October 10, 2013 / The Josh Sway Bodybuilding Guide: Part 4, Three Core Exercises
In Part 4 of our bodybuilding guide we talk about three core exercises.
What does "lifting heavy" mean?
In part 3, I talked about the importance of lifting heavy weights and why heavy weight lifting is an extremely effective method of building muscle mass. Now comes the time to learn exactly what it means to “lift heavy weight”. In parts 4 and 5 of this guide I will introduce 8 exercises that compose more or less a full body workout. This list is far from exhaustive however they are a solid foundation on which you can improvise and expand. Too many people become overwhelmed or caught up in minor details such as what exercise to do for what muscle group and lose focus on the fundamental drivers of muscle gains (heavy weights, proper diet, and proper rest).
The "Bodybuilding Big 3″
Part 4 will cover what I like to call the “bodybuilding big three”. Those of you who know about lifting will know that the “big three” normally consists of the three lifts powerlifters compete in, the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift. However, for bodybuilding and looking good, I believe that an upper body back exercise (I will use the lat pull down here) is more logical “big 3” (not to say the deadlift is not an important and extremely effective mass and strength builder).
A note on lifting technique
Before moving on to the exercises, I do want to discuss proper technique. Believe it or not, I actually think there is too much emphasis on technique out there. My focus on technique is mostly about injury mitigation. You should consult with a trainer (and/or do your own research) on proper technique but don’t get too caught up in technique that supposedly “isolates better” or whatever. The point of technique is not to make the exercise more difficult for no reason. What is important is injury mitigation and making sure you are exhausting the muscles you are targeting, with particular emphasis on the large muscle fibers (for mass building).
Perhaps the most popular weight lifting exercise at the gym is the bench press. The bench press is an extremely effective upper body workout with particular emphasis on the large muscles of the chest and shoulders.
Many variations of the bench press exist (with dumbbells versus barbell shown below, on a bench that is inclining or declining versus flat, etc.) and all have their differences with slightly more emphasis on different parts of the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles. One great thing about the bench press is that it is not an extremely technical lift which means that you can learn the proper technique quickly and start becoming limited by your muscles (hence forcing them to grow) versus by proper technique. For good videos on bench press form, I recommend looking at Mark Rippetoe’s videos. Simply search for Mark Rippetoe bench press on youtube.
Many beginners at the gym neglect working out their legs. After all, tree trunk legs aren’t really that noticeable when going out or even at the beach. I was and still am guilty of neglecting my legs more than I should! However, even if you do not care about building strong legs, recall adaptability from part 3 of this guide. Your legs (especially upper legs and hips) are a huge muscle group and stressing them will turn your body into “overdrive” muscle building and repair mode which will actually impact your entire body. There are also some suggestions that the squatting motion itself increases testosterone which is in part responsible for muscle building. Here is a video that I think demonstrates good squat form and gets the basics right:
Performing the squat exercise squatting to different heights, with different spacing between the legs, and with different positioning of the bar all have slightly different effects as with benching. Note that while squatting is not that difficult, it is more difficult to master proper technique than the bench press. Also, many people at the gym have notoriously bad or “pointless” squat technique. I strongly advise the links above for seeing how to do a proper squat and I would suggest enlisting the assistance of a trainer to personally help you develop the proper technique for squatting.
Lat Pull Downs
To be perfectly honest, the lat pull down is just an arbitrary choice of many solid upper body back exercises. Pull ups can also replicate this motion (pull ups with added weight for more advanced lifters to ensure “heavy weight” and failure after at most 8 reps). It is essentially a pull up but on a machine that allows for more flexibility regarding the level of resistance.
The lat pull down heavily emphasizes the very large muscles in your back which are crucial in building appreciable upper body mass. It also works your arm muscles.
So there you have it, my personal “big 3” lifts. They compose far from a complete workout but you would be surprised at the results you could gain performing ONLY THESE 3 LIFTS! I don’t recommend that though. In the next part I will cover the other core exercises which combined with the big 3 can form the basis of an entire workout program.