In this part we will talk through the singular leg movements that are predominantly knee dominant in nature.
These movements require a lot more activation of the stabilising muscles of the hip, core and knee to prevent you from falling over. They are a great addition to any program with the correct prescription.
Singular Leg Movements
1. Single Leg-Supported Squat
Most of you will probably have never performed this movement freely due to strength or mobility restrictions, but this can be simply performed by assisting yourself with a rack, TRX or something to hold onto! This will assist in balance and allow you to perform several reps. Controlled reps while maintaining heel contact on the floor are important, as are a high chest and a flat back! Notice after a few sets of these how your quads are on fire due to the increased loading! These single leg squats are also a great way of taking the load away from your back/spine if it is need of a rest!
2. Single-Leg Squat to a Box
Although we are going from a full range of movement exercise to a partial ranged movement, we are here performing without assistance. I feel it is important to progress at baby steps to ensure quality is maintained! Moving here with no support will help to recruit those all important stabilising muscles. Without active control of these stabilising muscles in your core and hips, it will be impossible to progress beyond this stage. Simply stand in front of a box, and lower your body slowly until you touch the box. Drive upwards to a full stand. Try to avoid sitting on the box fully, or rocking with your arms to aid in the upward portion. This exercise can be progressed or regressed with a higher/lower box. If you are struggling for balance, try to hold your arms out in front. Always try to keep the back flat, chest up and heel planted during the movement.
3. Single-Leg Squat off Box
This exercise is slightly more advanced than those previously mentioned. This unassisted exercise takes incredibly strong legs and requires a great amount of dynamic flexibility and balance to perform it correctly. On the other hand squatting off a box allows performers who have limited flexibility to adopt a lower position than otherwise possible. The technique here should be the same as those previously stated. The back should be kept straight, with the chest up and the heel kept flat on the floor. As you're sitting back/down, dumbbells can again be used as a counterbalance. Sit as low as you can while maintaining a straight back, then drive the right heel into the box while also squeezing the Glutes to return to the starting position.
In my opinion this is the final progression in the chain. This movement requires complete control of bodyweight through a full range of movement. Unless you have progressed slowly throughout, you will fail on these. These are for the advanced, and as you can tell from the lack of photograph, I for one am unable to perform these competently!! Holding a weight out in front as a counterbalance is the first step in being able to complete this movement. Once you are able to complete this movement, you can say that you are single leg proficient!
These exercises can be applied by anyone, but it is important to start at the very beginning and progress slowly when competent. On starting the single leg journey, a lot of stress is accumulated through the joints.
Recovery is essential after and between session to ensure proper control and technique for these movements, and to prevent injury.
If you are trying to build a pair of large, strong, athletic legs conventional wisdom has probably told you to get to the rack and back squat. However squats are not always the optimal exercise and it may even disagree with your body.
This means maintaining a neutral lumbar spine throughout the entire movement, which for some people is physically impossible, due to mobility restrictions around the hips and ankles.
The benefits of single leg training
If you are squatting under heavy load with poor technique then your back will pay the consequence. Single leg training alongside the required hip/ankle mobility can have you back in that rack pushing up big numbers in no time and enable you to continue training hard and improve to beat a personal best.
1. Protect your back
Common knowledge is that during squatting, you’re placing the spine under a large compressive load, even if your technique is solid. The nature of the movements, and repeated high loads in multiple repetition sessions can lead to injuries. The load can be decreased in single leg movements because less weight is needed to train each leg individually
2. Fire your Stabilisers
The bigger the exercise, the heavier the load and the larger the muscle groups involved. If we reduce the base of support from two legs to one leg, we are forcing our body to recruit the stabilising muscles that we don’t usually use, to prevent us from falling over. The main stabilising muscles recruited during single leg variations are that of the Glutes. Things like recruiting the smaller muscles may prevent injury down the line.
3. Grow your Glutes
Single leg movements have a unique ability to involve the gluteal region. Strong glutes protect the lower back and maximise your explosive power
4. Horizontal Core Training
Single leg variations can be performed weighted or unweighted. These variations work by forcing your core to work overtime to prevent you from falling over!
Single leg training can add that extra core training to your sessions, and can be a real asset when transferring single leg exercises into sporting practice.
Split Stance Exercises
In part one, we’ll talk through some split stance single leg exercises. Now let’s look at some of the split stance variations.
The Split Squat
Take a step forward into a split position. The idea is to keep the chest up, squeeze the shoulders back and maintain a straight back throughout the movement. While keeping the weight through the heel on the forefoot, lower the back knee to around an inch off the floor. A good point for this is to try and maintain a vertical line with the back knee, hip and shoulder. It is important to think about moving up and down and not forwards and backward. This will ensure that the knee adopts and maintains a position over the forefoot. This movement can be loaded with a barbell, dumbbells or performed with bodyweight.
Rear Foot-Elevated Split Squat
If you are ready for a progression, you can perform this exercise, commonly known as the Bulgarian Split Squat. Place your foot on top of a box/bench behind you and perform in the same manner as the split squat. The box behind can be of varying heights depending on your ability and the freedom of movement around your hip. Place the top of your rear foot on a bench behind you and perform the movement in a manner similar to the split squat mentioned above. This movement has been shown to place 80% of the load on the fore foot, and can help improve flexibility around the hip by lowering into a deep position.
Front Foot-Elevated Split Squat
This progression is very similar to the previous, although the front foot is elevated. This adds a different dimension to the exercise by increasing the range of motion through the hip while making the exercise a lot harder. This will help to develop additional flexibility around the hip with consistent performance. It is important to keep the abdominals tight throughout these movements.
The lunge is a hip-extensor–dominant exercise and is used mainly to target the glutes and hamstrings rather than the quadriceps. The major difference here when compared to the split squat is the eccentric portion as the forefoot lands in the split position. The eccentric work works the quadriceps in decelerating the knee upon landing and through knee flexion on the downward portion on the lift. Greater effort is also required on the concentric upward portion on the lift to drive back into a standing position. Here it is important to drive off the heel of the forefoot, having the core constantly activated while having the shoulder kept tight and back. This driving back into position has higher muscle activation levels, not just in the lower limbs but in the upper body too!
Walking lunges are by far my favourite variation. With an increased muscle activation in both accelerating forward and decelerating upon landing. The metabolic effects of this movement are huge and can be a wonderful tool for those of you looking to shed those pounds. To take it to the next level you can try this loaded with a barbell or dumbbells, or you can tax the core more by holding either overhead!
Lateral Split Squat
Lateral Split squats are another variation, but this time along the frontal plane. This variation is great for increasing activation mainly in the Hip Adductors and Glutes. This can help with adding chunks of muscle to places you didn’t know you had, or for helping with this heavy back squats. Start with a nice wide stance, looking forward with the chest up and shoulders squeezed back. Here you can also load with a barbell, dumbbells or bodyweight. Now on the way down to the side, think about sitting back down into the corner as opposed to the side. This will prevent the knee from pushing too far forward, and will activate the desired Glutes and Hip Adductors. Then simple push back upwards through the heel of the foot into the standing position. It is important to maintain a flat back throughout! Lateral Lunges and walking lunges can also be performed.
These split stance exercises are a great addition to any program and are very easy to use at home or in the gym.
They are simple, effective and an easy introduction into the world of single leg training. In Part 2, we will summarise the singular footed knee dominant exercises that are a progression from the split stance variations above.
How to build leg muscle and power
Modern rugby players need to combine muscle mass with a low body fat level and enough explosive training strength to create a physique with a high power to weight ratio. While upper body size and core strength training is very important, and nutrition an increasingly important element, finding out how to build leg muscle and power is the real driving force behind an explosive base.
The 5 x 5 routine below will help you get leg muscle growth, allowing you to sprint faster and have more explosive power when playing.
Try performing this routine once every 5 days, and watch your leg power explode.
The 5 x 5 Leg Power Workout
Building powerful legs should include the three classic exercises to target the core strength muscles of the legs. There are many different rep and set ranges you can use when developing leg power, but a 5 set x 5 rep workout offers a good balance of muscle growth, strength and explosive blasts.
Exercise 1: Power Cleans
The power clean is a classic power building exercise and is a core part of my strength and power training. In terms of rugby performance, it’s fantastic for developing the force needed in scrum pushes, tackling and impacts when running with the ball. However, it can be used by any sports player desiring explosive performance.
Exercise 2: Front Squats
Normal squats are a great exercise, but training with front squats is an excellent way to target the quads while developing power (they also give your abs and core strength a very intense workout). Front squats are very tough, so you’ll need to reduce the weight you use for regular back squats. If you want an exercise to build great looking quads, think about adding front squats to your routine.
Exercise 3: Deadlifts
Heavy deadlifts are an excellent way to develop hamstring and gluteal leg power (deadlifts are also very good for strengthening the lower back and the core), increasing sprint performance and creating the brute force needed when you have a pack full of 19 stone athletes pushing against you. The deadlift is a great all-round muscle and power builder, so it’s great for both physique and power development.
The key to building powerful legs is to conduct a controlled set of exercises under a controlled environment to deliver maximum results.
Reps & Sets:
5 x 5
Approximately 80-85% of your 1 rep max (note: the aim is to make the last rep of each set ‘almost’ impossible to complete).
For maximum power, lift the weights with perfect technique on the active lifting phase. Return the weight to the starting position quickly, but under control and with perfect form.
2 minutes between sets.
Aim to slowly increase the load used in each session.
Get the Classic V Shape
A well-developed back will enhance the appearance of your whole physique, even from the front. The key to building an impressive back is to develop both muscle width and thickness, which will give your whole torso more of a '3D, V-shaped look'.
Effective back training requires excellent technique and good nutrition to fuel your workouts and promote muscle growth. The back is a very large group of muscles, consisting of three major muscles and numerous smaller muscle groups. To get the best V taper development, you'll need to use a variety of exercises. Although your back consists of many muscles, you can effectively train your whole back by focusing on the 3 main back muscles, this will also work the smaller back muscles. Here's a summary of the major ones and the exercises that work them.
The Trapezius (traps)
Using exercises that hit your traps will quickly add upper back thickness. Deadlifts and shrugs build thick, heavy traps.
The Latissimus Dorsi (lats)
Well-developed lats are crucial for adding width to your back and achieving the sought after V-shape. Deadlifts, lat pull-downs and chin ups are great to work the lats.
The Spinal Erectors
Developing your erectors will give you lower back thickness and definition, while supporting your back for good posture and heavy lifting. Hyper-extensions and straight leg deadlifts are particularly good for developing spinal erectors.
Have you found it difficult to achieve that perfect 'V' shape?
Below are the key principles that will give you a V-shaped look:
Eat for growth
Adding muscle mass requires the average gym user to consume around 500 extra calories a day. If you aren't gaining weight, you'll need to increase your food intake before you can expect any significant muscle growth. If you're looking for an easy way to consume an optimal ratio of muscle building nutrients, without bloating yourself, then Maximuscle's Progain is specifically designed to supply the extra nutrition needed to stimulate gains in muscle mass and size.
Because the back consists of large muscle groups, it requires intense training to stimulate growth. However, because you'll be blasting your back with tough workouts, you'll need significant rest to recover and grow, especially if you do heavy deadlifts. You risk over-training if your workouts last more than 60 minutes, or if you perform more than 2 back workouts every 7 days. Remember, your muscles grow when you give them adequate rest and nutrition.
Use correct technique
Strict technique is vital to prevent injury and to enhance your back development. Lift your weights in a controlled, focused manner. Most gym users use bad form to lift heavier weights and rarely make any progress! Because you can't see your back muscles when you train, it's important to try and focus on them and fully contract the muscles being worked.
To increase muscle size, you need to keep overloading your muscle. This is done by increasing the number of repetitions performed during each set, and in each training session. When you hit 10 or 12 reps, you must increase the amount of weight (even if only by a tiny amount), so you start at 6-8 reps again. This is vital to achieve continuous growth.
Creatine is a safe, natural and highly effective muscle-building ingredient. Creatine will enable you to train with more intensity, recover more quickly and boost muscle size and strength. LeoNutrition's LeoCreatine Extremeor LeoFormula ONE are at the cutting edge of Creatine technology and are designed to deliver fast results.
Fuel your recovery
Post-workout nutrition plays an important role in building an impressive back. The pre/post workout meal, ideally 15-30 minutes after training, is the golden time to prime your muscles for growth. The latest research suggests that consuming whey protein before and after you train boosts muscle growth more than just consuming it afterwards, so a fast-digesting protein drink such as Leowhey PRO is key to preparing your body for the growth you'll stimulate when you train.
Build your back routine around the deadlift. While it may be a very effective exercise, the deadlift is also extremely taxing, so you'll need total physical and mental focus for maximum results. Because the deadlift works so many major muscles (legs, arms, lats, traps, back and more) it's excellent as an overall muscle builder, stimulating protein synthesis and the hormonal response necessary for muscle growth. Start light, learn the technique and build up your weights. You'll soon learn to love the deadlift and your back will reward you with new found strength and size.
Here's a simple but intense routine that will blast your whole back and stimulate serious growth. It's based on basic compound exercises (working many muscles), so you won't be wasting time with lots of unproductive isolation movements. Warm up with some light weights before going heavy, and spend a good few weeks learning the technique or asking for advice before lifting heavy weights and doing personal bests otherwise you'll end up with an injury! Perform the workout every 5-7 days and pack in the calories and protein.
Deadlifts 3 sets x 4-8 repetitions
Bent Over Rows 3 sets x 6-12 repetitions
Chin-ups 3 sets x 6-12 repetitions
Lat Pulldowns 3 sets x 6-12 repetitions
Close Grip Seated Cable Rows 3 sets x 6-12 repetitions
Six Pack Tips
Getting a six pack is a reward for your training and a sign that your healthy eating is paying dividends. It’s not just for the camera, though: having strong abs helps stabilise your core, and can increase your gains in other exercises too. Intense exercise and careful eating are at the core of great abdominal muscle definition, but you need to stay focused on what really counts.
Rule 1: Strengthen the core
You won’t be able to build impressive abs unless you get to work on a system that can support their growth – that means giving your core muscles a regular test and helping to build strength in your spine to support. Planking involves stabilising these muscles; it’s basically a push-up without the pushing. Rest your forearms on an aerobic step and bring your knees off the floor; hold this position for 30-60 seconds and keep your tummy tucked in and your bottom down. Focus on other key ab exercises such as jack-knifing and crunches – you can use an exercise ball to maintain the best form.
Rule 2: Keep up the cardio
One half of the fat-burning process comes from intense cardiovascular exercise; don’t overdo it though as this could make your body burn the calories you need to build muscle rather than just burning the fat. We recommend swimming or running as good cardio exercises; that way your whole body gets the chance to contribute to the fat-burning effort. Limit it to two half-hour sessions per week to give you the chance to rest up and get ready for more resistance training.
Rule 3: Cut out the junk
Lowering the amount of fatty foods you eat will prevent your body from having to store it anywhere; you can’t target your abs with exercises to burn the fat as it’s not nearly as efficient as some good cardio. It’s important to load up on protein so that your body has something to sculpt those abs with too; try lean meats for main meals, and snacking on nuts and seeds. Dairy is also a good source of protein – but obviously opt for the skimmed milk! A good supplement like a protein bar will also serve as an excellent snack for your goal.
Rule 4: Make crunches count
Crunches are great for getting a six pack and they’re better for your back compared to a full sit up. You can save a lot of the stress on your spine by only lifting the upper part of your back from the floor and a crunch will still work your abs just as effectively. You can use the Swiss ball to sit on, but make sure you are lying fully back and looking up at the ceiling when you start – many people sit too far forward.
Rule 5: Nail the plank
Use a mirror to check your form when planking, because it’s easy to let it slip. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, with your hips not breaking the flow. If you want to progress, don’t add weights: try losing one of your points of contact with the floor. The plank is all about building core strength and stability, so make yourself unstable by lifting one foot from the ground. Swap over every ten seconds to really work the abs.
Rule 6: Burn stored fat
Drop your calorie intake. But not too much, just enough to trigger your body into using some stored fat as energy. A 500-cal a day reduction should be enough as long as you remember to eat regularly, taking in plenty of protein and water.
We know squats are tough, but if you're not performing them at least once a week you are seriously missing out on some major muscle.
A session of squats won't only give you quads like Roberto Carlos in his prime, they can also boost your core strength and aid fat loss. Learning how to squat more demands good form, so follow these tips.
1. Getting the technique right
As with all major lifts, to get the most out of the squat - not to mention avoid injury - you need to be confident with the movement before you hoist some serious tonnage on your shoulders.
Fortunately, the squat is one of our most basic of natural movements - if you don't believe us, just watch a toddler retrieve something from the floor and then stand back in awe as they decide it's rather comfy down there for the next half-hour.
Unfortunately, as we get older we tend to bend at the hips and back more, so it's time to go back to basics.
2. Go deep
Stand under your barbell in a squat rack. Take the bar from the rack on to your shoulders and step forward. While holding the weight, ensure your feet are pointing slightly out from your body and prepare to lower.
Keep your mind focused on lowering and your back straight. Don't think that you are going to get your backside six inches from the ground straight away. The goal is to go as low as you can get while keeping your back straight and avoiding any other postural changes. If after a few attempts (with light weights) you cannot get all the way down, then you may need to talk to a trainer about the tension relationship of your hips and knees.
At the bottom of the squat, you need to have your knees directly over your toes, while your back should not be arched in any way. This ensures the weight is distributed evenly to your leg muscles and decreases the risk of injury.
3. Do you need padding?
This may sound a little zen, but to squat well you need to be at one with the bar. The padding will only create greater instability, Instead try to rest the steel snugly on your traps.
4. Squatting for size and strength
Once you have the correct technique sorted out, you can pack on the weights.
Your body creates muscle when you stimulate it with heavy loads and high tension. In order to do this you need to ensure that your squats have a three-second negative phase. This means lowering the weights over the course of three seconds before pausing, then powering back up. As this will be draining, high rep sets are not recommended - so make every squat count.
5. Squatting for fat loss
Squats utilise a hell of a lot of your body's muscles. This is ideal for giving your metabolism a kick-start and can help you turn into a calorie-burning furnace for a few hours after your workout.
To maximise this effect, you can incorporate your squat into a superset. Squats work well when combined with compound back exercises such as pull-ups or bent-over rows.
Give yourself no more than 30 seconds rest between the end of your squats and your next exercise. The sweat should be streaming from your brow by the last few reps of the superset, but your gut will thank you when you're done.
How to Get Big Arms
Learning how to get bigger arms is a matter of sculpting bigger, stronger biceps and triceps, it helps to arm yourself with a bit of knowledge about your muscles and how they work. Your upper arms are divided into three main muscle groups. Firstly, we have the biceps, which run along the front of the arm from your elbow to your shoulder joint. The main function of the biceps is to bend the elbow. Secondly, we have the triceps that also run from the elbow to the shoulder, but their main role is to straighten the elbow. The triceps are a larger muscle group than the biceps, which means they have more potential to grow. The third group is the brachialis, an upper arm muscle that runs under the biceps. It's really only visible when looking at the arms from the side, but will make your arms appear much larger when viewed this way. Although most people who want to know how to build arm muscle focus on biceps training, if you want really big arms then you need to work your triceps and brachialis just as hard. To get a truly sleeve-busting look, you need to work the triceps, biceps and the brachialis.
Here are the most important principles you need to follow in order to build bigger, stronger arms:
1. Train your arms a maximum of twice per week
The muscles in your arms are more prone to overtraining than other muscles of the body, mainly because they're worked hard during pulling and pushing movements, such as the bench press and lat pulldown.
But so many guys think that training their arms 3-4 times a week is the best way to get them to grow. Do this, and you're setting yourself up for major disappointment! Stick to 1-2 arm workouts per week. This gives your arms the recovery time they need to grow bigger and stronger.
2. Train them hard and fast
To get your arms to grow, you need to overload them by periodically training them to failure and beyond. Don't just go through the motions. Prepare yourself for some high intensity sets and really squeeze out every last rep.
If your primary goal is to add muscle mass to your arms, your entire arm routine should take you no more than 30 minutes. Working out how to get bigger arms is not like running a marathon. Many people do too much arm work in search of big arms. Short and intense is best to add mass quickly. When training your arms, more is not always better.
3. Use correct technique
Lift and lower the weight slowly in a controlled, focused manner. If the weights you're using are too heavy, you're only training your ego. This will never build big arms. To develop your arms fully, start every repetition with your arms fully extended. This makes the exercise harder, and targets all the fibres in the muscle. If you're using too much weight (like most people do) you'll end up doing partial repetitions, and swinging your body all over the place but most importantly of all you'll put yourself in real danger of getting injured. Reduce your weights and do the exercise properly.
Push Up Training
As soon as you join a gym, you are likely to discard the push-up in favour of the bench press, cable racks or the pec dec - dazzled like a kid in a sweet shop at the range of options available to you.
However, the benefits of push ups are many.
A few peak-time trips to the gym and you'll soon see that floor space is a lot easier to get hold of than bench time, while keeping your hand in with the push-up will allow you get a decent workout when you just don't have time to leave the house.
Don't ever think that you're missing out, as the push-up is a complex compound move that works your chest, biceps and core. There are even a few tough variations open to you once you get to grips with the exercise.
1. How to do it
You've probably been doing it since you were old enough to know what a bicep is, but there is a good chance your technique is not as good as it can be.
Lie on the floor face down and place your hands about 2.5-3 feet (75-90cm) apart. Hold your body up at arm's length while balancing on your toes.
Bending at the elbows, lower yourself downward until your chest almost touches the floor. Breathe in.
Now, exhale and push your upper body back up to the starting position, squeezing your muscles in your chest as you rise.
After a brief pause, repeat for as many repetitions as needed.
2. Test yourself
As they are a body weight exercise, push-ups are useful to test your fitness and strength. Test yourself by performing push-ups for three minutes. Rest as much as you need, but don't stop the clock. Strength coaches consider 55 to be 'average', with 75 being deemed as (far too mundanely, in our opinion)'good'. If you can't reach 75 or just want a challenge then you could try some variations. Fit these into your chest sessions to build the added strength, power and sleeve-ripping muscle you'll need.
Plyometric push-up - This is the famous clap push-up star of various Hollywood workout montages. It's great for developing explosive upper-body power. Use the standard position, but push up quick and hard enough for your hands to leave the floor. A padded mat may take some strain off your wrists, while a few extra inches gap between your feet could help you for stability.
Raised push-up - Not for the faint-hearted or bandy-armed. Place your feet on a high surface such as a bench or a few steps up the stairs and start your reps. The benefits of push ups when raised are even better - they increase the resistance and targets the upper chest muscles more.
One-handed push-up - Again, this is tough, but more about technique than brute strength this time. The 'arm-out' technique sees your legs spread much wider than your shoulders to provide the stability you'll lack from using one arm. You should feel the tension in the press arm (obviously) across to the opposite leg. Keep your other arm behind your back and go for it. Only use two fingers if you are Bruce Lee.
Bench Press Training
In the world of bodybuilders, perhaps no other exercise is as revered as the bench press.
If you didn't know this before you went to a gym, you would certainly know it after a few visits, with nearly everyone there lying under the bar at some point.
The bench press is popular for a reason. It develops upper body strength, power and massive amounts of muscle on your chest and triceps. However, you need to get it right. Follow our bench press tips to maximise your workout.
Although it is an upper body exercise, don't let your legs dangle aimlessly off the end of the bench, as this is as much use as a bike to a fish.
You’ll need to learn how to ‘turn on’ your hips and legs and realise that the bench press requires the entire body to work in harmony. If you plant your legs correctly when you bench, you can increase the stability in your core and shoulders. You need to actively drive your legs down into the floor as your arms and chest take the weight of the bar. This will be key when it comes to breaking through plateaus.
The theory is, the tighter you get in your legs and lower body, the more control you’ll have over the lift and the weight. If you can coordinate all of these muscle groups during the bench press you can make major gains, both in terms of strength and size.
After you have your legs sorted, it is time to look at your hands. The grip is key to creating the correct tension and allowing fluidity in the movement. Creating tension in the upper body starts with your grip on the bar. You really need to see those knuckles whiten just before the lift. The harder your grip, the tighter the chest will be - in the bodybuilder lexicon it is known as ‘irradiation’.
Remember when we said that your whole body needs to work in harmony? Here's the true test. When you take the bar off the rack, instead of relaxing and dropping the bar down to your chest, engage your lats and actively pull the weight down in a similar motion to a seated cable row.
This doesn't mean you use gravity and your back to hurtle a 80kg weight directly towards your chest, but rather control the movement. If done correctly it automatically drives your chest upward and limits the extension of your shoulder at the bottom of the lift.
No good bench press tips could ignore the technical side of the lift. To begin, lie on the bench under the bar with your legs comfortable, around shoulder distance apart.
Take a tight grip on the bar at an equal distance on each side of the knurling. Often this is around shoulder width apart. Focus on the tension from your hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, back and chest.
Gulp in some air and replicate the pushing movement with the bar still racked. Drive your chest upwards, pulling your shoulder blades back and down into the bench.
Unrack the weight. Always use a spotter if you are getting towards your limit. As you move the bar directly over your chest, you need to ensure that the tension is not lost from your upper back and your chest allowed to collapse.
Take another deep breath and lower the weight, engaging your lats until the bar is slightly off your chest. Make sure that your elbows have stayed in alignment with your wrists.
Keep the tension in your chest and push the bar back up to its starting position. Engage your legs. Plant your feet and drive them into the floor, squeezing your glutes to lock your hips into place. Exhale.
Take a new breath and repeat for the next repetition. Next why not try changing the angle?
Building Strength and Size With The 10 Best Barbell Exercises
When it comes to building strength and size, a barbell is one of the most vital bits of training equipment imaginable. Every gym should have them and every home gym should make them a priority.
Whether loaded up in the squat rack, sitting ready on the floor or being thrust over your head, barbell training offers a full range of workouts that will build your physique and punch up your power.
Here are 10 of the best barbell exercises for building some serious size and strength. Combining 3-4 of these can create a single day of workout programming. Mix and match and build a routine that works for you.
The king of all lifting exercises, deadlifts train virtually every muscle in your body and make you feel like a beast whenever you do them.
A simple, functional movement with a high skill ceiling, the deadlift is easy to start with but difficult to master. It’s also not to be trifled with, as poorly executed lifts can damage your back.
Approach with caution, but be ready to feel the strongest you ever have.
How to do them: Stand with your feet roughly shoulder width apart with a loaded barbell (weights on each side) resting on the ground.
Bend at the knees and keep your back straight, looking forwards as your hands come down to grasp the bar. Use an overhand grip so that your palms are facing towards you.
Bring the bar up by lifting with your legs and hips. Keep your back straight throughout the movement. Bring the barbell to your waist so that you’re standing upright. From here, keep your arms straight and lower the bar back down by pushing your hips back, bending at your legs and keeping your lower back straight.
Back, glutes, legs, forearms and shoulders.
1 set of 10-12 warm up deadlifts
3 x 6-8 deadlifts at a heavy weight
Another famed compound lift, the barbell squat is a mass-builder that sees you build some immense lower body strength and power.
As a compound movement that uses lots of different muscles in your legs, they also promote a greater hormone response which helps increase muscle gain.
Stepping up to the squat rack can be intimidating, but once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be pushing more weight than ever and packing on size.
How to do them: Approach a loaded barbell on a squat rack. Position yourself so the bar is resting on your shoulders, held in place with your hands.
Lift the bar off the rack. You’ll immediately tell whether you’ve got the balance right. If correct, take a few steps away from the rack.
Squat downwards, keeping your back straight at all times. Bend at the knees to around 90 degrees. Don’t go deeper until you get the technique right.
Your back should be straight enough that someone could draw a line down from your shoulder to your feet at all times.
To complete the squat, power back up to standing.
Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors and calves.
1 set of 10-12 warm up squats
3 x 6-8 squats at a heavier weight
Probably the most famous of all lifts, the bench press is a great mass builder for gaining size in your upper body. A fairly simple movement, the bench recruits lots of muscles in your arms and chest to help pack on mass.
How to do them:Either from a bench or from the floor, lie under a barbell and grasp it with both hands, approximately shoulder width apart.
Lower the bar by dropping your arms, flexing your chest as you do so. Let the bar lightly touch your chest or hover just above it and then press the barbell back up so that your arms are fully extended.
Muscles worked: Pectoral muscles, deltoids and triceps.
3 x 10 bench press (60-70% of max, increasing weight every set)
Bent Over Rows
Bent over rows are a terrific lift which you can perform with a barbell, helping build a huge back and great pulling strength. While they can be done with dumbbells, you’ll see the best gains from heavier barbell rows.
How to do them: Grip a barbell like you would the top part of a deadlift. Bend over at the knees and keep your back straight while angling it slightly forward.
Keep your head up and your spine straight. Pull the weight up and into your lower chest. Lower it back to just over your knees.
Muscles worked: Back – specifically your traps, lats and deltoids.
3 x 12 bent over rows (50% max)
Want to build some fearsome shoulders? Stop shrugging and get ready for the overhead press. This is another lift that seems very basic but can help you build awesome power. It’s also a great raw test of strength as you heft the barbell overhead.
How to do them:Grab a barbell from a rack or the floor. From here, bring it to your chest with your arms holding the bar and also being bent, along with your palms facing outwards. From here, thrust your arms up straight so that the barbell is overhead. Try not to round your back. Lower the bar back under your chin and repeat. Don’t thrust with your knees unless you’re struggling.
Muscles worked: Shoulders (traps, deltoids) and lats.
3 x 10 overhead press
Clean and Press
Combining the pulling force of the deadlift with the shoulder-strengthening push of the overhead press, the clean and press is an Olympic-style lift that you should master to help build mass all over the body. Look at the physique on any Olympic lifter and you’ll understand the value of this lift.
How to do them: Grab a barbell with an overhand grip. Quickly pull it as you would a deadlift, then press your hips forward and throw the weight up into an overhead press style grip.
Muscles worked: Traps, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, triceps and deltoids.
3 x 8 clean and press (60-70% max)
Reverse Barbell Bicep Curls
An underutilized but awesome exercise that blasts your biceps and forearms, reverse curls are great for building thick, muscular arms. With little explanation needed, they’re a must-have for those doing barbell exercises who want to put on mass.
How to do them: Grab a barbell with an overhand grip. Pull it up as you would a standard bicep curl, keeping your elbows at your sides and avoiding ‘cheating’ with your back.
Squeeze the lift tight by pulling your hands as close to your shoulders as you can during the curling motion, then lower it back down and repeat.
Muscles worked: Traps, biceps, deltoid, triceps and forearms extensors.
3 x 10 reverse barbell curls
Front squats shift the focus of a standard squat to better target your quads and also your core. They’re a great way to switch up a routine and to build some power in your abs whilst you’re working a leg routine.
How to do them: Front squats can be tricky if you lack flexibility in your elbows and shoulders – but persevere. They’re the same as a back squat but this time the bar will be in front of you, resting on your deltoids. Your arms should support the bar to stop it rolling forwards.
Muscles worked:Quads, glutes and abs
3 x 8 front squats at the start of any squat workout
A somewhat underrated and rare squat, the Zercher is a great way to blast your traps, abs and it even trains the biceps. They’re tough, bordering on brutal, but totally worth it. They also avoid putting pressure on the spine, which can be useful for people with back problems.
How to do them: Hold the barbell in the crook of your arms and cross your arms upwards over the bar. From here, squat as you would in a front squat. These will be difficult, so take your time and nail the technique.
Muscles worked: Traps, quads and abs
3 x 10 Zercher squats (Use a relatively light weight and get the reps in)
An Olympic weightlifting move you’ve probably seen elite lifters do in the Games, the snatch is a tricky move but one that’s worth mastering. A compound lift that works virtually all of your body, the snatch is a great way to build explosive power and size.
How to do them: Grab the bar from the floor with a wide grip and begin with your hips lowered. Explode upwards as you pull up and keep your arms straight, throwing the bar overhead. You’ll end up squatted down with the weight overhead. From here, thrust upwards and keep your arms straight.
A difficult move, this is one best practiced with a trainer.
Muscles worked: Virtually all of them except for biceps and pecs.
3 x 6 snatches
All You Need to Know About Decline & Incline Bench Press Angles
Building a big chest means developing your pecs as fully as you can. To achieve this, you need to use angles. Both incline and decline bench press help craft powerful pecs, as they access different parts of your muscles.
The pectoral muscles are comprised of the Pectoralis Major and the Pectoralis Minor. The ‘Major’ is the larger muscle and the minor is a smaller, triangular one underneath.
Both cannot be trained with a standard bench alone, whereas adding incline and decline bench can access different muscle fibres to help train your pecs. Higher angles can put strain on your shoulders – so take care and find the one that puts the least stress on them.
Incline Bench Press
An incline bench press is a must-have to include in your routine. By adjusting your angle to sit more upright, you can hit your upper pecs in a way other exercises cannot match. Lifting your arms overhead shortens the clavicular portion of your pec, which means that a larger incline places more stress on the head of your pec and on your deltoids.
While you’ll usually have to reduce the weight compared to your flat bench PB, it’s a must-have inclusion for serious bench enthusiasts.
Getting the right incline bench press angle
For a barbell bench press, you’ll need a squat rack with an adjustable bench in it. Set up the bench at an upright angle of around 15-30 degrees. Any higher can risk targeting the wrong muscles and strain your shoulders, though there are people who swear by 45 degrees.
You’ll have to experiment to see what feels right. Generally, you’ll only need to raise the bench a couple of notches depending on how spaced out they are.
It’s important to not angle it too high up, as increasing the angle too much will target your shoulders and you’ll basically be performing an overhead press.
Remember, your incline bench press angle will depend on what feels right for you. De-load the bar and practice, you’ll be able to feel the strain in either your upper chest or shoulders.
Using Inclines in your workout
You can use dumbbells to extend the range of motion and really target your chest. Mixing up the angles as you work through sets can leave you feeling pumped.
Example sets (add these to your chest day): 3 x 8-12 Incline Barbell Bench Press (Adjust the bench each set between comfortable ranges, i.e 15 degrees, 30 degrees, 45) 3 x 10 Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Decline Bench Press
Just as incline trains your upper pecs, decline trains the central and lower pec. Unlike the incline, which puts pressure on your shoulder joints and deltoids, decline bench focuses mainly on your chest.
Never, ever use ‘false grip’ when doing declines. If the bar drops from your hands it may land on your neck.
Getting a good decline bench press angle
Popular with bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman, decline bench is best done on an actual decline bench. That’s the one you often see people doing sit ups on. As such, your angle is generally set by the bench itself.
Sit down on it, hook your legs under the end of the bench and lay down. Have a spotter pass you the bar if you’re away from a rack or unload it yourself. Keep a medium width grip so that you’ll have a 90 degree angle between your forearms and biceps when you’re in the middle of the movement.
On an adjustable decline bench, you’ll need to experiment with what feels right for you. If it places lots of pressure on your shoulders, try adjusting until it’s comfortable.
Using declines in your workout
You can perform declines with either a barbell or dumbbells. If you don’t have a spotter, dumbbells are the safer option and also offer a wider range of motion.
Like inclines, you can do both dumbbell and barbell decline press to maximise chest growth.
Chest workout with a full range of angles
You can add the various angles and exercises together to blast your chest and build a fearsome set of pecs.
3 x 8-12 flat barbell bench press
3 x 10 barbell incline bench press
3 x 10 dumbbell decline bench press
3 x 8 incline dumbbell bench press (Use heavier dumbbells and vary angles throughout: 15, 30 and 45 degrees)