Approach The Bench

When it comes to gym metrics, it’s all about the bench. And while a fixation on your bench totals is unnecessary – even counterproductive – unless you’re a competitive powerlifter, the bench press is an extremely valuable tool if you want to develop synergistic, force-generating capability throughout your upper body, along with heaps of new muscle. For tips from the trenches, we spoke with experts who not only use the lift themselves but also teach it to others: Michael Wolf, member of the Platform Staff at Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Seminars, head strength coach at CrossFit Solace in New York City, and a former collegiate strength-and-conditioning coach- and IFBB Physique competitor Justin Hassan, a New York City-based NCSF-certified personal trainer and competition/nutrition coach. Here’s what they had to say about this revered, yet sometimes misunderstood, lift.M&P:

To do it right, what are the most important form cues on the bench press?Justin Hassan: Keep your shoulder blades pressed back and hips down on the bench. Many lifters during a higher-intensity bench will arch their back and their hips will rise off the bench, which can cause unwanted stress on the lumber spine. Keep your feet planted on the floor, grip the bar a little wider than shoulder width, and as you lower the bar, do not let your elbows flare outside your shoulders. At the bottom of the range of motion, touch the bar to your chest under control and then drive explosively to the starting point without your hips leaving the bench. Squeeze your pecs hard at the top of the movement.Michael Wolf: Wrap your thumbs around the bar- don’t take a “suicide grip” with your thumbs on the same side as your fingers. Also, keep your scapulae (shoulder blades) retracted, even at the top when you lock out. Finally, drive your feet into the floor.

Even though the bench press is primarily an upper-body exercise, using your legs properly increases the work your upper body can do by facilitating a more stable platform against which to push.M&P: For someone who wants to increase his or her bench strength, what is the No. 1 piece of advice you would give?MW: Bench! Doing a movement more frequently, within reason, is the best way to improve it. Beginners can make great progress benching three times every two weeks or twice per week. More advanced lifters may need to increase the frequency and bench more often. The main point is that you can’t expect to become a great bench presser by doing the movement only every few weeks. Also, make sure to do overhead pressing and chin-ups or pull-ups in your overall training split. JH: I have so many clients and friends approach me with this question.

Being stuck at a plateau is a sign that your body has adapted to what you’re throwing at it, both exercise wise and nutritionally. These same people, when asked what they eat every day, often reply with answers that lead me to suggest an increase in overall caloric intake. If you’re not providing your muscles the necessary fuel to help damaged muscle fibers recover, most likely you won’t grow. Keeping your muscles in an anabolic (muscle-building) environment is key to increasing any lift, not just the bench press.

Hit ‘Em High, Hit ‘Em Low

Changing up your training fairly regularly is a proven tenet of success. Doing the same exact workouts over and over will eventually lead to a growth plateau, where your body adapts to that stimulus. To avoid that, you need to cycle different movements and strive to handle more weight more efficiently over time.And that means if you’re muddled deep in a repetition rut, doing the same number of reps across the board, it’s time for a shake-up: an approach that tosses out that 10-rep tedium and varies your reps not just from workout to workout but also within a given training session.To design a sample program that does just that, we tapped two experts from 24 Hour Fitness: Director of Group Personal Training Phil Timmons and Regional Fitness Educator Nikolaus Herold, who’s responsible for “training the trainers” at the worldwide fitness center chain.They suggest a workout that alternates more traditional dumbbell moves done with a heavy weight and dynamic, functional push-up variations. “Training at multiple repetition [ranges] within the same workout can have great physiological benefits to progress, fitness and health,” Timmons explains. “Also, by training three-dimensionally – or taking an exercise for a specific muscle group and applying functional movement patterns – you can gain significant benefits, specifically to muscular recruitment, stability and muscular coordination.”Three-dimensional, functional movements not only train the muscle but also impact the fascia, the dense connective tissue that surrounds muscles, Herold says. “On that front, recent research published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies has recommended that our fascia, or connective tissue – ligaments, tendons, joint capsules – be trained with variability in mind. Variability in direction, mass, speed, work and rest duration, and range of motion are key to keeping our fascia healthy and improving its tensile strength.”In this chest workout, the three-dimensional functional movements – the windmill push-up, multiplanar push-up and Bosu crossover push-up – have a higher rep scheme, while the power- and strength-oriented linear movements have lower rep schemes to foster these positive changes. After a basic bench press to kick things off, the workout is broken into three Escalating Density Training (EDT) sets of two exercises apiece.”In EDT sets, you perform alternating sets of two exercises within a given time frame- in this particular workout, we’ve suggested five to six minutes,” Timmons says. “Sets, reps per set and rest time are undefined. All that matters is that you perform the same number of sets of each exercise with as many reps as you can manage in each set before the time is up. “The number of reps you manage will likely decrease with each set as you reach fatigue,” Timmons continues. “Add up the total number of reps you do and then, with every workout, your goal is to exceed your previous number of reps completed. When your total reps have increased by 10 to 20 percent, it’s time to add more weight to the first exercise in each set.”Once you get the hang of this chest workout, you can try EDT with other bodyparts. It’s sure to help bust your rep rut and achieve 3-D results.

Dumbbell Windmill Push-Up: Get into push-up position, gripping two dumbbells instead of placing your hands on the floor. Perform a traditional push-up, but when you come to the top, elbows-straight position, twist your body to lift one dumbbell up and out to the side in an arc and perpendicular to the floor, then return it in the same arc to the floor. On the next rep, repeat the windmill motion with the opposite arm.Multiplanar Push-Up: Start in a standard push-up position. After each rep, switch your hand position as if putting your hands on different numbers of a clock. For instance, begin with a standard push-up, then put your left hand on 11 and right hand on 4 and do a rep, then put your left hand on 8 and right hand on 2 and do a rep. Keep moving your hands until you’ve done as many reps as possible.Bosu Crossover Push-Up: Get into push-up position with one hand on the floor and the other on a Bosu ball (or a low step). Do a standard push-up, then switch your hands to bring the one from the floor onto the Bosu and the one from the Bosu to the floor, where you’ll do another push-up. Continue this back-and-forth pattern for reps.

5 Size-Up Supplements

Gaining muscle mass without anabolic steroids online is a delicate pursuit that requires a synergistic and judicious approach to training, diet and supplementation. To provide the signal for your body to adapt – that is, grow and get stronger – your training must be heavy, intense and, most of all, consistent (for an example, see page 36). Along the same lines, you need to supply fatigued muscles with substrates essential for growth and repair by consuming adequate and balanced calories from high-quality sources of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Finally, to ensure your body’s environment is primed for hypertrophy, incorporate several key supps into your “mass-ter” plan. In the pages to come, we present a five-supplement muscle-building stack that attacks growth at the cellular level while also flooding your body with key hormones that trigger your body’s “get big” machinery.

BUILDING BLOCKS Blended Protein Powder Proteins are merely chains of amino acids that provide the substrates needed to build muscle and support metabolism. In an effort to maximize protein synthesis and minimize catabolism (aka muscle wasting), athletes require at least twice as much protein as the regular sedentary Joe.

How much? In general, 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. That’s a tough mark to hit if you’re relying wholly on food, which is why protein powders are so crucial. Taking a protein supplement before training raises blood amino acids during your workout, which ensures your body won’t rob hard-earned muscle of amino acids for energy production. And a recent article published in The Journal of Nutrition reported that blended protein supplements raise and sustain blood amino-acid levels and protein synthesis better than whey protein isolate alone. Protein powder blends are formulated using proteins from multiple sources that have different absorption profiles. Simply put, these products work by raising blood amino acids quickly and keeping them elevated for extended periods. The best protein blends contain fast-digesting whey protein hydrolysates and isolates as well as slower-digesting milk protein isolates and micellar casein. Some of the top brands also include soy and/or high-biological-value egg protein. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)The BCAAs are the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. They’re considered essential because the body cannot synthesize them, so they must be acquired in your diet or supplemented. BCAAs make up a great proportion of the total amino-acid content in skeletal muscle and are readily broken down for fuel during exercise. Based on this, it’s obvious why BCAA supplementation benefits athletes undergoing strenuous training. Taking BCAAs preworkout prevents their loss from muscle during exercise, reduces muscle soreness and protects muscle from catabolism. BCAAs have also been shown to decrease perceived exertion and fatigue during heavy training by balancing the brain’s tryptophan levels.  Supplementing with BCAAs after training ensures that the body has an abundance of these amino acids for recovery. This again protects against catabolism and decreases the time it takes for your muscles to knit themselves back together again. The BCAA leucine also boosts the release of the anabolic hormone insulin. Contrary to what some people may think, you want insulin levels to be elevated after workouts because this hormone carries nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into muscle cells, promoting greater protein synthesis and muscular gains during recovery. Furthermore, supplementing with BCAAs has been shown to support the immune system, helping to keep you from getting sick and missing workouts.


Creatine MonohydrateCreatine – the pound-for-pound performance supplement king – is synthesized by the body from arginine, methionine and glycine and is stored in skeletal muscle. During exercise, it plays a fundamental role in energy production by forming the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) needed for explosive muscle contractions.The abundance of available positive research comes from studies using the monohydrate form of creatine. When taken after exercise, it can replenish and significantly boost muscle creatine stores. Having extra creatine around after training not only provides energy substrates for future exercise bouts but also promotes greater protein synthesis in recovery by physical and hormonal mechanisms. First, it increases the amount of water taken up by muscle cells, which swells the muscle and signals for increased repair. (Happily, it also makes your muscles look bigger.) Second, it increases the release of the anabolic hormone insulinlike growth factor-1 and decreases myostatin levels (the “anabolic brakes”). HMB (-Hydroxy–Methylbutyric Acid)HMB is an active anabolic metabolite of leucine and is found naturally in skeletal muscle. In the early 1990s, Steven L. Nissen, Ph.D., at Iowa State University discovered the important role of HMB in skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Since then, research has shown that HMB combined with regimented heavy training enhances recovery, increases lean body mass and decreases fat mass. While it’s effective for all hard-training athletes, HMB may hold even greater benefits in strength and power for those who are new to training or coming back from an extended layoff. As with many supplements, past research on HMB was equivocal, mainly due to differences in study design and dosing. However, the most recent and rigorous studies illustrate that with intense training and high enough doses, HMB is a potent muscle-building supplement for individuals at all levels.L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)Carnitine is a compound synthesized by the liver and kidneys from the amino acids methionine and lysine. The blend of L-carnitine and L-tartrate produces a highly stable and bioavailable form of carnitine referred to as LCLT.LCLT can be thought of as an anabolic catalyst, boosting the testosterone-mediated anabolic system in skeletal muscle and resulting in enhanced recovery and greater gains. The evidence comes from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which 21 days of LCLT supplementation were found to boost androgen (testosterone) receptor content in skeletal muscle and augment luteinizing hormone secretion (a signaling hormone for T production) in resistance-trained men. A complementary study showed that LCLT supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle tissue damage after heavy squatting. Carnitine also increases nitric-oxide production and enhances fat loss by transporting more fat to the mitochondria where it’s oxidized and turned into energy in the form of ATP. In other words, it helps you swole out your physique without straining another belt loop.

5 Ways To Train With A Partner

It’s pretty widely accepted that having a reliable training partner can help amplify your results in the gym. There’s an accountability that goes along with having someone suffer through the same workouts as you. But getting fit with a buddy or significant other doesn’t have to stay within the rigid confines of the “you spot me, I’ll spot you” relationship. There are ways to make things more dynamic and interesting so that you can both make tons of progress without being bored to tears.1. Buddy CurlsOne of the oldest partner tricks in the book is also one of the best. Grab a barbell that you can handle for eight to 10 reps. Standing in front of your training partner, you perform one rep, then hand them the bar so they can perform one. Work your way up the ladder like this to 10 reps, then go back down to one. One partner tends to be weaker than the other and will benefit from having a spotter right there. The stronger partner still gets a high-volume, rest-minimal biceps thrashing. For a tougher go, make this your biceps finisher.2. CompeteInstead of asserting bragging rights over who has the bigger bench, try a day in which you test each other’s relative strength and endurance by seeing who can do the most reps with their bodyweight. Or you can go the bodyweight route, taking turns to see who can perform the most pull-ups, push-ups or squats in a single minute.3. RaceHow’s your cardio routine these days? What’s that? Oh, you run 30 minutes on the treadmill? Tell us again how that’s fun? Running sprint intervals has been shown in numerous studies to burn more fat while preserving more muscle than traditional steady-state runs. To get past the torture of sprinting on a conveyor belt, head out to the track with your training partner and race. Try four to six laps on a track, racing the straightaways and sprinting the curves. Loser buys the postworkout shakes.4.  Resisted SprintsBecause sprints can’t be overvalued, you should always try to find ways to run faster. The leg drive that it takes to run Usain Bolt-like times on your sprints can be built on partner day using dedicated elastic bands, long belts or even towels. Wrap the resistance of choice around your waist and have your partner grab the ends behind you. When they say “go,” you explode out as fast as possible while your partner provides resistance. To overcome the resistance, you have to be aggressive with every stride – it will require more effort to cover less distance. Try trading off on 25 yards of resisted sprinting, no rest between sprints, for five to six sprints each.5. Fireman CarryLoaded carries build a ton of functional strength and endurance. Farmer walks and suitcase carries are good examples. But if you sling a buddy over your shoulder and “sprint” a distance, your legs and deep core musculature will take a beating. To make a workout out of it, select a distance and alternate carrying each other that distance, covering the ground as fast as possible for 10 total runs (five each). Note your time. Next workout, you have to break that mark by 10 seconds.

Increase Shoulder Width and Thickness

You’ve probably heard athletes talk about prioritizing chest, or training to build impressive arms or focusing on lagging legs. Those are all reasonable goals, of course. Yet, one bodypart that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as others – but could arguably make an outsized difference to your overall appearance, whether you’re a man or a woman – are your deltoids.That’s because wider shoulders can make your waist look smaller in comparison, creating the coveted V-taper even in those who lack the genetic gift of a broad clavicle structure. Viewed from the side, thicker delts can cap the upper body and offer striking contrast to defined biceps and triceps.    If your delts need help, a smart approach is two workouts per week – say, Mondays and Thursdays – dedicating one workout to width and the other to thickness. Here, we provide the blueprint.

The width workout ( begins with the Arnold press, a solid all-around shoulder molder thanks to the twist of the wrist as you press the weight overhead. That is followed by the upright row with an EZ-bar. This compound movement takes direct aim at the middle delts, which are often underdeveloped in comparison to the more dominant anterior (front) delts, which are responsible for you looking like a barn door.     Moving on, the emphasis remains on the middle delts with the seated dumbbell raise and the leaning dumbbell lateral raise, in which you hold a pole or other sturdy object and lean away to create an angle, then lift a dumbbell up to shoulder level with your free hand. You finish the workout with a one-arm cable lateral raise (to concentrate on one middle head at a time) or an isometric lateral hold, in which you elevate the dumbbells to the top position of a standing lateral raise and hold them there for as long as you can.

The second workout aims to add depth to your shoulder complex, starting again with a major strength-oriented move, the seated military press. Next is an array of exercises that target each head of the delts, specifically breaking down your muscle fibers, which will rebuild to become bigger, thicker and stronger. For the high-incline dumbbell press, you set an adjustable bench just a couple clicks away from upright, a position that hits the front delts hard.     You then do a rear-delt superset: the reverse pec-deck flye and the seated bent-over dumbbell raise. That’s followed by a raise variation that engages the rear and middle delts from a reversed seated position – your chest on an incline bench set to 60 degrees or so. The last stop? Battle rope alternating waves, which will demolish whatever’s left of your strength. A final note: Determine which of these workouts ( to do first in the week by considering which needs more attention – your width or thickness. Lead with that and do the other workout two or three days later. Every three months, reassess your progress until your mission is accomplished.

Must-Try Dynamic Leg Workout

For a bodypart designed to motor you from place to place, the typical weight-training leg workout is, well, a little static. People tend to rely on a host of linear actions, including the up-and-down of a barbell squat, leg press and hack squat, and the simple hinge of the knee for the leg extension and curl.We’re not saying those exercises aren’t great. Indeed, the squat is arguably the most productive move you could ever do in a gym.

However, for complete development – thighs that are not only aesthetically muscular but functional, too – it’s time to step out of your leg-training comfort zone. The following workout, targeting the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers of your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, accomplishes just that.Start with jumping bodyweight squats, in which you simply bend your knees and lower your hips deeply into a squat position, then drive yourself upward into a leap while reaching overhead as high as you can. Each time, land on soft – i.e., slightly bent – knees and dip right back down into the next rep.Next, do five sets of a traditional squat, pyramiding up the weight from set to set. Try to incorporate an explosive motion out of the hole to reach a standing position, while taking the negative deliberately.The third stop is the dumbbell step-up. You can either use a flat bench or a similarly high box.

As in squats, push hard through the concentric portion of the rep to lift your body up quickly. You can either do all reps for one side, then the other, or alternate.Following that, find a clear expanse of floor or hallway for walking lunges. Concentrate on long strides so your front leg reaches a 90-degree angle in the knee as your torso descends, while your back knee comes within an inch or two of the floor at the bottom of each rep.The regimen winds up with two tests of speed and strength. For the sled push and pull, load up a training sled and first push it across the floor, getting low and using your leg power to propel it forward. Then pull it back to the start with a rope or D-handled strap attachment- again, use your legs to drag the sled step by step. After that, you’ll do sprints, either indoors on a treadmill or, if you can, outdoors on a track or in a park or other open space.If you’ve been following the typical leg workout for months, even years, this change of pace may provide the perfect move in the right direction.

6 Mistakes that Minimize Your Max

Notching a one-rep max on a major lift is exhilarating, and the feeling of accomplishment when you set an all-new personal record is like nothing else. Thing is, people tend to in the pursuit of those PRs, turning an already challenging process into a frustrating backslide. To ID those costly errors head-on, we recruited Heather Farmer, a personal trainer, CrossFit group-class instructor and top-ranked national Olympic weightlifting competitor based in New York. Here, Farmer calls out the six most heinous mistakes she sees and the Rx she recommends for hitting those PRs.Mistake #1: Expecting to make fast, uninterrupted progress.

As you train, your strength may initially advance more rapidly than your ability to execute proper technique, and you may actually need to dial back on your weight for a while tofocus on form. “You can’t always expect to just add weight or reps without plateaus in your progress,” Farmer explains. “A cycle is progressive. It’s designed to build up your strength over time.”

When squatting, for example, your back may be a weak link, unable to stabilize properly in the bottom. Taking time to strengthen this bodypart is essential when trying to build to a max, according to Farmer, and should be prioritized.Mistake #2: Only performing the lift you want to PR. “If you want to PR your snatch, you can’t just snatch all day, every day,” Farmer warns. “You need [to perform] auxiliary exercises to strengthen the components of the lift.”

Buttress your training with movements that hit the same muscle groups and stimulate similar muscle recruitment patterns as the lift you’re targeting. For instance, do hack squats and lunges to bolster a squat, and overhead squats and barbell pulls from the floor for a snatch, says Farmer.Mistake #3: Failing to focus.Try to do too much all at once and everything will suffer. “Pick one or two exercises at most to focus on as your primary training goal,” Farmer suggests. “Those should take priority in designing the rest of your program.” For instance, if you’re working on your squat max, put your leg/lower-body training day first in your split, after a rest day. Your squat should be done first after a warm-up, when you’re strongest. And the intensity for the rest of your lifts and bodyparts should be scaled back accordingly to allow for optimal recovery of the main targets.Mistake #4: Doing higher-rep sets in your pre-max training mode.If you want to hit a one-rep max you’ve got to progressively move toward that rep range. And though you might start with heavy five-rep deadlifts at the beginning of a cycle, you should phase into lower-rep sets to prepare for your ultimate goal. “There is deeper muscular recruitment required to hit a one-rep max than a 10-rep-max set,” explainsFarmer. “Make sure that as you near the peak of your cycle, you’re emphasizing a rep count similar to that at which you want to peak.”Mistake #5: Ignoring flexibility training.”If you lack mobility in any lift, you’ll be limited in what you can ultimately achieve, or you’ll develop strength in a shortened range of motion,” says Farmer.

To that end, you’ll want to do dynamic stretching preworkout and stretch and foam roll afterward, paying extra attention to your trouble spots such as the hips, hamstrings, calves and shoulders.Mistake #6: Skipping activerecovery.While Farmer thinks true overtraining is rare, it’s important to be aware of the signs. “Soreness and fatigue, which are normal effects of training, should not be confused with loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and racing resting heart rate, which indicate a more serious overtraining issue,” she says.Consider recovery modes such as sauna, massage, swimming, and even recreational games like table tennis or basketball, as part of an active recovery plan to prevent overtraining and avoid injury.