In the gym, I see exercises performed many different ways. What’s your take on form, and can you give me some examples?
You realize, of course, that I could fill several books in answering this question. Bodybuilders tend to pick up tweaks and form pointers over the years, through both the study of training and from experimentation in the gym. I’m not advising against performing an exercise as it’s technically supposed to be executed, but there are nuances that can turn a good exercise into a great one or allow you to squeeze a bit more benefit out of it. Here are a few of my favorites.
SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS (DELTS)
Start with the dumbbells touching the outer edges of your shoulders. Press through a full range of motion, but do not touch the dumbbells together at the top; they should be the same distance apart as they were at the bottom.
FLAT-BENCH PRESSES (CHEST)
The permutations of chest exercises run the gamut from bench presses to cable and machine flyes, most with multiple angles. To build muscle mass in your chest most efficiently, you must do pressing movements straightforward to arm’s length. It’s the best way to contract your pecs against the most weight. Flyes — done by keeping your arms straight, splaying them wide, then contracting with a hugging motion — are not as powerful of a pressing movement, so they’re not as effective for building maximum mass.
BARBELL ROWS (BACK)
Elevate the angle of your upper body enough to balance yourself, so you can handle a lot of weight, but don’t cheat. Work through a complete range of motion and a full contraction, pulling the barbell all the way into your stomach.
SEATED CABLE ROWS (BACK)
For maximum contraction of my upper lats, I use a wide grip and pull the handle into my lower chest. This also hits the middle traps and rhomboids, for developing thickness in the middle- and upper-back regions.
DEADLIFTS (BACK & LEGS)
My deadlifts differ in execution from powerlifting-style deadlifts only in that I do not touch the barbell to the floor with each repetition but, instead, keep it going throughout the set, maintaining tension on my back. For the same reason, I do not lock out at the top.
LEG PRESSES (LEGS)
Bodybuilders have gone to war over which is better — leg presses or squats. In my opinion, the choice is determined by one’s structure. I have tried both and discovered that I get a better overall quad workout from leg presses, so I’ve settled on that as my primary leg exercise. Others might find that they feel more from squats. Try each exercise over a period of time to assess how your body responds.
Do not roll your shoulders; the bar or dumbbells should move straight up and straight down. Focus on pulling upward with your traps instead of lifting with your deltoids to help keep the stress on the intended muscles. Also, don’t tuck your chin into your upper chest, as that could put too much stress on your cervical spine. Keep your focus straight ahead.
LYING TRICEPS EXTENSIONS (TRICEPS)
I do as many repetitions as I can in a controlled manner, but after I reach failure, I bring the bar to my chest and continue with close-grip presses, again until failure. – FLEX