Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)


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3 Practical Steps to Make Your Stubborn Muscles Grow

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Every single person on earth has lagging or stubborn muscles that he or she wishes would look better. Even for the few who look like Hercules, when you look at them carefully, you can almost always see flaws in their physique. Sometimes, the under-development is a result of the person just being lazy or under-prioritizing that particular body part. For example, you see a lot of guys in the gym who look like they should be walking on their hands because they have big arms but no legs. But in many cases, under-developed muscles can result because certain body parts just don’t respond to a person’s training regimen as well as others. And thus, you get people complaining that their chest never grows, or their calves are stubborn, or they just can’t get a six-pack.

Well, the good news is that 99% of you will be able to fix this by following the 3 steps that I outline below for at least 2 months. These steps are designed to prioritize your lagging muscle(s) and bombard them beyond your normal activity levels to force growth & development.

  1. Train your Lagging Muscle FIRST during each appropriate workout session. This is at the core of prioritizing your lagging muscle(s). You have the most energy and are usually most focused at the beginning of your workouts. As such, you need to devote this time to developing your lagging muscle(s). It’s so easy to get caught up in a routine where you work each muscle in the same sequence every single time… but often times, your lagging muscles are worked at the end of your workouts, when you’re tired and itching to get out of the gym. Simply changing the order of your exercises and putting your maximum effort on your lagging muscles can literally do miracles for these muscles. For example, if you are having problems getting your calves to a respectable level, then always hit this muscle FIRST in your workout sequence, as opposed to LAST like most people do. Also, usually I try not to do super-sets when I’m prioritizing a lagging muscle because I want to give it my undivided attention.
  2. Do 1~3 more sets than “normal” for your Lagging Muscle(s).  Just to be clear,  I’m not usually a proponent of increasing workout intensity by simply adding more sets and thus making a workout longer. However, when I’m trying to “catch up” a lagging body part I make an exception because it works by making you physically do more work and overload the muscle, and often times this is just what the doctor ordered to attain growth! So for example, if you’re used to doing 6 total sets on your biceps, do 8-9 sets during the 2 month period. Remember that the key here is not just to increase the number of sets, per se, but to overload your muscles to stimulate growth – as such, keep your rest relatively short and make each set super intense (go to failure or beyond using a spotter on each set). To be clear, you only need to increase sets on your problem muscles, not on any other body part.
  3. Rest fewer days and hit the body part again more frequently. For example, if your shoulders are lagging, and you usually hit your shoulders once every 5 days, try and see if you can hit it every 4 days. Now, use caution and common sense when you do this… it’s okay to be a little bit sore when you hit the muscle again, meaning that your muscles have mostly recovered, but you shouldn’t be so sore that you have not recovered enough yet (then you would end up doing more damage than good to your muscles). Assuming that you hit multiple body parts in one workout session, this would mean that your muscle-couplings (muscles that you usually work out together) would be thrown off, which is totally fine (e.g. if you usually work your shoulders and biceps on the same day, chances are that on your next workout, you would work your shoulders with other body parts).

And as always, work out INTENSELY… perform each set to failure (or beyond with a spotter), except your warm-up set(s), and keep pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone in terms of higher weights and squeezing out extra reps, because the work you do past the point of failure is where you will see the best results.

Here’s an example from my personal experience. Biceps have historically been a body part that I have neglected for various reasons. So last year, when I was doing my body transformation, I worked hard to get them to catch up. Usually, I work biceps every 4 days or so… but I made a concerted effort to catch them up to the rest of my body. As such, over several months, I disciplined myself to hit them 3 times per week (e.g. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). But to ensure that I would recover sufficiently between workouts, I hit biceps HEAVY on Mondays and Fridays (heavy weights where I could only do 3~5 reps before I failed), and on Wednesdays, I would go slightly lighter and go to failure at around 7~9 reps (I also did more “shaping” exercises like Preacher Curls and Cable Curls, as opposed to more “bulking” exercises like heavy Standing Barbell Curls). Within 2-3 weeks, I saw a real difference by using this approach… my biceps were getting fuller, larger, stronger, and more vascular because they were getting the attention that they deserved.

Try this approach to your lagging or stubborn muscles and let me know how it goes! It works for me, and I’m pretty sure it will work for you. Good luck!

-PK

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Developing Lethal Guns (Part 1): Biceps Workout (15-minute biceps workout included)

Ah, your guns… they are kind of a symbol of masculinity for men, and the desire to have great muscular development in the arms is a dream that many guys have. Similarly, for ladies, having nice, toned arms with no “cottage cheese” hanging down from the triceps when your arms are extended, would be a dream come true. But how do you develop fantastic arms? How do you develop guns that the U.S. government would certainly make you register as lethal weapons? In this post, I will talk about developing your biceps, which makes up about 1/3 of your arms, then in a future post, I will cover how to tackle your triceps, which actually makes up the lion’s share.

In general, a lot of people find biceps to be very hard to develop. Developing great biceps takes a lot of time, intense workouts, and smart planning & assessment of your workouts. Understand that nice guns take time to build, so you will not develop them overnight. Also, you have to keep studying your workouts and assess what areas of your biceps you need to further improve – do you need to put more “peak” on your biceps, more mass on the inner or outer portion, or fill out your entire biceps in general? Depending on your needs, you should focus on different exercises that focus and target these areas.

For me, I notice that my biceps respond best to varying types of stimulation applied from different angles, at different rep and weight ranges, at different workout sessions. Basically, all this really means is that I vary days when I go very heavy on my weights with less reps to develop strength and power, with other days when I am doing slightly lighter weights (this does NOT mean LIGHT WEIGHTS for a billion reps) with more exercises, more super-sets, and higher overall reps. These are just different ways to shock your muscles and overload them, to force them to adapt with growth based on different kinds of muscular stimulation. In addition, I go through phases where I focus on different areas of my biceps (e.g. upper portion, lower portion, inner head, outer head). For example, for a 2~4 week period, I will focus mainly on standing barbell curls with a straight bar, where I go heavy and keep my rep range from between 3 to 8 reps to develop mass and strength. By the way, I like standing barbell curls to develop overall strength because (a) you can pack on the most weight on these exercises to get your muscles accustomed to heavy weights (compared to preacher curls or dumbbell curls), (b) it’s great for overall muscular development throughout the entire range of motion for curls (as opposed to exercises like preacher curls that focus a bit more on the upper range of the curling movement), and (c) it allows me to flexibly choose my grip on the bar without the restrictions of a weird-shaped curling bars. As I do standing barbell curls with a straight bar, I vary my grip throughout my workouts (normally, I grab the weights at shoulder width, but then I grab it much wider to work my inner biceps head, and I grab much closer together to work more of my outer head. I will often do just one more exercise during a low-rep and strength and mass building phase, which is either preacher curls which isolate the biceps, or standing dumbbell curls.

Then, I will go for a 2~4 week period when I add more variety to my biceps workout by going higher in my rep range with slightly lower weights, but weights that are heavy enough where I am struggling to do 6~10 reps. During these days, I will move quickly through exercise like the preacher curls, standing dumbbell curls, hammer curls, and cable curls. I go intensely with little rest in between my sets on these days, usually resting only 60~90 seconds between sets (as opposed to the heavier days, when I focus on strength and allow longer rest times in between sets, like 1.5~3 minutes).

If you are not seeing improvements in your biceps, here are the two most common mistakes that I see:

  • Weights are too light or too heavy. You should select weights where you can barely complete your set within the given rep range, with acceptable form. For example, if you are doing reps between 6~10, you should select weights that are heavy enough to where you struggle and fail at, let’s say, 7~9 reps. Conversely, sometimes you see people attempt to do weights where they cannot even get one rep cleanly, and they cheat too much. Remember, cheating a little to get 1 or 2 additional reps at the end of your set is totally fine… but ignoring form and cheating throughout the entire set is not acceptable and ineffective because it works the wrong muscle groups, it increases the chance of injuries, AND you look ridiculous to other people 🙂
  • People do not go to failure or go intensely enough to stimulate growth. Remember, if you do not push yourself hard, you will not attain much. Anything you want or attain in life is the result of butt-busting hard work. Super-athletes like Kobe Bryant, Christiano Ronaldo, and Jerry Rice all got to the top of their games because they’re willing to work harder than everyone else (and of course, tremendous God-given talent). Put in the effort and work, alongside smart planning and assessment, and I promise you will see results.

In the video above, I essentially demonstrate a Tri-set (three different exercises done back-to-back-to-back) of preacher curls, standing dumbbell curls, then hammer curls. This is similar to a super-set (see my post on Super-sets here), but of course, involves one additional exercise that is thrown into the mix. I like this progression of exercises because once I fail on the preacher curls, I can jump to lighter weights on dumbbell curls, and when supinating my wrists outward on dumbbell curls gets difficult, I immediately switch into hammer curls, which works the brachialis and forearm muscles along with your biceps, where I don’t need to turn my palms outward.

15 minute Biceps Workout: (Designed for Busy Working People)

Here’s a quick routine for those of you looking for a quick-but-intense, 15-minute biceps workout. It combines super-sets of 4 different exercises, and they are designed to target your biceps from different angles, with different equipment (barbells, dumbbells, cable) and work different parts of your biceps, to get good, overall biceps development. You will perform 6 sets of super-sets (exercises performed back-to-back with no rest in between), with 3 super-sets of Preacher Curls and Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls, with 60~90 seconds of rest in between, and 3 super-sets of Standing Alternating Cable Curls and Hammer Curls, with 60~90 seconds of rest in between. Remember to go intensely and push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone, as this is how you stimulate growth. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Super-set Group 1:

  • Super-set #1:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you cann do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #2:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #3:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.

 Super-set Group 2:

  • Super-set #4:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you cann do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #5:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #6:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.