a big,massive bull neck? Comin at ya, dudes...
As they say, "one bro's meat
is another's poison" (not literally talkin about your meat, bros).
So many times I hear "Whatever I do, hope I don't end up with a giant neck
and shoulders that slant up to my ears!"
a dude and buddy that
I respect to the nth has asked me for some exercises to help him achieve
that very result. Normally we're goin for a balanced look,
but far be it from AAARRGH to discourage anyone in their personal
quest for the FREAKY, so here goes, Richie --hope you get that Minotaur
silhouette that floats your boat!
else, listen up -- sure wouldn't hurt to strengthen the old neck muscles,
even if you don't want the full-bore EL TORO effect!
The neck contains a surprisingly
strong set of muscles, but think about it. If you didn't have a strong
neck, what would keep your head upright and steady. Under the skin,
the full perimeter of the neck is ringed with muscle that holds the head
and allows it to tilt forward, back, swivel, and perform that adorable
thing puppies do when you ask them a question and they slightly tilt their
heads to the side in earnest fascination.
Since there's lot of muscle there,
and it's naturally pretty strong, it doesn't take a heckuva lot to build
a bigger neck. So all you swans out there, there is indeed hope.
At the same time, don't go all gung ho and strain your neck, either.
You'll know the difference between a workout and a bruisin (and if you
don't, GO HOME before you WRECK my liability insurance).
To get you well on your way to
a big, Texas high-school footballer kinda neck, you don't even need any
weights or a gym to exercise in. Just use a good strong towel and
a coupla hands (your own, preferably). The basic idea is to loop
the towel around your head, and provide resistance with one or both hands.
To work the sides of your neck,
loop the towel around your head, and grasp the ends with either your right
or left hand. If you're holding with the right, then provide a light-to-moderate
resistance while you pull your head to the left. Do eight reps or
so, then switch to the other hand and other side. Then do a set with
both hands holding the towel ends in front, and pull your head up and back
against the resistance. Take it easy, and the next day look for that
mild "good ache" in your neck muscles. Also, be aware of a nice straight
line to your neck -- don't curl it up and twist it or you're beggin for
The second element in that quest
for the FREAKIN HUGE neck is to build the trapezius muscles, the ones that
slant up from your shoulders to the back of your neck. The basic
building movement for the traps is the aptly named "shrug".
Grasp a moderately heavy barbell
or pair of dumbbells in your two hands. Keeping the Sumo-style stance,
feet apart, knees slightly bent, and body still and straight, lift the
weight by pulling the shoulders up, then in toward the ears. Give
a little contraction at the top to remind your traps who's the BOSS.
You see a lotta guys at the gym doing a shoulder rolling motion, but I
think that does more potential friction dmage to the shoulder tendons than
it's worth. Straight up and in, down and out, and you're hitting
the traps good and hard.
Richie, let me know how this
regime does you. Next month we're gonna build some POPEYE forearms,
my buds, so get ready...
Exercise of the month for March
: Go hard and heavy for big bis and tris!
At last, a bodypart people actually
Nobody seems to mind a good hard arm workout, since the three things the
crowd seems to notice during beach season are defined pecs, tight abs,
and especially, big arms.
When you get a good pump in your
biceps and triceps, all's right with the world. The comfortable ache
that tells you that yes, you really did manage to focus on the muscle,
and no, it's not any real injury (just stressed muscles adapting and growing)
is more instinctive, natural, and real when it's your arms that are all
veiny and stiffly engorged with blood.
That good, almost sexual feeling
of big, pumped-up arms is not so hard to achieve. But it's also easier
to rob yourself of that big payoff by cheating than with any other bodypart.
First and foremost, check your
posture and breathing. How many times have you seen some guy standing
stiff-kneed, swaying to and fro with each biceps curl, and basically holding
his breath till he just about turns blue and keels over? An exaggeration
of course, but poor posture, stance and breathing can really defeat your
purpose when doing standing curls or triceps pushdowns.
Stand straight but not stiff,
knees loose (not locked), feet a good shoulders' width apart, to get a
strong rooting to the earth. Keep your elbows purposefully at your
sides. (All this preparation helps keep you from shifting the effort
to your delts, abs and back.) Now, holding a dumbbell in each hand,
palms begin the exercise facing in toward your hips. Slowly, exhaling
to a count of four, bring both hands and forearms up with the weight, simultaneously
turning the wrist outward (palms face forward, then face out). As
the dumbbells approach the top of the movement, you can enhance the contraction
by bringing the outer edge of your hand (opposite side from your thumb)
in toward your chest.
The upper arm and biceps remain
vertical through the entire movement. Never pitch the upper arm and
elbows up as you curl, or you'll take the brunt of the effort in your front
deltoids. After that little coup-de-grace contraction at the top,
slowly inhale and return the dumbbells to the starting position.
Remember, you can get almost as much exercise on the downward movement,
as long as you control the descent and don't just let your arms drop.
Do three or four sets with a
weight that feels heavy after eight reps (but you'll do ten), and you've
got a good basic biceps exercise to start your routine.
If your gym has a triceps pushdown
machine, that is a great place to train these big and surprisingly strong
muscles. Don't neglect your tris -- two thirds of the mass of your
upper arm is due to the triceps. Use exactly the same stance as for
the standing dumbbell curls, feet apart, knees slightly bent, upper arms
and elbows purposefully at the sides of your rib cage. Grasp a straight
or slightly turned down U-shaped bar attached to the upper cable of a pushdown
station, with your palms facing the ground.
The pushdown movement traces
a 90-degree curve, forearms and hands (the only part that moves) going
from parallel to the floor (even with your sternum (chestbone)) down until
the bar meets the front of your upper thighs, just below crotch level (Ouch!
I hope so!) Pump the forearms down as you inhale, and control the
ascent of the bar as you inhale and return to the starting position.
Again, three or four heavy sets of 8 - 10 reps so you'll feel your triceps
tomorrow morning. For a variation, you can reduce the weight and
increase the number of reps on each subsequent set, pumping away to the
point of exhastion (I like the sound of THAT).
Sorry that low-bandwidth and
slow modem connections don't allow me to provide a more useful demonstration
(like a QuickTime video of each exercise), but of course I encourage you
to contact me and ask about anything that's not crystal clear. Do
it right and your arms will thank you -- and me.
Exercise of the month for
February (not so new, but maybe new to you):
Work those abs five minutes a day
and you can have a six-pack! Wow, can it be true? Not quite...
If all that separated Joe Six-Pack
from Mr Universe in the midsection was a few poorly-toned rectus abdominis
muscles, then strengthening and toning them would indeed give you that
washboard you've been looking for. But if you're active and exercising,
your abs aren't all that weak and flabby. Then why can't you
see them? The answer you didn't really want to hear--it's the layer
of body fat covering them like a warm fluffy blanket.
Work your abs, get rid of the
fat layer?That's the oldest fallacy around. It makes sense somehow,
so it hangs on stubbornly no matter how many times you hear it disproved.
It's called spot reducing. "If you want to get rid of fat on one
area of the body, work out that area and the tenacious fat will dissipate."
Believe me, if it really worked
that way there never would have been a thing called liposuction.
The truth is, when your body metabolizes fat, it evenly burns up the fat
layer from your whole body. You can do situps, leg lifts and crunches
till the cows come home, and the only part that will really affect your
abdominal fat layer is the number of calories you burn doing the exercise.
And since ab exercises only utilize a small proportion of your body's muscle
fibers, it's not even burning calories very efficiently. So you end
up with sore hard abs with the same soft pillow of fat obscuring them.
So the first step in improving
the look of your abs doesn't even involve working them. If, like
most of us, your biggest midsection obstacle is working off the blubber,
start doing real fat-burning exercise. It's not torturous or even
uncomfortable, but it does take time. The best way to mobilize that
fat is low-intensity aerobic exercise.
On the treadmill, stair climber,
exercise bike or elliptical walker, aim for at least twenty minutes of
mild exertion, the kind that feels like nothing much until you notice the
sweat dripping off you after the first ten minutes. If you start
breathing hard or have any trouble carrying on a conversation during your
session, you're pushing too hard.
Three to five sessions of this
a week to start, and as your tolerance for boredom increases (read a magazine
or listen to the radio if that helps) add another five minutes to each
session. Meanwhile, we aren't going to let the skeletal muscles of
the midsection completely escape unscathed.
Lie on the floor or a thin exercise
mat. Bring your knees up, with your feet still on the floor close
up to your butt, or raised so your calves are parallel to the floor, you
decide. With your hands clasped over your sternum (mid-chest), visualize
holding an orange between your chin and chest. Slowly curl your head and
shoulders just up off the ground, as you feel your abs contract (keeping
that orange-sized space under your chin--never clench your chin to your
chest). The first few reps feel easy, but do a nice controlled set
of fifteen. Resting about a minute between, do two more sets.
Next, take the same starting
position, this time with your knees and feet up, calves parallel to the
floor. Loosely clasp your hands behind your neck. Again keep
the orange under your chin (in your mind, anyway). Now twist and
crunch, bringing first your right elbow toward your knees. Don't
try to bring your whole upper body up off the floor, just raise your shoulders
up a few inches while you twist. Maintaining a good, even breathing
rhythm, alternate twisting up with your left and right elbow. Though
your elbow leads and points, it's your entire upper torso that you're twisting.
Three sets of ten twists to each side.
The one-two punch to the solar
plexus, fat-burning exercise and targeted abdominal strenghtening, will
improve your waistline on all fronts. One happy side effect?
Building up strength in your abdominals will allow you to stand naturally
straighter and taller, pushing out your chest and minimizing whatever "pot"
you still carry on that belly.
Let me know how this regime works
JANUARY'S EXERCISE OF THE MONTH
(truly not new, but still valid):
Chest exercises can get pretty monotonous,
as they all end up being variations on push out or push together.
But if you focus the effort of your chest workout on three regions of the
pectorals, you can more easily visualize and make concrete the connection
between your exercise and the exact area you intend to work.
Think of your
as three parts: the upper pecs that hug the underside of your collarbone,
the middle chest that forms the majority of your chest's mass, and the
lower pecs that, when developed, give you a pronounced line separating
the flat planes of the ribcage from the mounded curves of the chest region.
If you plan on doing three exercises
for your chest, you can zero in closely on one area during each exercise.
Say you want to do three sets of bench presses, three sets of pushups and
three sets of pec-deck flyes.
The pec-deck flyes take place
in a more fixed plane of movement, so it's probably easiest to use them
to target the mid-chest area. Concentrate on keeping your back flat
against the pad and your upper arms perpendicular to the line of your body,
parallel to the floor. Focus on the movement of bringing the upper
arms together toward the midline of the body. Feel the effort with
your chest, and keep your ribcage high and expanded. Inhale as you
let your arms slowly come back out to the sides, then forcefully blow the
air out as you make the concentric effort of bringing the arms together.
Never push with your forearms and hands, or you'll let your body pull the
focus off the chest and onto the shoulders and triceps. Aim for a
weight that allows you to perform three sets of 8 - 12 reps. The
first set feels quite easy, but by the third you should notice the effort
in your muscles almost from the start. Keep it slow and controlled.
On your bench presses, let's
target the upper pecs. Instead of a flat bench, let's use an incline
bench (or you can raise one end of the bench by carefully propping the
legs up on some phone books. Make sure it's steady and will support
your weight.) An angle of 30 degrees elevation or less keeps the
effort directed at the upper chest instead of throwing it completely over
to the deltoids (the muscle group capping the shoulders). Breathe as you
did for the flyes, exhaling with your muscle exertion and breathing back
in as you carefully control gravity's bringing the weight back down.
Mentally focus on the upper chest, and resist your body's tendency to arch
the back and bring the middle pecs back into play. If you work out
alone, dumbbells are more practical when you do inclines and declines.
Think of a "heart-shaped" path of movement, squeezing the dumbbells toward
the center after you raise them. Allow them to curve out and down
as you control the descent.
Pushups are connected in too
many people's minds with childhood gym class calisthenics, but when you
do them right you'll really feel every fiber in your chest. To hit
the lower pecs, we can face two chairs toward each other, with enough room
for your body in between. Instead of putting your hands on the floor,
start the exercise with your hands on the seats of the chairs. This
tilts the line of your body up, with your upper body off the floor and
your toes still on it. Keep your body straight, not bent, and push
up off the chairs (better make sure they're on a carpet or nonskid surface
so they won't slide apart as you do your sets). An easier exercise
for this region can be performed if you have access to dipping bars.
Instead of a straight up and down line, tilt your head and upper body slightly
forward. Doing three sets of dips this way will work the bottom of
your pecs and pump up your triceps at the same time.
When you think of
from a flat position to target your upper pecs and
with your head lower than your waist) to hit the lower chest, you can customize
different exercises for your chest each workout. The more variety,
the longer it will take your body to figure out a way to cheat. And
that spells PROGRESS!