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Resistance Exercise

  • The pros and cons of the reverse grip bench press

    Most people have incorporated the traditional bench press into their fitness programmes at least once. Its chest-building benefits cannot be ignored. Nowadays, a similar exercise is stealing the limelight—the reverse grip barbell bench press. It has had its share of supporters and detractors. Is it just as beneficial as the traditional bench press? Or is it an exercise not worth doing at all?

    Let us look into its proper execution and weigh its pros and cons.

    Execution of the Reverse Grip Bench Press

    1. Lie face up on a bench with your back and head fully supported. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor.

    2. Hold on to the bar with a shoulder-width reverse grip. This means your palms should be facing you. Your thumbs should be wrapped around the bar.

    3. For added safety, have a spotter assist you as you lift the barbell off the rack. This is because your elbows will point forward initially instead of them pointing out to your sides whenever the traditional bench press is executed.

    4. Inhale deeply as you lower the barbell to your lower chest area, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body.

    5. Pause and then lift the barbell up to the ceiling in a slight arc using a smooth, controlled motion. Repeat until you reach your desired number of repetitions. If the exercise feels awkward at first, try using a Smith machine.

    The Advantages of the Reverse Grip Barbell Bench Press

    According to Joseph Horrigan of the Soft Tissue Center in California, says one of the key advantages of the reverse grip barbell bench press is that it eliminates shoulder pain normally brought about by the regular bench press. He says this may be made possible by the unique manner in which the movement is executed.

    The position in which the reverse grip bench press is performed involves more lateral, or external, rotation of the shoulder than the regular bench press. This lateral rotation may help to keep the head of the humerus, the ball of the ball-and-socket should joint, stable in the socket. This is because two key muscles in the rotator cuff are lateral rotators. What this laterally-rotated position does is help the rotator cuff do its job.

    In the same manner, the reverse grip bench press makes the shoulder more comfortable and stronger. As an example, an American weightlifter by the name of David Paul was unable to perform the regular bench press due to shoulder pain but wound up executing the reverse grip barbell bench press with a resistance of 550 pounds. Horrigan concludes that the reverse grip gave Paul a stronger shoulder position. What's amazing here is that Paul was able to lift only 520 pounds for the regular bench press once his shoulder injury was healed.

    Steve Miller is another powerlifter included in Horrigan's study. His deltoids and triceps have responded well to the reverse grip barbell bench press. It also helps him get the initial drive off his chest when he performs the big lifts during competition. Miller says it is "more explosive and uses more than just the triceps. It is a strength development movement. I advise trainees to use exercises that are as close as possible to the bench when trying to improve their bench press."

    Disadvantages of the Reverse Grip Barbell Bench Press

    Horrigan also points out a slight disadvantage of the reverse grip barbell bench press which is related to its movement. The major chest muscles which are recruited by this exercise are the deltoids, the clavicular heads of the pectoralis major and the triceps. The movement involved does not place a great deal of stretch or stress on the lower and middle portions of the pectoralis major. What this simply means is that the reverse grip barbell bench press does not add much to pectoral development. Horrigan quickly states that this is not really a major problem for most trainees.

    Another disadvantage is that it will cause pain in a number of joints. The first of these will be your wrists. The root cause will be the way you have to lift with your palms facing inward rather than push them away from you. Pressing with your palms toward you is also a vulnerable position for straining lower forearm muscles.

    A reverse grip also torques joints. This creates an unnatural twist in the wrists, limiting pressing power and range of motion. It can also lead to tendinitis and possible early arthritis. Some fitness experts believe that executing a barbell bench press with a natural grip allows a more natural alignment of your forearms and hands with less wrist twisting and more direct pressing power.

    Is the reverse grip bench press better than the regular bench press?

    When asking oneself if one exercise is better than another, there are many things to consider. For example, level of injury risk, muscle recruitment, level of enjoyment or motivation to undertake, central nervous system fatigue, etc. Here are some key things to consider choosing between the reverse grip bench and the regular bench press:

    • The reverse grip bench press recruits more of the upper chest than the regular bench press.
    • Some research suggests that a reverse grip bench press is safer on the elbow and shoulder joints compared to a regular bench press.
    • The reverse grip bench press requires additional safety set-up measures. For example, you'll need to set up in a power/squat rack with the pins approximately 5cm below the chest to prevent the bar from crushing your body if you reach a failure point.

    Which muscle groups does the reverse grip bench press work?

    The reverse grip bench press predominately recruits the muscles of the chest - particularly the upper chest, the anterior head of the deltoids, and the triceps. 

    Conclusion 

    Whilst the disadvantages of the reverse grip barbell bench press may come off as serious to many fitness enthusiasts, they need not worry as certain precautionary measures can be taken to minimise them. One would be to train under the supervision of a certified personal trainer who can guide and even spot you during the exercise. Consult your physician and personal trainer if you have a history of joint pains that may be aggravated by this exercise.

    Make it also a point to place the barbell lower on your chest than you are used to in the regular bench press. Never attempt to touch the bar high on your chest or near your neck when executing this exercise. Doing so will cause you to lose control of the bar because you'll be beyond the effective range of the deltoids.

    To sum it all up, the reverse grip barbell bench press is one exercise you can execute but do so with extreme caution.

  • The 5 Most Beneficial Movements for Gaining Muscle Mass

    When looking for, or designing, an exercise program, you should always have a few 'golden rules' you should incorporate, especially when the goal is gaining muscle mass. An example of this would be having more pulling movements than pushing movements, to help trainees get into proper spine position.

    When it comes to designing routines with the focus on building muscle mass, you should always find a way to incorporate some variation of a few movements that provide the biggest 'bang for your buck.' Without these, you are limiting progress on yourself or your trainee.

    Chances are this probably won't be shocking news to you. That isn't the intent of this article. Instead, we hope to educate or remind you that these movements should be included in your routine AT ALL TIMES if your goal is to gain muscle.

    Now, with that out of the way, let's take a look at what the best exercises are, and why they have earned their way on to this list:

    The Barbell Squat

    While many fitness professionals will undoubtedly argue about the best exercises, this one is #1 on probably all of the lists.

    Why? Because this movement requires so much effort from your entire body, and it can be easy to build up to heavy loads. Of course, with the heavier the load is, the more stress you are placing on the muscles. Because of the ability to load high amounts of weight onto the body, this exercise is always going to claim the top spot.

    Deadlift

    Believe it or not, this one is actually widely debated.

    You see, you often here the deadlift coined as the 'king of all exercises.' This is because it is, like the squat, a common movement pattern we use every day. At some point during the day, everyone has to drop down and pick something up. Now, it may not be heavy, but the deadlift teaches you how to properly brace your body and set up so that you can protect your body when lifting heavy things off the ground. Pretty important, right?

    Well, the deadlift doesn't incorporate an eccentric movement at any point during the lift, which is a problem when trying to build size. It also offers very little time under tension, which is key in producing size gains.

    So why is it on this list? Well, simply put, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

    The deadlift fights for the top spot when it comes to building strength. Much like the squat, it is a full body movement that is excellent at recruiting many muscle fibres, and is also a movement that many can use with relatively heavy weight. Size gains come as a by-product of strength gains, and the deadlift is among the best at producing strength. With the results it has given to countless numbers of individuals, it is easy to see why you fill also find this movement among many coaches' lists.

    Bench Press

    I almost put dumbbell chest press here.

    But I didn't. I stuck with the barbell bench press because you won't find anyone who can bench press 225 pounds with a small chest. It's just not possible. It is also an excellent exercise at building overall strength as well, and is among the most respected of the lifts today.

    But the dumbbell chest press does at least deserve to be discussed. This is because it requires more stabilization, and is more isolated, thus putting a larger emphasis on the chest. But, it is important to remember that the dumbbell chest press is just a variation of a chest pressing movement, so they both serve the same goal.

    Standing Military Press

    To close out the 'Big 4' movements comes the military press, another staple in almost any training program. It is another movement that challenges your body to stabilize, and really hits the shoulders hard, as well as a few other areas.

    This full body exercise will be more a challenge to your ego than any of the others previously mentioned. Your weight isn't going to be as high, and it is far more challenging as the weights increase. But once you can press a good amount of weight over your head, there is no doubt that your physique will show proof of that.

    Pull Ups

    After the big 4 exercises, choosing the 5th becomes a bit more difficult. This one was a toss-up between a few other exercises, such as straight legged deadlifts (which I didn't choose, as they are a variation of the deadlift), and push-ups.

    But pull ups earn their way on to this list because they are difficult to do for so many people, and yet they are so important! Not only that, but they also target the muscles differently depending on your grip, allowing you to focus on the weaker areas of your body just by a slight change in grip style.

    But, regardless of which grip you choose, this exercise will build your back. It is a challenge for almost anyone to even hit 7-8 repetitions with full range of motion, and a startling amount of individuals can't even perform one pull up.

    When choosing your next exercise routine to pack on some serious lean muscle, you need to make sure that it includes these five movements. By doing so, you are guaranteeing that you are placing great amounts of stress on the body, and leaving yourself the opportunity for fantastic gains in muscle. It also helps that these movements are very functional, and all of them will help you in your day to day life.

  • How to Train Grip Strength the Practical Way

    Grip strength measures how hard you can squeeze your hand. Let's look at which grip strength exercises are effective and which are a sham!

     

    Our least favourite grip strength exercises are those which use a silly bracket to hold your arm in. practical methods of training do not use machines, since they do not replicate any part of real life!

     

    Best 4 exercises for Grip Strength:

    1. Farmer Carry - this is a great upper body exercise which uses grip as a part of the whole unit. Though this is typically done with kettlebells, dumbbells work just fine, as well. Grab a pair in each hand, stand tall with both shoulders back, and shoulder blades tight to your back. Contract the abdominals and walk a distance of between 20 and 40 metres. Not only is the shoulder and core working, but so is grip! If you feel it is not too bad, use a heavier weight. The weight used should be fairly heavy and challenging!

    2. Deadlifts - that's right! The classic lower body strength movement also happens to be a great one for grip. Wasn't it obvious, though? Notice that all powerlifters use straps to attach their hands to the bar after a particular weight. This is because the muscles pulling the bar off the floor are developing stronger than the lifters grip strength. Seems odd, though… if you want a stronger grip, take the bar with a pronated grip on both hands (rather than inverted grip), facing palms down. Deadlift only what your hands can hang on to!

    3. Pull ups - I dare any gym jock to try 50 pull ups with a pronated or supinated grip (palms forward or backwards) and not complain about sore muscles in the forearms! Similar to deadlifts and farmer carry, pull ups are a practical way of training grip, incorporating them into the training program without setting aside a machine and specific exercises to do so!

    4. Toes to Bar - this is the complete version of a hanging leg raise. Rather than raising the knees alone, you'll be hanging from a pull up bar and lifting your toes up to the hands, aiming to touch the pull up bar overhead with your feet! A great way to target abs and grip strength together. Try for 30 reps of this and you might be crawling back to dumbbells looking for the ease and simplicity of dumbbell forearm curls!

     

    How to organize these into your program

    The simple way of adding grip strength training is to just add these variations into the program you are already following. For example, on core and shoulder day, add in farmer Carry. On legs / posterior chain day, leave the straps behind and perform neutral/ pronated grip deadlifts.

    The same goes for pull ups and toes to bar. All of these are highly functional, fun, and challenging bodyweight exercises. They'll accelerate your performance and coordination!

    Finally, don't forget to allow for rest if you are feeling muscle soreness in the forearms which lasts more than a day or two.

     

    Feresh, BSc

    Amino Z personal trainer

  • Q and A: How to Squat like a Boss!

    Squats are one of the two major lower body movements. While some neglect the infamous squat, I have found that it is more likely a result of insecurity and uncertainty which so many (especially the men) feel about it. We get a lot of questions on Squatting! I've added video explanations for the top 5 questions we get!

    1. How to do it correctly?

    Check out our video! Basically, go as low as you can, keeping your feet in a neutral and natural stance, and body upright. Stay on your heals!

    2. How will it help me?

    Essentially, a squat is the entire lower body performing concentric and eccentric contractions. The core is performing as well, keeping the body upright, making it a great mid-body workout as well, as it performs static contraction.

    3, Is it better to squat or do a series of machines which isolate the muscles?

    Squat during strength phases, and squat if you are trying to get into great shape. If you are squatting because it is great for your overall fitness, stick with the big squat movements; back squat, front squat and overhead squat! Save those machines for the body building! They isolate smaller muscle groups, helping to accentuate and activate each one. While it is useful for bodybuilders and esthetics, it takes up much more time in a session, gets less work done, and does not help to improve the quality of your squat.

    4. What is the difference between a smith rack squat and a free squat? (is it safer?)

    The smith rack takes away all of the work from the stabilizing muscles. You'll likely be able to lift more because all you have to do is push, and no worries about your back position, feet position or which direction the force is being applied! It is not more safe in the sense that you probably shouldn't be handling loads on a pretend squat if you cannot normally squat them! Scale back, take some weight off and master a good quality squat before loading your bar!

    5. Should I be squatting more reps or adding more weight to the bar?

    This depends on your overall goal and phase of training. If you are trying to get stronger, you'll have to lift heavier load. If you are able to perform 4 reps at a particular weight, and are trying to improve strength, load. If you are training to improve endurance and overall fitness, perform heavier loads at between 6 and 12 reps. Every now and again, experiment with heavier sets and see how many reps you can perform without breaking form/ technique. If you are able to perform more than 12 reps, you can usually always add more weight to maintain a sufficient level of difficulty.

    Keep squatting!

  • Exercise Types for Maximum Strength and Muscle Size

    A study recently conducted by several researchers looked at the influence exercise order would have on the strength and thickness of muscles in untrained men involved in a twelve week period of resistance training.
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