Get Your Dream Routine! Better Results With Less Exercise.

Learn the basics about what each muscle group does, then check out this DREAM ROUTINE that will give you the fastest gains with the least sets.

Article Summary:
  • Trainers of all experience levels are searching for the perfect routine.
  • Ignorance of muscle groups is holding back many trainers.
  • Some muscles are worked in exercises not meant for that muscle group.

  • Dream Routine!

    Advice columns in every magazine are besieged each month by trainers, both new and experienced, searching for the "perfect routine." What's the best plan for bigger arms? How can I beef up my chest? To many, these answers are as mysterious and unfathomable as the issues of life after death, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Bermuda Triangle. For every muscle group, you can bet there are thousands of trainers out there whiling away in frustrated misery, miserable with its development and at a loss for a solution.

    New And Experienced Trainers Are Always Searching For The 'Perfect Routine.'
    + Click To Enlarge.
    New And Experienced Trainers Are Always
    Searching For The 'Perfect Routine.'

    They pore over magazines and the Internet, forever searching for a list of exercises that will make the critical difference. Maybe Ronnie Coleman's arm routine could be the ticket to turning those 14-inch pipes into 21-inch cannons. Maybe the leg training program of Tom Platz could unlock new growth in the thighs for those who often hear "cluck, cluck" from mocking passerby when they strut around in shorts. Others pay personal trainers or have someone design their ideal routine from a computer program, relying on the knowledge and expertise of others to diagram their training.

    Sadly, the only thing blocking most of these men and women from achieving better development is a little bit of information about their own bodies. If we all knew the functions of the individual muscle groups, we would each be able to design efficient, highly effective workouts for them each and every training session. By the time you have finished this article, you will have gained this ability and subsequently, the tools for perfect workouts each and every time.

    Let's look at each muscle group, one by one, and explore its function in the human body. From there, it's a simple step to putting together a routine with plenty of room for options and flexibility, so that you can be sure each body part is properly trained with the greatest efficiency and economy.

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    Quadriceps

      The quads are a muscle group involved in two major functions - knee extension and hip extension. That is, they extend the knee, as in a leg extension machine's motion, and they assist the hip in extending, which allows us to walk, jump, squat down, and run. For all the types of motions and activities the quadriceps allow us to perform in life, only two types of exercises are needed to train them for full development. One is the leg extension, and the other is any kind of pressing movement; squats, leg presses of varying kinds, or hack squats. The squat is considered the very best pressing movement because it most closely approximates our own natural movement.

      Even before any of us could walk as infants, we could all squat down to reach for a cookie, a crayon, or a coin. (Most of us ate all three.) The squat has an undeserved reputation as being perilous to the knee joints and lower back. Both erroneous accusations arose from injuries resulting from incorrect squatting technique, ie; bouncing at the bottom and hunching too far forward at the torso. Unless you have an injury which prevents squatting, by all means squat.

      For variety's sake you can substitute hack squats, leg presses, or front squats every third or fourth workout. However, to do more than one pressing motion for the quads in any one workout would be redundant and a waste of your precious time.


    Hamstrings

      The hamstrings perform two major functions - hip extension and knee flexion, which is the opposite of knee extension. Thus, you must always do two types of exercises for them; some sort of stiff-leg deadlift and also a leg curl. The stiff-legs can be executed with a barbell, holding a pair of dumbbells, or even standing on a T-bar row platform. There are many varieties of leg curl machines, including lying, seated, and standing versions, yet you need only to do one kind each training session. Since machines provide resistance along the entire range of motion, one should theoretically be exactly the same as another.

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    Calves

      As you should know, the calves are really composed of two muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. Both allow ankle plantarflexion, which is the movement of 'pointing your toes.' The difference is that the gastrocnemius is responsible for this motion when the knees are locked, and the soleus does the job when the knees are bent. This means that two exercises are always called for when it comes to calf training; a calf raise with knees locked, as in standing calf raises, donkey calf raises, or toe presses on a leg press machine, and also seated calf raises. Neglecting the soleus by skipping seated calf raises will have a definite deleterious overall impact on the size of your calves. And how many bodybuilders can afford to miss out on extra calf girth?


    Chest

      The chest is made up of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the much smaller pectoralis minor, which lays beneath it. For the purposes of weight training, we need only concern ourselves with the pectoralis major. Its functions are: shoulder adduction and internal rotation; the upper fibers specifically involved in shoulder flexion and adduction to the opposite shoulder; the lower fibers in horizontal adduction toward the iliac crest. Phew, that's a mouthful! Simplified, it really means that the chest helps you push things away from you as well as brings the arm into the midline of the body in a hugging motion.

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      We know that we need to do presses and flyes. As for how many angles to do presses from, the answer is simple: two. Always do one type of incline press, either with dumbbells, a barbell, or a machine, at an angle no greater than thirty degrees. Beyond that, and you are effectively doing shoulder presses. Also do one type of flat press, decline press, or dip with the torso tipped forward.

      Do not do both flat and decline presses in the same workout. From an anatomical standpoint, there are actually distinct upper and lower chest muscle fibers; there is no such thing, however, as a lower chest. Even if there were, I have yet to see anyone with a good "middle" chest and a poor "lower" chest. What exists in droves, of course, are poorly-developed upper chests. It's a good idea to start all chest training with an incline press, proceed to a flye with dumbbells, cables, or machines, then finish with either flat or decline presses.

      Sandwiching the flyes in between the two pressing movements will allow the front delts and triceps to recover somewhat so that your strength in the second pressing movement isn't severely compromised. The combination of these three exercises will work the chest completely from every angle, and for all of its functions.


    Back

      The back is a huge and complex structure encompassing nearly a dozen separate muscles. Thankfully, they can be conveniently divided into three muscle groups for purposes of weight training: the trapezius, the latissimus dorsi, and the spinal erectors. Although there are also many smaller muscles around the shoulder blades, they will receive ample work from back and shoulder training.

      Trapezius

        The diamond-shaped traps, which originate at the base of the neck and insert in the mid-back actually has three functions. The uppers traps' main function is to elevate the traps (as in a shrug), the middle trapezius is responsible for scapular adduction (bringing the shoulder blades together), and the lower trapezius depresses the scapulae. Luckily, all rowing enercises will stimulate the middle trapezius, and all chins and pulldowns will similarly recruit the lower traps. All that needs to be trained are the upper traps, and any type of shrug will accomplish this. While upright rows, overhead presses, and lateral raises also involve the upper traps, only shrugs will isolate this powerful muscle and permit you to use the maximum resistance it is capable of. It's fairly common for very strong men to be able to perform barbell shrugs with over five hundred pounds.


    Click To Enlarge.
    Barbell Shrug.
    Video : Windows Media

      Latissimus Dorsi

        The lats serve to adduct (bring closer together in the back) the shoulders, extend the shoulders, and internally rotate them. These three functions can all be trained with two types of exercises; rows and pulldowns. Most trainers realize this, yet go into an overkill mode by performing cable rows, dumbbell rows, barbell rows, and machine rows - all in the same workout! This isn't a warning article on overtraining, but the redundancy of such a routine should be glaringly apparent. Each time you train lats, select just one rowing movement.

        To inject more variety into the sets, use two or three different grips or handles. Most gyms have at least a half-dozen different grips to snap onto the cable row, for example. All rows are essentially the same as far as your back is concerned, so feel free to alternate them all to keep back training exciting. As for pulldowns, I have been on a crusade against them ever since I read a great back-training article by IMM's own Greg Zulak several years ago. In it, he stressed repeatedly the superiority of chins for mass building.

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        I had never had much back development prior to reading his article, and decided to switch to chins for awhile to see if they made any difference to my then-shallow dorsal landscape. Now my back is one of my best bodyparts, and it's all because of chins. (Thanks, Greg!) Try two sets with a narrow, underhand grip, two sets with your hands overhand and just beyond shoulder width (any wider and you start losing range of motion), and two sets with a neutral grip of palms facing each other, if your gym has a bar like this. If it doesn't, three sets each of the first two will be just fine.

      Lower Back

        Technically known as the erector spinae, the lower back serves to extend the trunk (returning it to upright from being bent over), and also enables hyperextension and lateral flexion of the trunk. As such, the lower back is involved either as a synergist or stabilizer in almost every exercise performed upright, such as squats, overhead presses, deadlifts, and curls. None of these, however, will isolate the lower back. Not working the lower back directly can lead to an injury, especially when tight lifting belts are always used and lower back muscles become quite weak in relation to the overall musculature. Either hyperextensions or good mornings must be done at least once a week, preferably twice.

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    Lower Back Training!
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    Lower Back Training!
    I just wanted to know if I can start working out for my lower back I'm turning 17 in two months is it ok?
    Started By:
    garen95

        A strong lower back is the best insurance policy against a lower back injury. Those of you who have never experienced this misery should count yourself lucky. There are few things sadder than a big, muscular man who can bench press 400 pounds, yet needs someone else to put his shoes and socks on for him!


    Shoulders

      The deltoids are made up of three heads, each of which has a distinct function. Shoulder presses theoretically train all three heads, along with the triceps, but most of us know from experience that the anterior, or front heads, get the brunt of the work, with the medial or side heads lagging a distant second. As for the posterior, or rear, delt heads, you are far more likely to feel them working during any rowing or chinning exercise than during shoulder presses. Shoulder presses are nonetheless a great mass builder which should always be part of delt training. A great way to feel more side delts from them is to perform isolation exercises for the side delts before attacking presses, putting them in a weakened condition relative to the front delts and triceps.

      This is the essence of the "pre-exhaust" method pioneered by Robert Kennedy and Arthur Jones. Now let's look at each individual head.

      Anterior Deltoid

        The front delts are responsible for shoulder flexion and internal rotation, and act as a stabilizer for shoulder abduction. Each and every time you do a press for your chest or shoulders, you are relying heavily on the front delts. To isolate them, perform front raises with dumbbells. However, due to their involvement in chest and delt presses, I have yet to see a single pair of shoulders that had good side and rear development, yet lacked in the front. In every case it is the exact opposite. For this reason, I recommend against any direct exercise for the anterior deltoids.

      Medial Deltoid

        The side delts do just one thing: abduct the shoulders. This is the exact movement of a lateral raise. To ensure resistance throughout the entire range of motion, use cables. Before you snort, "Real men use dumbbells," consider that six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates is a huge (literally) proponent of cable side laterals, and used them exclusively in his latter years reigning as the world's best bodybuilder.

    Dorian Yates Is A Huge Proponent Of Cable Side Laterals.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Dorian Yates Is A Huge Proponent
    Of Cable Side Laterals.

      Posterior Deltoid

        The rear deltoids act in shoulder extension and internal rotation, and are also a stabilizer for shoulder abduction. This means that they are involved heavily in all rowing and chinning, and to some extent also in shoulder presses. For all this, development will still suffer unless specific isolation exercise is performed. All that is needed are a few sets of properly executed rear lateral raises, either done bent over with dumbbells or cables. Care must be taken to make sure the traps or rhomboids are not doing the work, as good posterior delt development is as rare as exceptional calves.


    Biceps

      Biceps are responsible for shoulder flexion, elbow flexion and forearm supination. All of these functions can actually be trained with a single exercise - supinating dumbbell curls. In these, the palms begin facing the body. Through the course of the rep, the hand is rotated up so that it finishes with the palm facing forward. Because gravity operates in a vertical line of pull, there is little resistance provided at the very top and bottom ranges of motion when using dumbbells. This is why most trainers will also do spider, preacher, and concentration curls.

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      Hammer grip and reverse curls also isolate the outer head of the biceps and also work the brachialis muscle, which lies between the bicep and tricep. For all these functions, you could still get a complete biceps workout with just one exercise - supinating curls with a cable attachment.


    Triceps

      The triceps facilitate elbow extension, and the long head additionally assists in shoulder adduction and extension. We know that all chest and shoulder pressing involves triceps, because often the triceps will fatigue before the chest or shoulders in these exercises. For the purpose of training the triceps, only two types of exercises need be performed: one extension; such as skull crushers, cable pushdowns, kickbacks, and one close-grip press; as in dips or close-grip bench presses. As always, the pull of gravity is a concern when attempting to provide resistance to a muscle throughout a full range of motion. For this reason, lying extensions (also known as French presses and skull crushers) should be performed on a steep decline bench, or done with a cable attachment.

      When doing dips or close-grip bench presses, be sure to keep the elbows tucked in close to your body to maximize recruitment of the triceps and minimize chest and front delt involvement.

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      Now let's put all this information together to develop some efficient bodypart routines that will help you get the best results with the least amount of exercises.


    Sample Dream Routines


    Quads


    Hamstrings


    Calves


    Chest


    Traps


    Lats


    Low Back


    Shoulders


    Biceps


    Triceps


    Conclusion

    Of course, there is no "perfect" routine. Neither should there be, as your training is a constantly evolving and shifting process. Now that you have an excellent grasp of how each muscle functions in your body, you can custom-design your own dream routines for years to come, with plenty of room for variety and novelty. Happy gains!

    Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.