Reverse Small-Arm Woes

Charles Poliquin

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Q: What do you think is the most common training reason that people canít build big arms?

A: One thing thatís common to men with little arms is that they donít do a lot of direct work for the brachialis. The brachialis is primarily a fast-twitch muscle, and virtually everyone who has big arms devotes a significant amount of time to working it. That was particularly true before anabolic steroid use became rampant and trainees actually had to slave away in the gym. Iím talking about the Reg ParkĖClancy Ross era.

Thatís why the reverse curl is the most underrated arm exercise. If you havenít made any progress in months or years, simply start each workout with reverse curls. In fact, any arm flexor movement done with the palms facing the floor or in a semisupinated position will work the brachialis. In other words, you have to reverse to move forward in arm size.

Q: How would you rate leg presses in comparison to squats?

A: Squats are far more effective in increasing overall strength, particularly strength thatís transferable to the sporting field. One of the problems with the leg press is that it keeps the lower back out of the equation, thus making a weak link in the chain.

Thereís some evidence, however, that leg presses might result in more hypertrophy of the quadriceps. One study showed that for the same number of reps, the leg press generated a greater amount of growth hormone release than squats. The leg press is the exercise of choice for speed skaters, and Iíve worked with speed skaters whose legs made Tom Platzís look like Woody Allenís.

Iím not recommending leg presses instead of squats. I merely present it as an interesting discussion point. If hypertrophy is your sole concern, I suggest alternating the two exercises to get the greatest muscle mass increases.

Q: What do you think is the limiting training factor in hypertrophy?

A: Most bodybuilders donít grow. Why? Because theyíre too weak. From the late í50s to the early í70s bodybuilders espoused strength training because training facilities were limited and training dogma was influenced by the Olympic lifters and powerlifters who shared training quarters with them.

Now, letís say a guy can do 250 for eight in the bench press and his pecs are at their limit. He can then go on a strength cycle. If he does 250 for eight, his max should be about 320. If he goes on a strength cycle and gets his bench up to 360, he can do 280 when he does his sets of eight. And if he can use 280, his pecs are going to grow because he can use enough weight, long enough, to stimulate growth.

Q: When I train, I seem to get fatigued mentally after only 20 minutes. The muscles seem like they want to keep going, but I just canít keep it together. Any suggestions?

A: What youíre experiencing is probably central nervous fatigue, but there could be other factors, such as hypoglycemia caused by eating too many high-glycemic carbs before the workout. Make sure that the glycemic index of your preworkout meal doesnít exceed a value of 50, a very safe number. That should help your concentration during your workouts.

Many of my clients who switch their preworkout meal of oatmeal with a banana and raisins to steak and cashews report an immediate escape from the midworkout blahs.

Assuming that your nutrition is correct, youíre probably experiencing some problems with your neurotransmitters. One of the causes of fatigue during exercise is the enhanced conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into 5-HTP, which makes you drowsy and creates fatigue. As you may be aware, 5-HTP is sold as a supplement to enhance sleep, particularly for the fibromyalgia market.

There is, however, a solution, which comes in the form of a readily available supplement. My suggestion is based on recent studies done in Sweden and Japan on the effects of branched-chain amino acids on delaying fatigue. The research shows a very simple way to offset the conversion: Take five grams of branched-chain amino acids at the beginning of the workout. The BCAAs will compete with the tryptophan, so the fatigue symptoms wonít show up.