By Adam Signoretta
Here are five underrated movements every bodybuilder (or shape conscious person) should know:
Incline Dumbbell Press
Many gym rats will determine a man’s strength by asking “How much can you bench?” If this was the measure of a man we would all be in trouble. Thankfully, it is not. The bench press is arguably the best upper body movement for size and strength gains. However, too much of one thing can either be a good thing, or a really bad thing. To make sure we don’t find out the hard way, lets take a look at the bench press’s little brother; the incline dumbbell press. This is a very good assistance movement for bench press, which can give you the same size and strength, if not more, than the barbell bench press can.
The incline dumbbell press hits all the same muscles as the bench press, but has a little more focus on the shoulder muscles than the bench due to the elevated angel. The use of the unilateral movement allows for an extended range of motion and the various grips and angles you can position the dumbbells will help target and focus in more on a particular muscle group. The only down fall is that you can push a lot more weight on a bar than with a dumbbell and this may hurt a lot of alpha males’ egos. My advice is to follow the following program and tips in order not to fall victim to pattern overload and diminish your strength and size gains.
Bench Press – 5 sets of 5 – Start with 50% of your 1 rep max and increase 10% each week, while decreasing your sets by 1.
Incline Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 10 – Start light and increase weight by 5 each set. Start heavier the following week, until you can no longer hit 10 reps on last set, then start over.
Dips – 3 sets of 10-15 reps – Start with bodyweight until you can get 15 with no weight, then add 10-20lbs.
Cable Crossover – 2 sets of 10-15 reps – Keep weight light.
Dumbbell Pullover – 2 sets of 10 reps.
Tips On Pressing Movements
- Squeeze implement as tight as you can, focus on using your weaker side (pinky) of your hand.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together, lift your chest high, and flare your lats.
- Squeeze your butt tight and drive your toes or heels into the floor. (Whatever can reach the floor.)
- Take a deep breath into your stomach and keep it in.
- Exhale a bit, while keeping your abs tight, position the implement directly over the highest point of your chest. (Bar should travel the straightest, shortest distance possible.) If you let out too much air, take another deep breath and hold it.
- Try to lower the implement with your lats slowly and do not let it drop quickly to your chest.
- Touch the implement to the chest or as low as you can comfortably. (If you cannot touch the bar to your chest, the weight is too heavy, or your flexibility in your shoulders is horrible and you should stop.)
- Keep the body as tight as possible, do not bounce the implement, display control. Explode with everything you have, push your back into the bench, squeeze the bar as tight as you can, keep your butt tight, and drive your feet.
- Hold your breath until you have passed your sticking point. (Sticking point will be where you have the most trouble.) Holding your breath will keep max tension in the body.
- Press the implement all the way until lock out and then congratulate yourself for a performing a lift at maximal efficiency.
Bent Over Reverse Grip Barbell Row
Bent over barbell rows are one of the greatest back exercises you can do to build mass. However, it is also one of the movements that is performed incorrectly by many people. Your posture plays a major row on whether or not you will engage the proper muscles during the exercise.
Before getting into the tips on proper executions, let’s answer one of the biggest questions about this exercise, do I use an overhand or underhand grip when I do bent over barbell rows? The answer is both of them are beneficial, I recommend switching up hand positions on every back exercise. Say for example one workout you use underhand on the pull-ups (chin-ups), then use an overhand on the bent over rows and switch every couple of weeks. Reasoning for this is different grips will recruit different muscles because the movement patterns are changed. Overhand will target more of the upper back and the elbows will flare out. On underhand, you target more of your lats and the elbows stay tucked in close to your sides.
When it comes to lat activation it is very important to have proper posture. The underhand row naturally allows the lats to engage more, but if not activated properly, you will use your biceps more than anything. To avoid incorrect movement, follow these tips:
- Start with your feet shoulder width, or if you feel more comfortable, you can take a sumo stance. (People who deadlift sumo style, may feel more comfortable this way.)
- As you reach down for the bar, push your hips back as far as you can, without letting your knees to come forward. This will activate your hamstrings and glutes, taking the tension out of your lower back. (You want to have your head as far away from your backside as possible.)
- Take a deep breath into your stomach and brace (keep your stomach tight). Pinch your shoulder blades together and pull them down toward your lower back. This will give you proper posture now the trick is to maintain that posture through the lift.
- Grip the bar underhand and squeeze it tightly. Lift the bar about an inch off the floor, you want to make sure you are supporting the weight with your glutes and your hamstrings, and not the lower back. If you feel it in the lower back you are not positioned right and I recommend doing these with a chest support.
- Focus on pulling your elbows back do not pull with your hands, this will activate the biceps more than the lats. Drive the elbows back tightly into your sides. Keep your chest up, and make sure the bar touches your stomach at the top. Lower the bar down under control.
- You may exhale at the top, but keep enough air in your stomach to ensure it does not get sucked in. Breath in some more air while lowering the bar to ensure tightness in the abdomen and proper posture throughout the lift.
All the same guidelines apply to when you are doing an overhand grip, except tucking the elbows in to the side. Allow the elbows to flare out. The bar should touch your sternum, or the lower part of your chest, as on the bench press. For overall strength and back development, this sample program is the way to start.
Underhand Pull-ups – 5 sets of 5
Overhand Bent Over Barbell Row – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Neutral Grip (palms facing each other) Seated Cable Row – 2 sets of 10-15 reps
Dumbbell Pullover – 2 sets of 10-15 reps
When it comes to both overall strength and leg development squats and deadlifts are without a doubt the best. In a perfect world we would all be able to squat and deadlift day in and day out, but that is not the case. Too much of these movements too often can lead to over training or decreased performance. A great exercise to breakup the movement patterns of squats and deadlifts is the step-up. The step-up will still target the same muscles used in the squat and deadlift however it is a unilateral movement. Because you will be using one leg, most people will not be able to do a lot of weight and it will also call for activation of a lot of stabilizing muscles. When the step-up is done properly it can do wonders for hip flexibility and glute activation. Here is how we will accomplish this:
Main rule of thumb I use when performing the step up with my clients is, if you cannot perform the step up with out compensation, when the hip and knee are parallel at the start of the movement, then you are not to graduate to added weight.
- To start the step up, you will need a step, bench, or any platform that is stable.
- The platform should be about shin to knee high, it is not a crime to start off low. As you progress in the movement, you can go higher. (Your goal is knee and hip parallel or higher at start of movement.)
- Place either leg on the top of the platform, your heel and toe should both be on the platform. Your back leg should be fully extended and also heel and toe should be on the floor. Upper body is as tall and straight as possible.
- To initiate the movement, push the heel of the front leg into the platform, extending the leg as straight as possible, with little to no help from the back leg. Your back leg should be placed about shoulder width next to your lead leg.
- Squeeze both glutes as tight as possible throughout the entire movement.
- When lowering the leg back down, make sure the lead leg’s knee does not travel too far forward, and when the back leg lands, it is fully extended with the toes pointed straight a head.
- Make sure to breathe in deeply at the start of the movement, brace the abs, and slowly exhale at the top.
Adding The Step-up To Your Current Program
Barbell Squat – 5 sets of 5
Romanian Deadlift – 4 sets of 6-10 reps
Step-up (dumbbells can be added if ready) 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Back Extensions – 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Calf Raises – 3 sets of 10 reps.
Standing Dumbbell Curls and Overhead Extensions
There is nothing that stands out more in a tank top than muscular arms. There is nothing more outrageous than people at the gym doing 20 sets for the biceps and then 20 sets for the triceps in the same workout. The arm muscles are small in comparison to the other major movement muscles such as chest, back, and shoulders. They are also involved in almost every exercise you do. However small as they may be, if trained properly they can your best ally.
When designing a program for the biceps and triceps, I like to superset a bicep exercise with a triceps exercise. I do this for 2 reasons, I hate to spend more than 25-30 minutes on arms and also by doing so, you allow these muscles to recover more, which will allow you to keep the pounds and reps up in order to build nice lean muscle.
Lets start with the curl. When curling, most people do what is called a cheat curl. It is ok to cheat some of the time, but not all the time. A cheat curl is when everything possible is done in order to lift the weight. Swinging the weight, arching the back, moving the elbows forward, and so on. Lets go over how to do a strict curl, and then when this is mastered, you can throw in a cheat here and there.
- Posture and stance is always most important when doing any exercise. Stand with feet shoulder width, knees locked or slightly bent, butt squeezed tight, abs braced, shoulder blades pulled back and down, and most importantly the elbows glued to your sides.
- Take a deep breath and hold and force the weight up by flexing the biceps hard.
- Move the weight with no swinging and with the biceps only. (Do not allow the elbows to move forward, this will recruit the shoulders.)
- Raise the weight as high as you can without breaking posture or wrist alignment. Squeeze the bicep as tight as you can at the peak contraction. Exhale a bit, but stay tight, and inhale again before lowering.
- When lowering the weight flex your triceps and push the weight away from your body and down. (This will make you stronger.) Make sure to lower slow and controlled.
When it comes to performing triceps exercises, a big compensation is the elbows will flare out and the shoulders will round. Here is a tip on how to stop this from happening, swallow your pride and back the weight down. I don’t care if you are using 5lb dumbbells, do the movement right. Here are a few more tips that will make your triceps movements more efficient:
- Follow all the guidelines on posture for the standing curl.
- When the weight is overhead, pull your arms back as far as you can. Arms should be in line with your ears.
- Lower the weight by hinging at the elbows and push the weight away from the head. Do not let the weight drop straight down allowing your elbows to bow out.
- Keep the elbows directly over the shoulder.
- To keep your base of support tight as your are push the weight up focus on squeezing the shoulder blades, glutes, and bracing your abdomen.
- Extend the weight all the way up to full lockout.
Sample Biceps and Triceps Workout
Standing Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 6-10
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension – 4 sets of 6-10
Barbell Preacher Curl – 4 sets of 10-12
Triceps Cable Press Down (Rope) – 4 sets of 10-15
If you are not a bodybuilder in training or want to do a full body split try the following basic workout with all the exercises we just discussed.
4 sets of 10 each exercise – 120- 180 second rest
For weight loss
Do workout in a circuit fashion. Move through each exercise performing 1 set of 10 and then repeat 4 times. No rest between each exercise, 60 sec rest between each circuit
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Underhand Bent Over Barbell Row
Standing Dumbbell Curl
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Adam Signoretta is a certified personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine with an extensive knowledge of corrective exercise, performance enhancement and Russian kettleball technique. He is als oan NPC bodybuilder and author of “Be As Strong As You Look – a Handbook for Bodybuilders.” For questions or comments, please contact Adam at Asignoretta@aol.com