Welcome! We're gonna talk about the specifics of training each individual body part a little more in-depth than we did in the exercise philosophy articles. Those ones gave the basics. This one gives the specifics. So we'll begin- and we'll start from the ground up.
: Nothing. Doing calves in the gym is no more productive than taking some steps. Not even good steps, just standard walking. Think about it. How much do you weigh? Let's say 185. This means that every time you take a step while walking, you do a 185lb single-leg calf raise. So realistically you're doing fairly heavy calf work all day long. Then you go to the gym and do 200lb with both legs at the same time. You add 15lb, and a second leg. This is easier for your calves than walking. It's absurd of you to think that they'll grow.
But lets say you're not satisfied with your walking results. If this is the case, strap a 50lb backpack on your back and run hills or stairs. Your calves are very functional, and thus respond to functional exercise. They'll respond to that.
: Squats (free weight, smith machine, and sometimes hak), leg press, and lunges. That's all. Nothing else will work for you. Especially leg extensions. In legitimate leg exercises you have co-contraction of your hamstrings during the flexion of your quads. Being as your knee requires some level of structural integrity during force generation, co-contraction of your hamstrings is critical. With leg extensions you don't have that. All you have is your knee bent to the more vulnerable (open) position, and tension pulling strictly from the direction of your quads. Not good for you. So stick to your fundamental compound movements, perform your repetitions at a medium pace, and use good back posture.
Good back posture doesn't mean "look up." If you ask other people how to do squats, they tell you to do that. I don't understand why on grounds of realism, but these people
justify it by saying something about back and spinal alignment. And what's wonderful here is that the only thing related to spine-anything is the vertebral artery, which supplies blood to your brain. Your cervical vertebrae have holes called the transverse foramina that the vertebral artery runs through. When you're doing a set of squats and you look up, you pinch off those holes and impede the blood flow to your brain. This is actually kind of exciting though, because there will be quite a commotion when you pass out and your limp, unconscious body is crushed beneath the weight you were trying to look up under. So look up. It's good for your back. It's not, but it'll kill you, so that's fine too.
: Hamstring curls and sprinting. That's all. Working hamstrings is good for your knees, so don't worry about the co-contraction stuff. Just do the machines that have angles that match your body frame. If the machine is comfortable and your hamstrings are working, it's probably decent. The majority of the hamstring machines out there aren't decent though. So don't assume yours is fine because you don't feel like trying out other ones.
If you want a little more variation, you can do it with your body weight. Just get on your knees and line your feet up about 6 inches apart with your legs parallel. Hook your feet under something so that you're stable. Then (under control) bend your legs to let your body down. Catch yourself with your hands before your chest smashes into the ground. Then push yourself back up just enough to allow your hamstrings to bring you up the rest of the way.
As far as sprinting goes, notice how competitive sprinters have better hamstrings than bodybuilders. The legs are designed for sprinting, and the body responds well to training according to function. Sprinting works. And it's possibly the most intense exercise on your hamstrings, so warm up much better than you think you need to. Then do as many 100m runs as you can before you get sick.
: Health is more important than volume here. Regardless of how many hyper extensions you do, you're not going to have a huge bulky low back. And I don't think you'd want one anyway. It would look amazingly ridiculous. So worthwhile low back exercises should done with a health oriented goal. This means the deeper muscles, which are more responsible for coordination and dynamic stability over using the larger, more superficial muscles. And this doesn't mean skip low back. You having chronic back pain because you skipped critical exercises doesn't assist any goal of exercise.
So here's some suggestions. Roll out on a ball on your stomach. Then extend out one arm and one leg. Same side, opposites, doesn't matter. Switch sides a couple times. Use both legs, no hands. Both hands, no legs. One hand or one leg, etc. If you can get to the point where you can get to the point where you can balance with no contact points other than your stomach to the ball, try that. Hold those positions until you feel back fatigue.
Suggestion numero doce. Lay on your back on the floor with your feet on the ball. Raise up your hips so the only contact points to the ground are your head, shoulders- then your feet to the ball. Hold that position for a while. When doing that becomes easy, bend your knees, and point your toes up. When that becomes easy, roll you feet to the right and left a few inches. Holding each position for a decent amount of time. 10 to 20 seconds or so.
Other than those, supermans (lay on your stomach on the ground, extend out your legs and arms and hold for a minute-ish) and hamstring stretches are the only real good exercises for low back health. Hamstring stretches are probably the most important though- and they're under the low back subtitle due to the fact that they're better for your low back than your hamstrings. Your hamstrings connect to your pelvis. If they're loose and flexible, your pelvis has some rotational give to it when you bend over. If your hammies are all tight, they're not letting your pelvis go anywhere. Bend over and your back is destroyed. So stretch them for your back. But while stretching them, realize that you standing up and bending over to touch your toes doesn't do anything. Your center of gravity is in your navalish area. When you bend forward, your shoulders, head, chest, etc come out in front of the rest of your body. Hence, you have a lot of bodyweight haning out in front of you. Hence, your center of gravity is out in front of you. Therefore, your hamstrings are contracting to keep you from falling down. Try it. Try doing the standard up-right hamstring stretch, then relax your hamstrings. You'll fall forward. So during the whole "stretch" your hamstrings are contracted. You can't stretch a flexing muscle and expect to get anything out of it. That's kind of an obvious rule. So either stretch from the ground, or elevate one leg on something and lean forward, holding your bodyweight up with your ams.
: Everyone seems to work their abs wrong so we've got a lot to cover. That said, let's begin.
First point: Rep numbers. No more than 20 reps per set on any abdominal exercise. Your abs are muscles. I hope this is obvious. So is your chest. You don't do 50 reps per set on your chest do you? I certainly hope not. Don't do that to your abs either.
I've come to the conclusion that the reason people do endless crunches is to make their abs more toned and visible. This doesn't work for three reasons:
1. Your body already contains the abdominal muscles. This is not a problem. Unless you have a weird birth defect, you already have abs. If you can't see them, that doesn't mean you lost them. It means you have body fat.
2. Because your abdominals are a human muscle, they aren't being improved by excessive repetition numbers. All muscles in the human body respond vastly more to lower rep ranges. But even if these high rep ranges somehow caused adaptation, recall number 1: you still wouldn't be able to see them on behalf of body fat.
3. Cutting body fat has nothing to do with excessive abdominal work. You actually burn less fat while doing crunches than casually walking. I'm sure you're aware of the fact that you can't target fat loss. You can't work your arms and have fat burning take place on your arms because of it. Same thing with your abs. But this isn't even the issue here. The issue is that doing crunches isn't burning fat anyway. Your oxygen availability is compromised because of your abdominal work, and fat utilization requires oxygen.
Being as you doing tons of reps isn't burning body fat, and the muscle responds to a lower rep range, the only productive thing you're accomplishing is learning how to work through uncomfortable repetitions. You get a bunch of lactic acid buildup and you get to learn how to work through it more effectively in the absence of any visual or functional results whatsoever. So lift for your muscle, and do cardio for your fat.
Next point: Upper and lower abs. Remember that your abs are still muscle. Muscle is made up of muscle cells. Muscle cells are very long, and strand the whole distance of the muscle, or pretty close to the whole distance. You can't activate a part of a cell. You either activate the whole thing or not at all. The muscle cells in your abs run straight up and down ("Rectus Abdominus" is what they're called, rect meaning straight). As such, you can't really activate the lower abs independent of the upper. For the most part, it's all the same muscle cells. This means there's no such thing as exercises for your "upper" or "lower abs."
However, the exercises that are regarded as upper and lower do have functional differences. This obviously has nothing to do with your abs, but rather the contribution of your hip flexors. It works like this: if you start with upper ab movements, your abs will already be fatigued by the time you get to your lower abs. Lower ab movements involve both the abs and the hip flexors. Hip flexors are in your lower abdominal/upper thigh area, so it makes it feel like you're working your elusive "lower abs." If your abs are already fatigued by the time your hip flexors can contribute, guess which one overcompensates? (Hip flexors obviously- I hope you knew the answer). But if you do your "lower ab" exercises first, then move into the "upper ab" movements where there's no hip flexor contribution, you can get the most out of all your exercises. So start low and work up.
The consequences of you doing lower abdominal exercises with either weak or fatigued abs are bad. If you do it consistently, you'll greatly increase the lordotic curvature of your low back. Basically you'll end up with a harmful spinal deformity. It works like this: if you're on your back and you can't keep your low back firmly pressed into the ground below you, you shouldn't be doing the exercise.
The iliacus is a hip flexor that causes your pelvis to tilt forward (lifting your low back off the floor). If you're unable to counteract this forward tilt with abdominal flexion, this means that you're working the iliacus well more than your abs. The more you strengthen your iliacus, the more it chronically pulls on your pelvis causing that accentuated spinal deformity in your everyday posture. This is bad. So only do "lower abdominal" exercises if you can keep your low back pressed firmly into the ground below you, and never do them following "upper abdominal" exercises.
Next point: Your obliques. Unless you're a rugby player, please stop excessive rotating movements and your side bends and little whatnots. Your external and internal obliques, transverse abdominus, etc. These are muscles. You performing weightlifting on muscles causes them to hypertrophy. Increasing the volume of the muscles in your sides contributes to increases in your waste line. "But I'm tightening up my sides." No you're not. You're making sides more girthy. Furthermore, you're not working your abs very effectively when you do this. Rectus abdominus, remember? Think rectangle. There's not much twisting and bending to a rectangle. Your abs run straight up and down, not sideways and all twisty-like. As such, movements that work them all sideways and twisty-like are super, super, super, super, super inefficient. Any twist at all accounts for a pretty hefty mechanical disadvantage in the contribution of your abs. The further you rotate your torso, the more you interrupt their contribution to your exercise. So do your abs a favor and work them in a straight line.
If you want your sides to tighten up, and consequently "flatten" your stomach, your obliques (external and internal) and transverse abdominus do help. But you doing side bends and hardcore rotation isn't doing it. Pure lateral flexion is accomplished by your quadratus lumborum and hardcore rotation is accomplished at the expense of your low back.
Regarding your obliques, challenge them with something that requires balance and coordination, like on a ball. That will work them according to function, and thus, give you your much-desired tightening.
Regarding your transverse abdominus, this is the muscle that sucks in your abs. It's kind of a big sheath around your stomach and musculature that runs horizontally along your sides. If you suck in really hard and hold it you should be able to feel your sides tensing up a bit. This muscle is especially good for "flattening" your stomach. And the most effective ways to work it are throwing up, pooping, and birthing children. Women have a natural advantage in two of these. But unfornuately, bulimia doesn't cause bodyfat loss. If it did, the fat loss and vomiting would combo the stomach flattening like a dream. But alas, it doesn't. To train outside of these means, suck in your abs a lot. Although this muscle does your rotation for you, try to do more sucking than rotating. As I mentioned a moment ago, the transverse abdominus accomplishes rotation often at the expense of your low back. The joint where your lowest lumbar vertebra articulates with your sacrum has the largest range of motion of any spot in your back. Putting tons and tons of torque here repetition after repetition in an exercise format is bad.
So considering everything we've talked about, your goal is probably body fat loss more than abdominal development. A treadmill will be more effective means to attain that goal. But abdominal work is genuinely fantastic as well. And your routine should look something like this: hanging knee raises, lying leg thrusts, ball crunches, machine crunches if it's a decent machine, rope crunches, then crunches with your knees elevated and legs resting on something. Medium pace, under control, and always keep your abs tight the whole exercise through and press your low back into any surface it's on during every exercise.
: The big ticket item here is the contribution of your arms during back exercises. You're a lot better at using your arms than your back. Any time you do any activity that requires upper body movement, it's your arms doing it. Whether you're stirring soup, mopping, brushing your teeth, opening a door- anything. It's your arms doing it. You don't open a door and pull through with your back, keeping your chest high focussing on posture. You'd look ridiculous. Your body just has a natural tendency to use your arms for everything. This becomes somewhat of a problem when you're in the gym. The goal of performing back exercises should be to develop your back. It's kind of a waste of time to do them at all if your arms are what's getting the workout. There are plenty of more effective ways to work your arms than using back machines.
So there are several ways to remedy this. Most importantly, go faster with a heavier weight. If you go slowly and try to control the weight, all the control is going to your arms. Your back isn't built to do slow precision movements. It's built to handle heavier weight than your arms can. Take advantage of that. Do this by going faster and heavier. And since the eccentric motion gives you the bulk of your results, use momentum to heave the concentric in, then resist the eccentric. Outside of that, it helps a little bit to have your thumbs on the same side as your fingers and it helps a lot to focus on pulling from your elbows instead of from your hands. Your arm muscles can't drive your elbows back. Your back can. Trying not to focus on your hands can be kind of difficult if you don't have wrist wraps or hooks. Go ahead and get some.
As far as your movements go, V-bar lat pulldowns, neutral grip pull-ups, compound row machines, and dumbell pullovers occasionally. That's all. Bent over rows will hurt your back and the other exercises won't do anything productive.
: Once and for all, upper and lower chest makes sense. Inner and outer chest does not. There's two heads in your chest. The clavicular (upper) and sternocostal (lower). That's it. No more. Nobody has the ability to activate their inner and outer chest differently. A single cell in your chest muscle stretches the entire length of the muscle fiber, which pretty much all stretch the entire length of the muscle. Sternum to humorous. Now, that said, you can't activate a part of a cell while leaving the rest inactivated. This should be kind of obvious, but apparently it's not. At all. The reason people's inner and outer chest look different is because of where the muscle inserts. It has nothing to do with the muscle itself.
Now that we have some basic chest-anatomy knowledge- lets incorporate this into function. Because the muscle fibers in your chest run horizontally from the sternum to your humorous, the function of your chest works like this: extend your arms straight out to your sides as if you were doing an iron cross or trying to look like Jesus. From this position, flexing your chest causes your arms to come together in front of you. Basically keep your arms extended, and clap. That's your chest working. And it's a fairly large range of motion. Now simulate a bench press. Notice how it incorporates about half the range of motion your chest is capable of? Notice how dumbells, fly machines, and cable crosses all incorporate way more? Good. Barbell exercises don't do anything for your chest. The bench press, being the most popular barbell exercise, is a number. Nothing more. If you want to compete in bench press, do bench press. If you want to work your chest, do something else. But even if you never bench, as long as you're a male, people will ask you how much you bench. Lie. Just say something like this: "1001lb. I did it in kilos, so it seems like a weird number." "Prove it." "It's my tricep day, I'd rather not." This way you never have to do bench or explain why. It'll save you a lot of hassle time.
And as far as the movements you will
be doing, just change up the angles to use flat and various degrees of incline. Decline occasionally is fine but it's the least productive of the three by a decent margin.
Flat exercises generally work your sternocostal head the same as decline while working your clavicular head more. This doesn't definitively describe every person in every exercise, it's just generally the case. So flat is generally more productive than decline. Then your inclines work your sternocostal head less, but your clavicular head more, so they have an advantage also.
So here's your list of exercises that will work your chest most: incline and flat dumbell presses and flies, standing cable crosses, incline ball or bench cable crosses, strait arm fly machine. An occasional decline here and there is fine, but don't make them routine. Use a good pretty full range of motion, strait-arm in the front of the movement, bent elbows in the back. Medium pace.
: The anatomy of your shoulders is weird. Your deltoid muscles stretch from the top of your shoulder near your neck, to the side of your arms. This means that when your arms are down at your sides, your deltoid muscles are stretched over a 90 degree corner, so when they shorten in this position, they essentially have zero leverage. They're trying to move your arms out by pulling straight up. It doesn't really work. So the supraspinatus (one of your rotator cuff muscles) does that for you. When your arm reaches a point where the deltoid actually has some leverage, it takes over. Furthermore, if you go too high up, you're impinging nerves that innervate your rotator cuff. So there are range of motion constraints dictating both the health of your shoulder and the workload of your deltoids. Be in them. For overhead presses, at the bottom of your range of motion, your arms should be slightly below parallel with the ground. Slightly is a very small amount. I feel I need to explain that as disappointing as it is. Then, even if you can, don't bring your hands together at the top of the motion and don't quite lock out your elbows. For dumbell side raises, it doesn't really matter if you go down all the way, because the initial motion where the deltoid isn't really contributing has no gravity anyway. If you're using cables or a machine, just don't have a huge amount of energy going into the first foot or so of the range of motion. Then on all side raise movements, bring your arms to just slightly above being parallel with the ground. Again, slightly. And do these movements at a medium-slow, controlled pace.
: Standing barbell curls, preacher curls, seated incline dumbell curls, straight bar cable curls, and hammer curls with the rope or dumbells. Concentration curls and single grip stuff doesn't count because they don't do anything. With all the movements that do
do something, go slow and heavy, controlling the weight. Fairly low repetition numbers and focus on the eccentric motion especially. Also, your forearm can take a huge portion of the load if you let it. This isn't helping your biceps. So non-barbell exercises, put your thumbs on the same side as your fingers. This will help limit the amount you can curl the weight in with your forearms. Then just focus on keeping your wrists straight, and not curling them in. That's all.
: French press (i.e. skull crushers), free or machine dips with elbows in, tricep pressdowns, rope or machine overhead extensions, incline elbows-under-you pushups, parallel bench dips. Do a little faster than biceps, but still heavy while emphasizing control especially during the eccentric phase. Your elbows are really all that matter here. Keep them in. If you flare them out, it allows your chest and shoulders to contribute to the force production. Chest and shoulders aren't triceps. Tricep exercises are most effective when they target your triceps.
: Nothing. If you're working out with weights and you have to hold them in your hands, your forearms are fine. However, if you want to be over-the-top in forearm focus, do barbell forearm curls behind your back.
So that's all. Okay, bye! Thank you so much, I love you so much!