Monday’s are devoted to female related topics to help females begin or continue to train. This particular post is relevant to fellas as well.
Last week we discussed some methods to develop pull-ups, and some of the methods included close-grip or underhand pull-downs (on a cable machine for weaker trainees). Doing these exercises served two purposes: to develop strength within a given range of motion and to establish musculature. Building musculature in an area isn’t something that occurs quickly. I refer to this as “accumulating work over time”, because doing pull-ups, rows, or round back extensions need to happen consistently over a long period of time to garner an improvement in the musculature and subsequently strength.
Recently (in the last couple of years) I’ve had trainees do Hammer Strength rows (a plate loaded machine), pull-downs, various curls, dumbbell bench, dumbbell press, machine dips, and weighted sit-ups. The commonality among all of them: they were performed to develop lagging musculature or strength. By giving the musculature a consistent stress it will develop. However, the approach to doing these sets are not the same as traditional strength movements.
This video of Kai Greene rambling about a few things is quasi-relevant. His disdain for “weight lifters” (a term that is kinda misused here) is only natural given his chosen hobby and profession, but listen to what else he says.
I think Kai Greene is knowledgeable about what he does, yet he is just raw in his ability to explain it. His first point is that bodybuilders aim to “stretch and contract their muscles”. This is why there are so many bullshit comments and articles about the “mind-body connection”; it’s referring to the ability to feel particular muscles in a movement and effectively work them. This attention to detail isn’t prevalent in the realm of strength training because strength training primarily demands moving the bar from point A to point B. The truth is that it isn’t that simple.
In my time of dicking around with “bodybuilding styles of training”, I developed this awareness. Nowadays I can perform a low bar squat in two different ways — one that uses the hamstrings and one that doesn’t — but make the two reps look identical. I have an awareness of what my triceps are doing in a press and what my lats do during a bench. This awareness is most relevant on a lift like the RDL, which is entirely dependent on stretching and contracting a muscle group instead of moving the bar from point A to B. Of course, if mechanics are sound, then the proper muscular action is a byproduct of doing a lift correctly, but muscle awareness can assist in the “means” to get to the “end”.
The second thing Kai Greene is talking about is lecturing the other dude on his curling technique. I would assume the other guy was using a lot of English and not getting good biceps work. The lesson is that if you’re trying to grow or develop a muscle, then working that muscle is more important than simply moving weight.
This concept is most relevant during assistance work. I specifically put exercises into training programs to develop musculature. The close-grip pull-downs for a weaker girl will develop strength, but more importantly give them a work load that will develop their muscles (I hesitate to say “grow muscles” since they won’t actually get that much bigger since they are a female with 1/10th the testosterone of a man, but I digress). Bigger muscles will move joints more efficiently, and developed muscles apply more force than muscles that haven’t received work. I use rows, dips, or RDLs to develop muscles to help with other movements, thus making the body stronger.
If you have a lagging group of muscles — whether they are lagging in size or in doing their job in a liftf — the time you spend on assisting that muscle should ensure it gets good contraction. Yes, doing RDL’s with 315 will look cool, but 185 is where most of you will get the best contraction. Ensure you understand how the muscle works and how to focus on the contraction of that muscle given the movement you are using. Feel your triceps while doing dips (externally rotate the shoulders by keeping the elbows close to the body and apply force through the heel of the palm), feel your lats while doing pull-downs and rows (think of the elbow driving back to the ribs), feel your biceps doing curls (don’t bring your elbow forward to use shoulder flexion), avoid flailing during weighted sit-ups, and keep tension on your hamstrings (by pushing the hips back and not letting the knees go forward). I could go on, but the point is that increasing your awareness to the contraction of your muscle(s) — particularly during assistance exercises — will help develop that musculature and augment the more important strength lifts. Not to mention you’ll get the full worth out of each rep by avoiding wasted effort.