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Naturally Huge: Physique Fine-Tuning

Attempting to stay lean all the time tends to lower thyroid levels.

Q: I’m competing in my first contest, a natural show, in a few months, and I have some questions. First, I’m having trouble with my triceps development. I’ve got plenty of inner but almost no outer triceps. My arms look tiny from the front because of that, and I was wondering if you could recommend any specific techniques that target that area. Also, I’m worried about my glutes. I do plenty of deep squats and wide-stance squats as well as walking lunges, but they’re still a little, well, saggy. When I flex them, they’re tight but a bit pruny-looking. The bubble-butt syndrome also tends to run in my family. Will that be less of a problem once I start my diet, or do I just need to hit them in a different way? Finally, I have bad knees due to stress fractures suffered in both tibias 10 years ago, and I’m a little tentative about doing leg extensions. What else can I do to bring out the separation in my upper quads?

A: All right, three questions in one. Let’s start with question 1. I think it’s smart to concentrate on building the outer head of the triceps. You’re correct: Development there will create the illusion of greater size and width when viewed from the front.

I think the close-grip bench press is a good, basic movement for building up the outer tri’s. I usually recommend pointing the elbows in the direction of the feet while doing close-grip bench presses to build up the triceps; however, to target the outer head of the muscle, it’s better to keep the elbows pointed out to the sides. Frank Zane liked doing close-grip bench presses on a Smith machine, which makes it much easier to keep your elbows pointing out than it is if you use a barbell. Concentrate on the lockout portion of the movement, since that really stresses the outer head.

Another basic movement that’s great for building the outer triceps is the military press. I realize it’s a deltoid exercise, but the last half of the movement’from mid-point to lockout’really stresses the triceps. If you position your elbows out so your arms are at right angles when in midposition, the outer triceps will really be forced to work. Strength expert Charles Poliquin recommends doing the military press in a power rack and pressing the barbell from eyebrow level to lockout with the elbows out in order to beef up the outer triceps.

Certain isolation movements are also great for targeting the outer head. I like doing lying dumbbell extensions with my palms facing each other. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your face while keeping your elbows pointed toward the ceiling. Push the dumbbells up until your elbows are locked. You’ll feel it right in the outer triceps.

You can also use the Nautilus triceps extension machine, which is designed to keep your hands in the same position as lying dumbbell extensions do. Any machine that places your hands in that position will strongly affect the outer head of the triceps.

Now about those ‘saggy’glutes. As you’ve no doubt already observed, some people tend to store lots of fat in the glute area. When you begin your diet and cardio, you should definitely notice a big difference in the hardness of your glutes as your bodyfat level goes down. The exercises you’re using in your leg routine’squats, wide-stance squats and walking lunges’are all great movements to build up the glutes as well as the quads. You may want to try the stair machine or, even better, the stair-mill machine for some of your cardio work. Taking the steps several at a time is great for targeting those gluteal muscles. Whether you end up with striated glutes onstage remains to be seen. Some bodybuilders compete absolutely ripped to the bone and still don’t display any striations on their glutes. Melvin Anthony and Lee Priest are two well-known bodybuilders who don’t have striated glutes when in top shape. On the other hand, I’ve seen bodybuilders who have freaky striated glutes even though they’re not necessarily in better condition than others who don’t have them. I think some people naturally carry more fat in that area than others. As long as the rest of your physique is ripped and ready, I think you’ll do very well in your competition.

As for your knees, I don’t know if you’ve given leg extensions a try, since you say you’re hesitant to do them. I think you should attempt them at the end of your leg routine and see whether they cause you any pain. Leg extensions are a great movement for building separation in the quadriceps, and they may not bother you if your legs are fully pumped when you do them. You could also try working one leg at a time, which will allow you to focus on the muscles more without worrying about the poundage you use.

If leg extensions do bother you, the walking lunges you’re already doing will help to build some quad separation. Many lower-ab exercises, such as hanging leg raises and incline leg raises, stress the muscles of the upper thighs in addition to the lower abdominals. The development of those muscles will add to your thigh separation.

Posing between workouts will also help. You should be practicing your posing, including flexing each individual muscle group, at least one hour per day leading up to the competition. Best of luck to you in your contest.

Q: I was reading your article ‘Beast Feast’ in the January ’03 IRONMAN, and you mentioned carbohydrate cycling when you’re bulking up. I didn’t understand exactly what you meant by that’something about high-carb days and low-carb days. Could you explain how it works?

A: Cycling your carbohydrate intake is a method of building muscle and adding bodyweight while keeping fat deposition to a minimum. Carbohydrates, despite their negative press nowadays, are very helpful in building muscle mass. They play a critical role in recuperation and muscle growth and are the body’s primary energy source.

If you’re trying to build more muscle size and increase your bodyweight, you need carbohydrates in your diet. Carbs stimulate the body to release insulin, which acts as a transport mechanism to shuttle the amino acids from protein foods and sugar from the carbs directly into the muscle cells. Carbohydrates are said to be protein sparing, which means that the energy they provide spares the body from using amino acids for fuel.

Many bodybuilders who are trying to get bigger eat huge amounts of protein but avoid carbohydrates for fear that they’ll get fat. Without carbs, however, that protein has a hard time doing its job. Carbohydrates are invaluable in helping the body to recuperate and rebuild following heavy, muscle-building workouts.

When I was 20 years old and desperately trying to get bigger and add bodyweight, I made sure I ate plenty of carbs every day. Complex carbs such as oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, pasta, bread and corn will help add muscular bodyweight.

During the off-season I would routinely bulk up by eating plenty of complex carbs, protein and calories. I inevitably added some bodyfat, but the added muscle mass was worth the trade-off when it came time to diet away all the extra adipose tissue. That bulking-up period worked great when I was in my 20s and even throughout most of my 30s, but it started to have diminishing returns for me as I neared the big 4-0. As I got older, I realized that my metabolism was much slower than it had been, and I was somewhat shocked to discover that this former hardgainer had absolutely no problem adding bodyfat if the calories and carbs were high enough.

Since I know the importance of carbohydrates, I didn’t want to go the low-carb route all year long. After all, I’m a bodybuilder, not a fitness model. Having 5 percent bodyfat 12 months of the year would be detrimental to building additional muscle tissue, but it was also obvious to me that the bulking-up, high-carb method was no longer an option.

The solution was to cycle my carbohydrate intake. I read about that technique in an article by Chris Aceto, who’s an expert in the field of bodybuilding nutrition. Chris has consulted with several top pro bodybuilders about their nutrition, including Arnold Classic champion Jay Cutler.

Carbohydrate cycling involves eating a moderate amount of carbs for several days, followed by a higher carb intake for the next several days. That variation does not increase bodyfat levels like the typical bulking-up method does.

Chris explained that attempting to stay lean all the time tends to lower thyroid levels because the body adjusts to the lower calorie intake. By ramping up the carbohydrate and calorie intake for a week, followed by a period of more moderate carb consumption, the body is able to more effectively use the high carbs without depositing fat.

To figure out how many carbs you should be eating during moderate- and high-carb phases, use these guidelines: Multiply your bodyweight by 1.5 to 1.75 for the moderate-carbohydrate cycle and by 2.5 to 3.5 for the higher-carb phase. For example, a 200-pound bodybuilder would be eating 300 to 350 grams of carbs during the moderate-carb days and 500 to 700 grams on the high-carb days.

Of course, you should spread complex carbohydrates out over six to eight small meals during the day. Stay away from processed foods that contain too many simple sugars and little or no fiber. They cause the insulin level to overreact, sending most of their calories straight into your fat cells. Even 500 grams of carbs divided over eight meals add up to fewer than 63 grams of carbohydrates per meal. Combining complex, high-fiber carbs with complete forms of protein in several small meals per day will enable your muscles to get all the mass-building benefits of carbs without an increase in fat.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Natural Mr. Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM

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