Muscle Building

Home Gym Essentials

I just cancelled my gym membership this past weekend. It's something I've been considering for a while now. I've decided that weightlifting exercises, especially dumbbell curls, are just too hard. I'd rather just stop exercising to drop back down to my 135 lbs skinny fat physique from high school; dad bods are all the rage now anyway.

All kidding aside, there's nothing wrong with my gym. In fact, they even added new equipment in recent months, including a squat rack and more plates. The gym is relatively clean, doesn't get too crowded when I go on the weekends, and has friendly staff members to boot.

The main reason I'm cancelling is because as good as my commercial gym has been, my gym in my basement is all that I need. My setup isn't a joke; some people's "home gym" is a rusty barbell with a pair of 5 lb dumbbells to boot. Virtually any free weight or bodyweight exercise that I want to perform can be done within the confines of my basement.

There are social aspects to the gym as well, but that was never my main focus. My focus is to get bigger, leaner, and stronger by using the gym.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I'm a huge fan of home gyms. It's a simple matter of math to me: invest $500 in a quality home gym instead of paying to go to one, and that investment will pay off in just 2 - 3 years. That may seem like a long time, but if you're serious about your fitness, it will pass in the blink of an eye.

Being able to exercise in my home all year is amazing. It helps me get more sleep, which is a critical aspect to health that far too many people skimp on. It's also comfortable. Especially during the winter, nobody wants to go outside in the cold first thing in the morning (unless you're a psycho).

Obviously there are limitations, the biggest being that if you love using machines, it's hard to afford them in your home. Machines for weight training can cost over $1000 depending on the vendor. This is just a little too pricey; plus, I firmly believe that free weight and bodyweight exercises are superior to machines for every muscle group.

Squat Rack

This is by far the most important piece of equipment for your basement gym. You can do tons of exercises using a squat rack. Here's a few examples:

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Overhead Press
  • Rack Pull
  • Shrug
  • Inverted Row
  • Assisted Pull Up

If your basement has a low ceiling like man, get a rack that's no higher than 6 feet. Below is the one I have (a product sold by Fitness Gear Pro) in my house:

Barbell

What's a rack without a barbell? This is a cornerstone for free weight exercises like Squats and Rows, so you definitely need it in your home gym.

Many barbells come with enough plates that will increase its total weight to 300 lbs, and that's probably all you need for your normal routine. You could purchase more plates if you wish; I personally do working sets of 365 lbs on Deadlifts. If you're some freak who's repping out 500 lbs on this exercise, get ready to buy A LOT of plates.

Weight Rack

You'll need something to put those plates on as well. The Squat Rack I mentioned above does have some metal separations in the middle that you could place weights on. However, once the barbell is on there, it can be annoying to try to move around the bar every time you need to grab a plate.

Again, if you're the freak repping 500 lbs on Deadlifts, you'll probably need a second weight rack. Also, did you know that you're stronger than Jeff Seid?

Adjustable Dumbbells

If you're going to purchase dumbbells, they need to be ones you can adjust. I can't stand walking around a store and seeing dumbbells fixed at 40 lbs, 30 lbs, 20 lbs, etc. Buying them not only limits the rep ranges and exercises you could be performing; it prevents you from progressing. What if you like using heavy sets during your arms workout but you only have 20 lb dumbbells? You're going to hit the wall fast with that.

I personally use 52.5 adjustable dumbbells from Bowflex. These dumbbells could individually be as light as 5 lbs or as heavy as 52.5 lbs. Even during my heavy sets for compound exercises they challenge me; I can only perform the 52.5s for 5 or 6 reps on Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press (this is usually the second exercise in one of my Push workouts). Bowflex also sells a pair of 90 lb ones if these just aren't enough for you.

Pull Up Bar

Honestly you could build an impressive back and pair of biceps doing nothing but variations of Pull Ups in your routine. This is partly why having a bar for doing them is a key piece of equipment in your home. Here are just a few variations you could be doing with this:

  • Chin Ups (palms facing you)
  • Neutral Grip Chin Ups
  • Pull Ups (palms facing away)
  • Sternum Netural Grip Chin Ups (pulling your chest to the bar)

So clearly Pull Ups are profound for building your back. Some squat racks have bars at the top for doing pull ups, but most basements can't fit these 8 foot tall pieces of equipment. Instead, I use a pull up bar that hangs from my door frame in my basement, as shown below:

Belt

Not a powerlifting belt; this one is for hanging plates and making your exercises harder to perform. I find this equipment particularly useful for Dips and Pull Ups. Of course, you could use it on other movements as well.

As a beginner, bodyweight exercises can be tough; I couldn't do a single pull up at the beginning of my fitness journey. These days I can do over 20 with strict form. Thus, if I want to use the 5 - 7 rep range for Pull Ups, I need this belt.

Wrap Up

Your fitness routine shouldn't feel like a chore. Ideally it should be enjoyable, but at the very least it should be manageable. People with routines that they can't manage or enjoy are the ones that give up when it comes their fitness. Invest in a home gym today and you'll be investing in your future.

I truly believe that the above equipment will enable you to do virtually any effective exercise out there. Some of

Please let me know if you have any questions about my setup at home!

Build That Booty

Title speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Well, in case it doesn't, here's a picture to get the point across:

Build that Booty.jpg

Traditionally girls are more concerned with building a nice butt, but guys should value this too! Just listen to the lyrics of "Shoop" and you'll know what I mean.

Strong glutes go beyond just having a nice caboose though. Your glutes are essential in keeping your body stable for several upper body movements like Overhead Press and Bench Press. Recently I was doing a set of Overhead Press without keeping my glutes tight enough and I actually pulled something in my lower back, so don't underestimate the role that these muscles play. Strong glutes lead to a safe and strong upper body.

Strength isn't everything, however. As with any muscle group, you want to use a variety of rep ranges in your routine to target it. Lift across the range of 5 to 15 reps (a set of 5, a set of 10, and a set of 15, for example) to maximally achieve hypertrophy for your butt. This is partly why bodyweight movements like squats on one leg are so effective; you do the heavy sets with dumbbells and the light sets with just your own bodyweight.

Of course, the rep range is nothing without using the right movements. Here are the top 5 exercises that will help you improve your butt.

1) Barbell Deadlift

Everybody thinks that the Squat is the best exercise for building a nice ass. And it's definitely up there, but to me, it's not the top dog.

Here's the trick: the glutes are not the main target of the Squat. Even if you go as deep as you can, squatting is primarily an exercise for your quads; even your hamstrings might be activated more than your glutes during a Back Squat to parallel.

Deadlifts, on the other hand, are driven by your glutes. Whether your stance is sumo, conventional, or a hex bar, deadlifting heavy weight will get your butt in gear (literally).

Here's a tutorial I have on the Conventional Deadlift:

 

If you eventually Deadlift 2.5x your bodyweight or more, your glutes will pop out like crazy; you'll need to buy some new jeans!

2) Back Squat

Please don't misinterpret what I said in the last bullet; Squats are still a phenomenal exercise for the glutes!

In order to activate them during the movement, you need to be hitting ATG (ass-to-grass) or parallel. Going halfway or a quarter of the way will do nothing to build that butt of yours (frankly, I'm not a fan of those variations anyway).

People also argue whether high bar or low bar is better. Frankly, I think both give about the same glute activation, so just choose the variation that enables you to do more weight. The same goes with stance width; pick the one that moves the most weight for you.

Here's a tutorial I have on the high bar version:

3) One Leg Romanian Deadlift

If you don't have access to real gym equipment, this exercise really deserves the top spot for targeting your butt.

The standard Romanian Deadlift is a great barbell exercise, but a risky one. It puts far more pressure on your lower back than the normal Deadlift variation. While this can build a strong posterior chain, it can also open your body to serious injury.

Doing this exercise with one leg, however, is a great alternative. It prevents any potential lower back issues and keeps the focus on your glutes and hamstrings.

Make sure that as you lean forward, you go as far as you can. This increases the tension on your glutes without you needing to increase external weight. Most people, including myself, can't go farther than their body making a right angle. If you have the flexibility to go even farther, then all the more power to you.

Scott has a good tutorial on this movement:

 

4) Bulgarian Split Squat

This one can be a bit unstable to perform, but it's definitely worth it. Somehow, doing a squat with one leg activates the glutes far more than doing it with both. I've noticed much more soreness in my glute muscles when performing this movement rather than my usual Back Squat (I perform both in the same workout in my current routine, however).

Make sure you're only pushing with the leg you're targeting. It can be tempting to jerk the stationery leg on the bench as you try to exert more force, but resist it.

Be very careful with the knees on this! They shouldn't go past your toes. For some reason, this exercise puts much more stress on your kneecaps than the traditional Back Squat.

Scott has a good tutorial for this one as well:

5) One Leg Hip Thrust

Doing a Glute Bridge with both legs is child's play for most people. What's more challenging and effective is a hip thrust with just one leg.

I'm a big fan of this one, mainly because you can play with so many progressions. If you're just starting out, lie down on the floor and raise your body just using one leg. If that becomes too easy, lie with your upper back on a bench and do the movement from there. By some chance if that becomes simple as well, put a 25 lb or 45 lb plate on your torso as you perform the movement.

There aren't too many tutorials on this booty builder, but here's a good one:

Wrap Up

There you have it everyone! Use these tips and build your best butt ever.

Cardio and Bulking

Wow; I just realized how long it's been since I posted on this blog. It's been over a year, and reality right now is just bizarre.

The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl... it's snowing in Texas... Disney ruined Luke Skywalker... nothing makes sense anymore.

TLJ Luke.jpg

To those of you who've been waiting on a new post: I'm truly sorry. Consider this post the first of many weekly (yes! weekly, I promise) blog posts to come.

A number of you reading this are in the midst of your winter bulk right now. Hopefully you've been packing on some solid muscle.

For many of you though, you might have noticed that the pounds have been increasing too quickly. Your waist is growing, but you don't notice significant strength gains in the gym.

There could be a number of factors for this, but one detriment to your bulk might be the lack of cardio while bulking.

Cardi-No

Where did the hatred for cardio really start anyway? Did the first prophet of broscience hand down commandments banning gym bros from getting on a treadmill? Or is it that people actually take Dom Mazzetti's advice seriously now?

Maybe we should start using the term's full name, "cardiovascular," instead; I mean guys want to get thick and vascular veins, right?

Honestly, part of is the problem that when people hear "cardio," they immediately think of a prolonged workout that leaves you sore, drenched in sweat, and completely out of breath once it's over.

Anything taken to extremes can suck. I wouldn't want to do a 2 hour cardio workout for the same reason I wouldn't want to do a 2 hour lifting workout: it's boring and just kills you.

Especially in the winter, you have to be a bit creative for finding cardio options that enable you to avoid the weather (I mentioned some in an earlier post).

Consistent Metabolism

Let's say you're aiming for a daily 500 calorie surplus (this is common, but is probably a bit too high) and you're currently lifting 4 days a week with the other 3 days being rest days. Well, if you're lifting the right way, you're burning tons of calories on the days that you lift. I'd estimate you burn anywhere from 300 to 400 calories if you're focusing on effective, compound exercises like Squats and Deadlifts.

If that's the case, you're eating 800 to 900 more than you're burning on the days you DON'T lift weights. This is a recipe for disaster in your bulk; you'll probably put an inch on your waist for every rep you gain on your Bench Press.

What's a better approach? Well, you start implementing cardio on the other days of the week to keep the calorie burning consistent.

Doing cardio while bulking has more benefits than just the calorie burning, however.

Recovery

Natural lifters tend to overestimate how well their bodies recover. Especially if you're lifting heavy weights, you shouldn't be weightlifting more than 4 times a week. In fact, some of you (myself included) might see the best results with just 3 lifting sessions each week. Workout routines that involve 5+ days of lifting lead to overtraining quite easily. If you hit your triceps with 20+ sets during an arms workout, how do you expect to be recovered in time for shoulders or chest 1 - 2 days later? You just can't be.

How does cardio play into all this?

Well, even the most intense cardio out there (sprinting, for example) doesn't wreck your body quite the way that weightlifting does. I usually sprint twice a week, and even though I'm out of breath by the end of it, my body doesn't feel depleted the way that it does after a Pull or Legs workout

The physical nature of cardio also helps with recovery; using a treadmill or elliptical machine gets the blood flowing all over your body. Cardio both reduces soreness and enhances your muscles' recuperation.

Furthermore, HIIT cardio (sprinting, boxing rounds, etc.) can give significant hormonal boosts. High levels of HGH and Testosterone are necessary if you're expecting to gain muscle; just sprinting once a week can kick up your hormones like crazy. The caveat is that long durations of cardio surpress these hormones, so keep the cardio workouts to no more than 30 minutes even if it's low intensity (walking, jogging, swimming).

Tying it Together

So what are some options for implementing cardio into your workout? Well, here's a sample routine you could try:

  • Sunday - Pull
  • Monday - Sprints
  • Tuesday - Sprints
  • Wednesday - Legs
  • Thursday - Kickboxing
  • Friday - Rest
  • Saturday - Push

Honestly, this is the routine I'm using now and it seems to work quite well. You'll notice there's 1 rest day thrown in there, but this doesn't result in extra calories going to fat. I actually cut weight each Friday (calorie cycling to help keep the bulk lean).

Let the record show that cardio is more than just a tool for cutting: it's a great way to gain more muscle than you ever have before.