There isn't a week that goes by in the gym where some yee-haw doesn't point to a pair of 10-pound dumbbells lying on the floor and yell, "Hey TC, you using those?"
In 2 minutes, the yee-haw will be asking another guy the same question. Funny guy. Lots of laughs. I knew another funny guy in Korea. Tail gunner. They splattered his guts all over the Pacific.
Anyhow, I guess that stupid joke is the gym equivalent of "Hot enough for ya'?"
What I usually say, if I answer at all, is that a good lifter can make 10 pounds feel like a 100. And it's true, too, because there are all kinds of ways of making conventional lifts harder, and figuring out those ways is kind of a perverse hobby of mine.
Here's a list of a few of my favorites:
Alwyn Cosgrove showed me this one and it's a humbler. You take a strong man and convince him to try this and chances are he'll be so humiliated he'll give up lifting and start that florist shop he's always dreamed about.
You know how to do a conventional stationary dumbbell lunge, right? Sure you do, funny guy. Let's say you can do them comfortably while holding onto 45-pound dumbbells. Big deal.
Now exchange the 45-pound dumbbells for one 90-pound dumbbell (double the weight). Hold the dumbbell at shoulder height with your right arm and lunge forward with the right leg. After doing the pre-determined number of reps, switch sides and repeat.
If you can't do it, your glutes are too pathetically weak or your core stability is lacking.
Let me ask you a question: how often in your life do you walk up to an object hanging from a tree, carefully place it on your shoulders, and lower it to the ground?
Hunters typically don't find dead deer hanging in trees. Generally, the thing's lying on the ground and they have to pick it up.
What I'm trying to get at is the conventional squat is screwed up. It's not a real-world movement. Our entire motor program, from childhood on, was developed to pick things up from the ground instead of the opposite.
That's probably why a lot of people have trouble learning how to do the squat.
Well, I've adjusted the movement. I've made it more "real world," but in doing so, I've also made it harder – and consequently, more effective.
I rarely start my squat from a standing position. Instead, I place the loaded bar onto the safety bars of the power rack and start from the ass-down position.
Doing it this way makes you understand gravity a whole lot better. Gravity demands that you use less weight.
And, if you pause in the down-position for 4 seconds (let the bar rest on the safety bars while still holding on), you also get to understand inertia a whole lot better.
This squat is to a conventional squat what calculus is to balancing your checkbook.
If a bar travels a greater distance, it involves more work, right? So why not make the bar travel farther while doing deadlifts? The old trick is to use 25-pound plates instead of 45's so the bar is closer to the ground at your starting point, but at some point you'll need more plates than a 7-foot Olympic bar can accommodate.
The solution is those Reebok Step Platforms that are lying around gathering dust in the corner of virtually every gym in America.
Just place the platform underneath the bar so that the bar and the platform look like a plus sign (+) when viewed from above.
(Placing the platform that way makes you keep a narrower stance, thus lengthening the range of motion even more.)
There's one last thing you can do to make it rougher. Use a snatch grip (in other words, place the hands wide apart).
Together, the platform, narrow stance, and snatch grip make you seem like you're lifting the bar from the depths of Hell instead of just the plain old floor.
Terry Cloth Mania
Most of us know the trick of wrapping two dishtowels around the pull-up bar and grabbing onto the towels instead of the bar, but you can use towels for just about any rowing movement.
Try using them for one-arm dumbbell rows and bent-over barbell rows, too. It's harder because all of a sudden you're using a semi-supinated grip to do rowing or pulling motions. Your nervous system gets corn-fused.
Not only that, but you're working your grip for the first time since you helped your dad build that birdhouse in the garage and he let you use the hammer.
Flex Band Biceps Curls
The single greatest weight training invention of all time, except for the weight itself, of course, is the rubber band. Now I'm not talking about the rubber band on your newspaper, of course, or even those huge mothers that come on bunches of broccoli. I'm talking about the big suckers that Dave Tate sells on his EliteFTS site for about 20 bucks.
Most of you know about using dual bands for deadlifts and squats, but the uses for a single band are almost infinite. What's so cool about them is that in most cases, they completely change the force curve of almost any movement.
For instance, in most cases, what's the hardest part of a dumbbell curl? The first part, right? Your arm is in a mechanically disadvantageous position – particularly if you're long-limbed – and inertia is your enemy.
Using a band completely changes the equation! With the band, the last part of the movement – when the dumbbell is near the shoulder and the band is completely stretched – is the hardest part.
Plus, the pull exerted by the band as it struggles to contract to its normal size places enormous eccentric stress on the biceps. It's freakin' beautiful!
Of course, you have to use a lot less weight, but who cares?
Simply place a pair of dumbbells about a foot in front of you and about a foot apart. (If you place them on their ends, they'll be easier to pick up.) I recommend using dumbbells that are about 70% of the weight you'd normally use.
Step on the band, making sure you're standing exactly in the middle.
Now bend over and pick up the dumbbells and curl away. It's a little tricky at first but you'll get the hang of it quickly.
Flex Band Straight-Leg Deadlifts
These are badass. If you stopped getting any real significant stimulation from straight-leg deadlifts, that's about to change.
Simply place your barbell on the floor in front of you. Step on the band, bend over, and place the other end of the band over your neck. Now grab the barbell and proceed with the movement.
"Fight" the resistance of the band on the way down.
Flex Band Squats
There used to be a time when my glutes fired effortlessly. Cheerleaders could huddle around my glutes during a cold November day and warm themselves. That stopped for some reason. The suckers stopped firing, not so much as a spark, let alone a fire. My deadlifts started sucking mightily.
Enter Flex Band Squats. As soon as I started doing these, the slumbering giants awakened.
Double loop the flex band and slide it over the outside of your knees. Walk like a penguin over to the squat rack and position yourself under the bar. Take the bar out of the rack, but before you squat down, push your knees out as far as you can.
Now squat while simultaneously fighting to keep the band stretched with your knees. Don't relax them at all during the set.
You won't use as much weight, but if your glutes have been dozing on the job, they're about to wake up.
This is also a great movement to do at home without weight. I swear, if you did Flex Band Squats – sans weights – during every commercial in a typical segment of The Ultimate Fighter, you'd soon have legs like Tom Platz.
Flex Band V Sit-Ups
I remember a particular study that determined the V Sit-up to activate the most abdominal muscle fibers. I can't prove it's true, but I believe it to be true.
The trouble is, it's a movement that takes some coordination. Not only that, it's hard to add resistance to it. If you add ankle weights, you're liable to make yourself unstable and catapult yourself through the plaster wall and into the beauty parlor next door.
The flex band fixes that. Put one end around your neck and the other end around your feet and lie flat on the floor. Grasp the flex band and simultaneously raises your torso and your straight legs so that you form a "V".
The flex band will want to accelerate the first part of the movement, so fight it. Similarly, the band will want to stay contracted as you go back to the starting position so the effort will be magnified.
Additionally, you can pull on the band with your hands to "shorten" the band. This will make the movement that much harder.
Miscellaneous Flex Band Movements
The flex band also works great for dumbbell flyes and dumbbell presses. Just wrap the bar around your back, grab it with both hands, and pick up a pair of dumbbells. Again, the bands change the force curve completely and turn both movements into a completely new kind of beast.
Similarly, they're also great for doing push ups at home or on the road. Strapping a band across your back (depending on the length of your limbs) is like doing push ups with a 75-pound toddler playing horsy on your back.
I have Christian Thibaudeau to thank for these. The concept simply involves doing one rep of a movement, putting the bar down, resting 10 seconds, and then repeating it.
Five reps – resting 10 seconds between each one – equals 1 set.
The trouble was, I went into these without thinking about it.
I loaded up a bar for deadlifts and put on more weight than I'd normally use for sets of 5. Sure, why not? I'm resting for a whole 10 seconds between reps. I might as well light up a cigar with that much time.
Sure, I'll be refreshed and recharged!
If I'd taken a minute to think about it, I'd have realized that the 10-second "rest" completely eliminates the stretch-shortening cycle, or plyometric bounce.
Doing 5 non-stop reps of a movement is much easier than coming to a complete dead stop! By doing the 5 "rested" reps, I have to set myself up and overcome inertia 5 times rather than just once!
Consequently, I have to use less weight than I normally would.
Regardless, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better bodybuilding technique, especially when it comes to the big lifts.
Smart Leg Curls
I've written about these before, but I've never seen anybody doing them other than Charles Poliquin, despite the fact that they're the ONLY way to do leg curls!
These are done on the conventional leg curl machine, but the movement requires some concentration. As you raise the weight, flex your foot (hard) so that the toes are pointed towards the knee. Maintain this flexed-foot position during the entire concentric portion of the movement.
Then, as you lower the weight, point the toes away from the body for the entire eccentric portion of the movement.
Got it? Feet flexed down on the way up and feet pointing away on they way down.
As has been explained in previous Testosterone articles, the gastrocnemius is one of the muscles that assist the hammies in flexing the leg towards the butt. In this variation of the movement – since we're weaker lifting a weight than we are lowering a weight – we allow the gastrocs to assist the hamstrings.
However, on the lowering portion of the movement – where we're stronger – we want the hamstrings to do all the work they can. So we inactivate the gastrocs by pointing the toes away from the body.
That's just a few of the ways I know to make your life harder. How about you? You know any ways to make me hurt?