By: Scott Quill
Watching those makeover shows on TV, you might think the only way to change your body is to recruit a pack of plastic surgeons and line up a camera crew to record it for prime time.
With all due respect to the geniuses who produce network TV, we heartily disagree. When it comes to building muscle, a few tweaks to your diet and fitness routine may be all you need to unleash your potential.
But, just to be safe, we’ll spot you a forty. Use them, and you may want to call that camera crew after all.
1. Pinch to Grow an Inch
To strengthen your grip, try this plate pinch from Strongman competitor C.J. Murphy: Place a pair of 5- or 10-pound plates together, smooth sides out. Pinch the plates between your thumbs and forefingers. Try holding the weights for 30 seconds. Add plates as you gain strength. And watch your toes.
2. Change Grips
It can help you do more reps. Try a set of barbell curls with a narrow grip. When you begin to fail, slide your hands out farther. “You’ll get more out of your biceps,” says celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson, C.S.C.S.
3. Do Chinups at a Dip Station
Using the parallel bars of a dip station simulates a chinup without lifting all your body weight. Besides your back muscles, you also strengthen your forearms. Grab the bars from underneath and place your feet on the floor. Keeping your body straight, pull yourself up, pause, then lower yourself.
4. Use a Mirror
“It promotes better technique and helps prevent injury,” says Chris Jordan, C.S.C.S., of LGE Performance Systems in Orlando.
5. Add Extra Tension to Any Move
At the end of your arm workout, wrap one end of a resistance band around the handle of a dumbbell and place the other end under your foot. Now do a set of biceps curls and overhead triceps extensions to fatigue your arms, says Tim Kuebler, C.S.C.S.
6. Pick Up Drop Sets
Doing five reps or fewer per set with a weight you can lift only five times trains your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, says Mark Peterson, an exercise and sport scientist at Arizona State University. Do three to five sets without rest, reducing the weight by 10 percent to 25 percent each set.
A Harder Core
1. Hit the Upper Abs First
By doing 20 to 30 crunches, you’ll limit the upper abs’ assistance when you move on to the lower portion, says Gunnar Peterson. This can help define the inguinal crease—the lines that run from hip to groin.
2. Tighten Your Belt
One-legged lifts contract your transverse abdominis—a belt of muscle surrounding your abdomen—says Jon Crosby, C.S.C.S., of Velocity Sports Performance in Baltimore. Grab a pair of dumbbells and raise your left thigh until it’s parallel to the floor and your left knee is bent at 90 degrees. Bend your right knee slightly and do a set of shoulder presses, biceps curls, or lateral raises.
3. Squeeze a Tennis Ball While You Do Crunches
“Squeezing your hands as hard as you can causes radiational tension, which allows you to contract other muscles harder,” says Murphy.
4. After You Bench-Press, Do 25 Crunches on the Bench
You’ll be less likely to skip them than if you have to go find an exercise mat.
5. Make a Bet
Pick a date 8 weeks away and set a goal: You and your buddies wager over squatting your body weight, for instance, or decreasing your body fat below 15 percent. Add a dollar to the pot whenever you work out. Winner takes all.
1. Start with Leg Curls
Most guys’ quads are overly dominant, says Dave DiFabio, C.S.C.S. So practice the preexhaustion principle. Do a few sets of leg curls at the start of your leg workout to build your hamstrings before you squat. Then use the squats to push the hamstrings even further. This will help them keep up with your quads and also help prevent injury.
2. Move the Weight to the Front During Squats
It’s easier to keep your back upright—and avoid injury—if you hold the weight across your chest, not behind your neck. This position also generates more power.
3. Stagger Your Squat Stance Every Third Workout
“It will prevent your dominant leg from doing more than its share,” says Gunnar Peterson. Simply move one foot a few inches ahead of the other.
4. Make Like a One-Legged Romanian
Single-leg Romanian deadlifts strengthen the hamstrings and create more flexibility, says Carter Hays, C.S.C.S. Stand holding a light dumbbell in your right hand. Lift your left leg off the floor and keep it close to your right leg. Bend forward at the hips to lower the weight to your right shin. Slowly stand up. Do two or three sets of 15 reps on each leg.
5. Squeeze Your Knees
This move works your hamstrings and glutes, and will aid in preventing groin pulls, says Larry Brun, C.S.C.S. Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Place a squeeze ball between your knees. Lift your hips until only your heels, upper back, and head touch the floor. Pause, then lower your hips toward the floor without touching it, and repeat.
6. Finish with Walking Lunges
“They’re a greater challenge at the end of your leg workouts,” says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., of Rutgers University. Take large steps forward until the thigh of the front leg is parallel to the floor and the knee is over (not past) your toes.
7. Pedal Your Stationary Bike with One Leg
“This targets your hamstrings. You have to pull the pedal up to complete each rotation,” says German mountain biker Lado Fumic. Pedal with one leg for 60 seconds, then switch. Then spin easily using both legs for 30 seconds. Repeat this six to eight times.
8. Warm Up Actively
Take your joints through a full range of motion to prepare for challenging workouts, says Crosby. Place your right hand on a doorjamb, and swing your right leg forward (through the open door), then backward (bring your heel to your butt). This loosens your quads and hamstrings. Then swing your leg from side to side with your toes pointed down to stretch your thighs. Repeat with your left leg.
9. Change Your Center of Gravity
Make balancing during a single-leg squat even harder by using your arms: Stand with your right foot slightly off the floor (don’t move it behind you) and your right arm straight above you. Bend both knees to lower your body, then bend forward and reach for your left foot with your right hand. Return to the starting position, finish a set, and repeat on the other side.
10. Split Your Cardio in Thirds
Do three 10-minute bouts on three different machines. “You’ll work more muscle mass and burn more calories,” says Jordan.
A Broader Back
1. Embrace Depression
Before a set of lat pulldowns, grab the bar with an overhand grip and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Squeeze your lats to pull your shoulder blades down (it’s called scapular depression), lowering the bar just a bit. Hold for a second, then let the bar rise back up. “This helps focus the move on your lats,” says Murphy, who owns Total Performance Sports in Everett, Massachusetts. Do 10 to 12 depressions, then begin your lat-pulldown routine using the same technique to begin each repetition.
2. Issue a Retraction
After you depress your shoulder blades to begin a lat pulldown, focus on retracting, or pulling your shoulder blades together.
3. Stand at the Seated Row
This on-your-feet row will train your back muscles and rear deltoids in a more functional, athletic-stance position, says Brun. Attach a parallel-grip bar to the low pulley and pull it toward your midsection. (Keep your abs drawn in.) Pause, then slowly let your arms extend back out in front of you.
4. Row with One Hand
Working your middle trapezius—a tough muscle to target—can add bulk to the region between your shoulder blades and improve your posture, says Brun. Attach a single handle to the low pulley on the seated row and grab it with your right hand, palm facing down. As you pull the handle, twist your upper body so the handle moves toward your right hip. When your elbow is behind you, squeeze your shoulder blade in toward the midline of your back. Pause when the handle reaches your hip, then return to the starting position. Repeat the move with your left arm.
5. Roll Away Back Pain
Using a foam roll can help your core muscles recover faster and with less pain. Lie on the floor, place a roll under your lower back, and move back and forth over it. Buy two (go to MensHealth.com/foam) and use the second one for the next tip.
6. Roll in Strength Gains
Build your core and back stabilizers with this move from Rankin. Get down on all fours and place one foam roll under your left hand and one under your right knee. Lift your right arm and left leg at the same time (straighten your leg). Maintain a flat back and a tight core. Pause, then return to the starting position. Move the rolls under the opposite hand and knee, and repeat the movement.
1. Change Your Front Raises
Use a weight plate instead of dumbbells—it takes a great deal of stress off the rotator cuffs, says Murphy. Also, raise the plate to eye level, instead of stopping when your arms are parallel to the floor.
2. Add a Shrug
Instead of lowering the weight at the top of a standing shoulder press, lock your elbows, pause, and shrug as if you were trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. Your trapezius and deltoids will benefit.
3. Switch Gears
Varying the tempo of your lifts can jumpstart muscle growth, says Jim Liston, C.S.C.S. Use a tempo of 4 seconds up, 4 down for eight weight-lifting sessions, then adopt a 2-seconds-up, 2-seconds-down tempo for your next eight.
4. Shrug at the Calf-Raise Machine
Doing a move for your lower body immediately followed by one for your upper body (or vice versa) forces your circulatory system to work harder. “You’ll be more challenged and burn more calories,” says Gunnar Peterson.
5. Work Your Weaknesses
“Strengthening what’s already strong doesn’t lead to tremendous gains,” says DiFabio. “You can produce more results by working a weakness.” Rear deltoids and hamstrings are often underdeveloped in comparison to biceps, pecs, and abs.
6. Use Your Legs for Shoulder Presses
Just a slight dip of the knees as you start each shoulder press will help you push more weight over your head, says Kuebler. Your legs won’t help you lower the load, so your shoulders reap the rewards.
7. Swim Out of Water
Isolate your rear deltoids with this move from Kuebler. Lie chest down on a bench. Hold a 5-pound plate in each hand, arms straight in front of you. Keep one arm still and swing the other arm as if you were swimming freestyle. Alternate sets of six to 10 reps with each arm.
A Stronger Chest
1. Pull the Bar Apart
When you lower the bar as you bench-press, imagine you’re spreading your hands as if you were trying to pull the bar apart. As you push it overhead, imagine pushing the bar back together. “This helps stabilize your shoulders, which helps you lift more weight,” says Hays.
2. Bench with Your Back
It’s not just about heaving weight up into the heavens with your chest and arms. You’ll find that you are able to lift more weight if you press your back and butt into the bench and drive your feet into the floor as you raise the bar, according to Hays.
3. Beat the Clock
Perform as many reps as you can in a minute. “Your type-2 muscle fibers are required to move a heavy weight, but as they fatigue, your type-1 fibers will kick in to keep you going,” says Murphy.
4. Never Wait for a Piece of Exercise Equipment
Your body is the best fitness tool you have, says Jordan. Next time a bench is bustling, add a set of pushups to your chest routine.
5. Stretch After Your Last Set
“While your heart rate is up, blood is pumped through the working muscles,” says Crosby. By stretching those areas at the end of a workout, you keep your muscles long and strong—instead of short and injury-prone.
6. Twist Your Torso for Power
Rotational exercises can strengthen your core and help you build a powerful chest, says Tyler Wallace, C.P.T., of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Try this move: Hold a medicine ball in front of your chest. Rotate your upper body and right foot to the left as you toss the ball against a wall 10 feet from you at your right side. After a set, switch sides and repeat for a total of three to five sets of eight to 10 reps.