The ESPX2 Training Method

“After a few months of using the ESPX2 training method, you will not need ESP to know what people are thinking when they see you. “Wow, this guy is huge,” will be written all over their shocked faces!” – Coach EB

There is little doubt that the first few years of training are the most fun – and this is likely because, for the majority of lifters, they are also the most productive. Back in your early days of hitting the gym, I bet that you got stronger at just about every workout–pressing, squatting, rowing, and curling heavier weights at each and every session.

Even more remarkable (and gratifying) was witnessing your muscles grow almost magically every week – manifesting a thicker chest, wider back, rounder shoulders, and swelling limbs faster than a baby pup becomes a full-grown dog!

In fact, if you were anything like me back then, you would probably jump on the scale every night and see if you gained any precious body weight. “Cool! I’m up another three lbs. from last week!” Yes, those certainly were the days, when all you had to do to add on muscle was eat more, train more, sleep more, and presto…there was more – of YOU!!

But then the inevitable occurs. As you begin to make the transition from beginning lifter to the more “seasoned” bodybuilder things just don’t work like they once did. Gains in muscle size become less and less apparent. The weights you push and pull no longer climb at every workout. Your bathroom scale spits back the same number every night – no matter where you put your feet on the darn thing.

Despite putting forth what you feel are your best efforts in the gym – plugging away on your tried-and-true routine – nothing meaningful seems to be happening anymore. “So, tell me ‘Merlin,’ what gives?”

Those Mysterious Muscles

They may call me “Merlin” but keeping one’s muscles growing progressively and continuously has nothing to do with spells or magic. – But rather, biology. What you first must recognize is that the human body was “built” to adapt. In one sense that is actually great, because this (our amazing ability to adapt) is precisely what helps to ignite hypertrophy in direct response to intense weight training.

However, on the other side of the coin is the part that complicates matters! You see, we are just so good at this adapting thing that after a period of time our muscles and central nervous system become “bored” with the “same ole, same ole,” and no longer see any reason to switch on anabolic processes.

In other words, after a few years of training the same way week in and out (i.e., the same exercises, rep numbers, rep tempos, etc.) the body is no longer compelled to overcompensate by adding more muscle. Ok, so what now?

Precision Pummeling

Over the past few years, a number of very intelligent researchers have scientifically proven something that many of the world’s best coaches learned “in-the-trenches,” through decades of observation, experimentation, and patience – Exactly what methods of training stimulate muscle growth.

It has been concluded that hypertrophy occurs via three primary mechanisms: (1) mechanical tension, (2) metabolic stress, and (3) muscle damage.  Thus, once you have put a few years in at the gym, your training can no longer remain “one-dimensional.”

Well, not unless you want to remain the same size. Instead, you must utilize lifting strategies that effectively tap into each of the pathways that initiate muscle growth – at each and every workout.

Enter ESPX2!

Ok Merlin, What’s ESPX2?

Since around 1998 I have developed and pioneered four different and unique training systems (i.e., PRRS, FDFS, FTX2, and now ESPX2) and all of them have been named with acronyms!

Is this because I love acronyms? No, but they take up far less space in articles and sound way more exciting than what they actually stand for (LOL).  However, I do believe it is important when introducing a new system, to explain what each letter specifies (and what its importance is) – so here it goes:

E = Eccentric (focusing on the negative contraction of the exercise to create both mechanical tension and muscle damage)

S = Stretch (focusing on the stretch position of the exercise to create both mechanical tension and muscle damage)

P1 = Peak Contraction (focusing on the “squeeze” of the exercise in order to recruit the largest motor units and increase “neural drive”)

P2 = Pump (focusing on manifesting the greatest possible blood flow to the target muscle to induce metabolic stress)

Nuts and Bolts of ESPX2

Let’s now get to the good stuff! With ESPX2 you will be using four different exercises per muscle group at each workout, with each tapping into a different pathway that will trigger hypertrophy. The two major keys to really making this system work lie in closely following the unique rep tempos for each movement, and in choosing the best exercises for each “component” of the system (i.e., eccentric, stretch, peak contraction, and pump).

To clearly illustrate how to properly implement ESPX2 I have provided two sample workouts below:


  1. BB INCLINE PRESS (Tempo = 5/0/X)…4 x 4-6 reps
  2. INCLINE DB FLYE (Tempo = 2/4/1)…3 x 7-9 reps
  3. CABLE CROSSOVER OR PEC DECK FLYE (Tempo = 2/0/1/4)…3 x 7-9 reps
  4. SEATED CHEST PRESS MACHINE (Tempo = 1/0/1)…2 x 26-30 reps


  1. BB OR MACHINE PREACHER CURL (Tempo = 5/0/X)…3 x 4-6 reps
  2. 60 DEGREE INCLINE DB CURL (Tempo = 2/4/1)…2 x 7-9 reps
  3. FRONT DOUBLE BICEPS POSE UPPER CABLE CURL (Tempo = 2/0/1/4)…2 x 7-9 reps
  4. BB OR LOW CABLE CURL (Tempo = 1/0/1)…2 x 26-30 reps

Note: Tempo refers to the speed at which one completes the various contractions within each repetition. It is expressed in seconds, with an “X” meaning “as explosively as possible.” The first number is seconds for the eccentric (negative) contraction; the second number is seconds at the midpoint/stretch; the third number is seconds for the concentric (positive) contraction; and if there is a fourth number, this refers to the peak contraction or squeeze at the end of a repetition.

3 Week Shoulder Shocker

When maximally developed, there are few things more impressive on a lifter’s physique than thick, dense, and freakishly-rounded delts! Many own a pair of big arms or have big, chiseled chests, but it is far rarer to witness a couple of “cannonballs” hanging off the clavicles of your fellow gym rats.

Some of the most dramatic physiques of our time (on the big screen, on stage, or even on the beach) are ones that show incredible shoulder mass and development spread evenly amongst all three deltoid heads (anterior, lateral, and posterior).

And while genetics do help determine the overall shape and width of the shoulders, if one utilizes a carefully designed exercise protocol, coupled with the proper hypertrophy-igniting intensity techniques, you can certainly manifest your own pair of jaw-dropping delts!

Week 1: The PRRS (Power/Rep Range/Shock)-HYBRID Method

This training protocol utilizes various rep ranges, lifting tempos, and intensity techniques to blast all of your muscle fibers, manifest a massive pump, and shock the system into igniting growth.

-SEATED BB OR SMITH MILITARY PRESS…3 x 4-6 (tempo = 5/1/1)

-SUPERSET: SEATED BENT OVER REAR DB LATERAL (tempo = 2/1/1)/ WG BB UPRIGHT ROW (tempo = 2/1/1/1) …2 x 7-9 EACH

SINGLE ARM INCLINE CABLE SIDE LATERAL * …1 x 13-15, 1 x 10-12, 1 X 7-9 (tempo = 3/0/1/1)

Week 2: The FTX2 (Fast Twitch Exponential) Method

This training protocol helps set up maximum fast twitch muscle fiber firing through the use of high reps (to exhaust slow twitch fibers) and heavy explosive lifts (to excite the central nervous system).

-CABLE INCLINE FRONT RAISE** …2 x 21-25 (tempo = 2/0/1)

-SEATED DB PRESS…3 x 4-6 (tempo = 4/1/1)

-SEATED REAR DELT FLYE MACHINE …2 x 10-12 (tempo = 3/1/1)

-STANDING DB SIDE LATERAL…3 x 10-12 (tempo = 2/1/1/1)

Week 3: The SPEC (Stretch/Peak Contraction/Eccentric/Concentric Emphasis) Method

This training protocol utilizes four distinct rep tempos (one for each movement), each emphasizing a different “section” of the range of motion. This forces the muscle to withstand a unique form of tension with each exercise, allowing one to tap into several growth pathways.

SEATED INCLINE DB SIDE LATERAL ***…3 x 10-12 (tempo = 2/4/1/1)

-WG CABLE UPRIGHT ROW …2 x 7-9 (tempo = 2/1/1/4)


-SINGLE-ARM REVERSE CABLE FLYE****…3 x 7-9 (tempo = 2/1/4/1)

*Single Arm Incline Cable Side Lateral

How To: Set an incline bench to between 35 and 45 degrees and place a few feet in front of a low pulley (fixed with a “D” handle attachment). Grab the handle and lay sideways on the bench (while finding a comfortable, “out of the way,” position for your legs and non-working arm). Begin with the arm almost straight, held a few inches above the side of your thigh. Slowly raise, keeping your arm in line with your torso, until the lateral deltoid is fully contracted. Hold this position for a second before lowering under control back to the starting position.

Why: The unique angle of this movement will tap into new motor pool units and exhaust muscle fibers previously untouched by basic laterals. Additionally, the increased tension at both the beginning and completion of each rep will force the medial delts to work harder than ever, which equals GROWTH.

**Cable Incline Front Raise

How To: Set an incline bench to between 45 and 60 degrees and place it a few feet in front of a low cable. Attach a short straight bar, or rope, to the pulley. Grab the bar (or rope) and sit back on the incline bench. (Note: You can vary the width of your hands on the bar from narrow to wide. When using the rope, grasp with a “hammer” grip). At the beginning of every rep, the arms should be ALMOST completely straight with hands held a few inches above the thighs. Moving only at the shoulder joint, slowly raise to a point just over your head, making sure to hold this (fully contracted) position for a second before slowly lowering back to the starting position.

Why: This unique angle allows for max tension at both the beginning and contracted position of each rep, which is excellent for shocking the anterior shoulders into new growth.

***Seated Incline DB Side Lateral

How To: Grab a pair of DBs (I suggest about 2/3 the weight that you would use for standard side laterals) and sit down on an incline bench set to about 45 degrees. While keeping your arms just slightly bent, chest high, and shoulders back, raise the DBs out to your sides until your palms are facing directly toward the floor. Lower under control until the arms are again hanging at your sides.

Why: This unique angle will torch your lateral delts in a manner they are not used to and hit a different set of previously untouched muscle fibers (hopefully making you too wide to fit through most doorways!).

****Single Arm Reverse Cable Flye

How To: Sit sideways on the bench or in the machine and grasp the pulley with the working arm. Rather than holding an attachment/handle, simply grab the end of the cable so that your palm is facing the floor. The arm holding the pulley should be held at shoulder height (throughout the set) and across your torso so that your forearm is in front of your face. Keeping a slight bend at the elbow, slowly abduct the arm in a reverse fly motion until the rear/posterior deltoid is fully contracted. The only movement should be at the shoulder, with no twisting of the torso. Additionally, make sure not to pull back so far that you begin to engage the muscles of the trapezius to an unnecessary degree.

Why: Quite often the posterior delts lag behind the lateral and anterior heads, which gives the shoulders an incomplete appearance from the sides and back. This movement strongly isolates the rear deltoid and creates tension from the beginning to the end of every rep. The fact that it is performed unilaterally only adds to its growth potential.

Author’s Note: Lifting Tempo is the phrase used to describe how fast you lower, lift, and pause with the weight in each phase of a repetition. It is expressed in seconds and begins with the negative (lowering) portion of an exercise, then the midpoint (stretch) portion, then the positive (lifting) portion, and if there is a fourth number used it will be the peak contraction (squeeze) portion. So, there you have it! Give this 3-week shoulder-shocker a try and see if your shirts start fitting just a bit tighter on top. Implement this program every couple of months but switch the movements around to keep things fresh. After a time, you may just need a whole new wardrobe (sorry – not sorry!).

Gym Pitfalls: Avoid These Things While Pumping Iron

Want to avoid the biggest gym pitfalls I see? You were able to hit the sack nice and early and managed a solid eight hours of sleep, allowing you to awaken rested, refreshed, and energetic. You planned out and executed every meal perfectly, eating each right on time, confident that you have consumed optimal amounts of complete protein, high-quality carbs, and healthy fats.

As you walk through the gym doors you can sense that your pre-workout supplement is kicking in, as a powerful feeling of focus, strength, and “singleness of purpose” overtakes your mind and body. You put your gym bag in the locker and are now more than ready to wage an all-out war on the weights! Will THIS be the best workout of your life? Well, that depends…will you manage to avoid these pitfalls while training?

Talking/Texting/Posting on Your Cell Phone

This one irks me almost more than any other “pitfall” I will mention. Is it so hard to do without Facebook and Twitter for 1-2 hours of your day? Can you stop talking/texting with your bros long enough to focus on your workout? Is it possible to wait until after your final rep to flirt with the girls you met over the weekend? Listen, unless your wife is pregnant and in her 9th month or you are waiting on a possible 6-figure job offer at any moment, then leave your cell in your gym bag or locker if you are serious at all about making gains in the gym.


Of course, it is fun to see your friends in the gym – and it would be downright rude not to shake their hand and say “how’s it going” when you pass them by. But that does not mean you should interrupt your workout to have a 20-minute conversation about last night’s basketball game or to argue the merits of whey vs. casein protein! Crush the weights first, and then when you are done, feel free to chat it up with your buddies or the hot gal working behind the desk.

Waiting for Machines or Benches

It is always smart to plan your workout ahead and to base it upon your current physique strengths and weaknesses. However, when you find that a machine or bench that you need is taken and that the person (or persons) using it will be there for a while, you have two choices: 1) Ask if you can work in, or 2) Find an alternate exercise to do in its place. Do NOT stand there and wait for ten minutes until the piece of equipment is free, as you will cool down, lose your pump and most likely destroy your focus and drive.

No Spotter

I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed someone getting caught helpless under a bench press, squat, or leg press, with the result almost always being minor to severe injury. While it is certainly not a necessity to have a “spot” on most exercises (as far as safety is concerned), please do not take foolish chances with potentially dangerous movements like BB bench presses, squats, and angled/vertical leg presses. If you train alone, ask another gym member to watch you, especially during your heavy sets.

Wondering Mind

There are few things as important to manifesting physical progress as remaining intensely focused while you train. The mind/muscle connection is a scientifically and practically proven phenomenon, so keep your head in the game throughout the entire workout. Even between sets, think about the muscle you are working on if you are dead serious about building a great body.

Crappy Technique

You just KNEW I had to mention this in an article such as this! Stop swinging, swaying, and jerking, and keep your exercise form tight and strict (at least until you reach failure). Keeping the tension on the muscle is more important than the amount of weight that goes from point A to B. Stretch, squeeze and make the target muscle do all the work.

Overstaying Your Welcome

There is no reason to be in the gym longer than 75 to 90 minutes, even for the most hardcore bodybuilder/athlete. If you train with 100% intensity and take reasonable rest between sets and exercises you do not need to spend your entire day lifting weights. For most of us, a serious decline in testosterone will take place, along with a complimentary rise in cortisol, if we train for more than 90 minutes or so, which will only hinder progress. Get in there; kill it, then get out and eat/rest/recover.

Eating While Training

There is no need for protein bars or even protein powder while doing your actual workout. Anything that your body needs to digest and break down will cause valuable blood to be carried to the stomach instead of the muscles, which is not what you want. In addition, eating while training can cause stomach upset and bloating. Consume important individual amino acids, such as BCAA’s, while training, but not whole foods or proteins.

Tweak to Become a Freak: Pecs Edition

All bodybuilders love to train chest. In fact, in just about every gym on earth, Monday is known as International Chest Day. This is simply because most lifters begin their training week right after the weekend and everyone just loves to pump up the pecs.

However, simply enjoying training chest does not mean you are making any meaningful progress towards building it. And while there are some gym-rats out there that thrive on a regular menu of basic movements like the bench press, incline press, DB flye and dips, others need to think outside the box to coax the pecs into swelling. If that’s you, here are a few unique movements that may help.


Smith Bench Press to Clavicles (aka the guillotine press)


Lower bar to between the clavicles and Adam’s apple


Set a flat bench inside a Smith Machine. Lie down and grab the bar with a shoulder wide (or a tad wider), overhand grip. Lower the bar under full control to a point between (and an inch above) your clavicle bones and Adam’s apple. Using pec-power, press the bar back up to just before lockout. The elbows should be perpendicular to your torso while both lowering and pressing.


Not only will you get a massive, growth producing stretch, but will also greatly target the upper portion of the chest, which is most often lacking in development.


Smith Reverse Grip Bench Press


Utilize an unerhand, rather than overhand, grip on the bar.


Set a flat bench inside a Smith Machine. Lie down and grab the bar with a shoulder wide (or a tad wider), underhand grip. Set up your torso so that when you lower the bar, it makes contact at about nipple level.

While focusing on the chest, press the bar back to a point just before lockout. Do not tuck the elbows into the body during this movement, but rather allow them to take their natural path.


This exercise has been show in EMG studies to stimulate the upper pecs to an even greater degree than the standard incline press. Thus, if the basics are not getting it done, see if this movement adds some size under your clavicles.


Feet Forward Seated Chest Press Machine


Sit forward on the seat, leaning back onto the back support.


Sit on a Seated Chest Press machine. Slide your rear end forward to the end of the seat and allow your upper body to simply lean back against the back support pad.

Place your feet out in front of you, making sure you are locked in position and fully stablized.

Grab the handles and press the weight until full lockout, making sure to powerfully contract/squeeze the pecs before slowly lowering back to the starting position.


Because of the position of the torso in this movement, you will shift the emphasis (even more so) onto the lower pecs. Now while it is generally easier to build size in this area of the chest, this exercise is awesome for really sculpting and defining that lower-pec line.


Incline Low Cable Upper Pec Flye


Performing standing with back against an incline bench.


Sit an incline bench (set to about 75 degrees) in the middle of an adjustable cable crossover station. Adjust the cables so that when you grab the handles, your upper arms are at about a 70 degree angle to your torso.

While standing, lie back onto the incline bench, and grasp the handles with the palms in a flye position. With a slight bend in the elbows begin to adduct the arms across and upward so that when the handles meet, they are at approximately nose level.

Hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds, really squeezing and tensing the pecs. Lower slowly and under control until your chest is fully stretched at the start position.


This movement is a hybrid of a low cable crossover and incline cable flye. However, it provides a novel stimulus for the chest (especially the upper section – just below the clavicles), because of the unique plane of motion.


Unilateral Seated Angled Chest Press


Sit sideways in the machine.


Sit sideways in any seated chest press machine. Make sure your torso is positioned so that only the rear deltoid is in contact with the pad, allowing for a full range of motion.

As you begin to push the handle, slightly lean back, which will help you extend to full lockout, and create a very strong contraction in the working pec. Make sure to squeeze the chest hard at the top of the movement at least 1-2 seconds.


Unilateral exercises in and of themselves are excellent for increasing nerve force and fiber firing in the working body part.

The unique positioning of the torso in relation to the pressing angle in this movement allows for an extremely intense contraction and will produce significant soreness where the pec ties into the sternum.

Author’s Note

I want to make it clear that it is impossible to “isolate” any one area of the chest, as it will contract as a whole unit during any pec exercise.

However, it is possible to better target different sets of motor unit pools in comlex muscles when specific angles, grips and planes of motion are utilized.

Machines for Muscle Mass

The world of physical activity, especially as it pertains to the transformation of one’s body, is rife with contradiction, myth, varying opinions, and conflicting research. HIIT vs. steady state cardiolow carbohydrate vs. low-fat dietshigh volume vs. high-intensity trainingthe arguments abound.

Another popular debate is the machines vs. free weights topic – fighting over which is better for adding slabs of new muscle mass. Well, let’s end that discussion right now because the truth is that both free weights and machines have their advantage and disadvantages, pros and cons. In fact, the strengths of one can be said to be the weaknesses of the other – and vice versa.

However, without getting too far into the science, biomechanics, EMG studies, and physiology I can assure you that a proper balance of free weights (defined as BBs and DBs) and machines (plate loaded, pin loaded, cable) will pave the quickest path to building the physique you are after – not just one or the other alone.

With that in mind, this article is going to focus on some of my favorite machine-based exercises and why I feel they are so valuable in building muscle. I will not be naming specific machines by brand, but rather simply discussing types of machines in general – most of which are common to any commercial gym. Ok, let’s do this!

Hack Squat

For me, the Hack Squat has contributed more to the size of my thighs than even BB squats. One is able to go heavy on this exercise without having to worry too much about the lower back. The Hack Squat takes much of the glutes and hips out of the movement and allows for a more direct hit to the quads. There is little pressure on the neck even when piling on the plates and going deep into the hole is less of a safety hazard.

Variation – Move the feet higher or lower on the platform to slightly change fiber recruitment patterns. Go with a wide or narrow stance to switch emphasis from the inner to the outer thigh. Try reverse Hack Squats when looking to focus more on the glutes.

Leg Press

I use some form of Leg Press at every one of my quad workouts. This movement is killer when done with a full range of motion (note: “half-reppers” should stay home) whether going for heavy sets of 4-6 or lung-frying adventures of 30 or more. The best thing about the Leg Press is you can literally destroy your thighs without over-taxing the upper body.

Variation – Like with the Hack Squat, try varying your foot positions from workout to workout. Additionally, try doing this exercise one leg at a time going as deep as you can on every rep. Talk about a lower-body killer!

Standing Single Leg Curl

I love this movement for the hams as they have a totally different feel from either lying or seated leg curls. They actually give a similar contraction that a seated concentration curl does for the biceps.

Variation – Try pointing rather than flexing the foot while doing your reps for a unique hamstring hit!

Seated Chest Flye

Many lifters consider this exercise to be a “finishing” movement and not really any kind of mass builder – but I totally disagree. Two of the best ways to tear up muscle fibers (which then need to be repaired bigger and stronger) are through a deep stretch and a powerful peak contraction, and the Seated Chest Flye allows for both on every rep! Make sure to keep the elbows up and in line with the hands throughout the set for max-pec-activation.

Variation – Move the seat higher or lower to better target muscle fibers in the lower, mid, or clavicular pectorals.

Seated Pullover

Not every gym has one of these, but they really should! There are few movements that isolate the upper lats and teres major so directly, which really brings out the back width directly under the armpit. The Seated Pullover is my go-to exercise for creating that V-taper.

Variation – You can bring the seat slightly higher or lower to get a different feel when doing these. But always make sure to go from full stretch to contraction.

Rear Delt Flye

Generally, this exercise is performed on the same machine where one does a Seated Chest Flye but instead facing inward toward the back pad. This is my favorite movement for smashing the rear delts and has really helped fill out my mid/upper back with muscular detail. I also find I can go really heavy on these and still get a great contraction on every rep.

Variation – Set the seat higher or lower in order to hit the rear delts somewhat differently. Also, if you want to strongly engage the mid-traps then bring the elbows back as far as possible and squeeze.

Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

Because overhead extension exercises most strongly stimulate the long head (the one with the greatest mass) of the triceps I tend to favor them in my arm training. However, when done with a cable rather than a BB or DB you get not only a great stretch but also an equally strong peak contraction.

Variation – Perform this movement with different bar attachments, such as a “V,” straight and/or cambered bar. Sometimes I will even do this exercise one arm at a time, only grabbing onto the end of the cable.

Cable or Lever Preacher Curl

I have never been a big fan of doing an angled Preacher Curl with a BB or DB (although I do like the 90-degree version with free weight) as it does not provide a great contraction. However, with a machine you have resistance pulling down on you at the top of the movement, which allows for a hard and productive squeeze. I also like the control this machine allows when going for a full stretch (which is a strong anabolic trigger).

Variation – Move your grip from narrow to wide to help target the inner or outer biceps heads. As well, try this exercise one arm at a time for maximum concentration and neural drive.

Well, there you have it, some of my favorite machine movements for sculpting/building an awesome physique. I will return with part II of this discussion at some point as I have many more I want to add to the list!

Tweak and Be a Freak: Biceps Edition

Sometimes I am completely fascinated with how badly the average gym-rat desires to build big biceps! Although I witness dozens of people each day training chest, back, shoulders, and legs with formidable intensity, it seems to jump to an even higher level when they are attacking the bis.

In fact, I often hear more screaming and cursing during a set of barbell curls than a set of squats! Strange…but true.

However, I can understand why so many lifters covet a massive pair of biceps. I mean, when someone comes up to you and asks you to “make a muscle,” I’m sure you don’t flex a trap or whip out a calf! Nope, you roll up your sleeve and put on a gun show!

And with that said, let’s talk biceps! Here are a few cool ways to tweak some basic curling movements to help make them more productive for you and ignite a new jolt of growth!

Movement: Standing BB Curl

Tweak: Cock wrists downward (like the stretch position of a seated BB wrist curl) while curling.

Execution: Grab a BB that is about 2/3 as heavy as you normally perform this movement with. Take a shoulder-width grip, stand up straight, and keep your elbows tightly tucked into your sides. Without using any body English or momentum curl the bar until your biceps are fully contracted. Keeping the wrists in the same position as the ascent, slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.

Result: By cocking the wrists downward you will effectively remove the forearm flexors from the movement, which will force the biceps to do all of the work. Even though you may not be able to curl as much weight using this method, the resulting tension on the biceps will be much greater, igniting faster hypertrophy.

Movement: Incline DB Curl

Tweak: Perform the exercise with hands/wrist rotated outward (as far as shoulders will allow comfortably).

Execution: Sit on an incline bench set to between 60 and 70 degrees. Grab a pair of moderately weighted DBs and lay back on a bench. Rotate your hands/wrists outward and allow your arms to fully straighten. Curl the DBs until the biceps are fully contracted. Hold the squeeze for one second before slowly lowering back to the bottom. Make sure the arms are again fully straightened before beginning the next rep.

Result: By rotating your hands/wrist outward while curling on an incline bench you will force the biceps to stretch hard at the beginning of every rep, creating a powerful growth signal. Additionally, you will target the inner head of the biceps in this position.

Movement: Lat Pulldown Station Curl

Execution: Attach a short straight bar to a lat pulldown machine. Sit on the bench and secure your legs under the pads. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and make sure the arms are straight before beginning each rep. Keep your torso relatively upright as you curl the bar down and back behind the head. Make sure to flex the biceps hard at the contraction point for 1-2 seconds before slowly returning to the top.

Result: Because the elbows are up by the ears when performing this movement, the biceps become a less powerful flexor of the forearm. This forces the brachialis, found underneath the biceps, to become more greatly involved, helping to ignite more growth in this muscle. By increasing the mass of the brachialis, the biceps will be “pushed up” higher, creating the illusion of a higher “peak.”

Movement: Seated Concentration Curl

Tweak: Pronate the forearm in order to use a “hammer” grip while curling.

Execution: Grab a DB and sit at the end of a bench. When working the right arm, for example, lean forward and press your elbow securely into your right inner thigh. Very strictly curl the DB until the biceps/brachialis are fully contracted. Squeeze forcefully at the top for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering the DB till the arm is fully straightened.

Result: Similar to the Lat Pulldown Curl described above, the fact that the elbow is positioned away from the torso means the biceps are in a weaker position than normal, forcing greater engagement from the brachialis. Additionally, by utilizing a hammer grip, the brachialis will work even harder than when using a standard curling grip. This is another awesome peaking exercise.

Movement: BB Curl

Tweak: Rather than standing, perform the movement seated.

Execution: Sit on a bench that has an adjustable incline and set it to about 80 degrees. Take a shoulder-width grip (note: you can vary grip widths to more greatly affect inner or outer biceps fibers) on a straight BB, holding it just above the tops of your thighs. Curl until the biceps are fully contracted, hold the squeeze, then return to the starting point. Never allow the BB to rest on your thighs until the set is completed.

Result: These top-half BB curls keep constant tension on the biceps, which makes them quite intense and results in a killer pump. And because you are only performing a partial curl, quite heavy weights can be used. I love to occasionally finish off my biceps workouts with this great movement. (Note: You may wish to try this exercise at times with the tweak described above with Standing BB Curls).

6 Common Biceps Training Mistakes That Will Negatively Affect Your Gains

If you are planning on selling tickets to your own personal “gun show” you better make sure the crowd will be impressed. The last thing you want is to throw up a biceps pose (with a big grin) and get “booed off the stage!” Unfortunately, while almost everyone in the gym tossing around the iron are quite passionate about filling out their shirt sleeves with muscle, most are making vital mistakes preventing this very goal from manifesting.

Here are 6 common biceps training errors

1. Using Momentum

If you want a muscle to grow you must force it to do the work. Bending forward at the waist and swinging so that you can use more weight will only serve to take tension off your biceps, which in turn will hinder your quest for bigger guns.

2. Leaning Back

Leaning back as you curl is not only a great way to injure the lower spine but also takes needed tension off the biceps. Tension is what makes a muscle grow, so stay upright throughout the range of motion until a perfect rep is no longer possible.

3. Lifting the Elbows/Shoulders

Some lifters think that they will get a better squeeze in the biceps if they raise up the elbows/shoulders at the top of a curl, but this simply is not true. All this will accomplish is to bring your anterior delts into the movement, which, once again, removes tension from the biceps and lessens the severity of their contraction.

4. Curling with the Forearms

In my 25 years as a coach/pro bodybuilder, one complaint I have heard quite often from trainees is that they get a better pump/burn in their forearms than in their biceps when performing all types of curls. For some, this is a case of having a strength imbalance between forearms and biceps that needs to be addressed/corrected. However, for most, this is an issue of technique. Make sure not to initiate curling exercises by first contracting the forearms – rather, keep the wrists in line with the forearms (or even bent slightly back) from stretch to contraction.

5. Training Biceps after Lats

While there is nothing inherently wrong with training lats and biceps on the same day, if biceps growth is a priority then these two muscle groups are better done separately. Since back movements generally involve pulling, they tax the biceps and thus compromise the intensity you can put into your curls, which, will in turn hinder long-term gains in arm mass.

6. Ignoring the Negatives

The eccentric (negative) contraction contributes greatly to anabolism (the processes that ignite hypertrophy) and should never be ignored when blasting the biceps! I can promise you that lowering the weight over 3-4 seconds on every rep (even if you have to go a bit lighter) will manifest into many more inches on your arms than curling and simply letting the BB or DBs drop back to the bottom.

Strategic Stretching

How the correct type and timing of stretches can build muscle faster.

The subject of “stretching”, as it applies to muscular hypertrophy is not commonly discussed – although it certainly should be. Why? Because performing stretches at the wrong times can actually hinder progress by decreasing performance, as well as cause injuries like “pulls” and “strains”. Conversely, well-timed, specific stretches can set the stage for accelerated muscle growth!

I am not exactly sure when this myth started, but the majority of exercisers still believe that they should perform static stretches (note: dynamic stretching is a different subject) prior to lifting weights – however, this is a mistake!

Stretching Cold Muscles

Stretching a “cold” muscle can result in injuries ranging from minor strains to actual tears – not a great way to begin a workout! And if that is not enough to prevent you from stretching as soon as you get into the gym, then ponder this fact: Research indicates that stretching the muscle you are about to train (or are currently training) can cause a significant loss of strength during all of your lifts (for that body part)!

Thus, while stretching may feel good, and help to increase blood flow a bit, you would be better off giving the target muscle a light massage between sets instead.

So, rule #1: Do not stretch the muscle you are about to target prior to starting your workout. And rule #2: Do not stretch the muscle you are in the middle of training during the workout.

Now, before I move forward, I should mention that utilizing stretches correctly during a workout will actually increase strength and improve recovery between sets, allowing one to lift heavier, and/or achieve more reps.

The key lies in stretching the antagonistic muscle (to the one you are working on) rather than the one being targeted. For example, it is advantageous to stretch the hamstrings after each set of leg extensions, the biceps after skull crushers, or the lats after bench presses.

What about after training a specific muscle? Are there any advantages to stretching the body part you just smashed? Absolutely my fellow gym rats!

Intense Stretching Immediately After Working Out

One of the most underutilized “secrets” in the world of bodybuilding is the use of intense stretching of the trained muscle immediately after completing your workout for it.

Now, when I say intense stretching, I do mean that it should sting quite a bit (although you must know your body well enough to realize if you are going too far), with each extreme stretch lasting for 30-60 seconds before slowly being released.

Some examples of intense stretching would be holding the bottom of a chest fly while grasping moderately heavy dumbbells, hanging from a chinning bar with a close (V-handle) grip while having an assistant pull down on your waist, or lowering into the deepest stretch position of a sissy squat.

In other words, you have to be willing to push beyond the light stretching you might normally be used to in order to make this technique maximally effective.

At this point you may be asking, “So how does this extreme stretching help ignite hypertrophy.”

Studies have demonstrated that this specific form (and timing) of stretching can actually hasten anabolism via greatly increased activation of satellite cells and the enhanced release of powerful growth factors (hepatocyte growth factor, myogenin, IGF-1) within muscle tissue. Sounds to me like an easy-to-use, valuable tool to put into your arsenal of hypertrophy heighteners!

In Summary

So, to summarize what I discussed above: Don’t stretch a cold muscle before training, and don’t stretch the muscle you are in the middle of training. However, DO stretch the antagonistic muscle to the one you are targeting during your workout, and once the session for the body part is complete, finish it off with two or three intense 30-60-second-deep stretches.

Getting muscles to grow is not easy, so it is vital that you make sure and approach hypertrophy through every pathway and mechanism possible.

6 Pack Abs: Merlin’s Master Class

Let’s talk about abs. In my 35-year career as a bodybuilder, trainer, and contest prep coach I have never come across anyone that wasn’t interested in making significant improvements to their midsection.

For some fitness enthusiasts, this means losing belly fat and creating a flatter and tighter tummy. For others, greater core strength is the primary goal. However, when it comes to most serious gym rats the ultimate achievement lies in forging a rock-solid, shredded 6-pack that appears carved from stone!

Now, I must tell you – while flattening the stomach and/or strengthening the core are tasks of only reasonable difficulty, creating a ripped-to-shreds midsection that makes jaws drop is an entirely different animal!

This takes serious discipline, sacrifice, and dedication that only select individuals will “have the stomach for.” And this is precisely why only a precious few, even within most hardcore gyms, own a 6-pack worthy of superhero status.

But please – do not let those last few sentences scare you, because I am here to lay out a master (class) plan to help guide you toward achieving the kind of midsection that looks as if it could literally stop bullets!

No, it won’t be simple and will require a lot of hard work (very few things worth having come easy). However, with a clear direction in hand, and a 3-pronged strategy that includes advice on diet, cardio, and exercises, you can more confidently set a course toward planet 6-pack!


Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat! No matter how well-developed your abdominal muscles are, they will not look all that impressive with a thick layer of fat sitting on top. Abs that look like bricks must be fat-free, covered only by a thin layer of skin, which means eating the proper foods, at the correct times and in the right amounts. Below you will find a list of high-quality foods that will deliver big on nutrients while encouraging muscle gain and fat loss.

To make things simple I put together a sample day’s diet for a reasonably lean (but not shredded by any means) athlete who is seeking abs of steel.

Meal 1

P: whey/casein protein powder mix (approximately 2 scoops)

C: oatmeal (3.1 oz. uncooked measure)

F: no added fats

Meal 2

P: chicken breast (7.1 oz. cooked measure)

C: brown rice (6.7 oz. cooked measure)

F: no added fats

Meal 3 (pre-workout)

P: tilapia (8.3 oz. cooked measure)

C: large mixed salad

F: olive oil (1 tbsp.)

Meal 4 (post-workout)

P: whey protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)

C: white potato (10 oz. cooked measure)

F: no added fats

Meal 5

P: top round steak (7.1 oz. cooked measure)

C: sweet potato (5.5 oz. cooked measure)

F: no added fats

Meal 6

P: casein protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)

C: none

F: natural peanut butter (2 tbsp.)

Totals: 300 g protein; 200 g carbs; 28 g essential fats

The above will serve as a good starting point, but small adjustments should be made weekly depending on how quickly (or not) results are coming. Additionally, as you begin to lose body weight, your overall calorie amount will need to decrease.


Yes, there are a few genetic freaks out there that have such naturally high metabolisms that they do not even need to utilize cardio as a fat-burning tool and can simply rely on diet to get the job done.

However, cardio is a necessary evil for the rest of us mere mortals. That said there should never be a need for excessive amounts, which will only serve to burn off lean muscle (a scenario we do not want)! The keys to successfully and effectively utilizing cardio are listed below.

Abdominal Training

If your diet is on point and cardio is in full effect, you can now turn your attention to building your abdominal wall. Now – while we certainly are not looking to create “huge abs” in the same respect as biceps, shoulders, or pecs, it is still necessary to forge some thickness into each “ab-block” if you wish to display a truly wicked 6-pack! I have witnessed many athletes/bodybuilders over the years with low, single-digit body fat levels whose abs were not all that impressive. The reason for this is simply because their abdominal muscles themselves lacked development. We are not going to let this happen to you!

Ab Training “Rules”

In regard to that last point, here are the exercises, which I have personally found to be the most productive and result-producing. 


Briefly, for those who may be unfamiliar with my P/RR/S™ Training System, it is a cyclical method where each week we approach muscle hypertrophy via unique training protocols. Below is the exact program I utilized for my last competition in 2011, where many felt I had the best 6-pack in the entire show.




*After two cycles of the above, I would shuffle around the exercises a bit to provide variation and constant novel stimulation to the muscles, mind, and CNS.

Try this program yourself utilizing the same exercises I do, or better yet, the ones you have found most personally effective. There is no magic formula behind building “bricks” for abs – what it takes is committing to working them with the same intensity, drive, and passion as any other major muscle group!

8 Things To Avoid After Your Workout Is Complete

You go to the gym. You crush every rep of every set! Your muscles are shaking from the brutality they just barely survived. Now your workout is over, and it’s time to GROW! Or is it?

Are you making any or all of the vital mistakes I have listed below? If so, it’s time to make some corrections if you want to turn your hard work into brand-new muscle!

Pitfall #1: Not Stretching Targeted Muscles

Once the workout is done you should stretch the muscles that were just targeted. This will not only help them recover more quickly and keep you more limber but may also enhance the growth process!

Pitfall #2: Performing Excessive Cardio

There is nothing wrong with doing some cardio (20-30 minutes maximum) after your weight training. But, it should not be excessive, or you will severely hamper the physiological/hormonal mechanisms that lead to muscular hypertrophy.

Your best bet is to separate cardio and weight training by about 5 hours for optimal progress.

Pitfall #3: Waiting too Long Before Eating

After an intense gym workout your body is in severe need of nutrients, especially amino acids and carbohydrates, to replenish, restore/repair damaged muscle cells and feed the exhausted nervous system. Try to feed your body a high-quality meal no longer than 15-20 minutes after completing your final set.

Pitfall #4: Excluding Fast-Acting Carbs

As I mentioned, it is of vital importance to quickly consume the proper nutrients after a workout, and carbs play a very important role in this equation.

Since the body is primed to absorb carbohydrates to refill muscle glycogen after lifting weights it is best to take in the “fast-acting” or “high GI” variety.

Foods like white rice, white potatoes, rice cakes, and bagels will get into the bloodstream rapidly, which will elevate insulin levels and allow you to push nutrients into cells at a very quick rate.

Pitfall #5: Not Using Whey Protein

Because whey protein is digested very rapidly it will supply your muscle cells with much-needed amino acids faster than all other protein sources.

This is extremely important right after an intense workout; so, failing to utilize the power of whey would most certainly be an error when the goal is more muscle!

Pitfall #6: Including Too Many Fats

The goal of the post-workout meal is to make sure that both carbohydrates and amino acids reach the bloodstream for distribution to muscle cells as rapidly as possible.

Since fats tend to slow digestion it would be a big mistake to include a significant amount during the post-workout feeding.

Pitfall #7: Failing to Take Valuable Supplements

While there is nothing more important than proper diet and training when it comes to making progress, smart supplementation certainly can hasten the process.

So, if gaining muscle and losing fat are high on your priority list, take advantage of proven supplements like creatine, glutamine, HBM, and leucine by getting an efficacious dose of each as soon as you are done training, or with the post-workout meal.

Pitfall #8: Not Getting Adequate Rest

In a perfect world all of us would be able to grab about an hour’s nap right after training to help our muscles and nervous system recover, but for most this is just not possible.

However, I highly recommend that at the very least you avoid physically strenuous activity once done in the gym and that you at least take a little time to just sit, relax, and comfortably consume your post-workout meal.

Weight training will only be effective if the body gets adequate rest to allow for the rebuilding process to take place.