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Lee Haney Training Articles


Aug 21, 2005
This is a series of new training articles bodypart by bodypart from Lee Haney:

Part 1: Back Training
In this series, I will take a look at what I feel are the exercises most people don’t do properly for each body part. By pointing out common errors in technique and telling you how you should be performing the movement, you will be one step closer to the physique you want! We begin with a body part I was especially known for, the back.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
This one has to come first in the discussion simply because I see it done incorrectly far more often than not. You tend to see guys with their leg up on the bench, but the wrong leg! For example, they will be pulling with the left arm and have their left knee up on the bench. Wrong! The right knee should be on the bench, and the left leg should be out and angled away from the torso; with your foot roughly two feet to the left of the bench. The second major form error I see is having the torso inclined upward instead of being parallel to the ground (also a blunder on barbell rows, which we’ll get to momentarily). This will allow you to hit the upper lats, mid and lower traps, and rhomboids, but will completely neglect the lower lats and lumbars. It’s funny how you see so many “high lats” these days compared to the physiques of yesteryear. Did genetics for lat attachments get worse? Not likely. The more plausible explanation is that bodybuilders today tend to do their rows more upright. Getting back to the dumbbell row, you are actually better off not even using a bench. Support the non-working arm on a dumbbell rack or the end of a flat bench in front of you, and spread your legs wide so you have plenty of room to row through a full range of motion. You will get some glute and hamstring involvement too, which is just a bonus.

Barbell Rows
The barbell row is the absolute best exercise for back thickness, bar none. However, it can also be dangerous because it’s tough to maintain an arch in the lower back once the weights get fairly heavy. That’s why I did not include it when I trained athletes like MLB star Gary Sheffield or world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. It just wasn’t worth the risk, especially when many millions of dollars are at stake! But for we bodybuilders, barbell rows are a must. These are the bread-and-butter movement for back, and I have been doing them since I was 12 years old!

Every top bodybuilder has done his share of barbell rows: Arnold, Franco, Robby Robinson, Roy Callender, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler, to name a few. I know Dorian was big on the reverse grip, but I never liked it because it puts far too much stress on the biceps. Dorian himself tore his right biceps doing reverse-grip barbell rows with 455 pounds. It’s also well known that I prefer the torso to be parallel to the ground, so that your lower abs are actually resting on your upper thighs. If you lower your hips and get them further back, you’re inviting lower back injury. To get the best stretch at the bottom possible, you should stand on an eight-inch high deadlift platform or a low box. Forget about standing on top of a padded bench, as that’s too unstable a surface. Another option is to use 25-pound plates instead of 45s if you want to simply stand on the floor and still get a full stretch of the lats.

There is no need to use excessively heavy weights and risk hurting your lower back. Trust me, once you have a lower back injury, it follows you for life! I weighed around 260 pounds and was known for having the best back development of my era. How much do you think I used on barbell rows? Most of the time I stuck with 185, and occasionally I would go up to 225! Think about that the next time you assume 315-405 pounds is necessary on this exercise. As for my form, I like to compare it to a “check mark.” The pull would be done explosively, and then I would lower the resistance slowly and under control.

I prefer chin-ups over pulldowns, but not everyone can do chin-ups. The pulldown is really a more controlled form of chin-ups. I see two things being done wrong all the time on pulldowns: leaning back, and pulling behind the neck. Leaning back turns this into a horizontal pulling motion like a row, not the vertical pull it’s supposed to be. The bar should come under your chin and graze the top of your chest on every rep. If you’re pulling to your nipples or upper abs, you’re doing it wrong! As for pulling down behind the neck, I did those early in my career until I learned what an unnatural motion it is for the shoulder joints. The tendency when pulling behind the neck is to lean forward. Doing so takes most of the stress off the back and puts it right on your shoulder joints!

If you are strong enough to do chins, do them! If not, you should be using the assisted chin-up machine to build up the strength for them. The form pointers for chins are very similar to what we went over with lat pulldowns. Keep an arch in your lower back, pop out your chest, and pull up until your chin clears the bar. Don’t pull behind the neck, and get a full range of motion. Forget about jerky half-reps. You will get better results from a set of just four properly executed chin-ups than you would from 10-12 reps with poor form. One way to do it if you can only get a few reps is to pick a number like 20, and do as many sets of quality reps as it takes to complete.

T-Bar Rows
T-bar rows build the meat of the back just like barbell rows. But it has to be the right type of apparatus. I’ll never forget years ago at a Muscle Camp in California when I announced that the one they had was garbage and clearly designed by someone who didn’t train— little did I know he was standing in that room with us! The platform should be level to the ground, not inclined up. The most worthless type of T-bar row I see is that “supported” version with the chest pad. It’s touted as being better at isolating the lats. Well, guess what? The T-bar row, just like the barbell row, is supposed to be a compound movement! Take away the involvement of your core, your glutes and hams, and you’re not left with much. As for the pad, you load substantial weight on the bar and it will feel like a 400-pound man is standing on your chest. It’s just a lazy way of doing T-bar rows, and you’re better off sticking a barbell in a corner like Ronnie was known to do.

Half-Rep Nonsense
This really applies to all training, so I wanted to make a note about it here in the first installment of this series. The “new school” of thought says that half-reps are superior for building muscle. The evidence in terms of champion physiques says otherwise. For the best results, use a full range of motion. Get a good contraction and a good stretch on every single rep.


Aug 21, 2005
Part 2: Chest Training
Last time, I began a series in which I take a look at what I feel are the exercises most people don’t do properly for each body part. By pointing out common errors in technique and telling you how you should be performing the movement, you will be one step closer to the physique you want! Last time, we talked about back movements. And now, it’s all about another body part I was known for— chest!

Bench Press
The flat barbell bench press is the bread-and-butter movement for mass in the chest. It should form the platform of every bodybuilder’s chest routine. One thing I want to start off with is that you need to pyramid up in weight. Some of the “heavy duty” guys just do a little warm-up, and then start off with the absolute heaviest weight they can bench for six to eight reps— utterly ridiculous! That’s the easiest way to tear a pec, an injury that can and has been the end of many a bodybuilder’s career. In all sports, practice sessions have the athletes start off light and easy and then increase the intensity. It’s just common sense to warm up the body as a whole, and the muscles and connective tissues in particular. Another common error I see is bodybuilders lowering the bar to their neck, what used to be known as a “guillotine press.” It’s bad biomechanics and puts far too much stress on the shoulder joints. You want to bring the bar down a couple of inches above the sternum, across the nipple line. And the granddaddy of all transgressions on the bench press is simply going too heavy. You see it every day in every gym across the world— guys using so much weight that they can’t even do a single rep on their own without help from a spotter, and flopping around and contorting their bodies as they struggle to get a rep. The bar is usually stuck.

Your reps, as I’ve said before, should resemble a “check mark.” That means an explosive lift followed by a controlled lowering with no pause at the top or bottom— constant motion and tension on the muscle. There is never a reason to max-out for a single, either. I did it just a few times in my entire career, and only once in the eight years I was Mr. Olympia. After doing 315 x 8, 405 x 7 and 465 x 3, I put 500 on the bar and did it just to see if I could. It actually went up easier than I thought it would, but I never did it again. The risk of injury just wasn’t worth it.

Incline Press
Incline presses are essential for full development of the upper chest, but you need to take extra care with them. The flat press is a more natural movement, while incline pressing tends to be somewhat awkward and puts more stress on the shoulders. But the results are worth the effort, because nothing else gives you that “shelf” across the top of the chest and tying into the front delts in a side chest pose. Because of the body position, you don’t want to lower the bar at the nipple line. Instead, it should touch just an inch or so below your clavicles. Really, you need to find your own “groove” on the incline press that feels natural and right to you.

Dumbbell Presses
I love dumbbells for pressing, and used to do both barbell and dumbbell presses in the same workout about every third or fourth workout. They build both size and quality in the muscle, they allow for a more natural motion with less stress on the shoulder joints, and they also give you a greater range of motion than a barbell. The fact that you need to keep them balanced and work each side of the muscle independently means the muscle has to work even harder. Now that I am retired from competition, I do most of my pressing with dumbbells. One pointer is not to touch them together at the top of the rep, as that takes some of the tension off the pecs. Also, keep them moving. You should try to flex and squeeze the pecs while doing dumbbell flyes, but not on presses.

Dips are an incredible movement. I love them! In fact, I feel all athletes, and especially bodybuilders, should master chin-ups and dips. These should be in your workout routines from day one as a bodybuilder. I know back when I was in junior high and high school, we always did plenty of dips. Dips hit the entire chest, as well as the triceps and front delts, and all the great Olympians have done them. You want to avoid locking out the elbows, as this takes tension off the chest and puts it right on those tendons. As far as adding weight, only do that once you can get a couple of good sets of 12-15 reps with your own bodyweight. My off-season training weight was around 260 pounds throughout most of my career, so I didn’t need to add extra resistance. But if you are 140 pounds and knocking out 30-40 reps, by all means you should. To make sure you are hitting as much chest as possible rather than the triceps, lean your torso forward and tuck your knees up under you. Also, be careful not to lower too far to get an extra deep stretch. Once you get below a certain point, all you’re doing is stressing your shoulder joints. Listen to your body!

Dumbbell Flyes
Flyes are an excellent finishing movement to add quality and detail to your chest. Because it’s a polishing movement, save it for last after you’ve done all your foundational pressing movements. Flyes call for concentration and isolation, so they are not a heavy movement. In my prime, I would usually handle 120s or 130s for my dumbbell presses, but no heavier than 80s for flyes (nowadays more like 45s). With your elbows slightly bent, bring your arms out to your sides until you feel a stretch (not an extreme stretch), and then flex and squeeze the pecs to bring your arms back up. You can straighten your arms out slightly as you near the top of the rep, and also rotate your thumbs away from your torso to get a more complete contraction.

Cable Crossovers
The cable crossover is also a great exercise, but they should only be done by fairly advanced bodybuilders and even then, only in the final 12 weeks leading up to a contest. I used to do them at every other chest workout at 12 weeks out, then made them part of every chest workout for the final eight weeks. The standard cable crossover machine is fine, but I prefer the newer “functional training” types that allow you to set the cables at any height from the floor to above your head as well as being able to adjust the space between. One thing that always makes me shake my head is seeing guys who still haven’t built any chest thickness coming into the gym and heading straight for the cables. Beginners need to focus on just pressing. Once there is some meat on the pecs, you can add in flyes. Cables are a finishing touch for detail. So if you don’t have anything to add detail to yet, don’t bother with crossovers!

Decline Presses
If you’re wondering whether I forgot about decline presses, no I did not. I omitted them from our discussion because I’ve never felt they were an effective exercise. I probably did 10 or less sets of them in my entire life, and that’s just because I happened to be training with someone else who liked them. Guys love declines because they can pile on a ton of weight. Of course you can go heavy, because the range of motion is just a few inches! Arnold, Franco and Robby never did declines, and neither did I. I think our results in terms of chest development speak for themselves!


Aug 21, 2005
Part 3: Leg Training
So far in this series, we have covered the best exercises for back and chest, pointing out common technique errors and giving you tips on how to do them right. This time, we have a lot of ground to cover, as in the quadriceps and hamstrings. If you don’t have great legs, especially these days, you won’t go very far in bodybuilding. So let’s get right down to it!

The Fine Line Between Stimulating and Annihilating
We all know that in order to gain size, we have to stimulate the muscles in a way that forces them to respond with growth. But there is a fine line, as I always point out, between “stimulating” and “annihilating.” Too often, I see bodybuilders with chronic pain and injuries in the lower back and knees, and unfortunately even quadriceps tears aren’t uncommon. There is a scientific way to go about building muscle without tearing the body up. At 58 years old, I can honestly say I have no pain in my back, hips, knees, shoulders or elbows at all. The sad thing is that I see many men far younger than me who have already had knee or hip replacements, and the damage was done mainly in their quest for prize-winning legs. With that in mind, I won’t be talking so much about the actual exercises as I will what’s far more important— the order of those exercises.

Leg-Training Lesson in California: Don’t Squat First!
As a kid, I was taught that squats were the king of lower body exercises. I did them first on leg day, and I went as heavy as possible— good reps with 495. Then I did leg presses and leg extensions to finish off quads, and leg curls and deadlifts for hams. Then, after I turned pro via winning the 1982 IFBB Mr. Universe, Joe Weider invited me to move from my native South Carolina to come out and train in “The Mecca,” Los Angeles. Here I was, a 22-year-old rookie, watching and training alongside legends like Tom Platz, Robby Robinson, Frank Zane, Albert Beckles and others at Gold’s and World Gym in Venice. One thing I noticed right away was that most of them didn’t start their leg workouts with squats. They usually did leg extensions, leg presses, and then started squats. After asking around, I learned that they were “pre-exhausting” their thighs with those other exercises before moving on to the granddaddy of mass and power. Not only did that help warm up the knees more thoroughly, but it made it so that you could get the same results with less weight on squats; meaning the same stimulation for the actual muscles but with far less stress on the joints. I found I no longer needed to use 495 pounds. Heck, even 135 for my first warm-up felt like 275 normally would! I could get the same results with 315 as I did with 495 on my heavier sets. The fact is, your joints and tendons will wear out fast if you’re not careful. Case in point: several years ago I put a 19-year-old young man who had just won the NPC Teen Nationals, through a leg workout in Atlanta. He was in the habit of squatting first in his leg routine, and was able to handle 500 pounds. But guess what? This young athlete wasn’t even out of his teens yet, and he was already having back problems. I cautioned him that he wouldn’t be in this game long if he didn’t take steps to keep his joints healthy, and not to say that this was the reason why, but I haven’t heard from him or about him in years.

Now that I’ve made it clear that squats should not be done first in the leg workout when you would be able to handle the most weight (which is irrelevant anyway— muscle only knows stimulation), here are some guidelines. First off, being that this is a foundational and basic mass-building movement, we want to keep the reps in the range of 6-10. Eight is a very good average to aim for. A lot of guys go higher on the reps, as in 15-20 or more. You simply won’t build as much size that way, because the body works on a supply and demand basis. This is why sprinters’ legs are so much thicker and more developed than those of a marathon runner. If you can get 20 reps with anything, you need more weight! As far as a foot stance, go with what feels comfortable and natural to you. You shouldn’t be overly narrow or wide. Finally, you want to take your sets to failure, but you never want to be stuck and struggling at the bottom of a rep. That’s an invitation to injury. As I’ve discussed before, your reps should resemble a “check mark,” meaning you don’t pause at the bottom at all.

Leg Extensions
We go a little higher on reps for leg extensions, for two key reasons. Number one, the knee joint wasn’t designed to bear heavy loads in this motion. Those are only meant for multi-joint movements like leg presses and squats, where the hip joints are also involved. Second, leg extensions are not meant to be a mass builder. Keep your sets around 12-15, pyramiding up, and squeezing the quads at the top of each rep. Leg extensions are also great for doing descending or drop sets, but don’t do more than two of these in any given workout. The legs can start looking flat and rubbery if they are overtrained. Don’t go by what you see and read about the pros doing, because this is their whole life. Unless you can eat seven meals a day and take a couple of naps every day too, don’t try to copy what they do in the gym.

Leg Press
The leg press is an excellent precursor to squats, because you can use some good weight and fatigue the quads without involving the back at all. Keep your reps around 10-12, and go as deep as you can without your butt starting to come up off the seat. Push from the heels, as this will give you better power and deeper separation in the muscles. These days, you mostly only see angled leg press machines, but I still prefer the old vertical models that the old-school guys like Arnold, Robby, Franco and Zane relied on. Just be careful not to go too deep if you have access to one. One time I went too deep and my ribs were sore for a month!

Leg Curls
Once the quads are done, we move on to the hamstrings. Lying leg curls are the first exercise we do. Four sets here warm up and stretch the hamstrings. I see a lot of guys with no mind-muscle connection who totally miss out on the negative component of the rep where you get all the stretching benefits. They drop the weight and bounce out of the bottom, which is an easy way to hyperextend the knee joint or worse, snap a hamstring tendon. Control the descent and keep that rhythmic “check mark” tempo going. I consider leg curls more of a shaping movement, so there’s no need to even try and go extremely heavy. I would stick with lying leg curls most of the time. A few weeks out from a contest, you can add in seated or standing leg curls.

Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
When I was in South Carolina, we had plenty of powerlifters around but not many bodybuilders. I did plenty of deadlifts, but until I got to California I wasn’t even aware of stiff-leg deadlifts. Then one day I saw Tom Platz doing them with those steel cable hams of his and I said, whatever this exercise is, I better start doing it! The key point with stiff-legs is to keep the back flat or neutral— never let it round! Your hips should move back and away from your body as you descend. Your toes may feel like coming up a bit off the ground as you get into the bottom position. Unlike regular deadlifts, this is not meant to be a heavy power movement. I usually stayed with 185 or 225 at the very most. Sometimes you see these being done off a block or a deadlift platform for a deeper stretch, but that’s only necessary if you’re using 45s. I usually used 25s, and that way I was able to get the same stretch while standing on the floor.


Aug 21, 2005
Part 4: Shoulder Training
So far in this series, we have covered the best exercises for back, chest and legs, pointing out common technique errors and giving you tips on how to do them right. This time, we’ll talk about the right way to train another critical component of any great physique, the deltoids. Because the trapezius muscle is so closely tied into the functions and movements of the shoulders, we’ll also include what to do for your traps— and you may be surprised at what isn’t in my recommended program.

Working the Angles
The shoulder is composed of three heads: the front or anterior deltoid, the side or medial deltoid, and the rear or posterior deltoid. Collectively, they are referred to as the deltoids, or delts for short. When designing an effective shoulder routine, you need to be sure each head is being given the proper amount of attention. This requires working the delts from various angles.

Military Press
Just as the bench press is the bread-and-butter movement for the chest, and squats will always be the best foundational exercise for your legs, the overhead press with dumbbells or a barbell is the core movement to developing your shoulders. To get the best results, I like to alternate between those two from workout to workout. Whichever type of press you do, make sure that you follow my “check mark” format for your reps: explode up in a ballistic fashion, lower at a slower speed under control, and smoothly turn the rep around from the bottom with no pause. It doesn’t take 8,000 pounds to stimulate growth with this type of rep performance. Recently I met fan who is a few years younger than me with various joint pains including his shoulders, and was shocked when I told him I had none at age 58— because I understood the science of training. I’m sure many of you will also be surprised to know that while I was winning the Mr. Olympia title eight times in a row, my seated dumbbell presses were usually done with a pair of 60s. On rare occasions I would go up to 70s. I could have gone much heavier, but that would have been overloading my joints and tendons more than my actual deltoids. On these, I did four sets of six to eight reps, pyramiding up as I went on

Lateral Raises
While presses are more or less a natural movement the shoulders do often in “real life,” lateral raises are fairly awkward in comparison. Rarely do we ever need to grab hold of something and lift it straight up to our sides. That’s why there is no need to go very heavy on lateral raises, and in fact you shouldn’t attempt to do so. How much do you think I used on mine, something between 50s and 100s? Not even close. I typically worked in the range of 30-40 pounds in each hand. I have never seen anyone using heavy dumbbells and doing this exercise properly, with smooth repetitions that target the medial heads without involving a bunch of other muscle groups. I prefer dumbbells for lateral raises, though you do see people using cables. That’s fine for advanced bodybuilders or if you’re close to a contest, but otherwise you will get much better results with good old dumbbells. Four sets of 8-10 good reps will get the job done right.

Bent Laterals
Bent laterals to the rear are essential to develop the rear delts, but they are also an awkward movement; even more so than side laterals. I never used more than a pair of 30s or 35s for them. Rich Gaspari and I did these every time we trained shoulders when we were training partners, and Rich had some of the best-developed shoulders of our era. We would do four sets of 8-10 reps.

What About Front Raises?
I never believed the front delts needed any specific, direct work, and I still don’t. They get plenty of stimulation from overhead presses, as well as incline and even flat presses that we do for our chests. Furthermore, I’ve never seen weak front delts on anybody. Often those are the only part of a person’s shoulders that are developed!

Behind-Neck Presses
Pressing behind the neck is yet another awkward movement, but as bodybuilders we do various unnatural types of motions to maximally develop our physiques. This isn’t quite the same as the standard military press, which hits the front delts primarily and also involves the side delts. Pressing behind the neck will work the rear delts, and does a better job of “capping” the side delts than pressing to the front. I liked to use these at the end of the shoulder workout to tie everything together, and I would only use half the weight I would on military presses. Furthermore, I did these standing almost all the time. That forces you to go lighter, and it’s really a more natural way to press for any athlete. Think about it. How often during a game does a football player sit down on the field? Standing presses also build your core strength, which I consider vital. You don’t just want to look pretty— you want to be functional too!

Working the Traps - Without Shrugs!
Whenever most people think about working the trapezius muscle or “traps,” they immediately think about shrugs. To me, they are a waste of time. I did them early on, but stopped doing shrugs even before I turned professional in 1982. They give the traps some work, but once you try upright rows behind your back, you’ll never go back to shrugs. I found this exercise accidentally. In an old workout photo of Arnold, he had a pair of dumbbells behind him and it looked like this was what he was doing. To this day, I’m not sure he was. But immediately the upright row behind the back made sense to me as a better way to work the traps. If you think about it, your traps aren’t in front of you or to your sides— they are in back of you. So it stands to reason that pulling up behind you would provide the traps with a more direct hit. Once I tried it, I knew I was on to something. I am so confident about the effectiveness of this exercise that I guarantee anyone will see significant results with it within a few weeks’ time. Take before and after photos of your back to confirm. You can do these with a barbell or dumbbells. In either case, you need to keep your core tight, and lean back slightly so the weight clears your glutes. Start from a full stretch and pull up as high as you can with the elbows and arms bent, then lower in a controlled manner. I worked with 135-185 on these, for four sets of about eight reps.


Aug 21, 2005
Part 5: Biceps Training
So far in this series, we have covered the best exercises for back, chest, legs and shoulders, pointing out common technique errors and giving you tips on how to do them right. This time, we’ll talk about the right way to train another critical component of any great physique and one that’s probably the most popular body part of them all— the biceps!

If Your Biceps Are a Challenge, I Can Relate!
Biceps were something I had to focus on for several years. It wasn’t so much that they were small; it’s just that my shoulders grew so fast that they pretty much swallowed them up! I had to give a lot of thought into how I could get my biceps to match. One key was to prioritize them by training them first on the day that I worked chest and biceps. By hitting them when I was fresh, I was able to give them all my energy. Since my chest was always a strong body part, it didn’t suffer at all by being worked after biceps. The other part of the solution was to perform a solid routine that addressed all the components I was seeking in my biceps: mass, shape and elongation of the biceps, and peak.

Barbell Curl
The first exercise I would do for biceps was the barbell curl. After studying the routines and techniques to develop biceps mass, I found that the men with the best biceps did a lot of explosive, power-type of training for them. Cheat curls were done by most. The barbell curl isn’t meant to be done slowly and with a squeeze on each rep. We do that for other biceps movements where it’s more beneficial, which we’ll talk about shortly. I’ve seen guys do barbell curls with their backs against a wall and curling in slow motion, and that’s missing the point here. What you want to do is a “controlled cheat.” Lean forward slightly at the start of the rep with your arms almost but not quite straight, then explode up and rock back— but just a bit. There is no pause at the top or bottom, and your torso should have a slight rocking motion as you do your reps. The bar should come up to about your nipple line. It’s important that you keep tension on the biceps at all times. Never relax at either the top or the bottom of the rep. Barbell curls are meant to develop mass and power, so keep that in mind. It’s the meat and potatoes for biceps mass, just as squats are for the legs and bench presses are for your chest. Do four to five sets of six to eight reps, pyramiding up in weight on each successive set. Forget about doing sets of 12-15 reps, because again this movement is not suited for that. Finally, you’ll get even better results if you stretch your biceps between each set.

Preacher Curl
This exercise was called the “Scott Curl” for many years, a nod to the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott. Larry had some of the most beautifully developed biceps of all time, and he gave most of the credit to this exercise. Preacher curls will give you both size and shape. A cheating motion is perfect for barbell curls, but you must not do preacher curls explosively. The risk of dislocation your elbow or worse, tearing the biceps tendon, is much too great. You do want to keep tension of the biceps and never let the muscle relax, especially at the bottom. Therefore, don’t let your arm hang straight down; maintain a very slight bend. Here, you do want to squeeze and flex the biceps at the top of each rep. The standard way to do preacher curls is with your triceps up against a sloped incline. Some preacher benches give you the option of turning it around and using the side that’s perfectly vertical. That variation is sometimes called “spider curls,” and it offers a superior stretch and a more complete range of motion. You might have to stand up to do it. In addition to the enhanced range of motion, curling with your arms up against a vertical surface rather than an incline means you can’t possibly relax and rest for even a split second at the top of the rep— you are forced to maintain constant tension on the muscle whether you want to or not! Whichever variation of the preacher curl you use, aim for four sets of 8-10 reps. You can also alternate preachers with incline dumbbell curls every other workout. With those, you want to set the bench right between 45 degrees and vertical, somewhere around 60-65 degrees. Curl with both arms simultaneously in a rhythmic motion and squeeze your biceps at the top. You can supinate the dumbbells sometimes, or simply use a palms-up hand position the whole time.

Concentration Curl
Concentration curls are what I consider the “polishing” movement for biceps, isolating them completely with special emphasis on the short head of the muscle that’s responsible for the peaked appearance. My favorite way to do the dumbbell concentration curl is seated and with the triceps of the working arm locked up against the inner thigh. Your elbow should be below your thigh, so that the dumbbell comes close to the floor at the bottom of each rep. Make sure you have your leg back far enough so that you have room to perform the motion. This is a movement you want to do very slowly and squeeze the heck out of the biceps on each rep. It’s pure isolation, so heavy weights are not needed or desired. I myself used a 30 or a 35-pound dumbbell. One way I found to get the most out of concentration curls was to do the first four to five reps with a full range of motion, and then the remainder from halfway down to the top— and squeezing that biceps for dear life! These were almost in slow motion, flexing hard every inch of the way to the top. I didn’t do that at every workout, but usually every other workout. To make the set even more intense, I would also “spot” myself and give a good forced rep or two with the non-working arm. And just like I stretched the biceps between sets of barbell curls, here I liked to massage them to help flush out the lactic acid that would accumulate during each set. Since my left biceps didn’t have quite as good of a peak as my right, I would also do a couple more sets for it. Eventually, the peak came up on it to the point where you really had to look hard to notice a difference in shape.

Two Very Common Mistakes I Don’t Want You to Make
People email me to help them improve their training and nutrition programs all the time. One error I see that has to be corrected right away is to train the biceps with back. On the surface, it might make sense, since the biceps are used indirectly in all types of chins, pulldowns, rows and the deadlift. That’s precisely why you shouldn’t train biceps after back. It’s already been put through a great deal of stress from those heavy back exercises. Subjecting the tendons to even more stress with direct biceps training immediately after could prove to be too much for them. I also want to caution you against doing barbell rows with an underhand or curl grip. The argument for reverse-grip rows is that they put the biceps in a stronger pulling position. That’s true, but the fact of the matter is that the biceps are a relatively small muscle. They aren’t meant to be pulling hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

Make Your Biceps the Best They Can Be
My biceps came a long way from the time I was an amateur until I retired with eight Mr. Olympia wins. Still, I was never satisfied with them. You know how we bodybuilders are. A 20 or 21-inch arm is good, but then we want 23 or 24! By the time I had won my third Mr. Olympia title, they were at least good enough so that they did match my chest, back and shoulders. And since I retired at only 31 years old, I am confident that they could have improved more if I’d continued on. But give my routine and suggestions a try for yourself, and build the best biceps you can!


Aug 21, 2005
Part 6: Triceps Training
So far in this series, we have covered the best exercises for back, chest, legs, shoulders and biceps; pointing out common technique errors and giving you tips on how to do them right. This time, we conclude the series, talking about the right way to train triceps. No pair of great arms was ever built that didn’t feature some impressive horseshoes, so let’s discuss how to get them.

Safety First for Triceps: 3 Common Mistakes That Can Hurt You
Staying safe and injury free is important no matter which muscle group we’re focusing on, but it bears special emphasis with regard to the triceps. I talk to far too many bodybuilders with chronic elbow pain and inflammation, and even more than you would think who have literally torn their triceps off the bone. The most common culprit is overtraining the triceps in an effort to stimulate maximum growth. Because the triceps inevitably work very hard as a secondary muscle group in any type of pressing movement for the chest and shoulders, special care needs to be taken so they aren’t worked too often or with too much work at once.

I’ve seen some people who work all the pushing muscles of the upper body— chest, shoulders and triceps— all in one workout. That’s just too much. You’re much better off working chest and shoulders on different days, and choosing just one of those to pair up triceps with. If your schedule permits, you might even consider working the larger body part in the morning and triceps in the evening, on a double split routine. This is especially valuable during the contest-prep phase when training volume is increased and energy levels and carbohydrate intake is decreased.

Another reason we see inflamed or torn tendons as well as burst bursa sacs inside the elbow joint is a ballistic snapping of the arm at the peak of extension or pressing motions. Not only is snapping the elbows dangerous, it also takes tension off the muscle and makes the movement much less productive at stimulating growth.

Finally, many bodybuilders do far too much for the triceps in their workouts. Considering the tri’s assist in all presses and they are also a smaller muscle group than something like the chest or back, there is no need to do more than eight or nine work sets for them. Many times I see bodybuilders doing two or three times that amount of volume, which is sheer overkill and is doing a number on their poor elbows to boot. With all that being said, let’s get into a safe and highly effective triceps workout.

Cable Pushdowns
Warming up the elbow joints is a must, which is why I highly recommend starting off your triceps workout with cable pushdowns before doing any type of power movement such as a free-weight extension (skull-crushers or overhead dumbbell extensions). Here, you want to do four sets of 10-12 smooth, controlled reps; pyramiding up in weight as you go. Cable pushdowns will help you add both size and quality to your triceps.

I actually call these “nose-breakers” or French presses, but most guys these days seem to like to call them skull-crushers. Whatever you call them, these are a total mass builder like none other for the triceps. We keep the reps around 8-10 for four sets, again increasing the weight in pyramid fashion as you progress. This is one movement you don’t ever want to snap the elbows at the end of your reps, or guess what? Someday it might be your triceps tendon snapping, and you don’t want that! You can use a straight bar if you like, but I prefer a cambered EZ-curl bar. Most people find it’s easier on the wrists.

One-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extensions
The two above exercises should be all you need, every other workout. On the alternating workouts, you can add a third movement, the overhead dumbbell extension with one arm. Keep your elbow pointed straight up at the ceiling, and lower the dumbbell behind your head, keeping it very close and getting a full stretch. As you extend the dumbbell back up, stop short of full lockout to keep stress on the triceps, but do flex it at the top of each rep. This hits the full belly of the triceps for that sweep and hang you want to see when the arms are up in a front or rear double biceps pose. Three sets of 8-10 reps here.

One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdowns
In the final 10-12 weeks leading up to a contest, you can substitute this cable motion for the overhead dumbbell extension. The one-arm reverse-grip cable pushdown is a pure isolation movement that helps bring out those killer cross-striations in the back of the triceps that are always a sight to see. Make sure you extend your arm out and away from your body and squeeze the triceps hard on every rep.

Compound Movements?
I’m sure some of you are wondering when I’m going to get to dips and close-grip bench presses. I simply don’t believe they are worth including in a triceps routine, due to the fact that they involve too much chest. That being said, you can do a variation of cable pushdowns that simulates the close-grip press. When you hit failure after 8-10 reps of cable pushdowns, step right up close to the cable, bring your hands a little bit closer together, and push the bar down with your elbows flared out for five to six extra reps.

And that’s how to get the best pair of triceps you can!


Featured Member / Kilo Klub
Featured Member
Kilo Klub Member
Sep 12, 2004
Nothing groundbreaking here...but a pretty good read. I didn't see too much here I disagree with

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