One of the most important elements of a bodybuilding training regimen is variety. There are many ways to keep things fresh and prevent your gains from hitting a plateau (I’ll be adding more articles on these in the future). Today, let’s look at altering our workout routines over the period of roughly 4-6 months. Considering the following plans:
Chest, Triceps, Shoulders
Back, Biceps, Calves
Hams, Glutes, Abs
Stick with each of these cycles for 4-6 weeks or until you feel that your gains have plateaued, then move on to the next cycle. As you can see, in each cycle the amount of bodyparts worked (and how often they’re worked per week) changes from program to program. So, we start with Cycle 1 working the whole body a few times a week and move onto Cycle 4 with only one bodypart being worked per day, once a week. In order to keep things logistically practical, you should alter the number of exercises you are performing per bodypart depending on which cycle you are following. Thus, when I’m doing a whole body routine, I will typically only do 1 exercise per bodypart while Cycle 4’s routine will find me doing 4 or even 5 sets per bodypart. These are of course just sample routines to illustrate the principle; you can make up your own combinations and decide where and when you’d like to fit in your cardio as you see fit.
Most gyms I’ve been in have a Smith Machine available for members and the Smith can certainly be a very valuable tool in your bodybuilding routine. Basically, the Smith Machine is a large rack-like apparatus with a barbell attached to the front of it. The barbell is in a slot, on a track, and as such it can only move in the vertical plane (i.e. up and down). There are small knobs or cylinders protruding on either side of the Smith right by the barbell track and hooks on the barbell itself allow you to use the knobs to rack the weight at various points as the bar moves up and down.
The Smith Machine has several advantages and uses. Because of the way the machine is designed, it eliminates the need for many of the stabilizer muscles you normally would have to recruit when performing certain exercises using free weights. What this means is two things: 1) you’ll be able to more effectively *isolate* a particular muscle group and really work it over well and 2) you’ll be able to lift quite a bit heavier using the Smith than when using normal free weights. In addition, an added benefit is that, for all practical purposes, the Smith Machine eliminates the need for a spotter since you can rack the weight easily on your own at anytime during the performance of the exercise.
I find the Smith Machine is excellent for:
- breaking out of plateaus
- lifting heavier weight than you normally would be able to (this is often an integral part of pushing through the aforementioned plateaus)
- isolating a particular muscle group
- getting the “feel” and form down for a particular exercise before attempting it without the Smith
- increasing safety during exercise performance and eliminating the need for a spotter
Some exercises I like to perform using a Smith Machine are:
- Shoulder Presses
- Bent Over Barbell Rows
- Incline, Decline, and Flat Bench Presses
- Barbell Shrugs
You can experiment with other exercises on your own as well.
Maybe you’ve been intimidated by the large Smith Machine in the past, but now that you’re armed with some knowledge and some recommended exercises, try working the Smith Machine into your routine. I think you’ll be happy with the results.
I put the “like” in quotes because the idea here is not so much that the muscle groups you’re grouping together are similar in nature, but that exercises that work the larger group typically also work the smaller one (at least secondarily). Training the upper body in this manner, you’d group together your back and biceps and your chest and triceps. Nearly all back exercises place at least secondary stress on the biceps and most chest exercises bring your triceps into play. Thus, following the principle of always working the larger muscle group first, you would train your back followed by your biceps one workout and your chest followed by your triceps in a subsequent workout. Here are some sample routines illustrating this idea:
Bent-over barbell rows
Close-grip cable rows
One-arm dumbbell rows
Standing barbell curls
E-Z bar preacher curls
One-arm cable curls
Incline bench press
Flat bench dumbbell press
Pectoral flyes w/dumbbells
Skull Crushers (Lying French Press)
One-arm tricep extensions