Sunday, July 31, 2022

Conscious vs. Unconscious - Jim Napier


Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. Consciousness has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience or feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind, or the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or of something within oneself. In contemporary philosophy, its definition is often hinted at via the logical possibility of its absence, the philosophical zombie, which is defined as a being whose behavior and function are identical to one's own yet there is "no-one-in-there" experiencing it.

I will attempt to untangle the above definition, at least as it pertains to the sport of Weightlifting. There are certain things a weightlifter does during the snatch or clean & jerk that requires conscious thought, the grip before liftoff, the starting position prior to liftoff, the foot placement also prior to liftoff, and the lifter's breathing.

Of course, even the before mentioned items can be trained to become almost unconscious, but upon approaching the bar, the lifter should think in terms of conscious decisions made in a particular order, which can make them conscious. This conscious or ritualistic behavior would also include yelling out, stomping the feet, slapping the thighs, and those gyrations some lifters go through that resemble those of a baseball player getting ready to swing the bar while the pitcher is also going through his ritualistic behaviors that occur before each pitch.

Certain ceremonial behaviors become more precise than the lifting of the barbell itself, but since the lifter is fully aware of those actions, we can safely say they are choreographed and ingrained as a conscious effort, i.e., they are aware of those actions while they go through them. 

In watching the top lifters in the world, they seem to exhibit very little ritualistic behavior before liftoff. Generally, they chalk up, station themselves at the back of the platform in front of the bar then walk forward toward the bar, place their feet under the bar, stand relaxed, eyes forward and then reach down and begin securing their grip. They spend little time and little effort on motions that have nothing to do with the job of lifting the barbell. Shuffling the feet, slapping the thighs, stomping the feet, kicking the bar, yelling out, fiddling with the belt and grip prior to liftoff are all unnecessary to the sport in general, but might be of some importance to the lifter, or something they have been doing for so long those actions become what is called idiosyncratic.

Idiosyncrasy: unusual feature(s) of a person, odd habit(s).

Unusual features or odd habits are the qualifiers that set us apart from each other, even though, for the most part, idiosyncrasies are additional actions. In athletics, those odd habits are not part of the technical skills needed to perform an event. These unusual features become so ingrained and ceremonial the athlete goes through them with uncanny precision and tuning, and at some point, they become part of the athlete's unconscious actions.

The great Greek lifter, Pyrros Dimas, had a very distinct trait of jerking his head back as he pulled under the weight and during the jerk. He also looked both ways after securing the lift overhead, although the latter was more on purpose and very much a conscious effort (habitual) or perhaps a combination of the conscious and unconscious. Throwing his head back was ingrained as an unconscious effort, and might be considered an odd habit, but mostly his interpretation of a particular technical skill.

When idiosyncratic actions change, before liftoff, i.e., taking longer than usual to ready themselves, this usually means they are overthinking the lift. Perhaps they have some doubt in their mind about whether they can make the lift. They might fumble around with the hook grip longer than usual or start thinking about how heavy the weight will feel at liftoff. Once the lifter breaks their ritual, then the unconscious is also broken and replaced by conscious action. 

The athlete could link extra-ritualistic behaviors to a lack of confidence, indecisiveness or perhaps some tepidness concerning the lift. It can occur anytime from the warmup platform to the main stage and even at certain times in training. These extended rituals, which fall outside those normal ingrained rituals, include: waiting longer than usual before approaching the bar, yelling out louder and more times than normal, stomping the feet louder, waving to the crowd for external motivation, spending more time over the bar before liftoff and fidgeting with the grip longer than usual, perhaps even an extra whiff of ammonia before taking to the platform. 

When a lifter leaves their normal ritualistic behaviors, they also leave their unconscious world, and the lift might become less proficient or even missed. More times than not the lifter loses a lift when the lifter's rituals are longer than their normal idiosyncratic behaviors. 

When more conscious thought processes are involved, it could lead to a less relaxed muscular system at liftoff and during the lift itself. Conscious efforts produce slower reaction times than unconscious efforts. It might be that the lifter should try and eliminate as much of those odd habits as they possibly can so the ritualistic process is honed down to the bare necessities for lifting the barbell, making the time between approaching the bar and the liftoff too short a time to disrupt those unconscious efforts. 

The faster the action, the more that action can become unconscious.

A pitcher makes a split-second decision when the batter hits the ball straight at the pitcher with such velocity there is no time to react other than on an unconscious level because there is not enough time to make a conscious decision about what action to take. It becomes an automatic response, but in reality, the pitcher has seen this scenario many times during his career, and he has been able to categorize what action to take to match the situation. 

In contrast, when a center fielder has what seems to be all day to catch a fly ball there is plenty of time to think about all sorts of things before the ball is caught and sometimes fumbled to the surprise of everyone. Again, conscious efforts are slower than unconscious efforts, which is why some seemingly impossible catches by the outfielders become miracle catches. 

What seem like impossible catches in football are said to be miracle catches. The unconscious mind is much better equipped to look for and find the best solution to a difficult task much faster than the conscious mind. The conscious mind might make a better decision, but it will come too late to affect the outcome one way or the other. So, when athletes say they wish they had done something different, they are talking about their conscious efforts and not the unconscious ones which are quite content with the decision made, and more times than not it's the correct one regardless of the outcome. 

A lot of  unconscious actions the lifter makes out of desire, fear or instinct, such as a missed lift in weightlifting that if not acted quickly upon the weight could land on the lifter and could cause significant bodily injury. This moment would not be the time to argue with the unconscious mind about what action to take to avert the disastor.

Any conscious thoughts right before or during a lift in progress will slow down the reaction time of the lifter and can cause a missed lift. Conscious thoughts are slower than unconscious actions because thinking about doing something and actually acting on it are two different things.

The reason athletes have to do a particular skill over and over again for thousands of repetitions is for that pattern to be well established in the CNS so the lifter can execute it with little or no thought whatsoever. Reps in weightlifting are not just so the lifter can adapt to heavier loads, but for the CNS to become familiar with those patterns so they can execute the lift as an unconscious effort.

The faster a beginning lifter can learn how to lift with precision, velocity and on an unconscious level and with non-decelerating motions the quicker they can begin to enjoy the rigors of training those skills and progressing toward full potential. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!      


When All Else Fails, Try Compounds -- Reg Park (1990)


"When all else fails, try compounds," is the advice the great multi-Mr. Universe Reg Park recommends to get stubborn muscles that fail to respond to regular training methods growing again. Though compounds are applicable to any muscle group, Park mostly devotes this article to IMPROVING THE CALVES through the use of compounds, often also called descending reps.  

Those of you who are regular readers will not be surprised when I say that if I were desperate to develop my underdeveloped calves, as much as I admire and respect the likes of Steve Reeves, Ken Waller, and Chris Dickerson, their articles on calf development would not in the least inspire or motivate me, as would articles on calf development by people such as Clancy Ross and Franco Columbu. Reeves, Waller and Dickerson were blessed with good sized calves as a result of their genetics. Whatever they cared to do for their calves would have virtually guaranteed results. Not only did they inherit naturally large calves, but also the tissue in their calves was particularly responsive to any and all calf exercises.

The complete opposite, however, applies to Clancy Ross and Franco Columbu. They were both endowed with very small, unimpressive calves. After sound analytical assessment of their respective lack of calf development, they eventually went on to develop calves in balance with their overall physiques which compared favorably with their fellow competitors. Ross was probably one of the lightest men ever to win the Mr. America title back in 1945. 


He was 5'11" tall and weighed no more than 180 pounds. He went on to weigh 205 pounds in top shape, and he beat everyone except Grimek from 1945 on up until 1950, including beating Reeves on two occasions. He started off with very poor calf development, but by 1948 his calves had improved enormously. 

I trained with him at his Alameda, California gym in 1950 and remember him doing a complete set of free heel raises after every set on the standing calf machine. 

Franco's calves during his amateur boxing days at 140 pounds bodyweight were nonexistent. However, when he won the Mr. Olympia in 1976 at 195 pounds, his calves were absolutely great. 


Too few trainers really understand jut how important it is if you are light in structure to gain body weight to see any marked improvement in your physique, and this applies particularly to calf development.  

Most weight trainers have muscle areas that respond quite rapidly to regular exercise as a result of the positive tissue response in those areas of the body leverages of the individual. Conversely, there are those of us who have areas which are extremely resistant to any form of exercise and show little or no benefit. This lack of improvement in turn is due to inadequate response as well as poor leverages.

Although not as common as people who lack adequate calf development, there are those who experience difficulty in adding size to their forearms. Once again, if I were desperate to develop forearms, I would not be reading articles on forearm development by the likes of Steve Brisbois, who is reported to have done little or no specific forearm exercise. Rather I would read articles on forearm development by those who started out with under par forearms, but then went on to show marked improvement with size increases in this stubborn area. Once again, those who are favored with naturally large forearm development are those with good leverages and excellent tissue response in that area.

If you are among the unfortunate ones who are lacking size in calves, forearms or any other muscle group, you will not increase that stubborn area without a nourishing, well balanced diet with adequate proteins, carbohydrates, starches, and fats -- yes, fats! -- particularly those derived from olive oil and cream. 

Secondly, stop trying to use all the weight you can handle when working stubborn areas. Use a poundage that will permit you to exercise the muscle at a slow controlled tempo over the fullest possible range of movement. Slow controlled full range movements are a must with all muscle groups and even more important when exercising lagging areas.  

Thirdly, when doing calf, donkey calf, or calf raises on the leg press, be sure to keep the knees unlocked. This will place most of the stress on both the gastrocnemius and soleus groups and in particular the belly of the muscle. The only thing stiff-leg calf exercises ever did for me was to build up the thickness of attachments to the rear knee joint.

My fourth recommendation is to forget all the garbage about foot position (toes turned in, toes turned out) for developing different areas of the calves. Simply work with feet parallel about 6-8" apart, and raise and lower the heels over the fullest possible range. Do not allow the heels to come together; nor should you allow the inside of the heel to rise higher than the outside, as so often occurs with inexperienced bodybuilders who tend to work too heavy. This also happens when the calves become tired. 

If you want to emphasize the inside head of the calf, simply work off the pads of the big toe joint, and at the same time bring the knees closer together, all the while remembering to keep the knees unlocked and exercise over the full range. If you wish to emphasize the outside head of the calf, transfer the weight to the outside of the foot. 

As with stubborn calves, stubborn forearms and other muscle groups must also be worked over the fullest range of movement, slowly and in a controlled manner. Resist the temptation to use excessive poundages which necessitate the involvement of other muscle groups. Isolate the muscle as much as possible.   


If you have exploited all the standard methods of working your calves, forearms or other stubborn muscle groups and obtained little or no benefits, then try compound sets. 

The standard method of exercising muscles is to perform an exercise or exercises for a muscle group over several sets, allowing just sufficient rest between sets to enable your breathing to return to normal. This is known as the set system. 

Compound sets vary slightly in that, having completed your targeted number of reps, you immediately and with no rest drop the poundage approximately 20% and proceed with another set of the same exercise. On the completion of the second set you drop the poundage a further 20% and conclude with yet a third set. 

The advantage of doing one exercise with decreasing poundages as opposed to performing three different exercises with no rest for the same muscle group is that, having established all the required body actions of the particular exercise (such as range of movement, tempo and mental focus on the muscle response) in the first set, you will find the same factors much easier to carry over to the next set with decreasing poundage of the same exercise.

For the calves I suggest that you start with a weight which will allow you to perform 10 repetitions in good style, such that the 10th rep is all you can complete. Immediately drop the poundage approximately 20% and complete a further 5 reps. Decrease the weight a further 20% and conclude with another 5 reps. Perform up to 8 sets of this one exercise.

For the forearms the repetitions vary slight. Start with a poundage which allows you to perform 15 repetitions. Then drop the weight and do a further 10 reps. Drop the weight yet again and do another 10 repetitions. Do four sets of any forearm exercise working the flexors, then four sets of any exercise working the extensors.

For other stubborn muscle groups try 8 sets of any one exercise. Perform 8 reps, 4 reps, and again 4 reps, using the same decreasing-poundage principle. 

Work all stubborn muscle groups every fourth day. NO MORE! You can, of course, perform different exercises for the various muscle groups if you so wish, but I recommend at least three workouts on any routine before changing it. 

For the best results be sure to massage the muscles exercised on completion of the workout and also on the rest days. Aim to keep the muscle soft and loose; this makes for a better muscle response when it is exercised.

Enjoy Your Lifting!    

The Cheating Principle in Strength Training - Anthony Ditillo


The Cheating Principle has been used widely throughout the world of weight training with the primary emphasis being placed on the field of bodybuilding. For the bodybuilder, this training is most helpful in the acquisition of increased muscular bulk through the use of heavier weights for repetitions, performed in a loose manner.

Long ago, the bodybuilders found that they could handle much heavier weights and for more repetitions if they loosened up their style of exercise performance. This led to greater poundages used in the conventional movements with the results  being increased ability to force out an intensity of motions per set, with the resultant muscle growth increasing in direct proportion to this increasing workload.

This method of training works because it increases your intensity and your training volume both at the same time. By increasing your repetitions through this principle, you not only increase the amount of workload, but the momentary intensity per set is also increased. This means that theoretically you are performing more work in a given length of time, and this in turn leads to increased muscular size and strength. This increased amount of repetition work also will aid in the acquisition of muscle density should you follow a strict diet while using this method of training. 

While it would appear that primarily the bodybuilder would benefit from this method of exercise style, the Olympic lifter and Powerlifter also use this principle, whether they realize and admit this or not. The Olympic lifter uses cheating movements, by way of Jerks from the Rack, Shrug Pulls, High Pulls, Jerk Drives, Partial Front and Partial Back Squats. The powerlifter uses such movements as Partials in the Power Rack, the Bent Legged Deadlift, Partial Squats and the Power Squat. Deadlifts using a hopper device, such as the old-timers during the 1930's and 40's used will also aid the powerlifter in gaining more strength.

The reasons why the cheating principle works are varied and many. To fully understand this methodology, we must look over what is actually taking place while using this type of training. In any lifting movement, there is a weak point which we call the "sticking point." This is a point where leverage is at its weakest influence during the lift and it is at this point where we actually fail with limit attempts or forced (mentally) repetitions. What we do with the cheating principle is try to overcome this weak point by adding momentum with our bodyweight or adjacent muscle groups to help us overcome this point of physical weakness. 

To further illustrate my point, let us use the Cheating Curl as an example. Most bodybuilders have used this method of training during their arm work whether they want to or not. This is usually because their training enthusiasm overrules their momentary physical capacity. Thus, during the end of a series of repetitions, they will "swing" a bit, to aid in further repetition performance. Or else, they will use a heavier weight than they can handle correctly, and perform the entire set with a swinging method of repetition. They will sometimes combine both these movements during the course of a workout for a particular body part, or they will use one type on one day and another type on another training day. Either way, they will use a "loose" style of exercise to gain in performing more repetitions per set, or heavier weights for each set of repetitions, or both. And their end result is increased muscle growth and strength.

The Olympic lifter will usually perform many sets of Jerks from the Rack with very heavy weights, until he can "drive" the bar past head level, without being able to lock it out. This will increase his Clean & Jerk proficiency, since the key to a heavy Clean & Jerk is outstanding leg strength and these heavy "jerk drives" will make use of the power potential of the frontal thigh. Partial Front Squats will also increase the strength of these thigh extension muscles so that the drive to jerk the bar to arms' length will go unhampered.

The Olympic lifter will also regularly make use of the various pulls in the power rack to fully work and develop an explosive second pull, so necessary in the squat clean position. Without an explosive second pull, a heavy squat clean becomes almost impossible and without a heavy squat clean there can be no heavy Clean & Jerk. So, many, many sets of High Pulls, Shrug Pulls, and Shrugs are in order. The Shrug Pull, with much heavier weight than you can squat clean will develop your ability to complete the extension in your second pull position. This will give you added impetus to pull yourself under the bar and fix it at the shoulders. Shrugs, if done explosively, will aid in fully developing your trapezius strength and the end result is a complete extension during your top pull.

The Olympic lifter also makes use of this principle when doing his Front Squats with heavy weight. Every time he loosens up on his performance style to grind out an extra rep, he is using this principle. Every time he performs repetitions with heavier weights than he can handle for full repetitions he is using this principle. Every time he combines either or both of these methods of cheating he is giving mute testimony as to the effectiveness and necessity of this training principle.

Finally, we come to the Powerlifter. Although the rules governing  the performance of the three currently accepted powerlifts would seem to serve the purpose of regulating the exercise style of these lifting movements, nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, the Power Squat makes use of this cheating principle, since it throws most of the stress of the heavier poundages onto the hips and lower back. It does not restrict the performance of the lift on the muscles of the frontal thigh alone, which theoretically, should be of main consideration when deciphering leg strength. Also, the lower bar placement on the upper back also aids in heavier weight performance, since this aids the lift in being performed with hip and lower back strength in comparison to the frontal thigh.

The Bench Press, as it is performed today is also a cheating movement. Although the bar is rested momentarily on the chest, it is also "sunk" into the thorax somewhat, with the advantage here being a greater ability to explode when beginning the big push. The placement of the bar excessively low on the chest (below the pectorals) also aids in driving heavier weights to the lockout position as compared to benching to the upper chest or neck, as some bodybuilders perform. If we were really interested in deciding the triceps, pectoral and deltoid strength of an athlete, the Incline Press with a pause at the chest, or the Steep Seated Incline Military Press would be a better choice.

Finally, I wish to make it clear that I am not criticizing the way the three power lifts are performed in competition today. What I am trying to do is show you that even in strict competition, a form of "cheating" is taking place, to enable us to reach our physical potentials.

In training, the Cheating Principle makes itself felt in many ways. When the powerlifter does partial squats, he is using the cheating principle. When we do "bouncing" bench presses we are using the cheating principle. This can be so that more repetitions can be done per set, or heavier weight can be handled for limit attempts. Either or both will make us harder, denser, and a lot stronger.

By properly combining the ways of using this principle in your regular exercise performance, you can simultaneously add to your training volume and your training intensity per set. Therefore, be sure you know how to use it properly for best results. 

It is possible, by using the Cheating Principle, to greatly intensify your workouts. this means you will be doing harder work for each set. This will take place whether or not you are training for power, lifting strength or pure bodybuilding. To be sure, the Cheating Principle will enable you to get more work in less time. The work will also be done with heavier weights, depending upon your method of operation. 

For increasing your lifting strength, your merely "overload" the muscles with partial, assistance movements, with much heavier weights and choose movements which closely approximate the actual lifts used in competition. The heavy overload pulling movements, which I briefly touched on a while back, would fall into this category. Heavy High Pulls, Shrug Pulls, Shrugs, etc., will respond to this cheating method, since they are in themselves cheating movements, even though we may be cognizant of correct lifting style, while executing them in our training. Naturally the repetitions should be kept rather low, mostly doing doubles and triples because in this situation we are trying to build "useful" muscular strength. To use light weights on these movements would be a waste of time for the Olympic lifter.

Again, I repeat, the Partial Front Squats and Back Squats, done in Olympic lifting style (bar held on traps, thighs folding over completely on calf in the bottom position) should be used regularly when attempting to increase thigh strength and squat cleaning proficiency. 

Leg work, such as described, should be done at least twice per week, possibly three times if the trainee wants one "light" day in between two heavier ones.

The pulling movements should also be done either two or three times weekly, on opposite training days. It depends on whether you wish to train four or six times per week.

Finally, as an Olympic lifter you would not benefit from using the "forced repetitions" of cheating movements, done at the end of each set in which the beginning repetitions were done "correctly." What the Olympic lifter wants to do is merely incorporate muscle group movements, in themselves.

For the Powerlifter, the situation is somewhat different. His type of competitive lifts demand explosive, yet restrained, grinding strength. He could benefit by two types of "cheating" utilization in his training. First of all, he can benefit greatly by doing all repetitions possible for each and every chosen set of heavy and medium-heavy weights. To do this "cheating forced rep" type of training with the lighter workloads would be a waste of time for the powerlifter. He does not need blown up muscles, such as the bodybuilder does. But he can benefit from forcing, even if this means a "loosening" of style, for each set of heavier weights. This will enable him to handle heavier weights for more repetitions and the end result will be an increased capacity for heavier work. it will also alleviate any fears of grinding out heavy weights in competition, since he will be using heavy weights and really "forcing" reps in each and every set.

The powerlifter will also need to specialize on the "cheating" muscle group movements in which he uses additional muscle groups to lift heavier weights in the chosen movements he will be competing in. He will have to learn to use his hips and glute muscles as well as his thighs to squat with maximum poundages. He will have to learn to use not only his lower back, but also his legs, in order to register heavier and heavier in the deadlift. 

For the Bench Press, he will have to use all the allowable techniques which re legal in competition, in order to handle the heaviest weight he is capable of. 

A good idea would be to use the stricter style of the power three twice per week, and the competitive style twice per seek, so that both are trained sufficiently for best results. The Stiff Legged Deadlift, the Olympic Back Squat, and the Bench Press to Upper Chest (close to neck) would be the assistance isolation (more on that later) movements, and the style used in competition would be the muscle group "cheating" style. Both are necessary to continued progress and continued gains. 

For the Bodybuilder and All-Around Strength trainee, the road is wide open for using the Cheating Principle in your training. No matter what movement you decide to get stronger on, you can greatly intensify your efforts if you strive to do a few "loosely performed" repetitions at the end of each of your sets. It would be more effective if you persisted in using this system with the heaviest poundages, for the most part, unless you are truly trying to increase muscular mass as an end in itself. There is a difference between the loosely performed repetitions and the "burns" we had talked about earlier in a previous article. The burns are  usually done at the end of a set of medium to medium-heavy resistance, as a way of stimulating more muscle fibers. Also, their performance is different in that they are only partial movements done at the end of a set, done in a looser style. There may seem to be a similarity between the two, but practice both and you will definitely notice the difference.

For sheer muscle gains I would recommend the method of using extra repetitions, done loosely, at the end of every "normal set," with the weight being medium to medium-heavy. You want to be able to really control the weight and this will not be easy if the poundages are too heavy. This is because you want to do more repetitions than the other lifters do. This is necessary for increased muscle stimulation, however.

For a combination of muscle size increase and overall power, I would recommend that from time to time, both styles of cheating be employed so that you can gain from both training methods. By combining both exercise styles, you will be amazed at how fast your muscles respond with greater size and power. Of course, such a condition will eventually lead to bodyweight gain, so this would be suitable for only those who are not restricted to a particular weight class in competition. However, it is effective! 

The only drawback to such training lies within the egos and the morals of the trainees who utilize it. The only thing wrong with the Cheating Principle lies within the name we use to govern its meaning and usage. To use the cheating method to enable you to handle more and more weight in the stricter movements is quite all right to do. To use it to gain more strength in the competition lifts is quite all right also. However, it may cause a trainee to forget about lifting style, depending on his "new found" power to carry him through. This would be a mistake, for Olympic lifting requires both speed and technique as well as usable power for success, to depend on more strength, no matter how explosive it may be, is quite a mistake.

For the powerlifter, to depend on this system without further usage of stricter movements would develop both weak links in the chain of command and a tendency to lose all semblance of form when in competition. You cannot do the three power lifts without having complete control of the bar at all times. The motor pathways for competent performance must be regularly strengthened for continued lifting success. Also, the weak links, such as the pectorals, frontal thighs, and lower back will be neglected if only forced repetition cheating movements are solely performed. You must combine both for best results.

The all-around trainee would also be making a mistake in thinking this system is an end in itself. In doing so, he would lose contact with reality of his true useable strength. Bouncing Bench Presses, Presses done with an exaggerated back arch, and Half Squats called Full Squats would be the end result of not using any "psyche control" over the Cheating Principle. The end result would be ridiculous! 

As I mentioned earlier, the only thing wrong with the Cheating Principle is its name. Use it and don't abuse it for best results. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Chinning - Greg Zulak (1992)

Without a shadow of a doubt, the best exercise for developing the lats and the muscles of the upper back is chinning. Although most people think chins are only useful for adding width to the lats, the truth is that chins, done in their many variations, can build back thickness, too. If you want a back that is thick and wide, chins can give it to you. 

Unfortunately people don't seem to chin as much these days as they used to. Perhaps it's because chins are so hard to do. You have to work a lot harder to do a set of chins than you do for a set of lat pulldown. Pulldowns have their place, especially for beginners who are not strong enough to chin themselves, but more advanced people have no excuse. If more people devoted a large majority of their back workout to the chinning bar, they'd have a lot better back development. 

Whether you need to widen your lats, thicken the lats, develop the lower lats, broaden your shoulder and upper back structure by pulling out the clavicles or thicken the back up, all this can be accomplished through chins. The bodybuilders with the best backs have all devoted lots of time to chinning. One top bodybuilder who never used to chin was Gary Strydom. At one time his back was his weakest muscle group.  Not any more. Gary has done some wonders for his back and now has one of the very best in the world. It must be remembered that at a weight of 280 pounds in the off season, it is not easy to do reps on the chinning bar. Still, it can be done if you work at it.

There is no doubt that lighter guys have it easier when it comes to chins. People who have trouble chinning themselves more than a couple of times should forget about sets and reps. Instead, think in terms of  doing X number of chins each back workout. This might be 20 or 25 chins, even it if takes 10 or 15 sets to accomplish. Slowly but surely build up your arm strength and back power, and your chinning ability will improve. Once the goal of 20-25 reps is reached in only three sets, increase the number of chins to be done to 30 or 35 . . . then 50 . . . then 75 . . . then 100. One hundred chins done every back workout will work wonders on your back and lat development.

If you think that 100 chins is impossible for you, I ask you to reconsider. Many people are capable of doing enormous numbers of chins once they work at it for a while. Jim Morris, Mr. America and Mr. Universe, followed a back specialization routine prior to his Mr. Universe win that included 20 sets of 20 reps of wide-grip chins. That's 400 reps per workout!  

Curt Edmonds, written about often in IronMan magazine often in the 1970's, was able to chin his age in years past 60. That's right -- 60 consecutive chins at the age of 60, and I might add, those chins were done slowly, fully and correctly, with no kicking, wiggling or cheating. Each rep was done from a dead start. Curt weighed about 165 and was by no means a muscular marvel. I mean he didn't have the development that would lead you to believe he could chin 60 times, but his back was very developed.  

I might add too that Curt was not a born chinner. At age 17 he couldn't even chin himself once. He started to work at chinning when he was 18 and by the age of 19 he could chin himself 19 times. Then he got stuck and for the next 13 years could only do 19 consecutive chins. After that for some reason his chins went up. By the age of 37 he made 38 strict chins and basically has done his age since then. The last I heard Curt was chinning for reps in the low 60's, and his son was doing about the same.

If you think that 60 chins for a 60 year old man is impressive, listen to this. According to the Guinness Book of Records, 1990, a 63 year old South Korean named Lee Chin-young performed 370 consecutive chins on May 14, 1988. Not only that, but a Mr. Robert Chisnall performed 22 consecutive one arm chins, 18 consecutive chins with only two fingers, and 12 consecutive one fingered chins. If these feats aren't superhuman I don't know what are. And if this doesn't motivate you to improve your chinning ability, nothing I say will do it. 

Historical Performances in Chin-ups, Pull-ups, Levers and Crosses: 

Let's get out of the twilight zone and back to the real world. Most of us will not be able to chin ourselves hundreds of times or be able to do 20 one arm chins. How can you rate yourself as far as chinups go? 

20 consecutive chins is considered good. If you can't do at least that amount you can't call yourself a good chinner. 30 consecutive chins would make you a great chinner. 35 or more is exceptional. 

As far as one hand chins are concerned, I've never been able to do one and I've never witnessed anyone doing a true one arm chinup. Bob Kennedy told me he tried for years but never succeeded in doing even one. All he got for his efforts were strained tendons and ligaments and a sore arm. It's a rare man who can do even a single one arm chin, let alone 22 like Mr. Chisnall.

Let's talk about exercise performance briefly . . . 

Should you do full reps, full extensions to full contractions, or partial, half or three-quarter constant-tension reps? It depends on which expert you talk to. Vince Gironda maintains that unless a full movement is done -- and by full he means the chest hits the bar on a front chin with either a wide, medium or narrow grip -- the movement is useless. On the other hand, when I was in Chicago to watch Sergio Oliva train back in the spring of 1985, he did only half of constant-tension chins -- and his lats were enormous. He would go all the way up until his chin was over the bar but he would only go halfway down.

Larry Scott said it wasn't necessary to chin in such a manner that the chest hit the bar to make the lats contract. He advocated taking a wide grip on the bar and chinning just until the nose hit that bar -- no higher. Most bodybuilders tend to chin this way. It's just too hard to hit the chest to the bar, at least for any reasonable number of reps. Fuller movements are reserved for the lat machine.

Although many champions do not come all the way down when they chin, there is great benefit to be derived from doing so. Hanging with the arms fully extended stretches the scapula so that eventually the cartilage between the shoulder blades begins to increase and expand because of the tremendous pull experienced while hanging from the chin bar. Over time the shoulder and lat width keeps widening. There is a definite look to the back of a bodybuilder who has done a lot of wide grip chinning and lat stretching while hanging from a bar.

Although people such as Arthur Jones, Nautilus inventor, say wide grip chins do not stretch the lats or widen them as effectively as medium grip chins, I don't believe it. Yes, the lower lats stretch more with medium grip chins, but you don't get the widening effect of the scapulae and clavicles from medium or narrow grip chins. Wide grip chins work the outer fibers of the lats more effectively as well. Many people have built backs from wide grip chinning alone so to say it doesn't work is absurd, because it obviously does.

Of course, there is wide grip chinning and really wide grip chinning. If you go too wide, only the upper lats, teres major and minor and rhomboids do the work, along with the biceps and muscles of the chest and shoulder girdle. I find that holding the bar where the handles begin to b end on most commercial chinning bars works my lats hard, but if I go any wider than that I don't feel the lats as much. 

154 page book - "Training the Lats for Maximum Isolation, Stimulation, Innervation and Pump" by Greg Zulak: 

Sometimes you need to go really wide to get the stretching effect for the scapulae and clavicles. For all-round development probably both types should be done.

Because of the length of a chinning bar you can do virtually dozens of different width chins, from very wide to very narrow and everything in between. You can do parallel grip chins, underhand chins (with wide, medium and narrow grips). You can do triangle bar chinning. alternate or side-to-side chinning. You can do (if you're strong enough) one arm chins. You can chin to the front or the back. By doing various chins you can work virtually every section of your back, even the spinal erectors to some degree. 

Let's go over the key points of different kinds of chins you can do in your back-lat workouts. 

The Wide Grip Chin to the Front

This is the old standby of chins, one that nearly every champion includes in his back workouts. To do the wide grip chin to the front, grab the chinning bar where the handles start to curve down or about six inches wider than shoulder width. Use a thumbless grip (with your thumb on the same side of the bar as your fingers). This might seem like a minor point but wrapping your thumb around the bar definitely brings more biceps into play and prevents better lat isolation. Arch your chest and throw your head back as pull yourself up. For your first reps, when you are strong, you might try touching your chest to the bar. As you tire and cannot get that high, get your chin up to the bar before lowering yourself down to full stretch. Remain at the bottom for a count of two to distend and stretch the scapulae. If possible try to hold at the top for a count of two to really contract the lats hard. Holding sends stronger contraction impulses to the muscles of the back.

Another point to remember is not to simply drop from the top. Lower yourself under tension and try to keep tension on your back throughout the movement. Remember to arch your chest and to drop your shoulders as you pull yourself up but don't excessively arch the back. Try to work up to sets of 15 to 20 reps. When you can do at least 20 strict reps start adding small amounts of weight to your body, either by holding a light dumbbell between your feet (start with 5 or 10 pounds), or by using a dipping/chinning belt that you can attach plates to. When you can chin with a 45-pound plate hanging off your body there should me a marked improvement in your back development. 

The Wide Grip Chin to Back of Neck

This exercise is recommended for really widening the back. Franco Columbu, who had one of the widest backs in bodybuilding, favored this exercise. Personally I prefer the chin to the front as I seem to feel my lats working better that way. When I do chins to the front, I imagine my muscles working like the letter U -- that is, the outer sections of the lats work hard but the inner back doesn't work too much. When I do chins to the back of the neck, I see my muscles working like the letter T -- I don't feel the outer sections working as head but I feel it more along the upper back and down the spine. Most of the widening effect from this exercise takes place as you lower yourself, and on a bodybuilder with good lat development you can really see the lats spreading and widening, along with the scapulae, as he does wide grip chins to the back of neck. 

Again use a thumbless grip and pull yourself up slowly until the base of your neck touches the bar. Hold yourself for a count of two and then slowly lower yourself down all the way for a good stretch. Work up to at least 15 reps before adding weight to your body.

Lat Stretches

At the end of each set of wide grip chins, whether to the front or back, hang in the bottom position for as long as you can to really give those lats a good stretch. Wrist straps to reinforce your grip are a definite plus on this exercise. Try working up to a minute or more on each set of hanging lat stretches. To make this exercise even more effective try hanging until the shoulders are separated to the maximum and then trying to contract the shoulders together again. Then relax and let the shoulders be stretched out again. Do this several times during each hang.

Medium Grip Chins

These can be done with either an overhand or curl grip. The lats receive more overall stretch with the medium grip than with wide grip chins. While the total lats receive more stretch with the medium grip, especially the lower lats, you lose the clavicle-widening effect. John Parillo feels one of the main reasons why so many of today's bodybuilders lack lower lats is that they've spent too much time using machines for their back training and they arch too much when they do finally get around to chinning. He says that when a bodybuilder arches excessively the stress is placed on the upper lats and rhomboids instead of the lower lats.    

To counteract this he recommends that the bodybuilder bend and hold his knees in front of his torso. This keeps the back straight and prevents arching. Next he says to pull the shoulders down and back before starting to pull up with the arms. At the top of the movement the bodybuilder is instructed to pull his elbows in to his sides nd to make sure his shoulders are pressed down.

Make sure the chins are done slowly and smoothly, with no jerking or cheating. Use a thumbless grip, hold at the top for a hard contraction, and lower all the way down for a full stretch.

Triangle Bar Chinning

This exercise really blasts the lower lats -- and serratus to some degree -- as well as the muscles of the middle back. Hook the triangle bar over the chinning bar and pull yourself up so that your chest and upper abdomen hit the chin bar. Hold for a count of two before lowering yourself for a full stretch. This version is very grueling to do, and it will be a while before you can do 15 reps with extra weight added. This chin will add a lot of thickness and density to your lats and back if your work it hard consistently. 

Depending on where you pull your body up to the chin bar when using the triangle attachment, you can work different parts of your body. If you pull yourself up until your chin and upper chest hit the chin bar, you work mostly the lower lats, the belly of the lats and some upper back muscles. By pulling yourself up to that your upper abdomen/lower chest hits the chin bar you can work more lower lats and some spinal erectors and lower mid-back. Try both versions to give your back a total workout.    

Close Grip Chins 

This exercise can be done either with palms forward (overhand) or palms backward (curl grip). You might want to do both for maximum lat and back stimulation. The key is to pull yourself up slowly until your chest hits the bar. You'll have to arch your chest to do this properly. Hold for a count of two for a fuller contraction before lowering slowly for a full stretch. Hang in the bottom position for a full count of two for extra stretch.

Try a variety of grip while doing close grip chins, anywhere from 12-14 inches right up to where the hands touch. Each grip hits the muscle fibers of the lats and back in a slightly different way. When you do the close grip chin with a curl grip, your biceps will get a terrific workout too, as will your lower lats, serratus and the muscles of the upper back. If you've only been doing wide grip chins previously, you will find the close grips to be harder. They will stimulate new muscle fibers never worked before. 

The Alternate Wide Grip Chip 

This is an unusual and rarely seen move any more. Vince Gironda often recommended this version of chinning, especially for someone who had one lat less developed than the other. Take your usual wide grip on the chin bar and lower yourself to the starting position. As you begin to pull yourself up, lean to the right and try to touch your right shoulder to the chin bar below your right hand. You should feel a contraction in the right lat and then a stretch in the right lat as you lower yourself to the starting position again. For the next rep lean left and try to touch your left shoulder below where your left hand grips the chin bar. Lower and repeat, alternating back and forth for as many chins as you can do for each side.

The Two Arm Assisted Chin

This is a very difficult version of the alternate wide grip chin. Take your grip on the chin bar as you would if you were about to start a set of wide grip chins to the front. Start to chin but only pull up with one arm, say, your right arm. The left arm merely holds the bar and stabilizes the body. Do not alternate back and forth. Do as many chins as you can for the right arm. Needless to say, your right arm and lat get a terrific workout. For the next set do as many chins as you can for the left arm and left lat. Do several sets for each side. This exercise takes some getting used to, but when you become proficient at it your arms and lats will take on new size, strength and development.    

The One Arm Chin

This is definitely the most difficult chin of all. Actually this is more of a strength feat than an exercise, but I've included it in this article because it is a chin variation and because anyone who actually succeeds in doing a one arm chin has accomplished a rare feat and must have great strength in his hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. With practice, hard work and determination, as well as great natural strength and ability, you might be one of the rare ones who can perform a one arm chin. Give it a try . . .   

One of the most difficult feats to perform in the gym is a proper one arm chin. Just because you are very proficient at two arm chinning -- in any manner -- is no guarantee that you'll be able to perform a one arm chin. Some are never able to do master this awesome feat of strength.

Although it is true that lighter men have an advantage over heavyweights when it comes to one arm chinning, it was said that Mr. Universe Steve Stanko did 10 one arm chins while weighing 225 pounds.

To do a one arm chin takes special techniques. If you just go over to a chin bar and hang by one arm and try to chin yourself you are doomed to fail for sure. The trouble is when you hang by one arm the arm cannot strengthen enough to allow the feat to be done, no, there is a knack to one arm chinning and I will now reveal it to you.

First of all, make sure that you are strong enough to chin yourself strictly 20 times using an underhand or curl grip. Once you have acquired this basic strength, you are ready to begin training for an eventual one arm chin.

Decide which arm is the stronger. For me it is my left arm, but for most people it will be their right arm. If it is your right arm, hold the chin bar in a curl grip with your right hand and an overhand grip with hour left hand. Chin yourself up but make sure the right arm does most of the work. The left arm merely stabilizes the body. It's much like doing the one arm assisted chin explained earlier. 

Over a period of weeks work up to at least 15 repetitions of chins like this. Now you're ready to begin the actual work on one arm chinning.

You begin with the easiest form of one arm assisted chinning possible and keep making it progressively harder until you can do a one arm chin up. After work on the chin explained above, the next easiest method is to chin with right hand holding the chin bar while the left hand grasps the right wrists. At first you will have to grip your right wrist very hard in order to do some chins, but as you gain strength you'll gradually be able to loosen your grip. To balance our your arm strength, try some one arm chins in this manner using both arms.  

The next position is the right hand holding the chin bar but the left hand in gripping the right arm in the crook of the elbow below the biceps. Once you've mastered a few reps this way (which may take several weeks or more), move the left hand grip over the top of the biceps. This makes the feat much more difficult. When you are finally able to chin a few reps this way, move the left hand grip up to the deltoid. You'll have even less leverage in this position and everything becomes that much harder. It may take you several more weeks of practice before you can do some one arm chins this way. By now you are pretty much doing a one arm chin with the strength of the right arm alone, with just a bit of help from the left arm.

You are now ready to try for a true one arm chin. If you can't do it at first, keep trying. If after two weeks of practice you still can't do it, tie a thick piece of rope to the chinning bar. Grasp the rope with your free hand and assist yourself as much as necessary to do a one arm chin. Lower yourself slowly using only right arm strength to take advantage of negative resistance. In fact, doing some negative only one arm chins will definitely build up strength in your working arm, but make sure you are well warmed up.

You might try wearing iron boots or strapping extra weight onto your body to make the one arm assisted and negative only one arm chins even harder so that when you get around to trying one arm chins you will have extra strength. And definitely try some one arm work with your opposite or weaker arm to balance out your strength and development. If you work only your strong arm, it will become even stronger and better developed than your weaker one.

If and when you are finally able to do a one arm chin, it will have been worth all the hard work and practice and it will enhance your strength and reputation in the gym too.

Remember, the glory of a man's strength is in his arms. The crowning glory can be yours in no uncertain manner by using the chinning bar as part of your bodybuilding training. It takes the monotony out of exercise, providing you with lots of fun, and finally rewards you with the magnificent arms and stately upper body that you've always wanted to possess. 

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