You’ve hit the gym, you’ve seen some growth, but boredom and plateaus plague your progress.
If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve got next to no time, and a penchant for a chiseled torso. We’re going to save you some time and get you some results. In this two part series Team ALLMAX Athlete, and Natural Pro BodyBuilder Andre Rzazewski, lists 10 exercises you should never be training without. In Part 1 we’ll take you through the top 5 upper body exercises that you should be performing to achieve a built and sculpted body. If these staple exercises aren’t already part of your program, they should be!
Modified Dumbbell Delt Rows
Targeting the medial and posterior deltoids. A cross between a bent lateral raise (targeting the posterior deltoid) and an upright row (targeting the anterior deltoid).
Position: In a standing position, lean forward slightly (5 degrees) begin the motion with the dumbbells shoulder width apart, palms facing the body.
Movement: Row the dumbbells up, keeping the forearms vertical and aiming the elbows to the ceiling until you have achieved a peak contraction in the medial and posterior deltoids.
Sets and Reps: Warm up set – 12 reps
Working: 3 x 8-10
This exercise is great for adding width and shape to the medial and posterior delts and is a great compliment to any shoulder routine, especially once the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids have been pre-exhausted with pressing and lateral exercises. I sometimes superset these with upright rows to fully fatigue all three heads of the deltoids. It should be noted that the trainer should select a weight that is light enough to easily perform 15 repetitions when learning the lift to focus on form and peak contractions. Also, during working sets, once you have completed 8-10 strict repetitions and while nearing muscle failure, you can use a slight amount of momentum to power up a few extra reps. On these last few “cheat” reps, focus on achieving a peak contraction in the muscle at the top of the motion. These “cheat” reps are beneficial, because you are able to push past failure here and fully fatigue the target muscle and gain a maximum pump.
Lying Incline Bench Dumbbell Rows (Isometric Hold Technique)
Working the latisimus dorsi, rhomboids and trapezius.
Position: Using an incline bench, lie face down with your chest against the backrest.
Movement: Take two dumbbells and row both up and hold a peak contraction at the lats and rhomboids. While maintaining this contraction (isometric hold) with one side, lower to the opposite side until you feel a full stretch in the lat. Next, row the dumbbell up until you have achieved a peak contraction in the lat and rhomboid, then alternate with the opposite arm.
Sets and Reps: 3-4 x 12-15 reps per side
The use of the bench eliminates stress on the erector spinae (spinal erectors/ lower back) and allows the trainer to fully isolate the latissimus dorsi, the rhomboids and the trapezius muscles. Also, the bench can be raised or lowered to target upper or mid back. Furthermore, employing the modified isometric hold technique can really help add mass and detail to the area with increased T.U.T. (time under tension) and long static contractions (fully contracting the muscle for extended periods).
Standing Incline Bench Bicep Isolation Curls
Targeting the biceps brachii. Back in the Golden days of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger was photographed doing standing straight bar curls with a sling around the neck which held a metal brace that went over the abdominals and behind the triceps. This allowed Arnold to fully isolate the biceps, by having a portable preacher bench so to speak, strapped to his body. Here, he was able to eliminate elbow motion and maximize tension and workload on the biceps, thus allowing for greater isolation and over time, resulting in better gains. Since Arnold has two of the best peaked biceps in bodybuilding history, I thought I would incorporate one of his favorite motions. Unfortunately, these braces have become a thing of the past and are very difficult to find. This is where you have to get creative sometimes in the gym you train at, since you don’t always find the equipment you’re looking for, you may have to pull a MacGyver and make your own.
Position: Grab two dumbbells, most likely less than half the weight you would use for regular standing curls and place the arms out in front of the body, resting the elbows against the ribcage. Lean with your back against an incline bench set almost at 90 degrees (straight up).
Movement: Raise the dumbbells either palms supinated (up) or in hammer position (neutral grip) until you have achieved a peak contraction in the biceps. Lower the dumbbells 90% of the way down, until almost at full extension, but always maintain tension on the biceps.
Sets and Reps: 3-4 x 12-15 reps
Use this exercise as a finishing exercise, will allow you to get skin splitting pumps and bring out freakish roadmap vascularity.
Cable Cross Triceps Pressdowns
Working the triceps brachii lateral, long and medial heads.
Position: Stand in the centre of a cable crossover machine and remove the D handles and the clips. Cross the cables from top to bottom using opposite hand and cable i.e. left cable with right hand.
Movement: Grasp the cables at the ends (usually has a ball at the end) with the pinky finger at the lowest point (against the ball). Keep the elbows tight to the body and fully extend the arms in a downward motion and aim the hands past the quads for a peak contraction in the triceps.
Sets and Reps: 3-4 x 12-15 reps
Complete with drop set
I always warm up my triceps and elbows with some rope pressdowns before each triceps workout. In the past, I performed rope pressdowns later in my routine to add mass and detail, but realized that my form changed once my triceps started to fatigue and it became increasingly difficult to get a peak contraction in the triceps because i could not get a full extension on the rope. The top of the motion is quite easy when compared to the mid point where the trainer begins to separate the ends of the rope, and then exponentially more challenging to fully extend them apart slightly past the quads to create a peak contraction in the triceps. This uneven amount of tension throughout the motion becomes problematic towards the later reps in the set and almost impossible to use proper form with adequate weight to grow. Also, this can be considered a bilateral exercise due to the fact that both arms are working against the same source of resistance. These two issues can be simultaneously resolved with one alternative to the same motion. Common symptoms from use of this exercise are burning, swollen and jacked up triceps.
Seated Incline Bench Lying Tricep Pressdown
working the triceps brachii lateral, long and medial heads.
Position: Set up a bench on a 45 degree angle in front of a cable machine, facing away from the stack, with the resistance coming from the top.
Movement: Lay back on the incline bench and use either a rope, cambered or straight bar, with elbows against the ribcage and extend the arms down in front, towards the legs until you have achieved a peak contraction in the triceps.
Sets and Reps: 3 x 10-12
Hold each contraction for a minimum of a half second and use a slow controlled speed while performing each repetition.
This exercise will fully isolate the triceps and decrease any momentum created by the body while standing upright. You can use a variety of grips here ie. rope, cambered and straight bar, with at close or wide grip, palms facing up or down to target either the long, lateral or medial heads of the triceps. It should also be noted that you should always use a full range of motion to develop full round muscle bellies. Hold each contraction for a minimum of a half second and use a slow controlled speed while performing each repetition.
I have included a modified exercise for almost each body part and suggest trying them out for yourself and add them into your own routines. I can almost guarantee you will enjoy each one of these, finding them both challenging and effective.
Stay tuned for Part 2 when we’ll discuss the top 5 lower body exercises that should be part of your routine.