No matter what day it is, shoulders, back, even legs, by the time you exit the gym you feel damn near euphoric if you put in 100%. Before the workout however, depending on the muscle group and the exercises planned, you may have been close to skipping the very thing that post-workout makes you feel so good.
It’s the age old problem of more gains=more difficulty. Really getting those hard to hit muscles to pop and fill out a complete physique means sacrificing comfort and getting dirty doing some exercises you really may not want to do.
By Not Focusing Only on Glamor Muscles Legends Are Born
One of the most popular examples of not avoiding weaknesses (which only exacerbates them in the long run) but tackling them head on is Arnold when he first moved to the States. He not only openly admitted his flaws but exposed them to the entire gym which forced him to apply needed attention to areas that needed improvement, like calves.
An Interview With the Austrian Oak
Arnold’s “attack-the-weakest-points-first” thought process was spelled out wonderfully in a bodybuilding.com interview that covers why Arnold cut the clothes the way he did and how it helped him in the long-run:
As “The Oak” readily admits today, his thighs—and especially his calves—were a glaring weakness during his early years living in the States. If he wanted to win contests and make a name for himself in his new home, he’d have to redouble his efforts to bring up his lower body.
And so what Arnold did is now the stuff of legend. He cut off the bottoms of all his training pants so that everyone—his rivals at the gym, strangers, his training partners, and especially he himself—could see his weakness. There was no more hiding. Arnold’s commitment to bring up his calves was there for the world to see.
I knew if I exposed only my better body parts—my arms, chest, or deltoids—all I’d get from my peers would be wonderful comments and I’d soon forget about my horrid lower legs,” he wrote in “Muscle & Fitness.” “So I continued to wear the cutaway sweatpants that invited ego-bruising pain … and it worked. I trained them first every workout, and very often I did a few sets at the end of my workout.”
As he did three decades ago, Arnold today sees that too many bodybuilders train to improve their strong points at the expense of their weak areas. If you compete, there’s no faster way to cap your career, according to Arnold. But to overcome these problem spots, you need to adopt a new plan of action. Here are four areas he focused on.
By not only exposing your weaknesses and acknowledging them head-on but putting in the effort to do exercises that target them, you trade short-term pain for serious long term gain.
The concept is played out in large scale across nature.. predators like wolves and lions attack the old, weak and sick of herds. The result? Only the strongest and most fit animals survive to reproduce, thus producing genetically resilient and thriving future generations. Think of your muscles as herds of wildebeest and as the weights as the predators. Hunt out your weaknesses to strengthen your entire body.
Target Weak Spots That Once Built Will Help Your Physique “Pop”
1. Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Flyes
Why They Suck: Because for most men our rear deltoids are horribly under-developed compared to the medial (side) and front (anterior) deltoids. We can see the front and side as we workout, so targeting these muscles is easy. Rear deltoids on the other hand are harder to see and thus easier to neglect, Furthermore, because they are so small you have to use really light weight, which means checking your ego at the door, which again, can be difficult at times.
Why You Should Do Them: First, to keep your posture balanced and your shoulders in proper alignment. Over development of the front of the body, especially with the anterior deltoids and pecs and lead to poor posture and shoulder pain. Correctly balancing back with chest work and posterior (rear) deltoid development with medial and anterior will create a stronger, healthier shoulder.
Try varying your grip, holding the dumbbells perpendicular with your body or in-line with your body to focus on different parts of the detloid. Adjust the angle at which you are leaning to focus on upper/lower regions. Go light, the deltoid heads are small and won’t grow if you’re swinging huge weight with 90% momentum. Squeeze and pop with light weight and build truly 3D shoulders.
One IFBB Pro you always see doing read dumbbell raises in his workouts is Kai Greene. Often times it looks like he incorporates them in some sort of superset. Try mixing it up yourself to keep your muscles confused and growing.
2. Stiff Leg Dead Lifts
Why They Suck: You can’t use heavy weight like regular deadlifts, you should move slow, and it targets the hamstrings and glutes, two muscle groups that absolutely hurt like hell the day after a good workout and make everything from sitting to walking a challenge.
Why you Should Do Them: Just like chest overdevelopment and back underdevelopment, many men focus more on their quadriceps and the front portion of their leg than they do the rear, simply because they can’t see it. But to improve overall deadlift/squat strength and to just get freakishly thick thighs, proper hamstring development is critical. Also, what woman doesn’t like a nice toned butt on a guy!
Go light and as slow on the decent as possible, it’s about really stretching out those glutes, torturing them with a slow exhale before contracting and raising. Again, it’s important you look at this exercise from a completely different angle than you do regular deadlifts.
With regular deadlifts it’s about explosiveness and big weight, controlled decent but not drawn out, whereas with stiff legs, because of the compromised posture, you do not focus on weight but instead time under tension, stretching and contractions.
Omar Isuf has a dope instructional (as always) on stiff leg deadlifts (and also covers the difference between stiff leg deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts).
3. High Volume Calf Attack
Why They Suck: They f*ckin hurt! Because calves are stuch stubborn b***ards for most ectomorphs or like 70% of the population in general, you really got to blitzkreig the S.O.Bs to get them to grow. Unlike reping big weight on an incline bench press, the big weight used for calves doesn’t feel impressive, or look impressive at all, which is why they’re often neglected.
Why You Should Do Them: As with the above two exercises, sometimes the least flattering motions can yield the most impressive results long term. Attacking calves with a combination of pyramid and reverse-pyramid sets is painful but will destroy even the most stubborn stringy calves and force them to grow. Calves are most men’s achilles heel in physique development, so build yours out and you will have no weakness.
Key to calve growth is unrelenting assault. Hitting them with everything in the war chest. This means different movements and different angles, seated raises, donkey raises, standing barbell raises, repeat. Mix up high weight and low weight, high time under tension, pause sets, pyramid sets, on and on. They may never be huge but they can definitely be impressive.
Scott Herman has a dope video on calves (yeah that should be an oxymoron but it’s true). Frequency and form, like usual, are keys for growing muscles of all shapes and sizes, including those stubborn calves.
4. High T.U.T Shrugs
Why They Suck: Because of the amount of time required holding the weight at peak contraction, the huge weight associated with traditional shrugs are just not possible. This sucks because well you’ll look weak doing them compared to some shmuck with a barbell loaded with 45’s. Furthermore, after holding contracted for 3+ seconds, you’ll be surprised how fast you burn your traps out and how much exertion will be required to complete a full 4 sets.
Why You Should Do Them: High time-under-tension shrugs are an awesome variation to just heavy shrugs because they’re all about a killer contraction, which we know is key to stimulating growth.
Using light weight and holding the weight contracted for 3 seconds before slowly exhaling and lowering the weights really abuses the traps. Line a 10 rep, 3-second poss set back-to-back with 10 normal speed shrugs for a total of 4 20-rep sets and you’ll be looking like Brian Urlacher in no time.
The best video on doing shrugs that will actually build massive traps is this tutorial from Damien Patrick. He combines high time under tension reps and then normal paced burner reps to completely destroy his traps, and it shows.
5. Standing Military Press
Why They Suck: You might be like, “Woah, hold on, I love overhead press”! Fair enough, so do we, but we love the ones where we use dumbbells and are sitting on a bench we can press against to assist the movement. Standing military presses don’t just work your shoulders, they require serious core stabilization, and like most core exercises, that can suck. Everyone wants to push big weight, nobody wants to workout their core.
Why You Should Do Them: Incorporating military overhead pressing into your routine will up your game on all sorts of other lifts. Not only will it build your shoulders, having a reenforced core will help with dozens of other lifts including squats, deadlifts and even bench press.
To make the most of your military pressing focus on A. keeping strict form with your feet close together, knees slightly benched and spine neutrally arched and B. focus on maximizing the TUT on the reverse side of the movement, slowly lowering the bar down before powering it up again.
Bradley Martyn, there is no denying this guys beast physique, can frequently be seen doing standing overhead press. Here he breaks down keys to extracting every bit of gains from this exercise.
There you have it, 5 exercises that are difficult, aren’t glamorous, and may even be avoided by novices who don’t know their true benefits, but if you suck it up and work them into your routine will definitely see the benefits.
The key to making gains in the years after your “beginner gains” is to constantly push the envelope and learn as a bodybuilder. Please share any other unique exercises that might not be well known or generally hated on but you feel help create an overall yoked physique. Thanks!