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Flexing and Stretching Between Sets

Q: What’s your take on flexing, posing and stretching between sets? When I’m totally alone in the gym, I flex and pose the muscles I’m working on and stretch between sets, but I feel like a tool doing that with people around. Is it productive enough for me to just bite the bullet? Also, what can I do besides prioritizing if I want to turn my weakest part into my strongest?

A: Flexing the muscles between sets is a good thing. It keeps the blood in the muscles and gives them a harder look. When I’m getting ready for a competition or even a photo shoot, I practice posing all the time because it not only helps me hold the poses for a longer period of time and look more natural in the pose but also helps the muscles look better when I’m posing.

Flexing is a form of isometric exercise, so it certainly makes the muscles look harder. You can even make the posing sessions more intense by holding each pose for five seconds and really squeezing the muscles you’re flexing. Of course, your diet is what’s mainly responsible for getting rid of bodyfat and giving them a harder look, but the constant posing and flexing definitely help.

Flexing is also good because it pumps the muscle so much with blood. It only makes sense to flex the muscles you’re training to give them an isometric workout too.

Stretching the muscles is also good between sets. I do it all the time for each muscle group. The stretching increases the blood flow to the muscles you’re training by opening up room in them and relieving the tightness. That can help prevent cramping and possible injury.

Taking your shirt off and posing during the workout isn’t as accepted as it used to be. In the ’80s most gyms were hardcore bodybuilding venues. Guys were always taking their shirts off and posing, and no one said anything.

I used to train at Hamarz Gym in Chicago, and a lot of the gym members were competing in bodybuilding. It was normal for anyone who was getting ready for a show to go to the big mirror in the back of the gym and pose in his gym shorts. Most of the gym members would stop their workouts and go back and watch. They’d offer advice on how to do the poses better and critique as well as compliment the guy’s physique.

Nowadays, most gyms frown on bodybuilders. There’s more of a family atmosphere as opposed to a hardcore bodybuilding feel. In gyms like that you’re probably better off saving the posing for when you’re at home. Not only will you look like a show-off to the “normal” people in the gym, but the management might throw you out. Times have definitely changed.

To turn your weakest bodypart into a strong one, you can do several things. The first is to train that muscle group after a complete rest day. If you do a heavy workout the day before you train your weakest bodypart, you won’t have as much energy as you might if you rest the day before. 

Along with that strategy, you need to carb up the day before you train your weak points. Many people eat a lot of calories and carbs on the day they train their weakest muscle group, but I think it makes more sense to take in the extra the day before. That way you’ll notice a definite increase in strength and energy when it counts.

As for training the lagging muscle, you need to find out what exercises work best for your body to get it to grow. For example, you might find that doing bench presses with dumbbells works better for your chest development than the standard barbell bench press. Leg presses might develop your quads in ways that squats don’t. You have to experiment to see what works for you.

When I was getting ready to compete in the Mr. Illinois contest in my 20s, I knew that I needed to bring up my legs, or I’d never win the overall title. I took third place at 22, and, after examining the pictures from the contest, I realized that my legs needed to be bigger and more defined if I was going to win the title. I came up with a strategy for building my legs based on my particular structure.

Although I’m only 5’8”, my legs are structurally longer than my upper body. That means they have a tendency to appear thin when I’m standing onstage. Complicating the problem is that I have very wide lats, and that created even more imbalance in my physique, making my thighs appear even more out of proportion.

I decided to concentrate on building as much leg mass as possible in the off-season. I trained them on Monday after resting on Sunday. I didn’t work out until 5 p.m., which meant I had all day to eat plenty of carbs and get totally psyched for each leg workout. My goal was to squat 500 pounds for two sets of six reps, and I would think about those two sets all day long, often pacing the floor at home and visualizing how it would feel to squat that weight. I saw myself as an animal, exploding out of the bottom position and manhandling the weight as if it were nothing.

When I finally arrived at the gym, I was laser-focused and wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I didn’t even engage in conversation with other gym members until after the workout was over. After warming up with abs, I started squatting. I quickly went through sets using 135, 225, 315, 405 and 455 pounds before getting up to the ultimate challenge. When I did my sets with 500 pounds, I was so psyched that I was ready to tear the bar out of the rack. I literally willed myself to own that weight and ram each rep out of the deep squat position until I got my six.

That extremely challenging and heavy off-season training helped me accomplish my goal of building my legs bigger than ever. When the contest started to get closer, I knew I had to work on the separation of the quadriceps in order to make them one of my best bodyparts.

Although I continued squatting, I changed the order of my workout. I started with leg extensions, followed by leg presses and, finally, squats. In the off-season I had been doing them in the opposite order.

On leg extensions I used a specially designed machine that enabled me to get an exaggerated stretch in the upper quads. The extreme stretch helped create more separation in the quadriceps femoris and vastus intermedius in the upper thigh. Many bodybuilders naturally have good separation in the quadriceps muscles and don’t do anything specific to work on it, but I had to search out exercises that would isolate those muscles so my quads could look separated and defined onstage. The improved separation in my upper quads created the illusion that my legs were much bigger than they actually were.

When I finally competed in the contest, everyone said my legs were one of my strongest bodyparts. Not only had I improved my weakest muscle group, but I’d made it one of my strongest by training it extremely hard with the correct exercises that suited my particular physique.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at, or send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, For information on the new Natural Olympia Fitness Getaway visit  IM

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