5 Fixes for the Most Common Muscle-Building Exercises

We all know them. The big compound, multi-joint exercises that pack on the most mass. Bench presses and squats, just to name a few, are as common as finding a Starbucks in Seattle. You can’t beat them for how effective they are. To build muscle you need to get to know these 5 moves intimately in order for them to work. And for them to work, you need to perform them the right way – no ego included.

Bench Press: Establish Five Points of Contacts

Bench PressSeems simple enough: Lay down on a bench, grab the bar and press the weight up and voila! Chest muscle growth! Not so fast. The first order of business is to establish the five points of contact: Head on bench, upper back (shoulders) on bench, butt on bench and your right and left feet firmly planted on the ground. While maintaining a slight arch in your lower back keep your shoulders down and back toward the floor. Lower the bar to nipple level, touch your chest and then press up while keeping your chest high. Flex your pecs as if you were trying to break the bar and do not lock your elbows.

Pull-ups: Engage Your Elbows

Although not a wildly popular exercise for the simple fact that most of human kind has a hard time doing a pull-up, nothing beats it for pure strength, muscle and functionality. The problem is that too many lifters either practice bad form or load weight around their waist prematurely. Grasp a medium to wide overhand grip on a pull-up bar. Bend your arms slightly and pull your shoulder girdle down as if you were doing a reverse shrug. This is your start and finish position. Pull up engaging your lats by pulling with your elbows. Squeeze at the top and return to the bottom “flexed” position.

Shoulder Press: Keep Slight Bend in The Elbows 

Shoulder PressSeated, standing, barbell, dumbbell, machine are just a few variations of the shoulder press. However, the standing barbell shoulder press takes the cake when it comes to building a lot of muscle in little time. But how do you get the most bang for your buck all the while not crushing your lower back and neck?

First you need to adjust your stance. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend your knees, keep your core tight and look straight ahead. Grasp the bar with a slightly wider grip than your shoulders and begin with the bar below chin level. Press the bar overhead and a bit behind you. Your head should go through your path of movement as the bar is pressed. Keep a slight bend in the elbows at all times and return the bar back down for reps.

Squats: Make Sure Your Core is Tight

Exalted by many as the granddaddy of all exercises, the squat is by far one of the most effective yet technical lifts around. Many either bend over too far or load too much weight on the bar and only go down a fraction of the range of motion. Begin (as with many of these exercises) with a slightly wider than shoulder width stance.

With a loaded barbell at about mid-trap level, be sure to keep your core in tight throughout the lift. Begin the descent keeping your knees in line with your toes and bring your hips back as if you were trying to sit down on a small bench below. Your glutes should end up parallel or below your knees to get a full range of motion. Reverse the motion and return to the top without locking your knees.

Romanian Deadlift: Bend Your Hips Not Lower Back

Romanian DeadliftOkay, maybe this one isn’t quite as common as the others but for sheer muscle building very few leg curls can match up to the standard barbell Romanian deadlift. Allowing you to lift heavier loads and perform that much-need stretch in the hamstrings these bad boys, performed correctly, will also help out your squat strength as well.

Stand holding a loaded barbell with an overhand grip. Your arms should be hanging straight down, your feet should be shoulder width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead. Here’s the key: Bend at your hips not your lower back. Hinge at your hips while jetting your butt out behind you. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout. The bar may only come to about mid-shin level but you should feel an intense stretch on your glutes and hamstrings. Return to the top and repeat for reps without rest.

Image credit: Muscle & Strength.
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