Workout Tips

Back to Earth

Skip the fancy gizmos and turn to overload training to build quality muscles.


But standing on one leg atop a BOSU while performing sets of dumbbell lateral raises alternated with single-leg romanian deadlifts does nearly nothing to encourage hypertrophy, which is the bodybuilder’s brass ring. "To build quality muscle, you simply need to put it under tension through bodypart-specific overload training,"says David Sandler, CSCS, assistant professor of exercise physiology at Florida Atlantic University (Davie). "There’s a time and a place for training everything, but trying to train everything at one time and place can actually inhibit your progress."Add an unstable training surface, and you’re fighting a losing battle. "It’s impossible to put the same kind of force on your muscles when you’re on a BOSU or exercise ball as when you’re completely solid on the floor or a bench,"explains Sandler.

So step around the BOSU and kick that exercise ball into the aerobics room, leaving those gizmos and others like them to the personal trainers more concerned with their checkbooks than your physique. Seasoned bodybuilders need to remain focused, beginners need guidance through the fad fog, and we all need to get back to basics.

Training Fundamentals
Think back to your original intentions in the gym. Why did you start training? To build your muscles. And how did you build your muscles? By lifting weights. Your muscles will only grow according to the level at which they’re stressed, and doing this requires progressively overloading your body and asking more of yourself day in and day out. And although gadget-makers would have you believe it requires the very latest and greatest techno-super-duper-ab-core-balance-cruncher, muscle-building really is a simple process. "From now until the end of time, bodybuilding comes down to two things: the breakdown and buildup of muscle tissue,"says Bob Cicherillo, IFBB pro bodybuilder, personal trainer and seasoned gadget cynic. "You simply cannot break down muscle tissue effectively by using bungee cords or by balancing on one leg like a flamingo in the zoo. If you want to build muscle -- real hardcore, quality muscle -- you have to return to good, old bodypart-specific overload training.”

Split systems have worked for every pro bodybuilder in history. Parcel your muscle groups into a weekly plan in which you work each part hard and give it plenty of time to recover. In the most basic form, each session focuses on one or more separate bodyparts, like chest and triceps. Then you dedicate each set of that workout to breaking down those muscles with as much weight and as many repetitions as possible until you reach failure. Sound simple? It is. Even so, some guys are probably still out there wondering, But when do I train my core? The answer: You train it all the time, every time you do an exercise. Just because you’re not standing on a balance board or BOSU, your core isn’t sleeping.

Core Truths
Used to be, "core training"delineated the main exercises in a bodybuilder’s training regimen, such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts. But recently, it has come to denote the training of the innermost part of your body, typically the deep muscles surrounding your spine, abs, obliques, serratus, lower back and hip flexors. Some argue that core training should also include the glutes, lower chest, hips and upper thighs, while others insist that the conceptual core varies as your body changes position in space in relation to the ground. Take these varied and tenuous opinions, pepper them with plastic gadgetry, season it with a dollop of uncertainty and you’ve got a nice stew of hocus-pocus for gym chains to market to trainees like a Tony Little infomercial.

Now, before you buy any of that crap, listen up: In daily life it’s nearly impossible to keep your core from working, whether you’re sitting on the couch, walking down the street or doing a triceps pressdown. Some way or another, the intricate muscles encircling your spinal column and all your core stabilizers are activated, whether you like it or not. "Probably the people with the strongest cores on the planet are powerlifters, bodybuilders and strongmen, and they don’t spend any time at all standing on a disk or a ball trying to lift weights,"notes Sandler. "Shockingly, Arnold [Schwarzenegger], Dorian [Yates] and Lee Haney somehow got through their careers without setting foot on a Bungee Board to train their core, "Bob adds. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t focus on training your core muscles. You should -- just not while training other parts or vice versa. To paraphrase Confucius, if you chase two rabbits, you’ll lose them both. "You can’t do push-ups on an exercise ball, for example, and expect to grow your best chest,"says Sandler. "There’s just too much going on with the shoulders, abs and lower back to be able to put enough tension on the chest to elicit the results you want."Pick a muscle, train it with specific intention and you’ll get results. M&F

Former fitness competitor Lara McGlashan is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She can be reached at