Weightlifting And Exercise: No Brain, No Gain!

Weightlifting, bodybuilding and powerlifting have all come a long way since they were first popularized in the 1970’s. The gyms were hardcore – almost exclusively barbells, dumbbells and benches. Workouts were 3 – 4 hours long, and everyone was trying different techniques, different exercises, different tempos and varying rep ranges. And in the offseason, most were on a ‘See Food’ diet – if they saw food they ate it!

Weightlifting & Exercise: No Brain, No Gain!

“No Pain, No Gain” was their battle cry, and they were no strangers to pain. The pain of overworked and over-stretched muscles was joined by pain from failed exercise variations, nutritional mistakes, lack of sleep, lack of sufficient rest & recuperation – but they learned to work through it if they were motivated enough. Every gym goer from back in the day has comical horror stories about the aches and pains they worked through and the toll those days took on their health. And, now in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, many lament what those workouts did to their knees, hips, backs, shoulders and spines. But they’ll also tell you that given the chance to do it all again, they sure would.

But while No Pain, No Gain was an apt slogan for the 1970’s, today’s reality is “No Brain, No Gain”. So much research has been done in the past 40 years on every aspect of weightlifting and exercise, and anecdotal empirical evidence now exists from those who stayed with it through the various evolutions of the sport. Huge strides have been made in the fields of biology and kinesiology, nutrition (and especially sports nutrition), progressive resistance, hypertrophy and even exercise equipment itself.

Walk into the typical commercial gym today and, once you get past the recumbent bikes, stair machines, treadmills, ellipticals and other cardio devices, you’ll probably see twice as much gym floorspace dedicated to exercise machines as to the venerated old free weights. And while macho gym rats will forever mock the machines, it’s possible to put together an entire full-body workout for new members using just those machines, to provide the initial results they’re after in a safer, controlled and graduated environment.

We now know that gains in the gym can be tapered to your goals – greater strength for powerlifters, bigger muscles for bodybuilders, enhanced cardiovascular abilities for runners and endurance athletes and programs to aid in fat loss or lean weight gain, as you prefer. Still nothing that will do the workouts for you, but an amazing array of aids to ensure you’re on the right path for YOU.

Pro athletes, weekend warriors and regular gym goers have also learned a lot more about nutrition and healthy eating. The traditional dinner of meat, corn and potatoes is now likely to be replaced by chicken or fish paired with sweet potatoes and broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Breakfast might be oatmeal and egg whites instead of sugary cereal straight from the box. And while their nutrition may be based on meal plans, paleo, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) or vegan choices, they all share one main goal – to make sure your protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats ratio is in balance with your goals and that your total caloric intake level fits your plan to lose fat or gain muscle.

Yes, today’s workouts have changed, most definitely for the better. Knowledge of progressive resistance and workout periodization have let us remove most of the unnecessary pain from being regularly active in the gym, and the advances in kinesiology have taught us better ways to move the iron to avoid the repetitive stress injuries and better protect the soft tissue and joints that keep our bodies functioning properly. Far from ending up muscle bound, most weightlifters today have a better range of pain-free motion in their joints than the general public will ever have.

And for advanced intermediate lifters and experienced old pros there are advances too – but if you’re reasonably new to the art of weightlifting, leave the bands, chains, over-reaching and supercompensation for a few more years down the road. Don’t compare yourself to those who have been doing this for years. There’s a reason it took them years to get there. Instead, take ‘before’ photos when you’re ready to start, and compare them to new pictures every 3 – 6 months. The truest tests are how your clothes fit, how you feel when you wake up each day, how much energy you have and how deeply you sleep each night.

The best news? Most of the new knowledge you need to get to your goals is in your local library and even in your home, thanks to the Internet. These days it’s easy to be able to walk into a gym for the first time already knowing enough to get started – safely. If you can afford a good personal trainer and have access to one, that can get you started even better – but be careful. Don’t just blindly hire the biggest lifter in the gym, or you may end up with someone whose drug use masks poor knowledge, experience or technique. Ask around at your gym and see who others there recommend.

And above all, never stop learning. New weightlifting research surfaces daily and while there’s too much to stay on top of it all, pick a few experts and follow them on their blogs and in social media – you’ll learn a lot more that way than buying a lot of magazines filled with articles tailored to selling you supplements. A strong, healthy lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint – and carry the “No Brain, No Gain” motto with you proudly!

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4 Reasons To Buy Your Bodybuilding Supplements From Your Local Independent Supplements Store

Bodybuilding supplements aren’t just for bodybuilders — they’re also designed to help powerlifters and anyone participating in sports, running, biking and swimming along with anyone lifting weights. But where should you be shopping for your bodybuilding supplements?

Buy Your Bodybuilding Supplements From Your Local Independent Supplements Store

Generally speaking, as long as you live in a larger town or a city, you’ll have the choice of department stores, drug stores, chain stores and independent bodybuilding supplement stores. In almost every case, your best bet is to patronize your local independent supplier, and here’s why…

1) More Knowledgeable Specialist Staff - In drug stores, department stores and the like, supplements are one small area of their business. As a result, there’s no pressure for their staff to be experts in fitness, exercise or nutrition, and there’s no strong motivation for them to stay up on the latest research. You’ll usually fare better in a supplements chain store, but they have to hire a lot more staff to cover all their stores and like most retail operations it’s hit and miss as to whether you’ll get a dedicated athlete or a general retail employee serving you.

By contrast, usually only someone dedicated to lifting weights, be they a powerlifter, powerbuilder or bodybuilder, will open a bodybuilding supplements store. Often they’ll be a former or current fitness competitor themselves, or just love the sport. And since few employees are needed to run a single retail operation, they can usually staff it with just their friends whom they know are also into fitness. They each may or may not be certified personal trainers or nutrition specialists, but at least they’ll have a fairly well-rounded knowledge of the purposes and uses of each of the supplements plus usually some anecdotal results from their own nutritional regime experiments and those of their friends.

2) They Only Carry The Best Brands — Department stores and drug stores get by selling a range of products and only need a small percentage of their profits to come from their supplements. A chain store can survive off of sales of other stores – if 95% of their corporate stores are showing a profit, they can either close the other 5% or keep them going because the chain is making a net profit overall. But your locally-owned independent store has to make their money from just that one location, making every single customer a more vital piece of their net profit picture. And in the world of retail supplements, that means the products they sell have to WORK – it’s the only way to ensure customer retention. So while the others can afford to offer so-so products, your local store HAS to ensure they sell only first-quality bodybuilding supplements.

3) They Carry A Wider Selection Of Supplements — This one is a no-brainer: compare the size of your local store to the shelf space allotted to supplements in your local drug store or department store. No comparison, right? The popular supplement chain store will often have as big an area, but in most cases they’re only allowed to order the products approved of by head office, which can often lead to bigger stocks of fewer products. Your local independent, however, can stock whatever they like and will usually carry everything they get much demand for, leading to a wider selection both of brands and of the myriad of bodybuilding supplements on the market today. As an example, they won’t just offer whey protein but also whey protein isolate, casein protein, vegan proteins, etc. Or check out how many different pre-workout supplements they offer compared to your local department or drug store.

4) You’re Helping To Support Your Local Economy — This is true no matter what you purchase, so it’s not just limited to bodybuilding supplements – when you shop with local independent retailers the profits stay in your community. In this age of global corporations and free trade, every little bit helps when you choose to support your local businesses.

Bonus Tip For Competitive Athletes — If you hope to rise to the top of your sport over time, you already know the value of sponsorship. I can come in the form of free or discounted products, apparel, even cash to help defray the costs of traveling to competitions, etc. Getting sponsors isn’t easy, but at least when you’ve built a relationship with a local supplements store you have a better chance of getting help than you would when competing with athletes nationally or world-wide for those few spots. True, the level of sponsorship may be lower due to the economies of scale, but we all have to start somewhere, right? Try asking your local department store or retail store about how many athletes they sponsor, and ask your local supplements chain store how many athletes they sponsor in YOUR community – it won’t take long for you to see your best opportunities will come from your local independent bodybuilding supplements store!


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Building Muscle – Quick Triceps Workouts

Due to the popularity of our Quick Biceps Workout post, today let’s look at how to do a quick triceps workout as well…

Triceps, when properly weight-trained, make up two-thirds of your upper arm’s overall size. As such, it’s better to do a quick triceps workout than to skip it when your gym time is tight. If it’s absolutely necessary to skip a bodypart when training arms, better you should skip biceps than triceps if you’re looking to develop upper arm muscle mass.

Quick Triceps Workout - lying triceps extension

Your triceps brachii muscles have 3 heads – the long head, medial head and lateral head. They run down the back of your upper arm, from shoulder to elbow, and are mostly involved in extending your elbow to straighten your arm. The concentric portion of each rep contracts your triceps and fully straightens your arms, while the eccentric portion lowers the weight by allowing the elbow to bend to 90 degrees or more.

While twice the size of your biceps, the triceps are still one of the smaller bodyparts and can recover more quickly that larger muscle groups like legs, back and chest. This means you can work your triceps 2 – 3 times per week on non-consecutive days, but be careful not to use heavier weights than you can manage with proper form to prevent damaging your elbow ligaments or joint.

If you’re training time is limited during a workout, use these three exercises to work the triceps, doing 3 or 4 sets of 10 reps each. Don’t rush the reps – use a cadence of 1 second up and 3 seconds down with no pause or rest at the top or bottom of each movement.

Lying Triceps Extensions
Also known as ‘skullcrushers’, lying triceps extensions start with you lying flat on the bench with your arms straight up above you, perpendicular to your body. The exercise can be done with dumbbells, a straight bar, a cambered (EZ curl) bar or the specialized triceps bar. Start by slowly lowering the weight to your forehead then return it back to the top position at a faster speed. At the end of each set, go immediately into the next exercise with no break.

Narrow-Grip Bench Press
The second half of this triceps superset is the narrow-grip bench press. If you’re using a triceps bar then you’ll automatically have a narrow grip already, but if not then be sure your grip is about shoulder width or a touch narrower. Going any narrower than that places too much strain on the wrists at the bottom of the movement, so if you find your wrists getting sore widen your grip slightly. Since you’re already lying on the bench in the proper position, lower the weights to your chest while keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, then raise the weight directly up by extending your arms. Do not let your elbows drift out to the sides as this involves the pectoral muscles of the chest more than you want it to – keep the tension on your triceps as the weight moves up and down.

Because you’re supersetting this press with the extensions the weight won’t be as heavy as you could do otherwise, so you can compensate by either doing a few more reps per set or slowing each rep down, especially on the eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep. At the end of your set rest for about a minute, then go back to the lying extensions to begin your next set. Perform the full cycle 3 – 4 times before moving on to the third exercise.

Overhead Triceps Extensions
Sit up on your bench with your feet flat on the floor and a neutral or slightly-arched lower back. Using two hands, suspend a dumbbell overhead so that it rests perpendicular to the floor – your thumbs and forefingers should be wrapped around the handle while your palms and other fingers are pressed against the underside of the top bell to support the weight. Keeping your elbows facing forward and tucked close to the sides of your head, bend your elbows and slowly lower the weight as far down as you can behind your head, then return the weight back up to directly overhead. Your upper arms should not move during the exercise but instead stay upright and close to your head.

Other Triceps Exercises
The three exercises above will give you quick triceps workouts that are effective in building more muscle, but if you need to replace any of them due to injury or other physical issues, replace the necessary exercise with dumbbell kickbacks. Kickbacks have been shown to stimulate all 3 heads during each rep, so it’s your best replacement exercise. Other triceps exercises like triceps pushdowns, rope pushdowns, overhead cable extensions and triceps dips are good too, but save them for your workouts where time isn’t limited and you can fit one or more of them in with these three.


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Quick Bicep Workouts

Bigger biceps are a status symbol, a symbol of personal physical power, and every bodybuilder spends a fair amount of time working to achieve the best biceps they can build. Unfortunately time isn’t always on our side, so for some workouts we need a quick bicep routine like this one…

Use Incline Dumbbell Curls To Better Isolate The Biceps And Reduce Momentum When You Curl

Now, we don’t want to take a lot of time, but we don’t want to waste what little time we have either, right? So do a quick warmup set of curls if you haven’t already warmed up your biceps while training other bodyparts. Don’t overdo it – one set of 10 – 15 reps should suffice to get blood into the muscles and loosen up the joints, tendons and ligaments. Now choose a pair of dumbbells you can manage safely for 10 or 12 reps with strict form.

Note that these aren’t reps you can cheat up with plenty of momentum and ‘body English’, but rather good, strict reps at a temp of 1 second up (concentric) and 3 – 5 seconds down (eccentric). For 2 of these 3 exercises you’ll be taking body motion out of the equation entirely, so you need to choose weights that are challenging but manageable.

Do each of these three biceps exercises for 3 – 5 sets (depending on your available time), with 10 – 12 reps per set. Focus on keeping to your tempo, not trying to race through each set.

Incline Dumbbell Curls
Set the back of your bench to a 30 – 45 degree angle, then sit on the bench laying back against it with the dumbbells hanging at each side. Perform your curls through the full range of motion, finishing a full rep with one arm before repeating with the opposite arm. Keep your body flat on the bench throughout and don’t let your elbows travel forward as you raise and lower the weights.

Dumbbell Scott Curls or Dumbbell Preacher Curls
Depending on the equipment you have available, you can do these as Scott curls or preacher curls. If neither bench is available, you can also stand behind an incline bench and rest the back of your upper arm down the padded back. Use a sitting or standing position that has you leaning forward from the waist with your armpit snug to the top of the pad. Resist the urge to lean backward as you raise the weights – the reason you’re using the bench is to prevent yourself from ‘cheating’ the rep by involving your bodyweight. Curl the weight to the top, squeeze your contracted biceps hard for a second or two and then return it, under control, to the extended position.

Standing Dumbbell Curls
To finish off this quick bicep workout, use standing dumbbell curls. On the first exercise your elbow was behind the plane of your body while on the second it was ahead of your body, and this time you’ll keep your elbows at your sides. Raise the weights one arm at a time, pronating your wrist at the top, rotating it to bring your baby finger closest to your chest & shoulder, before lowering it again at a controlled pace. Do not just let it drop back down, stick to the 3 – 5 second pace.

By the end of this quick bicep workout you should be able to tell the muscles have been well-worked, and flexing them should reflect a good pump. If timing is too tight even for this short routine, you can shorten it even further by doing one set of each exercise with no breaks in between, resting for one minute and then repeating the 3 sets until you’ve done your 3 – 5 cycles.

Either way, re-rack your dumbbells and smile – your biceps know they’ve had a great, fast workout!


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Building Muscle – The Best Shoulders Workout

Shoulders are a smaller muscle group with 3 heads, so the best shoulders workout has to hit all 3 together and separately. To hit the front deltoids, side delts and rear delts with an eye to building muscle, this workout will include 4 sets each of 5 exercises, done as a superset followed by a triple set. It’s important to use proper form and weights light enough to ensure you focus on your shoulders and involve your chest and arm muscles as little as possible.

For Building Muscle, The Best Shoulder Workout Starts With A Superset Of Behind-The-Neck Presses And Upright Rows.

This workout can be done in your local commercial gym or just as easily in your home gym. Start by setting up your bench so that your back is supported about 10 or 15 degrees short of vertical – you want to be leaning back just slightly. Place the bench just in front of your rack so the bar is easy to lift out when seated.

Start with a light warmup set or two of seated overhead press – use just the bar or load it lightly. Remember the idea is to avoid pre-exhausting the muscles but rather just to fill the area with blood and work the shoulders just enough to warm them up. Be sure to use a full range of motion so they get a mild stretch as well.

Step One: Shoulders Superset
This best shoulders workout starts with a superset of seated overhead presses and upright rows. If your shoulder mobility allows it, do your overhead presses behind your head, but if not then bring the bar down in front. The idea to using behind-the-neck presses is to avoid involving the chest in your lift, but it will still work nicely for your shoulders if you need to bring the bar down in front. Have your training partner or spotter stand just behind you to ensure you don’t go too far back at the top of the lift and to help you re-rack the weight if necessary.

When you finish your set, immediately stand up and do a set of upright rows with that same weight. Only raise your arms until your elbows are level with your shoulders to avoid impinging your rotator cuff – your grip should be wide enough that your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle once your upper arms are parallel to your shoulders.

Most weightlifters will find they’re stronger on the upright rows than the overhead press, so you’ll find you can do a few more reps on those. Start your superset with a lighter weight that allows you to do 12 reps of the press and 15 reps of the rows, then over the 4 sets increase the weight slightly each set, ending with a final set of 8 presses and 12 rows. Be sure to maintain strict form throughout to avoid injury, and use a cadence of 1 second to lift and 3 seconds to lower the weight on both exercises. Limit your rest between sets to 30 to 45 seconds, then after your last set rest for 3 or 4 minutes before moving on to the triple set – remember to hydrate during the break!

Step Two: Shoulders Triple Set
Now that you’ve recovered from the two big compound shoulder exercises it’s time to isolate the 3 heads and hit the rear, side and front delts individually with a shoulders triple set. Grab a pair of dumbbells you can handle easily and start with rear delt flyes. Lean forward about 15 degrees from the waist – if you’re not sure how far to lean, look to your side in the mirror and see how far to lean forward to engage your rear delts when lifting your arms to shoulder height. Bend your elbow just slightly and then lock your arms in that position, raising them to the outside to shoulder height and then returning them back down in front of you. Don’t worry about lifting the weights to shoulder height – your delts are only involved in moving your upper arms, so just focus on getting your elbows up to that height.

Immediately following your rear delt flyes, stand up almost straight, leaning forward just enough to allow the dumbbells to hang freely in front of your body. Keeping that slight bend in your elbows raise your arms to either side, again until your upper arm is in line with your shoulders. Lower them back down slowly and under control, then repeat until you’ve finished your reps for this set.

Again without taking a break, start into your front raises. Maintain the slight bend in your elbows and start with your palms facing your thighs, then raise the dumbbells out in front of you to shoulder height and back down again. You can do both arms at once or alternate one then the other based on your own preference. By this point in the triple set your energy will be flagging but don’t let your form slip – avoid the temptation to lean back and swing the weights up, keeping to a controlled raise and descent.

Each cycle through the 3 exercises is one set, and after each set take about a 60-second break before starting the next set. Start with light dumbbells you can maintain strict form with for 12 reps of each exercise on the first set then increase the weight slightly each set, doing your 4 sets with 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps. Try to maintain a cadence of 1 second up, 1 second hold at the top, 3-4 seconds lowering the weight and no rest at the bottom of each rep for all 3 exercises.

By the end of the best shoulders workout you’ll definitely feel the pump in all 3 heads and know that you’ve worked them fully. Avoid the tendency to speed up the reps so you can go heavier – remember that your goal is to build muscle so you want to maximize your volume, intensity and time-under-tension. Because the deltoids are relatively small muscles they heal fairly quickly with proper nutrition and rest, so this workout can be repeated two or three times per week on non-consecutive days. At first they may be a little sore the next day but that will fade as time goes on and as you grow your shoulder pumpkins you’ll soon agree this is the best shoulders workout for building muscle!


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