Workout Tips

Show Off Muscles: Neck, Forearms, and Calves

Build the strength and show muscles that motivate.

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Show Off Muscles: Neck, Forearms, and Calves

People can see a great physique no matter what you wear, but the muscles people see most are your forearms, calves, and neck. Here you’ll find the formula for putting the finishing touches on these show-off muscles: forearms that pop from the mere thought of twisting a bottle cap, a neck that stretches the rings of your T-shirts, and calves mistaken for cows.

It's Not Just For Looks

In the gym, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so you can’t expect massive leg development or a huge squat without a solid set of calves. Likewise, you’re going to have a tough time developing rock hard pecs if you have weak hands and skinny forearms. And that barn-door shoulder width and V-taper we’re all after can’t possibly be attained with a pencil-thin neck as your foundation. These muscles need work, especially if you haven’t been hitting them directly, and the benefits of training the “ancillary” muscle groups are myriad. In fact, your body wants to maintain some level of equilibrium when it comes to size, so if you focus on these forgotten groups, your toil will result in quick gains in both strength and mass.

These muscles are relatively small, so in terms of weight room performance, they’re just links in a much longer chain. What you want, however, is for your neck, forearms, and calves to be up for Best Supporting Actor nominations—as opposed to playing forgettable bit parts that contribute little to your plot. It’s neither efficient nor effective to schedule a dedicated day for these character actors, though, so the idea is to elicit as much growth as possible from your main movements—followed by accessory exercises designed to maintain that momentum.

How it Works

Focusing on these areas will take some additional work, which means you’ll need time for extra exercises and longer workouts on certain days. For example, on one of your lower-body days, you’ll squat, then train your calves, and then train everything else. On back day, you’ll perform deadlifts with Grip4orce (rubber sleeves you’ll slide on the bar), followed by the rest of your forearm workout, then transition into whatever else you have planned for that day. Plan ahead, schedule your time accordingly, and use this template for the next eight weeks.

Neck Exercises

Your neck comprises seven cervical vertebrae—the top part of the bony column that leads down to your spine. Your cervical vertebrae are the smallest units in the column (think of each separate vertebra as being approximately the size of an Oreo Double Stuf cookie). They’re also among the most important, since each individual vertebra has considerable influence on a different basic human function—including sight, facial movement, and the use of your hands. Your cervical vertebrae are worth protecting and developing for reasons far more profound than a desire to stop popping your collar to hide your scrawny stack of dimes.

Because your cervical vertebrae are relatively fragile, the key to effective neck training is adherence to the less-is-more philosophy. You’ll incorporate your neck training into a lower-body or shoulder day once per week, avoiding working yourself to a point where you can’t look from side to side without turning your entire body.

Fat-Grip Shrug

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the grips with your hands just outside your thighs and shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Hold for a second at the top, then return to the start position and repeat. Using Grip4orce or a similar grip sleeve on the bar will give this exercise the dual benefit of hitting the forearms as well as the neck.

Chin-Back Good Morning

With a barbell on your shoulders, pull your chin back as far as you can to put your neck in a tight, anatomically correct cervical position. With your knees slightly bent and your lower back firm and straight, bend at the waist until your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor, then use your lower back and hamstrings to return to the start position.

Four-Way Neck Machine

If your gym has one of these, you’re fortunate. These units differ in terms of how your body is positioned, but make sure to work your neck from all four angles for an equal number of sets and reps. Don’t have access to this machine? Use a neck harness or simply do isometric holds by pressing your head against your hand.

Overhead Shrug

Grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider, and press it overhead. With your arms fully extended and your elbows locked out, shrug the bar up and down for reps.

Neck Workout

Perform on shoulder day.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Chin-Back Good Morning 3-5 5 90-seconds
Overhead Shrug 3 15 60-seconds
Fat-grip Shrug 5 25 60-seconds
Four-way Neck Machine* 3 20 (each) 60-seconds

* Substitute neck harness or isometric work.

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