Try these exercises, the best for bulk-building in the world
Serious strength training
Ten years ago, Olympic strength coach Dr Tudor Bompa used electromyography (the process of recording the physiologic properties of muscles at rest and while contracting) to determine which exercises caused the greatest amount of activity within each muscle group. His study, Serious Strength Training (published in Human Kinetics), set the benchmark for which exercises produced the greatest gains in mass and strength.
Admittedly, it’s some time since Bompa first trumpeted his findings. But the science not only still stands (the second edition of his book was published in 2003), it has bred success – Bompa personally trained 11 Olympic Games medallists including four gold medal winners. In case you missed his book second-time round, the best moves and the percentage of muscle fibres worked are listed below. Both novices and advanced trainers can start each session for a particular body part with the best exercise listed below. And you can do them in the order shown if you want a full body-strength workout.
1. Body part: quads
Best move: deep squats
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and rest a bar-bell on the back of your shoulders. Bend your hips and knees to lower yourself as far as you can go or until your glutes touch the ground. Keep your knees in line with your feet and heels on the ground. Rise to the start. Keep your knees slightly bent at the top.
Portion of quads used: 88%
Why: you’ll work your legs through a full range of motion rather than stopping when your thighs become parallel to the ground.
Make it better: substitute your normal squats for deep squats and add three sets of single-leg squats to your leg routine. A study revealed at the National Strength and Conditional annual conference found that two-leg squats burden your stronger leg with 6% more weight, which can lead to strength imbalances and posture problems.
2. Body part: chest
Best move: decline dumb-bell bench press
Lie on a decline bench with your lower shins beneath the leg supports. Hold a pair of dumb-bells along the sides of your chest, palms facing away from you. Push the weights up above your chest until your arms are extended. Don’t completely straighten your elbows.
Portion of chest used: 93%
Why: dumb-bells allow for a deeper stretch at the bottom of the move.
Make it better: lower the weights as wide and as far away from your armpits as possible. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that taking a grip wider than shoulder width recruits even more chest-muscle fibres.
3. Body part: shoulders
Best move: incline dumb-bell side raises
Lie your right side on an incline bench and hold a dumb-bell with your left hand. Keeping your elbow locked and your arm straight raise the dumb-bell until it’s directly over your shoulder joint. Then lower to the start position.
Portion of shoulders used: 66%
Why: lying on your side makes you work against gravity for the entire lift.
Make it better: “This move targets the sides of your shoulder so you look wider,” says Dr Ross Sherman, senior exercise physiologist at Kingston University, London. “To work the rest of your shoulder muscles, raise the weight until your bicep touches your ear then lower it.”
4. Body part: biceps
Best move: preacher curls with straight bar
Grasp a straight bar with an underhand shoulder-width grip. Lean across a preacher bench and extend your arms fully. Bend your elbows to curl the weight up as far as possible. Keep your elbows firmly anchored.
Portion of biceps used: 90%
Why: the bench stops you from leaning back to cheat and isolates your biceps.
Make it better: “Don’t let your wrists bend back while curling the bar,” says Sherman. “Keep them locked and in line with your forearms. This will help you shift more weight and target your biceps further.”
5. Body part: back
Best move: bent-over bar-bell row
Stand holding a bar-bell with an overhand grip, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the hips until your back is at a 45° to the floor. You should have a slight bend in your knees with your straight arms beneath your shoulders. Bend your elbows to bring the bar to point just below your chest. Pause then lower to the start.
Portion of back used: 93%
Why: this exercise makes you keep the tension on your back muscles through the lifting and lowering portions of the move.
Make it better: “Use an alternating grip – one hand over, one hand under,” advises Sherman. “This will give you a sturdier grip allowing you to shift more weight. After each set, reverse the position of each hand for more balanced lat growth.”
6. Body part: triceps
Best move: decline triceps extensions
Lie on a decline bench and position a bar-bell above your shoulders with fully extended arms. Bend your elbows to lower the weight until it is behind your head. Keep your elbows pointed up throughout the move. Straighten your arms to go to the start of the move.
Portion of triceps used: 92%
Why: it works all three heads of your triceps and the decline keeps the stress on the muscle for the whole lift.
Make it better: “Use dumb-bells,” says Sherman. “They let you lower the weight either side of your head which will isolate your triceps more.”
The latest version of Dr Bompa’s book contains new information on nutrition and new exercises. Bompa expands on his periodised approach to strength training to include periodisation of nutrition. Readers can match nutrition guidelines to each of the six training phases, maximising their strength and muscle definition. In addition, Mauro Di Pasquale, an internationally renowned physician and body-building nutrition expert, presents his revolutionary diet. His method allows readers to structure their diets to meet their individual metabolic profiles.
Serious Strength Training – 2nd edition is available from Waterstones from £11.99; publisher Human Kinetics Europe Ltd; ISBN 9780736042666
Words by MH fitness consultant Ray Klerck