"Why the ?#*! aren’t my muscles growing?" To help answer, I’ll recount two workouts I observed recently by the Grimm brothers, wannabe bodybuilders Stelios and Yianni. They'd been working out for a few years, and they followed identical routines, though they used different poundages.
It was the brothers' lower-body day. They started with abs: four sets of leg raises and four sets of cable crunches. They grimaced as they did the final few reps of the last set of leg raises-with straight knees, on an incline bench, which worked their hip flexors more than their abs and irritated their lower backs.
Even so, they wanted to squat, choosing the Smith machine to avoid further back irritation. After their warmup sets they loaded the weight up to their maximum for the day for a goal of 10 reps. With their lower backs rounding a little at the bottom of each rep, however, their back woes worsened, and they each ended the set after just a few reps-long before their quads were worked thoroughly. And they both massaged their knees after the squat workout-their foot positioning, which was forward of the machine, had produced knee irritation. After a five-minute break, they moved to leg curls.
Their technique on the leg curl was decent, but they quit each work set a couple of reps short of what they could have done had they pushed themselves properly. Next was the leg press, but their backs were still bothering them, so they quit after their warmup sets.
With their pseudo thigh workout over, they moved to calves: five sets of seated calf raises followed by three sets of standing calf raises. They worked hard on the seated calf work but were too worn out to do anything more than go through the motions on the standing calf raise.
They finished their lower-body workouts with three going-through-the-motions sets of hyperextensions. They had both given up on the deadlift because they couldn’t use correct technique.
Then they went home, prepared for another few days of having sore backs and perhaps sore knees. They had no intention of doing any stretching at the gym or at home. So their tight calves, tight hamstrings, tight adductors and tight glutes would continue, with serious repercussions for their bodybuilding.
Two days later the Grimm brothers were back in the gym. Their backs were still bothering them, but they weren’t planning on doing lower-body work. Today it was pecs, delts, traps, lats and arms.
They started with the pec deck: a warmup set and then three hard and genuine work sets. Then they moved to incline flyes-one warmup set and, again, three work sets. The effort was decent on the work sets, but after each one they’d massage their pecs, which had become irritated because of the exaggerated range of motion they used.
The flat-bench press followed. After two progressive warmup sets the boys did their usual three work sets. But because their energy was flagging and their chest muscles were tired, they assisted each other in performing many forced reps.
For their delts they put renewed effort into three work sets of laterals. When they got around to the seated back-supported dumbbell press, however, their zest diminished, and they quit each work set at least two reps short.
When they moved to the machine shrug, they failed to shrug fully on each rep and quit on each of the three work sets a couple of reps short because they hadn’t pushed themselves properly. Next was the T-bar row-supposedly for a warmup set and three work sets. After the first work set, though, Stelios’ lower-back problem in particular flared up, so they both gave up on that exercise. They moved to the pulldown, where their technique was decent, but their effort level wasn’t high, so again there was no growth stimulation.
The brothers were revitalized for arm work. The triceps pushdown was first. As usual, their wrists started aching on the first work set, but never would they question the suitability of the straight bar they’d always used.
With their wrists sore, Stelios and Yianni moved to the close-grip bench press. Holding their hands so close that they were almost touching, the brothers got their sets done, but not with high intensity. Even with the further irritation to their already sore wrists, they soldiered on - "No pain, no gain," they kept telling themselves.
The barbell curl followed, done with a straight bar. While both close-grip and wide-grip curls irritated their wrists, the close-grips were the worst. Cheating on the final two reps of each set reminded them of their lower-back problems, but further reiteration of the foolish mantra "No pain, no gain" followed.
The final exercise was the concentration curl. They pushed themselves hard. Actually, they pushed themselves hard only on the small exercises.
Before they left the gym, they found an empty corner and hit a few arm poses in front of a mirror. Same size as last year-each arm still under 15 inches-and the same size as the year before. "When are we going to start growing?" they asked each other.
Never, if they continue like that. More of what doesn't work now for the Grimm brothers won’t work in the future.
After seeing them struggle in the gym, I struck up a friendship with them. They started to pick my brain and shortly afterward asked me to start training them. In future columns I'll take you through their new workouts and overall bodybuilding regimes to show you what you, too, need to be doing if you're to make terrific progress.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or www.Home-Gym.com.