5 Essential Exercises for Growing Bigger Muscles

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” – Thomas Jefferson

It’s human nature to search for the shortest route to success.  Bill Gates is quoted as saying he would prefer a lazy worker as they would find the quickest way of doing something.  Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week became a best seller.  In the fitness world this is even more so prevelant.  Fat loss pills, synthol, steroids, 7 minute abs to name a few ways in which this mindset has been exploited.  Cristiano Ronaldo is using his ridiculous physique to advertise an ab flex machine.  They neglect to tell us he has a private chef who plans, prepares and cooks every meal and has put in hours upon hours of work to achieve that look.

However, for those of us skinny fella’s that are looking to build muscle mass and achieve the physique we crave, it takes work.  Clever work, but work none the less.  There is no quick fix.

That doesn’t mean that we cannot take some training shortcuts to grow ourselves some bigger muscles.  Certain lifts have a better impact on muscle groups than others, and here are 5 of the best

bigger musclesBench Press

The bench press is a staple of any gym goer and for good reason.  Not only is it great for increasing pushing strength, but it incorporates a number of muscle groups when being performed.  Shoulders, triceps and, if the form is correct, abs will be stressed as well.  Yet anyone who splits their days into working specific muscle groups will include the bench press as part of their chest workout.

According to this study, the bench press provides 100% muscular activation in the chest muscles, as opposed to 8 other exercises that were tested.  The Chest press machine, for example, which mimics the movement of a bench press, only activates 79% of the muscle.

I, like most, am a big fan of the bench press.  Even though the exercise is a compound, I find I can fully focus on the muscle working when performing the necessary reps.  I also find it a great indicator of strength improvements, increasing weight slowly but surely each workout.  Until recently, I was under the impression that my back should be flat on the bench, which is not the case.  When performing, arch your lower back.  This assists the lift by shortening the distance and forcing more stabilization from the abs.

bigger musclesTriangle Push Up

When it comes to muscle mass on the arms, the biceps are king for almost everyone who works out.  However, the triceps make up two-thirds of the upper portion of the arm.  Building thick tri’s is essential if you want to fill out your t-shirt sleeves.

There are plenty of great tricep exercises to perform, but none better than the triangle push up.  Fully engaging both the long head and lateral head of the muscle (study) the triangle push up also proves to be a real sign of strength in ones arms.  Push Ups also provide the added benefit of working your chest and core muscles.

This is an exercise I struggle with and will have to make more of an effort to incorporate into my workouts.  As I have alluded to in a previous post, our only real competition is with ourselves.  In my case, this will mean starting with knees on the floor as I build my capacity to perform the movement effectively.  For those who may be embarrassed to do this at a gym, bust them out first thing in the morning.  The tricep push up has the benefit of no equipment being needed to perform.

bigger musclesConcentration Curl

When I was growing up, whenever someone asked the question “show us* your muscles” it meant flex your biceps.  Or in my case, flex where the bicep should be.  Even nowadays, if you watch any UFC weigh in, the fighters will perform the double bicep pose after their weight is announced.  The bicep is synonomous with a well maintained physique.

No exercise activates bicep growth better than the concentration curl (study).  It makes sense.  How many times have you seen someone at the gym (or yourself) perform barbell bicep curls, yet the upper arms have moved at when reaching the top?  This means that the shoulders are taking some of the load.  Chin-ups, for all their benefits in terms of strength, rely on the back as well as the arms.  Even the preacher curl can see some use of body english in making it to the top.

What really seperates the concentration curl is how isolated it makes the bicep.  One arm at a time, with all mental focus placed on the left or right bicep allows for a far greater mind-muscle connection.  By achieving this mental state, one can fully engage in the muscle as it is working.

*Growing up in Birmingham, we often used the term ‘us’ instead of ‘me’.  Looking back, it probably made us (correct use) Brummies look like we had dual personalities to outsiders.

bigger musclesDumbbell Shoulder Press

Strong looking shoulders should be an aim for everyone looking to make their physique more impressive.  They make a person look broader, make the waist look thinner and fill out a suit jacket in a way that even Barney Stinson would be impressed with.  Shoulder strength plays big role in developing other muscles too…selective chest, tricep and back focused exercises will incorporate use of the deltoids.

The delts are broken into 3 sections – anterior (front), posterior (rear) and lateral (side).  Though it is important to work all 3 areas with a variety of different exercises, the dumbbell shoulder press provides better activation in the anterior delts than any other exercise (study, study).  The pressing motion allows for more weight to be shifted, an added bonus for strength improvements.  In comparison, there are 2 or 3 exercises that will target your posterior and lateral delts equally as well.

Personally, despite the above photo, I prefer the standing version.  I feel it activates the core a lot more, forcing me to work harder.  I especially like thie dumbbells as opposed to the barbell due to there being no hiding place for any weakness.  If one arm is struggling, it will show.  The barbell allows for this struggle to be masked and the opposing arm to over compensate.  Lop-sided form suits the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  The human body…not so much.

bigger musclesSeated Calf Press

This one is due to personal preference.  For years, my calf routine consisted of the standing calf press and nothing else.  As a skinny fella, my matchstick shaped legs were a real point of contention.  I started Muay Thai kick boxing training when I lived in Bangkok, and the Thai fighters had calves the size of boulders.  Yet despite my best efforts to master kicking techniques, there was no calf development.

Incorporating the seated press to go along with the standing press roughly 20 weeks ago has allowed me to see growth for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong, my legs are still thin, but when I look in the mirror now, there is some additional width to them and I attribute that to including the seated calf press to my repertoire.

Whereas the standing calf press targets the Gastronemius portion on the muscle (fast twitch muscle fibers), the seated press targets the soleus, which uses more slower twitch.  The slower twitch fibers are more endurance based, but working these allows for greater number of reps on a muscle, which allows a bigger fascial stretch and pump, which in turn allows for more growth.  More growth equals more mass, equals legs with better shape.

It is important to remember to come back down slowly on the press, to avoid placing stress on the achilles and taking it off the calf muscle.  For those of you in gyms without a seated calf press machine, a Smith machine works just fine.

Use these exrecises and let me know how you get on in the comments box.  If you have any sure fire winners, be sure to share them.

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