Training

Big Ramy's Six Essential Exercises

Mamdouh Ellsbiay's machine-based training for monstrous size.

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Big Ramy's Six Essential Exercises

CABLE CROSSOVER

WHY

Thanks largely to Lou Ferrigno’s pec-tacular TV character, if there’s one pose most associated with Hulking out, it’s the crab-style most muscular. And the cable crossover best approximates that pose. This exercise used to have a lightweight reputation as a precontest detailer. But Big Ramy does it year-round. “It’s great for a strong contraction, and it keeps tension on the pecs from start to finish,” he says. Unlike dumbbell flyes, this standing cable flye maintains stress at contraction to target the inner pecs. 

HOW

Elssbiay sets the pulleys of a cable crossover station to their highest levels. He then brings his arms in a downward hugging motion from up and out to down and in, leaning forward on each rep as if he were crunching a most muscular. His hands are together or nearly together at contractions. “When my hands are close, I pause for about a second, and I squeeze as hard as I can,” he says. He does four or five sets of 12 to 15 reps. 

WHEN

This is the last exercise in his chest routine.

VARIATION

The traditional cable crossover targets mostly your lower and inner pecs. To hit more of your upper and inner pecs, set the pulleys at low levels and bring the handles up (to your face or higher) and in on every rep.

ISO-LATERAL MACHINE ROW

WHY

Big Ramy constructed one of the most Brobdingnagian backs ever beheld with more machine rows than free-weight rows. Yes, barbells and dumbbells provide more freedom of movement than most machines, but mechanical contraptions also have a couple of key advantages over ’bells. First, sitting against a machine’s chest pad locks you in place, so you can’t sway and distribute stress from your lats to your spinal erectors. Second, you’re usually able to get a stronger (and longer) contraction with a machine. Finally, Elssbiay often selects an iso-lateral machine (meaning the two arms move independently). This allows him to find a slightly different pace and range of motion for each arm; or he can work each side independently, doing the reps of a set for his right side and then the reps for his left side. 

HOW

“I’ll do these either one-arm or two-arm,” he says. “It just depends on how I feel and what else I do in my back routine. But I like them both ways equally.” If he does two-arm rows, he’ll often stand, so he can pull the handles a little lower into his sides. If he does one-arm rows, he’ll place the leg opposite from the rowing arm forward. “I want a strong base, so I stay steady,” he says. In either case, he keeps his chest against the support pad throughout each rep and gets maximum stretches and contractions. As with most machine exercises, he tends to hold contractions for a second, though he usually can’t do this on his final reps when fighting fatigue. He goes for four or five sets of eight to 15 reps.

WHEN

He starts his back routine with pulldowns. After that, machine rows could come at any time in the workout. Often two or three of a routine’s five back exercises are machine rows of varying types. 

VARIATION

Most machines allow you to choose myriad styles of grips. Usually, Big Ramy prefers a parallel (palms facing the center axis) grip or nearly parallel grip. Depending on the machine, you may be able to choose from a panoply of grips: wide, medium, narrow, parallel, underhand, or overhand. Each will stress your upper back muscles in a slightly different way.

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