[In Home Training - Your Gym or Ours - Cyber Training, Serving Bucks County, Phila. PA & Central NJ]

Favorite Eight Exercises

  1. Bench Press
  2. Lat. Pulldown
  3. Barbell Curl
  4. Shoulder Press
  5. Squat
  6. Tricep Press
  7. Leg Curl
  8. Calf Movements

1. Bench Press

The bench press is the king of upper body exercises and for those who donít squat, the king of all exercises. This movement draws a lot of attention, itís a highly discussed topic in the menís room "hey man, what cha maxing" often responded by 20 - 30 more pounds than they can lift. There are even contest that men and women prepare for months, just to lift a weight for one repetition. To the point of the matter, the bench press works multiple muscle groups, that is why we can lift so much weight. The chest (pectorals), shoulder (front deltoids) and the triceps all assist in this movement. There are numerous variations to this exercise, but it would be impossible to cover each of them in just a half of page. What Iím going to discuss are the basics, beginners to the most advanced should take note. The grip width alone determines the involvement of the muscles. A narrow grip hits the inner portion of the chest and the triceps assist more in the movement. A grip wider than shoulder width, works the outer portion of the chest and the deltoids are exercised more. By lowering the bar to different parts of your chest will work that specific area. I personally use a wider grip because my triceps are strong and I want my chest to do most of the work (about 32 inches apart) and lower the bar to the upper part of my chest.

Key Points:
1) Always keep your head, shoulders and butt on the bench. You can have your feet on the bench to keep your back straight. If not, have your feet flat on the floor.
2) Donít wiggle your body to lift the weight. If you do, stop, because your probably lifting too much weight and your putting to much strain on your back.
3) Lower the weight slowly, this is where you gain all your strength (the eccentric portion)and pause when the bar touches your chest.
4) This exercise should be completed first before all other upper body exercise. It take the most energy, because of multiple muscle groups and it will warm up the shoulders and triceps.
5) Use a spotter when attempting a heavy lift, itís pretty embarrassing to get stuck, believeme, I know.


2. Lat Pulldown

The lat or latisimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles in our bodies. It is also probably the hardest muscle to develop, since we can't see it moving like most other muscles in our body. The lat. pulldown is probably the most effective piece of equipment to work this muscle. You can hit a variety of angles in the back by changing hand grips. For example, supinating (palms up), pronation (palms away), wide (greater than shoulder width) and narrow (closer than shoulder width). If you were going to do only one back exercise on the lat. machine, it would have to be the wide grip pulldown to the front (itís the closest thing to a pull up).

Key Points:
1) Complete concentration is important. Move the weight slowly and think of the back muscle.
2) Pull the bar pass your chin to the top of your chest. If you go further, you may stretch out the shoulder joint too much.
3) This is one movement that you definitely donít want to swing the weight. If thatís a problem, then do what I call a five second repetition. Two seconds on the pulling portion (contraction or concentric) and three seconds on the release (stretching or eccentric) portion of the lift.
4) Stretch out between sets to keep the blood flowing.
5) If you have a training partner this next trick is great. If not, just grab someone who doesnít look busy. First, perform a few repetitions. Than have you partner make a fist a place it between you two scapula bones (shoulder blades). What you want to do is it to squeeze their fist with your back muscles.

"Contraction", thatís the key for this movement and for all other exercises.


3. Barbell Curl

The bicep is one of the smaller muscles in our bodies. Even though it may seem like a muscle only for show, it aids in carrying heavier objects. A curling movement is needed to effectively exercise the bicep. There are many types of curling exercises that may be performed. The most basic is the barbell curl. If you would like to individually work each bicep, you would do a dumbell curl. There are numerous variations of both of these movements. For instance, using different grips of the barbell will work different areas of the bicep. A grip wider than the shoulders would work the inside portion of the muscle and a grip closer than shoulder width will target the outside portion of the muscle. I recommend a neutral grip to hit the entire head of the bicep, but for people who have developed this muscle, using various grips is a good idea.

Key Points:
1) Keep your elbows down by your sides and make sure that your upper arms are perpendicular to the ground.
2) Only flex (bend) at the elbow joint because the joint that is moving will work those muscles. If you move you shoulders during this exercise, you will be working the shoulders and neglecting the biceps.
3)The bicep is a small muscle so strict form is necessary for optimal development. Heavy weight isn't needed.
4) Each time you curl the weight up, flex the muscle (make a muscle) at the top portion of the lift. This we help recruit the muscle fibers.
5) Always keep your back straight. Try not to swing the barbell up with the assistance of leaning backwards. This often seen problem could lead to low back strain and minimal bicep work.


4. Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is one of those main stay exercises. A person first starting out to the most advanced will benefit from this movement. The shoulder muscles consist of three deltoid heads (anterior, medial and rear). This pressing movement primarily works the medial and anterior deltoids. The rear deltoids are exercised during most back movements. In addition, the triceps are involved in this exercised. The shoulder press can be performed by using a machine, a barbell or dumbells. I personally prefer to use dumbells because there is less restriction and most importantly the muscles move in their natural plane. Although, I wouldn't recommend a dumbell press to beginner. A beginner should be concerned with learning the proper form and coordination before using the dumbells. In fact, using a shoulder press machine would be the best bet. It is important to understand on how far to press the weight and to lower the weight. When pressing the weight (concentric), try not to lock your elbows. Locking the elbows will reduce the resistance on your shoulder muscles and place unwanted stress on the elbow joint. When lowering the weight (eccentric), only let it go as far as your chin. If you let the weight touch your chest or the back of your neck, your are stretching the rotator cuff with to much weight.

Key Points:
1) Warm-up the entire shoulder before exercising. I like to do this by using very light dumbells and perform a few sets of side laterals and front raises.
2) Hold the bar about three inches away from your shoulders. Try not to experiment with different grips. Using a neutral grip will work the entire shoulder muscle.
3) During this exercise, I recommend to use a supportive belt. This will keep the lower back tight and reduce the chance of cramps.
4) Do not bounce the weight after the lowering portion to press the weight. Doing so will put pressure on the lower back and reduce the resistance on the shoulder muscles.


5. Squat

This is my all time favorite exercise. It takes more guts and mind power to keep this movement in your exercise regimen than any other movement. The squat effects your entire body because of the energy expended while holding the weight on your upper back/shoulders. It specifically works the quadriceps (thigh muscles), the gluteus and hamstrings are also involved in the movement. There are numerous variations of the squat. For starters, you can vary the foot position. If you have your feet close together, youíll work the outer portion of the quads, a wide stance will exercise the inside of the quads. In addition, there are many ways to actually do the exercise. For example, there is the traditional way with a straight bar across the upper back/shoulder area or you can do a front squat with the barbell resting on your upper chest across the shoulders. For beginners, the smith machine is ideal because it teaches you the correct form and balance. If you don't have access to a barbell, you could use a pair of dumbells instead. Hold each dumbell and let them rest by your sides and just squat. In my opinion, nothing is better then a traditional squat. Unfortunately not every one can execute the movement with proper form, so by using other variations are fine, even the leg press.

Key Points:
1) Learn the proper form before attempting heavy weights. It is true that heavy weight is needed to develop the quads, but you wont be able to squat heavy with a bad back.
2) Try not to use a belt while squatting with light weight. This will prevent your lower back to become stronger. During the working sets is when I recommend to use a supportive belt.
3) Do not bounce on the bottom portion of the squat. Always come to a full stop before pressing the weight.
4) If possible, have someone spot you. The spotter should stand behind the lifter and have their arms extended and cradle just underneath the lifterís chest. Once the squatterís momentum stops, the spotter would lift their arms upwards in the same direction as the lift.


6. Tricep Pressdown

This movement might not be considered the best movement for the triceps by other trainers. I feel if a beginner can learn the proper form of the pressdown, they can add a variety of different exercises for the triceps on the same machine. For example, you can use a underhand grip, single arm pressdowns with an underhand grip and a rope attachment (a favorite of mine). These different exercises will work the entire tricep. The correct form is critical while performing any of these movements. You have to keep your elbows in tight by your side. The movement should be at your elbow joint and not your shoulder. If you were to move your shoulders, those muscles would be involved and it would take away from the triceps doing the work. Remember, the joints that move are the muscles that being exercised, so only move the elbow joint. When you exercise the triceps it is best to do them on the day and after you train your chest. If you exercise them a day before, most likely they will be fatigued during your chest training. It's important to keep these muscles fresh before you do any chest work, because they will help you lift heavier weight. Train the triceps after your chest work, this gives the muscle a good warm up and not many exercise have to be perfomed.

Key Points:
1) During the eccentric portion of the lift, don't let your hands rise above your chest. This will keep the tension on the triceps.
2) Never exercise the triceps a day before you do the bench press.
3) After mastering the tricep pressdown with a shoulder width grip, try different grips and attachments.
4) Always move the weight with the elbow joint. Restrict any other body movement.


7. Leg Curl

Unfortunately there are not many exercises that work the hamstrings directly. Squatting, lunges and a stiff leg deadlift all work the hamstrings, but the muscle is not the prime mover during these exercises. The only exercise that directly works the hamstrings is a leg curl. This is a movement in which you want to take advantage of using different angles and tempos while performing the lift. I'm not usually an advocate to recommending different angles for beginners, but you have to utilize this movement. Placing your ankles closer together will work the outer portion of the hamstrings and having them further apart will hit the inner hamstrings. When doing multiple sets, it is a good idea to use different positions. In addition, changing the tempo of the movement is important. The tempo or speed should be changed from work out to work out. For example, you could perform the movement by lifting the weight for two seconds - pause for one - lower the weight for three seconds. Another tempo could be, lift the weight for one second - hold for two seconds - lower the weight for three seconds. Always remember to have the eccentric portion (lowering the weight) slower than the concentric (the lifting porting).

Key Points:
1) Change the angles to work the entire hamstring muscle. 2) Use different tempos.
3) Don't be afraid to use heavy weight, the hamstrings are a big muscle group and need that extra resistance.
4) Perform the leg curl first during your hamstring work outs. Lunges and stiff leg deadlifts are only assistance exercises.


8. Various Calf Movements

The calves are the most neglected body parts. Most people say they donít have the time to exercise them. I think they have to be exercised if you consider yourself to be a true weight lifter. We are perfectionist and we want total body development, right! If you are blessed with natural developed calves, you are lucky. Personally, Iím not that fortunate and I have to bust my but for them to grow. The main reason for their stubbornness is because the calves are a tough muscle. They are contracting on every step we take with our own body weight, therefore, can you imagine on how hard it is to add additional stress to the calves. There are two thoughts when it comes to training the calves. The first is to use a lot of weight and few repetitions and the second is just the opposite, light weight with high repetitions. I believe that both are right, so I think it is best to alternate the two types of training. Since the calves are more difficult to develop and are a small muscle group, I recommend that they should be trained twice a week. The first work out could be the heavy day and the second work out you can increase the repetitions. There are only a few exercises that work the calves, calf raise (done on a step), calf press (done on the leg press) and a seated calf machine. You can change the placing of your feet to hit different angles of the calves, but unless your competing in the Mr. Olympia contest next fall, donít waste your time. Keep your feet parallel and you will work the entire muscle.

Key Points:
1) If your calves are a weak point, make it a priority and exercise them first. This will not give you the excuse of not having enough time. 2) The contraction portion of the movement is very important. Try holding the contraction for two seconds and then lower your heels slowing to allow for a good stretch.
3) If your doing a high rep. day, you should complete between 20 -30 repetitions. The low rep. day with an increased amount of weight should consist of 10 - 15 repetitions.
4) The rest between sets should be minimal, no more than 30 seconds. You have to shock this muscle group, remember they are being work every time you walk, so the additional stress in needed.
5) Have the same attitude when training your calves just like any other body part.


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