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The 50 Best MuscIe and
Strength Tips
S|mp/e strateg|es you can use today lor laster ga|ns.
By Sean Hyson
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 1
The 50 Best MuscIe and Strength Tips
By Sean Hyson
Copyright 20ll Sean Hyson
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T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 2
l. Squeeze your ass during Iifts. Particularly on bench and
overhead pressesit increases stability in your torso. This
one point could be all that's separating you from a new max.
2. Perform hanging scap retractions. l got this from Bill
Hartman of lndianapolis Fitness and Sports Training many
years ago, and it's a great way to build the strength you need
to stay tight on the bench press. Hang from a pullup bar as if
you were going to do pullups. Squeeze your shoulder blades
down and together (scapular retraction) and hold for a
second. Perform 23 sets of 6 reps as part of your warm up
or at the end of your workout.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 3
3. Take your shoes off. This works well for any lift but
particularly the squat and deadlift. You have a more stable
stance when your foot isn't balancing on a squishy sole. lt will
also reduce the distance you have to pull the bar on the
deadlift, giving you a mechanical advantage. lf you can't go
barefoot, wear Vibram Five Fingers, wrestling shoes, or
Converse Chuck Taylors.
4. Stretch your hamstrings and hip fIexors before squats
and deadIifts. lf you have trouble keeping your lower back in
a safe position (if it rounds over), stretching beforehand will
give you temporary mobility. Do three sets of 30-second holds
on each side. Being able to perform the lifts more safely and
with better form will add up to heavier weights and more
5. Use the vaIsaIva maneuver. Take a deep breath and hold
it before any big lift. lt will stabilize your torso. (But don't try
this if you have heart trouble.) Exhale after the sticking point
in the lift.
6. Go heavy and Iight. ln a nutshell, here's how to maximize
strength and size gains almost simultaneously. Train heavy
one month, keeping your lifts in the 46 rep range. The next
month, go lighter with l0l2 reps. Another option is to.
7. Do a backoff. After a heavy set, use 70% of that load and
do l0 to 20 reps. You'll work different muscle fibers than you
used for the heavy set and you'll stimulate more growth.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 4
8. Do medicine-baII sIams. Hold a medium-sized med ball,
reach your arms overhead, and slam it into the floor as hard
as you can. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps before you begin your
work sets in any upper-body workout. Explosive movements
fire up your central nervous system, helping you recruit more
muscle fibers on lifts.
9. Perform the reverse Chek press. Hold dumbbells at
shoulder level with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Press overhead, then turn your palms forward, and lower your
arms back down as in a normal overhead press. l got this one
from Alwyn Cosgrove (who, clearly, learned it from Paul
Chek). lt builds your shoulders while opening up your upper
back so you can keep it straight during overhead presses.
That makes you more stable (i.e., stronger), and it will help
prevent shoulder injury. Do 23 sets of l520 reps first in
your workout.
l0. Practice the pIank. Get into pushup position, and then
bend your elbows so that your forearms are flat and your
body forms a straight line from head to feet. Hold it for half as
long as you think you can and do two sets. Repeat three to
four days per week, performing them first in your workout.
Strengthening your core with planks will give you the stability
to increase your lifts across the board.
ll. Make the best of a bad scheduIe. lf you can only train
one day per week, or three days back to back, do full-body
workouts and change the sets and reps each time. Workout
l, do 4 sets of 5; Workout 2, 3 sets of l0; Workout 3, 2 sets of
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 5
l2. Train shouIders to make your
waist Iook smaIIer. Try this shoulder
shocker: Hold a dumbbell in each
hand. Raise your left arm out to your
side (a lateral raise). Keep your left
arm held up while you raise the right
arm up. Now lower your right arm a
quarter of the way down, raise it
back up again, and then lower it all
the way down. Perform l0 "l " reps
in this fashion. Rest three minutes
and then switch arms.
Do one setfirst thing in your
workouttwice a week for four
l3. Press with a neutraI grip. lf your sticking point on the
bench press is at the bottom of the lift, when the bar is on
your chest, work on dumbbell bench pressing with your palms
facing each other. Your chest strength is the limiting factor,
and this move will bring it up.
l4. Press on the fIoor. lf your bench press sticking point is
the halfway mark, when your upper arms are parallel to the
floor, start working on floor presses. Lie on the floor and lower
the bar until your triceps touch it. Pause, and press back up
explosively. You can use dumbbells as well.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps o
l5. Work your Iockout. lf you can't lock the bar out on a
bench press, your triceps are the weak point. Set the spotter
bars of a power rack to the height where your lockout usually
stalls and press from there. Do 24 sets of 35 reps at the
beginning of your workout.
l6. FaII back on deadIifts. As you pull the bar up, rock your
weight back on your heels for better leverage. You can even
try to fall backward (the heavy weight will keep you upright).
You may stumble a bit at first but you'll get the hang of it.
l7. Add fat. lf you're trying to gain
weight, add oil to every shake you
drink and drizzle some over any meal
that's appropriate. One tablespoon of
oil is l20 calories, so it adds up fast.
Avocado oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and
macadamia nut oil are good choices
(they're high in monounsaturated
fats, which are heart healthy). Mix
them in with shakes and you won't
taste the oil. Also, carry nuts around
with you. One cup of whole almonds
is over 800 calories. For better
digestion, soak nuts in water for
several hours beforehand.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 7
l8. Eat starchy carbs. Yes, they will lead to fat gain in most
people, but if you're a skinny guy who's already ripped (albeit
at l20 pounds), you can get away with eating as many as you
want. Sweet potatoes and red skin potatoes are your best
choices, and then white and brown rice. Pasta is a processed
food, but there are good pastas on the market made from
spelt and other ancient grains that you can probably digest
better than semolina. The main advantage to white rice and
pasta is that they're not fillingyou'll be hungry again for
more food before long, and more eating leads to more
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 8
l9. Work up to one heavy set on barbeII Iifts. Simply
perform increasingly heavier warm-up sets in the 35 rep
range until you reach a weight that allows you only the target
reps for the day. Perform your work set, and then one or two
more sets with a weight that's 5%l0% lighter. The warm-up
sets provide most of the volume you need to grow and will
fully prepare you for your toughest set of the day. At that
point, you back off a bit to another hard set or two, but
nothing so difficult that it compromises your recovery or takes
you to failure.
20. Make your warm-up set heavier than your work set.
This is a great bait-and-switch trick for the nervous system l
learned from Cameron McGarr, who's now a director of
personal training for Equinox. Perform several increasingly
heavy warm-up sets as usual, but let your last one be a few
pounds heavier than your first work set of the day. Just make
sure you perform fewer reps in that warm-up set than the
work set.
So, if you plan to squat 3l5 for five that day, you might
normally work up to 275 for five for your last warm-up set.
Now do one more warm-up with 320 or 325 for two repsit
shouldn't be very difficult or fatiguing. Back off to 3l5 and go
for the five reps you had planned. The set should feel easier
than it would have otherwise, and you might try to go heavier
the next week.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 9
2l. Rotate your wrists to buiId a bigger chest.
Occasionally, you'll see a guy doing dumbbell bench presses
where he starts with his palms facing forward in the bottom
position. He then rotates them to face each other as he
presses so his thumbs point toward his face at the top of the
lift. To completely activate the pecs, you should do the exact
Start with a palms-facing, neutral grip, and twist inward, so
your thumbs face each other when you reach the top of the
press. This also helps teach you to tuck your elbows to your
sides when you're benching with a barbell, which is the safest
and strongest position to press in.
22. Do "tight" drop sets. Start with
a load that gives you 46 reps, and
then reduce the weight by l0%. So if
you're doing dumbbell bench
presses, you could use l00s for five
reps, drop them, have someone
hand you the 90s, and then rep out.
This is how you use drop sets to
build strength.
23. Do "wide" drop sets. Perform a
set in the 8l2 rep range and then
reduce the load by around 30%. So
you could be squatting with 3l5 and
have a friend take a plate off each
side so you go down to 225. Do your set, and then take
another plate off and rep out with l35. The higher volume
here makes wide drop sets useful for building pure size.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 10
24. Do "iso hoId" drop sets. Here's one from bodybuilding
vet Tom Venuto: Hold a weight in the contracted position
(usually the top of the lift) and have a partner take off
plates/reduce the load. lt forces your muscles to keep working
through the weight changezero rest. This technique works
well on machine exercises like Hammer Strength or Smith
machine chest or shoulder presses. lt's great on curls, too.
25. Use the your PR method. This is the single most
effective pullup and dip booster l've ever tried, and it's very
easy to implement. Thanks to Jason DeMayo, strength coach
for the University of Richmond basketball teams, for showing
Find your max number of pullups
and dipsyour personal record
(PR). ln week l, do four sets of half
that number of reps for each lift. So if
you can do l0 dips and eight
pullups, you'll do four sets of five and
four respectively (these can be
superset or done on separate days
doesn't matter). ln week 2, perform
one more rep than you did the last
time. ln week 3, go back to doing
half your PR reps, but add a five-
pound plate. The next week, do
your PR plus one rep with the five-
pound addition. Continue this
processit looks like this:
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 11
Week l: 4 x PR
Week 2: 4 x PR + l
Week 3: 4 x PR with 5 pounds
Week 4: 4 x PR + l with 5 pounds
Week 5: 4 x PR with l0 pounds
Week 6: 4 x PR + l with l0 pounds
Keep going for at least eight weeks, or go for l0 weeks (til
you can do PR + l with 20 pounds), then retest your max.
You should get five or more reps over your PR.
26. Do puIIups twice a day. Chad Waterbury, who trains
MMA fighters in LA, taught me this one. Do two sets of as
many pullups as you canone in the morning and one in the
evening (so it helps to have a pullup bar in your house).
Repeat this every other day. After 30 days, retest your max.
Chad says you can expect to see up to an eight to l0-rep
increase. lt should work on dips as well.
27. Get in 5 to 8 warm-up sets. Depending on how strong
you are, you'll need a minimum of five to eight warm-up sets
to properly prepare for your max set of the day on any big
barbell lift. Another way of thinking about it is aiming for 40
45 total reps in your warm up. Keep the reps mainly in the
three to five range, except in the first set which can be l0.
This approach not only warms up your muscles but prepares
your central nervous system to handle the heaviest weights.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 12
28. Skip breakfast. Take in no carbs until after your workout.
You'll be more alert during the session and may even be able
to lift heavier as a result of greater nervous system activation.
lf you train in the morning, train fasted (coffee without sugar is
ok). The Furopean Journa/ ol App/|ed Phys|o/ogy found that
training fasted doubled the magnitude of muscle growth
29. Take whey and casein hydroIysates, and Ieucine.
These supplements help you get an insulin spike after training
without ingesting carbs, so you can gain muscle with less risk
of putting on fat. Nutrition maverick John Kiefer turned me on
to these.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 13
30. Don't Iet your eIbows drift behind your torso as you
Iower the bar on a curI. You won't fully extend your elbows,
and that means it's an incomplete rep.
3l. Use the FST-7 method. Try this strategy for bringing up a
weak body part from bodybuilding guru Hany Rambod, trainer
to Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler. On your last exercise for that
muscle group, do 7 sets of l0l2 reps. ln between sets,
alternate stretching and flexing that area for 2030 seconds.
For example, when training chest with the cable crossover, do
a set, then stretch your pecs in a doorframe. Rest 4560
seconds, do another set, then clasp your hands together and
flex your pecs. Do this only once a week for that part.
Called "Fascial Stretch Training", and done for seven sets,
FST-7 flushes a tremendous amount of blood into the target
muscles, giving them extra nourishment for growth.
32. Sit back when you squat. Every squat should begin with
you pushing your hips back. The knees shouldn't bend first.
Descend like you're sitting in a chair. Squatting like this
makes the hamstrings and glutes take on more of the load,
and that makes for a stronger lift.
33. Use grip tooIs. Fat Gripz are rubber sleeves that slide on
a bar, thickening it. They make your grip work harder and
activate more muscle in your hands and forearms. Tyler T
Grips and Grip4orce grips are good too. Or wrap a towel
around the bar, although it can slip easily.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 14
34. Eat your carbs after 6 p.m. Especially if you train in the
afternoon or evening. They'll be better stored as muscle.
According to Kiefer, his clients who have eaten as many as
400 grams of carbs in the evening after a workout did not gain
35. Take digestive enzymes during buIking phases. This is
a good idea any time but especially when you're forcing down
more food than usual. Make sure they contain protease,
amylase, and lipase, which help break down protein, starch,
and fat, respectively. lf you drink milk or eat other dairy, get
one with lactase, which helps you digest lactose.
36. Don't do sIow negatives. "The negative phase of a lift
does little to improve strength and growth and everything to
damage tissue," says CJ Murphy, a strength coach at Total
Performance Sports near Boston. "Slow negatives guarantee
soreness with no promise of results." lnstead, Murph
recommends doing the complete opposite, de-emphasizing
the negative portion of the lift almost entirely. Simply lower the
weight as quickly as you can with good form (this does not
mean relax at the top of the lift and let your arms or legs go),
pause, and then lift the weight at your normal speed.
"Soreness is not an indicator of a productive training session,"
says Murphy. So if you're not crippled the next day, don't think
you wasted your time. lf anything, you should be better
prepared than ever to train the next time, because you may
not be sore at all.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 15
Note that if you're a beginner (a few months of experience or
fewer), you need to improve your coordination and get used
to handling weights, so you should lift a little slower (the two-
second negative that is generally prescribed is probably fine).
But for anybody else, give it a try.
37. Drive your toes into the front of your shoes as you
push the bar up on a bench press. lt creates what's known
as "leg drive" and will help you lift more.
38. Do curIs on your Iower-body
days. You'll be fresher than you
would be working arms after chinups
or rows, and you'll be able to train
the biceps more frequently. (You
work the bi's with chins and rows on
upper-body days, and you can work
them again directly on lower-body
39. Try to puII the bar apart and
bend it in haIf whiIe you bench
press. lt may sound contradictory,
but think about both actions, pulling
and bending. lt will help you press
more by brining more of your lats
and triceps into the lift.
40. On the overhead press, dip your knees and perform a
push press to get it to the top position. Now take a deep
breath at the top and lower the bar down til it's under your
chin. This is where your reps begin. You'll press stronger.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 1o
4l. Cheat your reps up on curIs. Bend forward at the hips,
not the waist (don't round your back) and swing the weight up
to get the movement started. Don't bend backward or move
your elbows away from your sides. Curling with a slight cheat
is how every great bodybuilder built his arms.
42. Choose the right Ioad. To build muscle, most of your
sets need to be with weights that are at least 70% of the most
you can handle for one rep on the lift. So don't get carried
away with high-rep sets.
43. Let speed determine your sets. Here's another one
from Waterbury: For any exercise you do 3xl0 on, choose a
weight that gives you l0 reps and do as many reps as
possible with explosive speed. As soon as you feel yourself
slowing down, stop. Rest and repeat for 30 total reps. You'll
never go to failure and every rep will recruit your biggest and
strongest muscle fibers.
44. If you can't do a puIIup, use a band or the PuIIup
RevoIution. Unloading your body weight with the assistance
of elastic bands will make the movement easier. Over time
you'll build the strength to do a real pullup faster than you
would using a machine.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 17
45. Use Iinear periodization. Want the simplest muscle- and
strength-building program ever? Work up to a heavy set of 8
reps on all your main barbell lifts for three weeks. Then go to
a heavy set of 5 reps for three weeks. Then a heavy 3. Just
one hard work set per lift, plus a back-off set of a little less
weight. Each successive cycle will build off the gains from the
previous one and you should be hitting PR's by the last week
of 3's.
46. For a bigger chest, make sure your upper back is
strong. The more muscle there is in your rear delts, traps,
rhomboids, etc., the straighter your shoulders will appear from
the side (as opposed to rounded forward). A balanced upper
body opens up your chest and makes it look bigger. Follow a
ratio of three pulling exercises to every one pushing
movement you do. ln other words, if you bench one day, do
rows, reverse flyes, and chinups at some point before you
train chest again. Stretch your pecs and delts too.
47. Use box squats. lf your squat is stuck, you may need to
teach yourself to sit back more as you descend, so you rely
more on your glutes and hamstrings than your quads to
power up the weight. Set a box up behind you so that when
you squat down onto it your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Pause for a second and then come back up explosively. After
a month of this, go back to the regular squat. Within three
workouts, it should go up.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 18
48. Perform shrugs on Iower-body
days after deadIifts. Since deadlifts
require a lot of work from the traps, it
makes sense to finish them off with
shrugs that day rather than training
them a day or two later when the traps
may not be fully recovered.
49. Use post-exhaustion. Forget the "pre-exhaustion"
technique of doing an isolation move followed by a compound
lift. This will tire out the big muscle groups you're training and
cause you to use less weight on the compound liftwhich is
how the majority of your gains are made. Flip it around and
do the compound lift first, and then, without rest, rep out with
an isolation exercise. For example, bench press and then
dumbbell flyes, or chinups followed by curls.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 19
50. Try diminished rest intervaIs. Knock five to l0 seconds
off your rest periods every week. Be conservative: you don't
want to rest so little that you can't use the same weight on
your next set or, worse, miss the reps you're after. For
instance, rest 60 seconds between sets in week l. ln week 2,
you'll rest 50 seconds. By the fourth week, you'll be
recovering in half the time. Forcing your muscles to recover
more quickly means growth.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 20
Sean Hyson is the Group
Training Director for
Musc/eSl|tness and Men's
l|tness magazines, covering
workouts, diets, exercise trends,
and the regimens of celebrities
and athletes. A Certified Strength
and Conditioning Specialist
(C.S.C.S.), Sean underwent a
l2-week body transformation
and lost 35 pounds while adding
50 pounds to his squat.
T|e 50 8es| |usc|e ard 3|rerg|| T|ps 21