time away from the gym

This must wound weird by suggesting to NOT do something, but as fitness enthusiasts, we often push ourselves to the brink and don’t allow our bodies to properly recover. I recently discovered when I took a vacation and had some time off, as much as I was itching to get back into the gym, suddenly my body rebounded so astoundingly it was like I was a newbie again.

Something to consider: after intense training, a cascade of hormones work to repair the body and return to a state of normality. If that process gets cut short you will constantly find yourself on the wrong end of the hormonal spectrum.

TIP 7: Start strong!

This is a bit of a play on words, but I like it because there are actually two ways in which I use this concept.

The first way is by starting my workout with CNS-based training. As I mentioned in other posts, a major component of the CNS is the brain, so by starting off with heavy compound movements you are activating your brain, which sets you up for a more advantageous training session.

The second way I use the concept of “starting strong” is by giving as much attention to the starting point of each movement as possible. This often means starting from a bio-mechanical disadvantage, meaning I do not allow other body parts (or as few as possible) to assist with a movement.

Examples: For a lying leg curl start with the glute flexed into the pad; for barbell or dumbbell rows, start of by “spreading” your lats; for biceps I often start by pre-supinating my wrists.

TIP 8: Work AGAINST gravity

By viewing gravity as an active opposing force you can really start to make the most of free-weight training. One of the ways I use this a lot is with the wrist manipulation I speak of in the arm training blog.

I find this is also useful in training shoulders as it helps you to be consciously aware of keeping constant tension on your delts by slightly shortening the range of motion at the bottom.

TIP 9: Use intensifiers

Have you ever finished off a set knowing that you still have a little more juice in the tank? That’s where the beauty of intensifiers are best. By using these at the end of a set you can push yourself that extra little bit to get to the zone that is commonly referred to as “progressive overload”.

My favourites are:
Negatives/Cheats – These can be done either with the assistance of a training partner or on your own when doing unilateral (one side at a time) movements. On of my favorite examples is the one-handed overhead dumbbell extension. At the end of the set you can use your other hand to help push the dumbbell up and then let the working arm slowly lower the weight on its own.

Slow eccentrics – These are similar to unilateral cheats, except you would perform it at the end of a set, if you think you still have another rep or two left in you, instead just lower it extremely slowly.

Drop sets – These have been getting more popular these days, thanks in large part to Ben Pakulski. Essentially you finish off the set with 3-4 extra sets incrementally dropping the weight by 15-20%. I take this to another level in my Building a Man of Steel Chest with “SUPER DROPS” blog.

Partials – I especially enjoy using these on machines, where I know it’s safe and I can work the bottom portion of the movement a little more by doing around 5 partial reps. Arnold was famous for having added partials onto the end of preacher curls.

Rest/pause – I use rest pause very sparingly, but when used right I feel they can be very powerful. I find they are most useful in a progressive sense, for example if you’re determined to get 20 reps, then you are on fire and unable to get the last two or three reps you take a brief rest of less than 15 seconds and finish the set, then the next week you try to do it with less or no rest.

TIP 10: Train with “hormonal intelligence”

This is as much to do with training as it is to do with nutrition, but it’s a serious game-changer.

This is a subject I’ve mentioned a lot, but that’s because the more I learn about naturally optimizing hormones, the more I find I can get out of my training. Two amazing resources on this subject I would consider are:

  • Natural Hormonal Enhancement by Rob Faigin
  • The Anabolic Solution by Mauro Di Pasquale
  • Both of the above books present similar information and are well-written, and have stood the test of time. With the amount of contradictory information out there this is very welcomed!

    Some key points on the topic of hormones are the following:

    Growth hormone: facilitates muscle growth and fat loss… YAY! It is activated by high intensity training and blunted by high blood sugar. Carbohydrates consumed before or during exercise restrains growth hormone release.

    Insulin: It is a nutrient shuttling hormone, which is good when you are trying to build muscle but bad when you are trying to burn fat. In my blog about the perfect post-workout drink I discussed the power of combining an insulin spike with high GH levels. To be honest this is still one I am scratching my head over. My opinion may change in time, but my current thinking is this: the insulin spike is only effective in building muscle if you have good insulin sensitivity, which is actually accomplished by NOT taking in a lot of carbs. So it might be an idea to take post workout carbs sparingly.

    Testosterone: Major anabolic hormone that helps build muscle and burn fat. Also stimulated by high intensity work. Dietary fat, Zinc Magnesium and vitamin D support testosterone release.

    Cortisol: This is where things get tricky… cortisol is also activated by high intensity work, and works to negate the positive effects of testosterone and growth hormone. It seems to be a progressive thing that continues to rise after the workout is done, and can get worse over time if enough recovery time is not allowed. This tells us why a brief, highly intense workout is better than a long, low-intensity one. Cortisol can be reduced using certain vitamins (C & B) and nutrients, as well as ensuring adequate recovery. Magnesium can also help reduce cortisol.

    Takeaway points from this tip:

  • Train intense for shorter periods (60 minutes or less)
  • Include HIIT cardio training
  • Avoid carbohydrates prior to training
  • Keep your organs healthy as they create hormones
  • Consume optimal vitamins & minerals, especially vit B, C and D, Zinc and Magnesium
  • Eat plenty of healthy fat
  • Give these a try, especially one that sounds really weird to you… you might just be surprised with the outcome!

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    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    Unconventional Training Methods: Part II – 10 MORE tips