Here’s a general rule of thumb we’re sure you’ve heard before: the smarter you train, the bigger you’ll get. But what does that exactly mean?
Well, it basically means that if you understand the functional anatomy of your body, i.e. the way your body systems cooperate to perform certain physical tasks, you can alter muscle recruitment patterns and get more bang for your buck by changing your position accordingly.
In the quest to build a stronger and more symmetrical physique, different weightlifters rely on different exercises and positions because something that works great for one guy won’t necessarily work so well for the next one.
However, by fixating on ‘doing things your way’, you might be missing out on some great moves that could significantly enhance your muscle building efforts. So in this article we’ll try to discuss the general prepositions about how the human body works when lifting weights with the hope of shedding some new light on your favorite bodybuilding strategies. After all, the choices you make when programming your workout routine directly influence the quality of the gains you’ll get, so you might want to consider certain bits of scientific knowledge when making your decisions to ultimately train much smarter and better!
1. Build a stronger core to improve your lifts
According to The National Strength & Conditioning Association, the anatomical core is the axial skeleton and all of the soft tissues with proximal attachments that originate on the axial skeleton.
In much simpler words, the core is a collection of muscles which stabilize and move the spine, including the inner core (diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus, cervical flexors and transverse abdominis) and the outer core (the rectus abdominis, spinal erectors, the obliques, quadratus lumborum and hip flexors).
Needless to say, efficient core training requires understanding the core’s main function, which is to stabilize and protect the spine mainly by creating rigidness that limits excessive movement in any direction. Therefore, the stronger your core is, the better you get at stabilizing your spine and the better you’ll be at moving your limbs more forcefully.
Exercises such as the squat, deadlift and bench press can help you with core development because they involve maintaining a rigid spine position so that the hip and shoulder joints can move with force, and according to many studies, the barbell back will help you get the best results in the shortest period of time.
2. Learn how to use the correlation between lever length and weight to your advantage
Some people have lever lengths that give them a big advantage in terms of a potential for increasing strength over those with unfavorable body proportions, and this is especially true in powerlifting. When it comes to the bench press, short arm are considered ideal, while having a short torso, long arms and short legs works better for deadlifts and squats.
Those lifters who have favorable lever lengths simply don’t have to move the weight as far as the less lucky ones, which means that they can lift much heavier weights.
So here’s a simple piece of advice: If your aim is to move as much weight as possible while deadlifting, the sumo-style deadlift where the feet are outside of the hands is a better choice because it keeps the lever shorter and the distance the bar travels vertically is decreased. But if your goal is to build your glutes, hams and lower back, go with the traditional stance where the hands are outside the feet because that way you’re going to do more work and achieve superior muscle growth.
That being said, most trainers advise lifters to discover which stance works best for them by employing the good old trial-and-error method. While it’s true that a tall lifter should go for the sumo-style, this position can also be less powerful because the greater distance between the feet and the rest of the body leads decreases the lifter’s ability to generate force. Therefore, don’t be afraid to experiment with different positions and stances until you find your own sweet spot.
3. Work your quads with the low bar squat
Some people think that since performing a low bar squat simply means moving the bar 2-3 inches farther down your back, its effects don’t differ much from those of a high bar squat, but that’s not the case. Mechanically speaking, the high bar squat recruits a greater percentage of the quads vs. the hamstrings, but low bar squats typically get more love because most bodybuilders can squat 5-10% more weight when they position the bar lower.
Since you have to extend your knees and hips in order to stand up from the bottom of a squat, your quads, glutes, hams and adductors magni have to contract hard enough to produce the required knee and hip extension torque.
And if you are able to squat a significantly greater weight with the low-bar style, that will inevitably lead to a greater recruitment of muscle fibers in your quads, which ultimately means more growth.
So even though theoretically the high bar squat hits your quads better, the low bar position allows for a greater load placement on the quad muscles and therefore results with more overall quad muscle recruitment than the high bar position. However, safety should always come first so stick with the variant that allows you to complete the lift with most weight but keeps the risk of injury minimal.
You might be interested: The 20 Rep Squat Workout : Brutal but Effective
4. Proper foot placement is the key to building huge calves
Everybody wants a set of nicely developed calves but those bad boys can be so reluctant to grow that many people end up skipping lower leg workouts entirely. You’ve probably heard that rotating the ankles helps training different parts of the calf, which is true but only to a certain extent.
For example, based on collective experience as well the rules of biomechanics, it’s true that having your feet pointed straight ahead will train the inner and outer heads of your calves almost equally, turning the feet out will place more emphasis on the inner heads, and finally turning the feet in will shift the focus to the outer heads. However, this notion hasn’t been studied well enough for us to take it without a grain of salt. In addition, you don’t have to turn your feet in or out more than an inch to get those different benefits.
Turning them in or out too much isn’t the safest thing to do while performing calf raises because it will prevent you from achieving optimal calf activation and put your ankles and knees at a higher risk of injury due to an excessive amount of stress. That’s why you should avoid performing calf raises with your toes at extreme angles and satisfy with turning them an inch in or out or just maintain a neutral foot position.
It’s also important to note that a seated calf raise will allow for a greater soleus (the part of the calf positioned on the back of the lower leg) activation, while a standing calf raise places more focus on the gastrocnemius muscle. Also, a common reason for slow calf development is overtraining or using too much weight. Consider that 80% of the muscle fibers in the soleus are slow-twitch and have a slow contraction velocity and low tension capacity so it’s not the brightest idea to go heavy when training them.
5. Don’t use the thumbless grip
The thumbless grip, also known as a false, open or suicide grip, involves keeping your thumb on the same side of the bar as your fingers whereas a regular grip involves wrapping your thumb around the barbell. As you can imagine, there’s a pretty good reason why this grip variant is commonly called the suicide grip.
Most of the time, overly confident lifters are tempted to use this grip without any regard to the fact that it can easily lead to the bar slipping out of your hand (since there is no thumb to help hold it in place) and in the worst case scenario, killing you at the spot.
No matter how cool it looks, this grip is dangerous and definitely isn’t worth the risk. Some lifters find that the thumbless grip helps them hit their chest and triceps better or that it’s more comfortable than the regular one, but in reality the difference is not that big.
If you have wrist issues, it’s much wiser to invest in a pair of good quality wrist straps and use them during your heaviest bench press sets, instead of using a thumbless grip.
While some seasoned lifters use the thumbless grip regularly and get away with it because they have the motor skills and discipline to keep themselves safe, that doesn’t make this grip style suitable for less experienced lifters who usually have a tendency to mimic their behavior. So keep it real by either staying away from it entirely or at least making sure that you’re well prepared for the risks involved.
6. Lower chest training is a real thing
The pectoralis minor extends from the shoulder to ribs 3-5, underneath the pectoralis major which is the biggest chest muscle. If you’re like most guys, the lower pecs are the most difficult area of your chest to fully develop. In fact, some people believe that successfully training the lower chest is nothing more than a myth.
However, there are many ways to manipulate your routine and training intensity for the purpose of overcoming lower pecs shallowness and adding more volume to your chest such as using dropsets, rest-pause sets and negative reps. And if you want a well-developed chest, hitting both the lower part of the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor is a must.
To recruit the pectoralis minor more, opt for parallel bar dips and decline bench presses, the latter of which produce superior results for lower pecs hypertrophy when compared to using a flat bench.
However, when it comes to optimal angles for targeting the chest, most experts agree that smaller inclines or declines (20-30%) will work better than large inclines or declines for the average bodybuilder. But for more experienced bodybuilders who have larger chests, extreme angles can provide better muscle recruitment.
7. Weightlifting shoes can improve your performance
Chances are that the shoes you’re currently wearing while weightlifting are made for running. Is that a terrible mistake? Kind of. It most certainly isn’t life-threatening, but it significantly decreases your performance and increases your risk of injury. Running shoes have an in-built cushion that absorbs the impact with each step you take, which is ideal for running but not so great for weightlifting since the latter requires you to use all the force your body produces in order to move as much weight as possible.
On the other hand, flat-soled weightlifting shoes enable a better contact with the ground and thereby allow you to generate more force through the ground and transmit as much of it as possible through your body and into the barbell. Weightlifting shoes also have elevated heels, allowing you to squat into a deeper position by increasing the ankle range of motion and helping you improve your overall position. And finally, they are more stable and provide a stronger base to push through and push out into, which is crucial for both achieving optimal performance and minimizing the risk of injury.
Many lifters believe that doing compound lifts barefoot increases their gains, but in reality there isn’t enough evidence to support those claims. In fact, more often than not, people find it hard to keep their knees from caving in while lifting barefoot. So it’s safe to conclude that you will be best off deadlifting and squatting in weightlifting shoes that can provide the stability necessary to produce more force.
In bodybuilding, as in any other sport, there is much speculation and confusion surrounding the various methods and techniques that can lead to ultimate success. For the new lifter, this pool of contradictory advice and information can prove to be very frustrating and unhelpful, so it’s very important to check the reliability of anything you read or hear before adding it to your regular routine.
However, applying science-based training truths such as the ones presented in this article to your bodybuilding program can help you enhance your progress, keep you safe and prevent you from wasting time on myths and misconceptions, so we encourage you to try them right away and test their efficiency for yourself. As long as you give them a decent chance and train on a consistent way, you’ll be most likely to reap some amazing benefits.