This month we're going to wind up our series on the best, or the essential exercises. We're going to talk a lot about two body areas that deserve a heck of a lot more attention than most weight trainees give them: the Legs and the Abdominal region.
Everybody's nuts about arm work, it seems, and a bodybuilder is more willing to devote six hours a day to slaving on his upper body, yet, heavy leg work and intensive abdominal training are not only more important than upper body exercise, but will result (via the leg work) in fantastic overall gains. The abdominal training will provide health benefits that you'll retain throughout your lifetime.
In general, leg and abdominal training will give you dividends that pay off. Power, health, fitness and conditioning are all things that every bodybuilder should be working hard for . . . and leg and abdominal exercise will insure that he gets it.
Working the midsection is not, for the majority of bodybuilders, a very pleasurable task. It does involve a tedious number of repetitions, and unlike the other exercises one employs, there are no gains per se -- unless you consider, as well you might, the trim waist, improved appearance and fitness that abdominal training affords, to be a gain.
Fellows, your health and condition are VITAL FACTORS. Everyone wants to feel good and to have his bodily processes functioning in efficient order. This is more important than "peaked biceps," and leg and abdominal training is the best means to this important end.
Here, as in the three prior segments of this series, I shall hasten to remind you that it is the QUALITY and HARD WORK of your training that is important for results.
Only a very few exercises are needed -- so don't allow yourself to be misled into following some lunatic program that was dreamt up by some nut who can't tell his triceps from his gluteus maximus.
Let us begin with the legs; and, in the order of their importance, list the essential exercises for their maximum development:
1) The heavy (very heavy) parallel squat.
2) The straddle, or Jefferson lift.
3) Calf raises.
No leg blitzing, no triple blasting or power pumping. The three exercises listed, if worked hard enough, will produce Herculean leg development, fantastic endurance and stamina, and the bonus of overall body gains in power, shape and size. I kid you not, my friends, and lest you think that I have oversimplified the selection of essential leg exercises, I can only hope that you will train hard on them for a month or two -- and you'll see that indeed they ARE the best exercises!
The number one exercise is, of course, the squat. We shall commence with a discussion of this magnificent body builder, and I cannot impress upon you too strongly, that if all you retain from this part of our series (or from the entire series for that matter) is the knowledge that heavy squatting if IT for massive muscular development, you've learned more than enough.
If you've been reading this magazine regularly, you already know how much praise the squat has received from both Peary Rader and myself. The reason for this is the squat's almost uncanny ability to turn human stringbeans into solid, well-formed MEN. You can pack muscle on like a mastodon if you'll make up your mind to get good at squats -- and that is no commercial pap.
If you eat like a horse (and I'm not talking about hay) and you squat three or four times a week, you can gain 30, 40, fifty, and though I wouldn't promise it, possibly much many more pounds of solid bodyweight. As a great developer of thighs and hips, the squat has no equal.
BUT YOU MUST WORK HARD.
Always use parallel squats when you're handling heavy weights. Going lower gets you nothing in the way of additional development, and the tremendous effort that you'll have to exert in a low position in order to come erect might cause an injury.
Don't, Don't, DON'T, PLEASE DON'T ever use "bouncing" or "dropping" squats. If the squat has been accused of causing knee injuries, then it is because so many muscleheads do their squats like jackrabbits instead of like squats. It is the thighs and hips that must be CONSCIOUSLY made to do all the work.
The only worthwhile variation to the squat that I'd recommend is the breathing squat. It's done in the same manner as the regular squat except for two things:
1) You never use more than bodyweight on the bar, and
2) You take three to five huge, deep, gasping breaths between each rep.
The exercise is predominantly a weight gaining, chest expanding movement, but if it's done properly for 20 or so reps, then it is also a fine thigh builder.
I know that there are dozens of thigh exercises advocated as "super" and "special" and whatnot, but when you're tempted to ditch your squats for them, think of Reg Park's thigh development. Then remind yourself that Park made it his business to work up to 600 (YES - SIX HUNDRED) pounds in the squat! Then you might inquire of yourself whether you believe that the miracle "space age' systems of training are of any value, or if it isn't just good hard work that builds supermen.
Many bodybuilders never employed the Jefferson lift at any time during their training careers. It was used more widely decades ago by such men as John Grimek, and was popular then, as it should be now, for the reason that it is second only to the squat for super thigh development.
The exercise is a bit awkward until you get used to it, but it's worth getting used to. It's good as an occasional alternative to your squats, and will give your thighs an impressive massiveness and power.
You do the exercise by straddling the barbell, grasping it with both hands (one in front of the body, the other behind), and by simply going through a series of squatting movements, lowering the bar until it is just above the floor, and coming erect to a full standing position. KEEP THE BACK FLAT. Work hard, and use heavy, heavy weights.
Calf exercise is essential for complete leg development, but unfortunately, unless you've got a natural hereditary advantage, you'll never develop calves like Steve Reeves. Don't believe the idiots who tell you that you can turn your 13 inch calves into "diamond shaped" what's-it with their miracle systems. You can't.
if you calves are naturally small, if you're extremely light-boned, or if you've got flat feet, then be content to work your lower legs sensibly, and be satisfied with whatever development you can acquire.
Simply put, you should do calf raises. Do them in any form you please, but be sure to end your sets with the lower leg fully congested. You can develop the calves to some point no matter how terrible your potential, but for your own piece of mind, don't go frantic over some asinine routine that takes and hour of calf specialization. It will get you nowhere awfully fast.
The midsection, as we've said before, is a vital body area. For your health's sake, if for no other reason, I urge you to always include one good abdominal exercise in your routine. Surely that's not asking too much?
There are but three basic exercises for the midsection:
1) The leg raise
2) The situp, and
3) The side bend.
The catch is this: there are literally dozens of good variations to each of the above exercises, and you should, at one time or another, try them all. But for our purposes, it will be enough to say that in your routines, you should include one of the above essentials. It's the basic movement that counts, and you can ultimately decide which variation of it you'll employ.
I like side-bends with a heavy dumbbell, and leg raises with iron boots. I strongly recommend that you invest in a pair of iron boots if you don't already own some. They'll build the lower abdominal muscles and chisel the waistline like nothing you've ever tried before.
Sit-ups are a superb midsection movement, and when done on an abdominal board, you'll get ab muscles like stone. The conditioning value of sit-ups is very high, and you'll frequently see some of the big men in the iron game grinding out fifty or so with a heavy barbell plate held behind their heads. The "Mr." winners must be doing something right, eh?
Remember to do some form of sit-ups, leg raises, or side-bends in every workout. Do all midsection movements rapidly, in high reps, and when possible with heavy resistance. You should aim at BUILDING the muscles of the abdomen. Too many trainees strive toward the "wasp waist" in vogue in many bodybuilding circles. Remember that this is not the best way to develop the midsection. Your abdominal muscles should be strong, and very well developed You're better off with a waist that measures 33 inches and is powerful, than you are with a 29 inch waist that is merely "aesthetically appealing." After all, we're men aren't we? Looks are important, but what in heck good is it to lack the strength to back up your appearance? And I might add that it has been the aim of this entire series to clear the air, so that you will be able to do just that -- build a real physique, with the strength to back up its appearance. The rest is up to you.
We've now come to the conclusion of our series (there will be one more article on overtraining to follow), and you now have at your disposal for immediate and future reference, a catalogue of every first-rate exercise you'll ever need to use.
Always stick to well-rounded sensible training schedules, avoiding over-specialization, pumping, cramping, etc. Train very hard on the essentials, and as sure as death and taxes you'll get the build you want.
Enjoy Your Lifting!