Poundstone Power: Eat Clean, Get Jacked

Nutrition tips from the strongest man with a six-pack Derek Poundstone

Bent-Over Barbell Row vs. Old Fashioned T-Bar Row

Both moves work the back, but which move is better at targeting the lower lats

7 Tips From a World Class Squatter

Inflate your wheels with these strategies from a man who specializes in squatting bar-bending loads

6 Tips for a Ripped Six-Pack

Stop neglecting your abs training. These six strategies will help you retool your training to get the midsection you want

4 Moves to Bring Your Biceps to New Heights

Add some elevation to your cannons with these targeted bicep exercises

Top 10 Best Biceps Exercises



The (nearly) definitive ranking of the best biceps moves ever devised
Second place is the first loser

That ruthless mantra leaves no room for runners-up. After all, why settle for any less than the best

And when it comes to our ranking of biceps exercises, we admit it: You could skip right to No. 1 on this list (spoiler alert: it’s the barbell curl) and do that move as your sole biceps workout every week. And guess what? You’d likely build some pretty impressive peaks. It’s really that good

That said, there’s also a persuasive case for variety in your training. For one, the deviations in movement — no matter how slight they may seem in some instances — stimulates the muscle fibers in different ways, which can prompt more balanced development throughout the biceps complex (made up of the two-headed biceps brachii and the underlying brachialis). And second, having multiple exercises in your arsenal staves off the boredom that can reduce your focus and intensity

So here we present not just the best exercise for biceps, but 10; there’s plenty to choose from to fuel years of development and progress. The list includes an array of cable and free-weight options, each of which has its own distinct advantages. They can’t all be No. 1, but they’re all winners in our book


ONE-ARM HIGH-CABLE CURL

“That’s just a showboat exercise.” So it has been said about the high-cable curl, and indeed, it essentially mimics the standard-bearer of bodybuilding poses, the front double biceps. But dig deeper and you’ll find the benefits, in both its continuous tension and its unique positioning of the elbows compared to most biceps moves. And the single-arm variation is a strong alternative with unique rewards of its own
Main Area Targeted: Biceps brachii, with emphasis on the peak
Strengths: As with any cable-based movement, a primary benefit here is the continuous tension maintained throughout, from the arm fully extended to the elbow fully flexed position. This means there’s no respite, with the muscle under tension throughout each set. Also, elevating the elbow out to the side varies the stress of a typical biceps exercise and helps remove the body English that can be applied via the hips during an arms-at-your-sides curl. Performing this move unilaterally allows you to further sharpen your focus on each arm

How-To: Stand with your feet just inside shoulder-width apart, off hand on your hip, holding a D-handle attached to a high-pulley cable. You can also use a staggered stance for balance if you prefer. Keeping your upper arm elevated so it’s parallel to the floor throughout, curl the D-handle toward your ear and squeeze your biceps hard for a one-count. Then slowly extend your elbow, stopping when it’s just slightly bent to protect against hyperextension, without letting the weight stack touch down. Alternate between this version and the two-arm move for variety

STANDING CABLE CURL

You’ll notice a decided pattern in this list. Truth is, when it comes to biceps, the only way to directly engage them is to bend your elbows. So outside of compound moves such as rows and pulldowns for your back that also engage your bi’s, and isometric exercise in which you simply hold a contraction, training biceps is all about curling. This particular curl involves a cable and your choice of attachment, from a straight or cambered bar to a rope or even a D-handle if you train one arm at a time
Main Area Targeted: Biceps brachii, with brachialis activation if using a rope
Strengths: This exercise boasts the same primary benefit as high-cable curls: the constant tension provided by the cable. However, it gains a slight edge because it offers the ability to work against more total resistance and your elbows are in a mechanically stronger position at your sides

How-To: Stand holding a bar attached to a low-pulley cable with an underhand grip, elbows extended. Keep your abs tight, chest up and head straight as you contract your biceps to curl the bar toward your chest, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout. Hold and squeeze the contraction at the top, then slowly return the bar along the same path. Repeat for reps without letting the weight stack touch down between reps

Cable Curl Muscle and Performance


SMITH-MACHINE DRAG CURL

The Smith machine isn’t often associated with curling. The fixed straight-up-and-down path of the bar makes a typical curl awkward, since the proper range of motion involves a natural arc. However, this particular variation calls for a direct line of pull along your body
Main Areas Targeted: Biceps and brachialis, with emphasis on strength
Strengths: The Smith machine is much maligned by some exercise experts because it eliminates many advantages of the free-weight barbell. By placing the bar on a smooth, lubricated track and removing any need to balance the weight as you lift, you automatically deduct some benefit from the motion. Yet that subtraction can also be a plus, as it allows you to concentrate solely on working the intended muscle — in this case, the biceps — while likely handling a touch more poundage overall
How-To: Stand inside a Smith machine holding the bar in front of your upper thighs, with your chest up, shoulders back and eyes focused straight ahead. Begin by shifting your elbows back and bending them to curl the bar toward your upper abs. As the name suggests, you’ll actually drag the bar up your torso, keeping your elbows behind you the entire time. Upon full contraction, return the bar along the same path and repeat

Smith machine Drag Curl Muscle and Performance


SEATED ALTERNATING DUMBBELL CURL

The first free-weight move on our list has been a gym favorite for decades, from both standing and seated positions. The latter wins out for the purposes of this list, as we explain below
Main Areas Targeted: Biceps and brachialis, emphasizing the full length of the muscle
Strengths:The rhythmic nature of alternating dumbbell curls — curling one weight up as you lower the other, switching back and forth for reps — makes it a great companion with barbell and EZ-bar curls. Here, a stronger side can’t compensate for a weaker one as it can when using a bar. Doing them seated instantly knocks potential momentum out of the move, preventing you from rocking your body to help swing the dumbbells upward
How-To: Sit on a low-back bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keeping your chest up, curl one weight toward the same-side shoulder, squeezing your biceps hard at the top, then lower to the start. Repeat with the other arm. You can either condense the set by lowering one dumbbell as you lift the other, or take it slower by moving through one full rep per side, going all the way up and down with one arm before switching to the other

Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curl Muscle and Performance


DUMBBELL CONCENTRATION CURL

It may be only No. 6 in this ranking, but it can be argued that there’s no more satisfying biceps exercise than the concentration curl. Working one arm at a time, curling under full control, tends to really inflate your muscle pump, flushing the fibers with nutrient-rich blood
Main Area Targeted: Biceps, with emphasis on the peak
Strengths: This exercise, like any full-range-of-motion curl, stimulates the biceps from each end to the peak in the center. But the positioning of the resistance against gravity and the ability to really zero in on one arm at a time allows for extra emphasis on the short, inner head of the biceps. Arnold Schwarzenegger has famously suggested imagining that your bi’s are huge mountains as you flex, and such mental imagery can help accentuate the contraction
How-To: Sit at the end of a flat bench or use a short-back chair. Bend over and grasp a dumbbell with an underhand grip, locking your working arm against your same-side inner thigh. Place your nonworking hand on your leg for balance. Moving only at your elbow, curl the weight as high as you can toward your torso. Squeeze your biceps at the top before lowering the dumbbell back to the start, but don’t let it rest on the floor between reps

Dumbbell Concentration Curl Muscle and Performance


SCOTT CURL

While the preacher bench was designed to put your upper arms on the angled side of the pad, bodybuilders soon discovered that reversing that action — leaning over the pad and placing the upper arms along the flat side — allows you to work directly against gravity’s direction of pull
Strengths: The Scott curl is similar to a barbell curl in that you bring the bar from a position where your arms are pointed straight toward the floor to fully flexed at the top. But with your armpits tucked tight against the top of the preacher bench and your chest resting against the pad, cheating via a swing of the hips is impossible. That makes it you against the weight, with no momentum to lend an assist
How-To: Grasp a barbell or EZ-bar and lean your chest against the angled side of a preacher bench, keeping your back tight and knees slightly bent. (You can also use a dumbbell and train one arm at a time.) Make sure your armpits fit securely against the top of the pad, with your triceps pressed into the flat side of the bench. Hold the bar straight toward the floor with a supinated (palms-up) grip. With your head neutral and eyes focused forward, curl the weight in a smooth arc, squeeze your biceps hard for a one-count, and slowly lower back to the nearly elbows-straight position

Scott Curl Muscle and Performance


BARBELL PREACHER CURL 

What’s the one exercise that’s slightly better than a Scott curl using the flat side of a preacher bench? Using the preacher bench as it was intended, with your upper arms placed on the angle as you sit in the seat
Main Area Targeted: Biceps, with emphasis on the stretch
Strengths: While it’s a paper-thin margin between Scott and preacher curls, the difference comes at the very start of each rep, when your arms are extended. During a Scott curl, you tend to lose some muscle tension at that point, versus the muscular engagement maintained in a traditional preacher curl
How-To: Set up a preacher bench so the top of the pad fits securely under your armpits. Take a shoulder-width, underhand grip on a straight bar or EZ-bar and position your arms parallel to each other on the pad. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your head straight as you flex your biceps to bring the bar as high as possible. Don’t allow your elbows to flare out or come off the bench. Flex strongly at the top before slowly returning the bar along the same path, stopping just short of full elbow extension before starting the next rep. You can also do this exercise one arm at a time with a dumbbell

Barbell Preacher Curl Muscle and Performance


INCLINE DUMBBELL CURL

Even though we put it third, you could make a pretty compelling case for giving the incline dumbbell curl the top spot on this list. It’s a hardcore free-weight movement that puts the biceps under stretch, thus activating the stretch shortening cycle. More on that in a moment
Main Areas Targeted: Biceps and brachialis, emphasizing the full length of the muscle
Strengths: When your arms are down at the start of the incline curl, they’re actually slightly behind your body, a unique position not achieved in other traditional biceps moves. This activates the aforementioned stretch shortening cycle, or SSC for short. In this lowermost position the biceps are still under load and contracting eccentrically, and studies have found that this can lead to a more powerful concentric contraction via the release of stored elastic energy. This exercise also emphasizes the long, outer head of the biceps because it’s placed in a pre-stretch in the start position
How-To: Adjust an incline bench to about 45 degrees and sit back squarely against the pad, feet flat on the floor. Your arms should hang straight down by your sides, palms up. With your shoulders shifted back and upper arms in a fixed position perpendicular to the floor, curl the weights so they approach your shoulders, either one at a time or both arms simultaneously. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top before slowly returning to the start position

Incline Dumbbell Curl Muscle and Performance


CLOSE-GRIP CHIN-UP

This is perhaps one of the more controversial entries on the list; after all, it targets the back first and foremost, most notably the latissimus dorsi muscles. Nevertheless, the close-grip chin-up is a devastating biceps molder as well
Main Area Targeted: Brachialis mainly, with biceps brachii activation 
Strengths: There’s no question that you need a strong back to pull your chin up over the bar, but the movement also requires a hefty dose of biceps strength to bend your elbows as you hoist your bodyweight. Turning your grip so your palms face you in a shoulder-width or closer grip and using a full range of motion really hits the biceps brachii
How-To: Grasp a fixed overhead bar with a close underhand grip. Hang freely from the bar, arms fully extended and ankles crossed behind you. Contract your lats and bi’s to bring your body upward, concentrating on keeping your elbows tight to your sides. Hold momentarily as your chin crosses the level of the bar, then lower yourself to return to the dead-hang position

Close-Grip Chin-Up Muscle and Performance


BARBELL CURL

Yes, just like your hopelessly clueless Facebook friend who posts comments on the movie you had planned to see tomorrow, we’ve already given away this ending. But we doubt you’d be surprised even if we hadn’t already told you the barbell curl’s placing. It’s one of the most popular exercises on the planet, and richly deserving of that status
Main Area Targeted: Biceps brachii from origin to insertion and peak
Strengths: The barbell curl doesn’t offer the continuous tension of a cable, nor the ability to focus on one arm at a time. What it does offer is sheer primal power: the chance to lift a profound amount of weight, putting the bi’s under maximal tension and (when done with perfect form) pushing them into the growth zone unlike any other biceps movement ever devised. As usual, the most basic approach is often the best
How-To: Stand holding a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip, arms extended. Keep your abs tight, chest up and head straight as you contract your biceps to curl the bar from your hip area toward your upper chest, keeping your elbows stitched to your sides throughout. Pause and squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly return the weight along the same path. Noting the obvious, you could also use an EZ-bar instead of a straight bar here

Barbell Curl Muscle and Performance

Hardcore Nutrition: Are Artificial Sweeteners Killing Your Shred?


There are no absolutes when we’re talking about how the substances we ingest affect our bodies. No matter what we claim—or what studies claim—we’ll always be proven wrong by examples to the contrary. A perfect example of this is the ongoing debate regarding artificial sweeteners and their effect on fat loss and muscle gain

How does this apply to you as a bodybuilder? Well, if you’re restricting carbs, you obviously can’t consume sugar on a regular basis. As I’ve said repeatedly, however, if you’re liberally consuming diet drinks and having trouble making progress on an ultra-low-carb diet, the sweeteners in the drinks may be the reason for your stall out

I’m telling you about this because of a research article published a few months back that’s still resounding in bodybuilding nutrition circles. This particular study showed an increased insulin response as a consequence of pre-ingesting sucralose, the artificial sweetener in Splenda, followed by a bolus ingestion of real sugar

What this really demonstrated was that just the oral stimulation of “sweetness”— by way of the sucralose—caused an increase in the release of insulin, and poor blood sugar control. This, unfortunately, has been interpreted as irrefutable proof that non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) make us fat

A FLY IN THE OINTMENT

The problem with this study, however, is less about the effects of sucralose than it is about the spread of information. What nobody mentions in all this furor is the fact that the subjects of this study were all grossly obese, with body mass indexes over 40—a statistic that becomes more accurate at predicting body fat composition as the number gets higher. You can’t assess this study without focusing on the people studied, and how obese bodies don’t respond the same way healthy ones do

Sweetness, as far as how the body detects and reacts to it, is something we’re only just beginning to understand. One discovery that seriously challenges our assumption that NNS’s can’t make us fat is the revelation that mammals, including humans, possess receptors for sweetness throughout key parts of our digestive tract. Your body can determine if something’s sweet in your gut the same way it can for your mouth. It’s possible, then, that eating something sweet—even if it has zero caloric value—could cause a hormonal reaction, priming your body to get fat

To fairly evaluate the results of this study—and this is especially relevant to the bodybuilding community—we need to see if ingesting this same sweetener by itself can cause a reaction in healthy, non-obese subjects. And, shockingly, there’s a study published in 2011 where researchers found no hormonal response to sucralose in healthy subjects. Of course, you don’t hear quite as much about this one, because it didn’t generate sensational headlines like “Coke Zero Makes You Fat”

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON HERE

We have two studies here with contradictory results, but is that actually what we’re seeing? Or is this more of a conditioned response that obese people have and healthy people don’t? In the case of obese humans, it’s possible that their bodies start producing insulin and other hormones in anticipation of eating, skewing the results of the study—and making athletes think they can’t ingest sucralose

If you smell, taste, or even think about eating, you might trigger an insulin response before food even hits your stomach. I say “might,” because this isn’t always the case in lean, muscular, athletic humans. In some cases, these people don’t reliably secrete insulin in these situations. Overweight and obese people react differently, primarily from an anticipated response, along with some degree of insulin resistance. Research shows this response to be greater with greater amounts of body fat, and that it can lead to difficulties in clearing blood sugar

Think about it, though. Obese people have extra body fat in the first place because they’re more likely to indulge in carb-heavy foods more often, and to a greater extent. The body is wise to start its metabolization engine (insulin secretion) early if it’s taking in big loads of carbohydrates on a regular basis. In other words, their engines start for a completely different reason than yours does, and the advice I’d offer them isn’t necessarily applicable to you

ARE SWEETENERS OK, THEN

Our discussion of Pavlovian conditioning brings us full circle to a direct examination of sucrose itself. Despite all the vibration in the Twittersphere, did this study show that sucralose actually caused the release of insulin? The answer appears to be no. We can even explore this further, looking at studies where researchers directly inject artificial sweeteners into the gut, bypassing the oral taste sensation. In that case, no insulin response occurred in healthy people

Going back to my own assessment of the use of artificial sweeteners while on ultra-low carb diets, everything still falls nicely under the aegis of my customary “it depends” response. If you’re not making progress, chances are the sweeteners are problematic for you

Phil Heath's Mass-Building Shoulder Routine


QUESTION

I’m looking for a new strategy to attack my shoulders—any tips for me



ANSWER

When I’m doing shoulders, I like to mix it up. There are a lot of options, including dumbbell presses, barbell shoulder presses, and Smith machine overhead presses. It’s important to hit the shoulders in different ways and work different angles. Little differences and unique exercises can have a big impact

For example, you can do a hammer strength shoulder press forward and backward. Turning it around can make it into a different exercise. Plus, in terms of time, I like to hit as many exercises as possible in each spot. Why not do everything you can while you’re there

After doing four sets facing forward, with your back against the seat back, turn around and do four more sets facing backward, with your chest against the seat back. Start with your range of motion from ear level at the low point to just short of lockout at the high point. You’ve got to focus on the shoulders, and if you feel other muscles being worked, then you can shorten the range of movement to bring them back out of it




Feel the Burn: Low Reps vs. High Reps


HYPOTHESIS

According to the principle of progressive resistance, in order to keep making gains over time, one must continually increase the weight loads used. Naturally, a training program will go from lighter weight and higher reps to heavier weight and lower reps. The increasing weight loads should ensure continued gains in strength and size

RESEARCH

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan took two groups and had them use two different training progressions. For the first six weeks, both groups used a program of nine total sets divided into groups of three sets. Thirty seconds of rest was taken for three sets, then three minutes was allowed for recovery before three more sets were performed. After six weeks, both groups switched to a traditional strength-training routine of five sets using 90% of their one-rep max (1RM) with three minutes’ rest between sets, with the exception of one group, who performed a quasidropset after the last set. This group was dubbed the “combi” group

FINDINGS

Both groups grew significantly during the first six weeks of using the higher-rep/short-rest style of training. After the switch to a more traditional style of strength training using 90% 1RM, only the combi group continued to grow for four more weeks

CONCLUSION

A combination of both load stress and metabolic stress optimizes gains
APPLICATION

This study points out the importance of metabolic stress to optimize gains from resistance training. It’s important to increase the loads throughout a training cycle. When doing so, reps inevitably drop as the weight gets heavier and heavier. As a result, the metabolic stress is reduced as the number of reps decrease. In order to keep making size gains during the heavy phase of your training, add a high-rep set immediately following the last set of each exercise. This can be a single high-rep set using ~50% 1RM, or it can be more of a dropset where you keep grabbing a lighter weight each time you reach or get close to failure

Breakdown Sets To Build Up Muscle And Strength


Get more growth bang for your training buck by combining low reps, moderate reps, and high reps. Look strong—and be as strong as you look

At one end of the weight room, there's the bodybuilder who decrees that high-rep pump training is the canonical scripture for gaining muscle mass. At the other end—over in the shadows in the rack—is the strength-happy, smorgasbord-destroying powerlifter, who preaches "lift big to get big
Both men claim they know the gospel for entry to hypertrophy heaven—and that you must choose one or the other. Luckily for those of us who don't see the appeal in only being big or strong, there are ways you can have it all. Try this research-backed take on the classic back-off set and get ready to give your muscles a shock they won't soon forget

MODERATE VS. HEAVY TRAINING FOR SIZE
A study published last year in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by muscle hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld and his colleagues investigated muscle-growth gains using a bodybuilding-type training program against one that was based on a powerlifting routine.1

The eight-week study wasn't performed on malnourished, untrained college kids, but rather on 17 well-trained weight-room veterans. Volume was equated with the traditional hypertrophy group performing 3 sets of 10 reps with a 90-second rest interval, while the powerlifting group did 7 sets of 3 reps with a 3-minute rest interval between sets

Here's what the researchers found

Powerlifting-type training proved superior for enhancing maximal strength
Both groups made similar gains in muscular size
The first point isn't exactly earth-shattering. Powerlifters are strong; train like them to get strong like them, right? The real takeaway seems to be the second point: Big loads make muscles just as big as moderate loads, if you program them right. So let's all put on our three-ply suits and stagger into the monolift, right

Good luck with that! While there is definitely a case to be made for training like powerlifters some of the time, it's not something that most people want to embrace all of the time—nor should they, unless that's their goal

For gym-goers who want to be somewhat stronger—which should be all of us—but not spend all of their time laboring under heavy-ass weight, I recommend keeping a foot in both camps. You can do this by alternating strength and growth phases for a few weeks or months at a time, but you can also do it in the same workout, adding strength and size at the same time

THE BREAKDOWN ON BREAKDOWN SETS
Fred Hatfield, Ph.D., aka "Dr. Squat," founder of the International Sports Sciences Association, is credited with inventing what has come to be known as "breakdown training." As both a record-setting powerlifter and longtime trainer of champion bodybuilders, he knows plenty about mixing strength and size, and his tool of choice for doing it is to mix high and low rep ranges within workouts. A Japanese study backed up the good doctor's thinking in 2004, when the researchers concluded that the simple addition of a light-weight back-off set to a traditional strength protocol led to both muscle gains and strength gains

Before you start rubbing your hands and saying, "Of course. How easy!" let me assure you that it's not. Breakdowns are extremely intense and often painful! Your joints may not hurt like they would after 7 sets of 3, but your muscles will be melted, so approach your training with your war helmet on. If that sounds like too much, Planet Fitness and Curves are accepting signups

Breakdowns consists of three distinct reps ranges including low reps, medium reps, and high reps. The sets are performed in reverse-pyramid style, so that after warm-ups you start with heavy weights, then move to moderate ones, and to lighter ones for the final burnout

Why change weights? Because the amount of weight you lift relative to your maximal strength largely determines which kinds of muscle fibers are recruited. Heavy weights for low reps recruit both fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers to help build strength, while light-weight, high-rep sets hit primarily the slow-twitch fibers, increasing muscle endurance, pump, and muscle acidity
Here's how I like to use breakdowns. After warm-ups, perform your first working set with a heavy weight for 4-6 repetitions. Use the absolute maximum weight you can handle while still maintaining proper form. On the second set you reduce the weight by 15-20 percent to a load that
you can handle for about 10-12 reps. On the third set, cut the weight from the first set in half, with a goal of hitting 20-25 reps—but don't stop at 25 if you can do more
Let's put some numbers to the percentages, using the dumbbell bench press as an example. If your max was around 120 pounds for one rep, you could probably move 85-90 percent of that weight for 4-6 reps, so you'd be using about 105 pounds. On the second set, you'd use 85-90 pounders for about 10 reps. On the third set, you'd go with the 50s for 20-25 reps. There's a little math involved, but if you can remember your locker combination it should be no problem

INCLINE CABLE FLYE FOR A STRONGER CHEST


Beef up your chest with this single-joint constant tension movement

We know. The cable crossover station is crowded! Then, when it does open up, you have precious little time before people start asking to work in. That probably explains why you’re always doing the same exercises over and over—a high crossover and a low crossover

The next time you hit the station, switch it up by wheeling an adjustable bench to the center of the rack for incline cable flyes. It’ll stimulate the fibers of your upper chest like an incline dumbbell flye, but also provide a unique stimulus because of the cable’s constant tension
START POSITION
Hands Out To The Sides, Elbows Slightly Bent

Get Huge, Ripped, and Perform Better Than Ever With the Rock Hard Challenge Workout

Place an incline bench halfway between two cable stacks in a cable crossover machineWith the cable pulleys set to the lowest position, lie back on the bench and grab hold of the d-handlesStart with your hands directly out to the sides, at about shoulder height, and your elbows slightly bent (not locked out)FINISH POSITION
 
Hands Together Over The Chest

Contract your pecs to pull your hands up and in toward each other until the handles nearly touch
Don’t bend your elbows any farther from the start positionmaintain a slight bend in the arms throughout
At the top of each rep, squeeze your pecs together for a second or two to maximize the contraction

QUICK TIPS
Do it late in your chest workout (after incline and flat bench press)
Focus on hitting your upper pectorals
Do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps

Master the Medium Sumo Deadlift


THE MEDIUM SUMO DEADLIFT ISN'T JUST FOR POWERLIFTERS. BUILD POWER SAFELY WITH THIS DEEP-STANCE DEADLIFT
       
The deadlift is one of my favorite exercises in the gym, and it should be yours, too. That’s not broscience. The amount of reach a deadlift has compared to many other lifts is incomparable. It’s one of the most primitive movement patterns ever, but it’s responsible for training so many muscles at the same time. By practicing and strengthening the deadlift pattern, a lifter can prevent hip and knee issues, lower back pain, core weakness, poor posture, and develop an awesome looking pair of legs and butt in the process

But it’s not that simple for all of us

Especially if we’ve got a history of old injuries, are predisposed to new injuries, or aren’t built in a way that suits a good, strong deadlift setup. But there are ways around it. I personally learned this through experience, since I currently deal with all three of the above situations. At 6’4” with longer legs and a shorter torso, attempting to get into position for a conventional deadlift is more awkward than seeing an ex girlfriend at your wife’s family reunion. The typical result is one that includes a high hip position to accommodate, while the knees are crossing forward over the bar. The accompanied back stress this can create may not be your cup of tea, if you’re susceptible to injury

Most would suggest a sumo deadlift as a fix. Getting the feet out wide makes it much easier to create a more vertical torso, get your knees wide, shins vertical, and even reduce the bar’s travel distance. I used this variation with many clients early on, but the common thought was that it’s just plain not comfortable when compared to a conventional deadlift. It made sense. Getting out of your comfort zone is something we all need to do as lifters, but if something is going against our typical skeletal frame, you’ll be able to feel it

In the case of sumo deadlifts, this may be true. Recent research suggests that deep squatting with a standard foot width may not be a good fit for everyone, since the stance has to reflect the position of your hip sockets on your pelvis (if you have a narrower spacing, a narrow stance may work better for you than a wider one, and vice versa). For some reason, this isn’t touched on with the deadlift, although the same problem would prevent itself. A sumo deadlift may not be biomechanically advantageous for a lifter with narrow hip socket spacing, and may cause undue joint stress

Related: Master the Sumo Deadlift

That’s why it’s helpful to play with the foot position of deadlift variations, too, when doing styles other than the conventional stance. I’ve found that the medium sumo deadlift works best for me. I’ve also heard this exercise referred to as a “semi sumo deadlift.” In simplest terms, the forearms are still in contact with the knees and shins in the setup, except the legs are on the outside versus the inside. Your stance will be about 6 to 8 inches wider than a typical conventional deadlift pattern, and this will give deadlifters a few crucial degrees of geometrical change. Even five degrees at the hip and knee joint can mean a world of difference for the back stress endured

For once, I’m glad I get to use myself as an example. Tall lifters don’t have it easy in this exercise, and my history of SI injuries has kept me playing it safe when it comes to my deadlift workouts. I consider my form technically sound, so I’ll show you this first video so you can examine my lift geometry for a conventional deadlift first

The medium sumo style allows my inner thighs to become more active, pulls my shoulders back, and (for me) stimulates more glutes — probably due to the slight external thigh rotation. Note the difference in posture and angles
The deadlift is one of my favorite exercises in the gym, and it should be yours, too. That’s not broscience. The amount of reach a deadlift has compared to many other lifts is incomparable. It’s one of the most primitive movement patterns ever, but it’s responsible for training so many muscles at the same time. By practicing and strengthening the deadlift pattern, a lifter can prevent hip and knee issues, lower back pain, core weakness, poor posture, and develop an awesome looking pair of legs and butt in the process

But it’s not that simple for all of us

Especially if we’ve got a history of old injuries, are predisposed to new injuries, or aren’t built in a way that suits a good, strong deadlift setup. But there are ways around it. I personally learned this through experience, since I currently deal with all three of the above situations. At 6’4” with longer legs and a shorter torso, attempting to get into position for a conventional deadlift is more awkward than seeing an ex girlfriend at your wife’s family reunion. The typical result is one that includes a high hip position to accommodate, while the knees are crossing forward over the bar. The accompanied back stress this can create may not be your cup of tea, if you’re susceptible to injury

Most would suggest a sumo deadlift as a fix. Getting the feet out wide makes it much easier to create a more vertical torso, get your knees wide, shins vertical, and even reduce the bar’s travel distance. I used this variation with many clients early on, but the common thought was that it’s just plain not comfortable when compared to a conventional deadlift. It made sense. Getting out of your comfort zone is something we all need to do as lifters, but if something is going against our typical skeletal frame, you’ll be able to feel it

In the case of sumo deadlifts, this may be true. Recent research suggests that deep squatting with a standard foot width may not be a good fit for everyone, since the stance has to reflect the position of your hip sockets on your pelvis (if you have a narrower spacing, a narrow stance may work better for you than a wider one, and vice versa). For some reason, this isn’t touched on with the deadlift, although the same problem would prevent itself. A sumo deadlift may not be biomechanically advantageous for a lifter with narrow hip socket spacing, and may cause undue joint stress

Related: Master the Sumo Deadlift

That’s why it’s helpful to play with the foot position of deadlift variations, too, when doing styles other than the conventional stance. I’ve found that the medium sumo deadlift works best for me. I’ve also heard this exercise referred to as a “semi sumo deadlift.” In simplest terms, the forearms are still in contact with the knees and shins in the setup, except the legs are on the outside versus the inside. Your stance will be about 6 to 8 inches wider than a typical conventional deadlift pattern, and this will give deadlifters a few crucial degrees of geometrical change. Even five degrees at the hip and knee joint can mean a world of difference for the back stress endured

For once, I’m glad I get to use myself as an example. Tall lifters don’t have it easy in this exercise, and my history of SI injuries has kept me playing it safe when it comes to my deadlift workouts. I consider my form technically sound, so I’ll show you this first video so you can examine my lift geometry for a conventional deadlift first


The medium sumo style allows my inner thighs to become more active, pulls my shoulders back, and (for me) stimulates more glutes — probably due to the slight external thigh rotation. Note the difference in posture and angles


Although the weight being lifted is much lighter in the second video (I was still in “rehab” mode), I was definitely feeling stronger and more confident regarding the lift itself and my back health being protected while making this change

Here’s how to set up for the medium sumo

• Make sure to step right under the bar and don’t drastically change the width of your hand position in your setup

• Keep the feet a bit wider than normal and set the knees so that they’re outside the arms instead of inside

• The forearms and legs should still be in contact with each other, much like they are during a conventional deadlift

• The shin should be as vertical as possible before you pull, and it should also be perpendicular to the ground. If your shin is on a slant, your stance may be too wide

• Remember to “squeeze” your chest out and attempt to bend the bar before you pull it. This will ensure you remain tight through the duration of the lift

• Keep the bar close the entire time, and drive through with the hips and glutes

Sometimes it doesn’t take the most drastic of changes to have a positive effect on your body’s ability to handle movements, set new PR’s, and stay injury free. Try the medium sumo deadlift if you’ve been struggling with your conventional pulls

3 KEYS TO A BIGGER BENCH PRESS


There's nothing quite like the feel of pushing big weight on the bench press. It's probably the most often used measuring stick of strength in the gym, No one really ever asks you, Hey, what do you donkey press

But getting to those plate-clanging, bar-bending weight loads is no easy task, which is why we're offering you our three best tips for boosting your bench in a hurry

Negatives
Performing heavy negatives once or twice a month does wonders for building strength. Bodybuilders that don't have a "negatives day" in their routine are really missing out on huge gains. As a quick refresher, negatives are reps that concentrate on the eccentric, or lowering phase of an exercise. Our muscles can handle 30-40% more weight on the negative portion of a rep, so taking advantage of that taps into plenty of underexploited fibers in your pecs and trains your body and mind to deal with heavier weight

To perform negatives on the bench, add 30-40% more weight than you'd normally use for 10 reps (after a few warm-up sets, of course). So if you're pressing 250 pounds for 10 reps, add an extra 75 pounds (30%) onto the bar. Unrack the weight and resist the negative all the way down for a full five seconds or more. Once the bar touches your chest, have your training partner help you bring the bar back up to the starting position and repeat this for 3-5 total agonizing reps. Use this method sparingly - 1-3 sets, once or twice per month - to avoid overtraining or injury. Besides, after training like this, you'll likely be too sore to want to do it again soon

Training upper back
A missing piece of the puzzle when trying to increase your numbers on the bench is working your upper back. Without a strong upper back, it is difficult or impossible to stabilize heavy weight on either side of the repetition. Training your lats and rear delts with regularity and enthusiasm will take your bench higher, faster

Stick to mass-building exercises like barbell rows, T-bar rows, pull-ups, dumbbell rows and pulldowns in the 8-12 rep range on back day. And make sure not to neglect your rear delt raises on back or shoulder day. Don't let your rear delts fool you - just because they're a small muscle group doesn't mean you can't train them heavy. Aim for the same rep ranges (8-12) as your back - just be careful to maintain strict form on all exercises and avoid using any elasticity or momentum to complete reps

Grip strength
You might be thinking, "What the heck does my grip have to do with my bench press." The answer is "More than you might think." And that doesn't just apply to this exercise - grip strength translates to more poundage on nearly every exercise. For the bench press, however, it pays its biggest dividends by providing greater wrist stabilization. With shaky wrists and flimsy forearms, you have less control of the bar, which is particularly troublesome if you're into pressing big boy weight. Plus, keeping your wrists locked helps you maintain proper form. Training your grip then is a huge factor in maximizing your bench

The prescription? Grab a hold of a 45-pound plate in each hand at the fingertips and perform as many finger curls (lifting the edge of the plate towards your palm) as you can. Rest for 30 seconds and keep going until your forearms need a fire extinguisher to put out the flames

Take these three tips and go start tossing some iron around - we guarantee the results will come swift