10 ways to get stronger

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Follow these rules for immediate and long-lasting muscle and strength

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  • Mens Fitness May 2009 33

    the story | building power

    Strength is the foundation of nearly all physique and performance goals. When youre strong, you more easily gain muscle size, lose fat, run faster, hit harder, play longer, and move more living room furniture for your wife. Weve rounded up 10 no-questions-asked tips to help you make everything in your life feel just a little bit lighter.

    Follow these rules for immediate and long-lasting muscle and strength

    10 STRONGER

    WAYS TO GET

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  • 34 May 2009 Mens Fitness

    the story | building power

    The only way to get stronger is to consistently

    increase your weights

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    OWN THE BIG FOUR The squat, deadlift, bench press, and shoulder press are the best strength-building exercises, period. The chin-up and row are great moves too, but dont make them the focus of your workout they can be assistance lifts to complement the bench and shoulder press, keeping your pulling muscles in balance with the pressing ones.

    USE BARBELLS FIRST Forget all the fad equipment. The barbell is king, the dumbbell is queen, and everything else is a court jester it may have its place, but its not essential. Start your workouts with barbell exercises, such as the big four, as described above. Barbells let you load a lot of weight, and lifting heavy is the first step toward strength. Once the heaviest exercises are out of the way, you can move on to dumbbell and body-weight training.

    DONT OVERDO IT Try to stick to three or four lifts per workout. Keeping your workouts short helps you take advantage of hormonal surges. When you do too many exercises in a session, at least some of them get done half-assed. All you need is one main lift per workout (one of the big four), one or two assistance lifts (for keeping the body in balance and further strengthening the muscles that perform the main lift), and then core or specialty work at the end (ab exercises or some forearm or calf moves, depending on your goals). Doing any more lessens your results.

    THINK FIVE You should rotate many different rep ranges in your workouts, but sets of five seem to offer the best blend of muscle size and strength gains. If youre pushing through one of the big four moves, youll find that your form often breaks down after five anyway.

    MAINTAIN A LOG Write down your exercises, sets, reps, and the date of each workout. Keep track of your best lifts and of the most reps youve done with a certain weight on an exercise. Constantly strive to improve those numbers.

    TAKE TO THE HILLS Cardio is a must if you want to be lean and healthy, but long-distance running or cycling increases levels of hormones that break down muscle tissue. To get stronger while getting leaner, do cardio in short, intense bursts. Go to a moderately steep hill and sprint to the top, then walk back down. When youre ready, sprint again. In your first workout, do only half as many sprints as you think you could. In your next workout, do two more sprints than you did the first time. Continue adding two sprints to your workouts until you cant improve anymore. Then do sets of sprints.

    KEEP IT SIMPLESome trainers make their clients lift with a certain rep speed, like three seconds up, one second down. But know this: Theres no need to count anything but reps during a set. Simply focus on raising and lowering your weights in a controlled manner, pausing for a one-second count at the top of the lift. Using an arbitrary tempo can lessen tension on your muscles or force you to use varying amounts of weight, slowing your progress. The only way to be sure youre getting stronger is if your loads consistently increase.

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  • BALANCE YOUR TRAINING Whatever you do for one side of the body, you must do for the other side. Follow that rule in your workouts and you should be able to avoid injury and muscle imbalances. If youre doing squats (mainly a quad exercise), also do Romanian deadlifts (which hit the hamstrings hard). Your chest exercises should be balanced with back-training lifts. You dont necessarily have to do your balance work in the same session, but it should be done in the same week. In general, follow a ratio of two-to-one between your pulling-and-pushing movements. So if you bench-press on Monday (and most of the world seems to), you can do chinups on Tuesday and bent-over lateral raises on Thursday, for example. Every other pressing exercise you do should follow this formula.

    ADD WEIGHTS SLOWLYThe main reason people plateau and stop gaining strength is that they go too heavy for too long. Abandon your ego and do your main lifts using 10 per cent less than the most weight you can lift for the given rep range. Increase the weight each session but by no more than 10 pounds and stick with the same lifts. Youll rarely plateau again.

    DO IT RIGHT. FORM IS KEY You may think you know how to perform the big four, but you could probably get more out of them. Here are some quick pointers for each one. Squat: Begin the squat by pushing your hips back as far as you can. Keep your lower back arched and you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. When your hips are bent, begin bending your knees and squatting low. This is what you need to squat maximal weight. Deadlift: Use the same stance you would to perform a jump your legs should be narrowly placed. When you bend down to grab the bar, keep your hips down and your back straight, with your shoulders directly over your knees. Bench press: Start with your head off the bench. Keeping your feet steady, grab the bar and pull your body up off the bench and forward, so that when your butt comes down on the bench your lower back is very arched. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Your range of motion should be significantly shorter for stronger pressing. Shoulder press: Flare your lats when the bar is at shoulder level. This should allow for more weight.

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    Mens Fitness May 2009 35

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  • 36 May 2009 Mens Fitness

    WHAT ELSE DOES IT DO BESIDES BUILD BICEPS?Plenty. Protein fights flab. Your body actually burns more calories digesting protein than it does breaking down carbs and fat. Protein is also the most satisfying nutrient in your diet, prolonging feelings of fullness that douse the urge to overeat. A recent Saint Louis University study found that including two eggs for breakfast as part of a reduced-calorie diet helped overweight adults lose 65 per cent more weight than eating a bagel breakfast of equal calories. Proteins power doesnt end there. Several studies suggest that swearing off some carbs in favour of more protein helps head off heart disease by lowering blood triglycerides (fat) and boosting good HDL cholesterol.

    WHENS THE BEST TIME FOR PROTEIN?Every time you eat. Your body demands a steady supply of amino acids to stoke the production of muscle, bone, and other tissue. Research suggests 30 grams of protein the amount found in either half a roast beef sandwich and eight ounces of milk; a half-cup cottage cheese and two eggs; or four ounces of cooked salmon or canned tuna at each meal or snack is necessary to keep your muscles growing while maintaining other lean body components.

    SHOULD I TAKE PROTEIN SUPPS?Perhaps, although youre better off reaching for a variety of natural protein-packed foods that have other nutrients to offer as well. For example, seafood also harbours omega-3 fats to calm inflamed muscles; garbanzo and soy beans supply potassium and fiber; and red meat provide iron and zinc. Theres also leucine, an amino acid abundant in eggs, beef, dairy, poultry, and fish, which helps to preserve muscle when youre trying to shed fat. Instead of using them as your primary source of nutrients, rely on supplements to complement a balanced diet of lean protein sources, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables, and to fill in protein gaps when youre too busy to eat a proper snack or meal.

    7 POWER PACKED PROTEIN FAQSAll you need to know about the muscle-building compound

    the story | protein

    WHAT DOES PROTEIN DO? In the broadest sense, protein helps to build and repair all the muscle, bone, and tissue in the body. Its used to construct the compounds that defend cells against disease; digest food; maintain the balance of fluids in the blood, and much more. Protein is also the only compound you can consume that supplies nitrogen, a critical component in the composition of every cell in the body.

    HOW MUCH OF IT DO I NEED?It depends. Protein quotas are based on what you should weigh; you need protein to feed muscle not fat. Experts say healthy adults require 10 to 35 per cent of their calories as protein anywhere from 70 to 245 grams a day for a very active guy on a 2,800-calorie diet. Wherever you fall on that scale, aim high. Most guys, particularly those in good shape, will benefit from more than the minimum recommendation of about a half gram of protein per pound (of your ideal body weight). If you want more muscle, include a minimum of one gram of protein for every pound of your target body weight. Ditto for weight loss; lowering your calories and protein intake hampers weight-control efforts and leeches calcium from your bones.

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    Words Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

  • Mens Fitness May 2009 37

    OKAY, SO WHATS THE BEST SUP?Whey protein, found naturally in milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese, is certainly among the most popular arou