7 Steps to Steady Progress

Matt Danielsson

Grow Bigger and Stronger Workout After Workout

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Ever wonder why some guys keep growing every year while others seem to take one step forward and two steps back? The key to making continuous gains is not found in a supplement, a routine or a drug. It’s a matter of following a basic set of commonsense steps that help keep you on track.

Let’s walk through them one by one. It’s not rocket science, and you’ve probably heard some of this before, but put it all together and stay the course, and you’re guaranteed to get results.

Step 1: Don’t Get Injured

This would seem to be a no-brainer. If you tear a muscle, you won’t be able to train it properly. Worse yet, you may have to stay out of the gym for a month to let it heal, which will cause you to regress considerably.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to regain lost mass, but that’s where many guys repeat their mistake. They either start training again before the injury is fully healed, or they pick up with the same weight they used before. Either way, you’re back to square one in a jiffy.

The remedy is simple enough: Check your ego at the door, focus on good form, and listen to your body. Don’t jerk or bounce the weights. One-rep-max attempts should be done very sparingly, if at all. If your joints are aching, it may be a good idea to cut them some slack.

It’s the same old litany you’ve heard before, yet a large percentage of lifters, especially young ones, seem hell-bent on getting themselves a nice ligament tear. Training smart is more important than lifting heavy.

Step 2: Use What Works for You

The magazines are littered with workout routines, fads and specific exercises that this or that professional bodybuilder swears by. Well, guess what? If squatting hurts your lower back, it is totally irrelevant that a pro gets excellent results from squats. There will always be those who don’t benefit from certain exercises.

Some typical examples besides squats: barbell curls done with a straight bar, which kills some people’s wrists, and behind-the-neck pulldowns, which force those with stiff shoulders to hunch over and take a large part of the load off the lats. While dips can be a boon to triceps development for some, for others the movement only seems to hit their pecs and delts.

You probably know a few exercises that just don’t feel right, even though you use textbook form. Either they hurt in a negative way (as opposed to the positive pain you get from exhaustion), or you may not feel anything at all in the target muscle. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you—the exercise just isn’t working for you.

So don’t listen to the dogma—use your head and reject exercises that don’t do it for you. If your training partner happens to like one of your “bad” exercises, find a compromise or simply agree to do those particular sets on different machines.

Step 3: Mix Up Your Training

This is the flip side of the coin outlined in step 2: The exercises you really like tend to become the mainstays of your workout, which has a negative effect on your results over time. Even though you get good at pushing big weights with your handful of favorites, your body quickly figures out the pattern and gets less and less inclined to grow in response. Check your workout log every month for numbers that aren’t moving as they used to do. If a specific exercise keeps popping up, let it rest for a couple of weeks while you try something different.

Another issue that falls into this step is the reliance on either free weights or machines. You will find people arguing for sticking with only free weights or machines, but the best results are usually achieved when you combine the two.

If you’re in the habit of hitting chest with free weights—flat-bench, incline and decline presses; dumbbell flyes—you’ll find it beneficial to throw in some cable work and machines for a different resistance curve. Again, the trick is to get as much variation as possible.

Step 4: Use Periodization


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Q: I recently hurt my shoulder doing a heavy single on bench presses, and now it’s very painful to use barbells for chest and shoulder presses. Do you think dumbbells are a better option, and will I still be able to keep my size if I switch to them?

A: Your question is a very common one. The shoulder joint is actually quite susceptible to injury when subjected to the trauma of maxing out. First of all, for future reference, there’s absolutely no reason for you to be doing a one-rep maximum on the bench press unless you’re a competitive powerlifter. If you’re a bodybuilder aiming to improve muscle size and shape, you have no business ever doing fewer than four reps of any exercise. Max weights contribute to strength and power, which, contrary to popular belief, don’t necessarily lead to increased hypertrophy. A stronger muscle is not always a bigger muscle; I’m sure you’ve known men and women who were shockingly powerful relative to their size.

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