Strength training today suffers from the Starbucks effect. Just as it’s increasingly difficult to fight off the sprinkles and foam when you order a cup of joe, it’s hard to call yourself a modern muscle maker when you do a weight-lifting move without a few added kinks.
“It’s great fun to watch guys trying to do squats while standing on stability balls,” says former Olympic weight-lifting coach Harvey Newton, C.S.C.S. “But the truth is, if they just did the basics better, they’d produce the results they want without involving all the bells and whistles.” Now hold on, Harvey. Those big balls do a lot of good. On the other hand, all these half-caf mocha-latte workouts are starting to get on our nerves. Sometimes you just want to bust a move and make more muscle.
So we asked exercise experts to help us pinpoint ways to make the classic moves we all do—squats, rows, bench presses, and crunches—work better. Follow their advice and see fast results without the sprinkles.
Tap When You Squat
Experts agree: The squat is one of the best muscle builders in a man’s portfolio because of the number of muscles the exercise engages. Experts also agree that most lifters perform it incorrectly. Namely, they don’t squat down far enough, nor do they place the emphasis on their glutes by anchoring with their heels. This means the glutes are never fully engaged.
New York City–based trainer David Kirsch, C.S.C.S., author of The Ultimate New York Body Plan, offers this solution: Stand in front of a weight bench. Squat down until your butt touches the bench, then immediately press through your heels back to the starting position. Using the bench forces you to squat all the way down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, so the exercise will yield better results.
Give ’em A Squeeze
As you prepare to lift, contract the muscles you’re working and keep them that way throughout the entire move. “You won’t be able to lift quite as much weight, but your muscles will be doing more work overall, so they’ll grow,” says Sam Iannetta, C.P.T., owner of Functional Fitness and Wellness Centers in Boulder, Colorado. “For instance, on the bench press, imagine you’re trying to bring your hands toward each other but don’t move them at all, so your pecs are squeezed together. You won’t believe the pump.”