If you’re not a regular reader of this column, please get the previous few issues of IRON MAN to catch up on this series. You can apply the lessons I taught Stelios and Yiannis to transform your own bodybuilding training and results. This month let’s continue with the faults and fixes in the exercises in the brothers’ new program.
Faults: Incorrect setup, excessive involvement of the lower back, excessive range of motion.
Fixes: Set up so that the center of your knees is lined up with the center of the pivot point and the resistance pad is against your heels (not against your lower calves).
During the ascent of your feet, your hips should come off the bench slightly, to permit full contraction of the hamstrings. Your hips should rise no more than one inch. Any more than that will overstress your lower back, which can cause injury. Excessive lifting of the hips also reduces the work done by your hamstrings.
Don’t exaggerate the range of motion at the bottom of the exercise. Stop the descent a few inches before your knees fully straighten.
Standing Calf Raises
Faults: Incorrect setup, incorrect use of the standing calf machine, too much knee flexion.
Fixes: Use a block that’s so high, it’s impossible to touch your heels to the floor even at full stretch. You’ll compress your spine if your heels hit the floor when you have a heavy weight on your shoulders.
When you get positioned for the first rep of any machine standing calf raise, don’t round your back. Put the pads in position on your shoulders, pull your shoulder blades back, bend your knees, and place your feet in position correctly on the foot support. Use a hip-width foot placement rather than a feet-together stance, to help you keep your balance. Then keep your lower back slightly hollowed as you take the resistance on your shoulders. Don’t round your back.
Put the balls of your feet on the block, not just your toes. Keep your big toes pointing directly forward or slightly outward and keep your knees straight or just slightly bent.
An alternative to the machine calf raise is the one-legged dumbbell calf raise, with you holding a dumbbell on the same side as the working leg.
Partial Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
While both brothers were using straight-bar deadlifts, only Yiannis was performing them full range from the floor. Stelios’ longer torso and shorter limbs made the full-range deadlift an inefficient, high-risk exercise. So I had him perform it in a power rack from knee height—in effect, a partial stiff-legged deadlift. The reduced range of motion made the exercise safe for him so he could get the benefits. I’ll cover the full-range deadlift in a later issue.
Faults: Incorrect range of motion, incorrect positioning for the first rep, incorrect back positioning, asymmetrical form, leaning back at the top position, setting the bar down between reps, grip failure.
Fixes: In a power rack find the pin setting that puts the bar two to three inches below your kneecaps when your knees are slightly bent. That’s the bottom position. Alternatively, set a loaded bar on boxes so that the bar’s starting position is the same as in the rack setup.
Stand with your feet under the bar, heels about hip width apart and feet parallel to each other or slightly flared. Take a shoulder-width or slightly wider overhand grip. For just the first rep, bend your knees more than slightly, to help ensure correct back positioning. Hollow your lower back slightly, and, with straight elbows, shrug against the bar and pull your shoulders back and push your chest up and out. The bar won’t move unless the weight is light, but the shrug will lock your lower back into the required, hollowed position. Now, while looking forward or upward, simultaneously pull with your back and straighten your knees to move the bar.
During subsequent reps, bend your knees only slightly. Your knees should straighten as you complete the lift and bend slightly once again during the descent. Keep your head up at all times, shoulder blades retracted and chest pushed up and out. During the descent push your hips rearward to help keep your lower back in the correct position. The bar should brush your knees or thighs.
Lift and lower symmetrically, and don’t turn your head.
Don’t lean back at the top. Stand straight, pause for a second, keep your scapulae retracted and lower back hollowed without exaggeration, and then lower the bar to the pins by bending your knees slightly and simultaneously leaning forward.
Don’t rest the bar on the pins or boxes at the bottom position. Instead, pause very briefly just above the pins. Maintain a locked, hollowed lower back, with your shoulders pulled back. Smoothly move into the next rep.
To keep a secure grip, use a well-knurled bar and lifter’s chalk on your hands. Eventually, when you build up to a big poundage, you may be forced to use an over-under grip. If so, alternate which way you position your hands from set to set.
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.