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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.
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.
This is the last exercise in his chest routine.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
MACHINE SHOULDER PRESS
The mechanical shoulder press is the one outlier in our sextet of Ramy’s favorite machine lifts. That’s because, unlike the other five, it doesn’t provide an advantage over free weights at maximizing contractions. However, overhead pressing machines do provide greater stability. Some may see this as a minus. Certainly, just balancing a weight or two weights throughout a set stimulates muscle fibers. But this cuts both ways. “Machines let me just focus on pushing up without worrying about steadying the weight,” the Iron Hulk says. You can’t argue with his results. The Goliath who expects to contend for this year’s Mr. Olympia title has arguably the largest delts in bodybuilding history.
Steady yourself in the seat. Big Ramy takes a relatively wide stance to secure himself. Grab the handles. Ramy goes wide. But then he is wide. Really, really wide. Freaky-crazy wide. Has-to-go-through-garage-doors-sideways wide. Take a grip slightly beyond shoulder width. Press up. “I stop just short of lockout,” Iron Hulk says. Doing so keeps constant tension on his delts. He does four or five sets of eight to 15 reps.
Elssbiay usually begins his shoulder routine with this exercise.
Many press machines are designed so that the device’s arms are pressed not just up but also slightly backward. Such an arc engages more medial delts along with the front delt heads. Therefore, if you sit “backward,” facing the seat back, the arc will be reversed and your arms will travel slightly forward as they go up. In such a way, you work medial delts less and focus even more on front delts.
Legs straight is the resting point when doing most quad exercises. However, when doing extensions, this is the contraction. Therefore, there’s resistance through not just the kicking motion but also when your knees are locked. In effect, the contraction duplicates the lower half of bodybuilding poses like the front lat spread when your legs are straight. Big Ramy already has monster-size wheels. But he places a special emphasis on leg extensions to etch in deeper tire tread. “I need deeper cuts in my quads,” he says. “So holding the top of leg extension reps is very important to me.”
Sit in the seat with the pads on your ankles and your toes pointed straight ahead and bring your legs up simultaneously to a knees-straight position. Elssbiay likes to hold each contract for a second and tense his quads as hard as possible for four to five sets of 12 to 15 reps.
He does these first in his quad routine.
These can be performed one leg at a time to better focus on your left and right wheels individually. You can also point your toes inward to focus more on your outer quads or outward to focus more on your inner quads. Try changing your toe position from set to set.
“I especially like this exercise precontest because it’s just like a biceps shot,” he says. “But I’ll do them sometimes all year-round.” Just as cable crossovers duplicate a most muscular pose, this exercise mimics a front or rear double biceps shot. The use of cables allows you to maintain tension on your biceps from stretch to contraction despite your upper arms being parallel with the floor. By contrast, if you attempted this movement with dumbbells, your delts would be doing a lot of work (to keep your arms up) and your biceps very little.
Set the pulleys in a cable crossover station at shoulder level. Grab both handles and stand in the center. While keeping your upper arms parallel with the floor, curl the handles toward your ears. “Get a strong contraction and hold for a second and tense,” the two-time (2013–14) winner of the New York Pro instructs. He does four sets of 10 to 15.
Elssbiay likes to end his biceps routine with high-cable curls.
There are a couple of ways to change this one up. First, you can alternate arms, going back and forth between your left and right sides. You can also do these seated to eliminate any possible sway. Seated or standing, be sure you set the pulleys at about shoulder level. Sitting is a variation that Ramy uses on occasion.
Each horseshoe-shaped triceps has three heads. The long (inner) and lateral (outer) heads make up the vast majority of visible muscle on the back of your arms. The medial head is meaty but lies mostly beneath the first two, though its lowest portions peek out on both sides just above the elbow (much more on the inside than the outside). Every triceps exercise works all three heads to some degree, but each exercise also stresses one head more than the others. Pushdowns done with your elbows close to your sides best target the lateral head
Although elbows-at-sides pushdowns hit the showy outside head, Elssbiay frequently does this exercise while leaning forward and keeping his elbows out in front. In this manner, he distributes more stress to the long head. Whether your elbows are at your sides or, like Ramy’s, in front, the crucial thing is to keep them locked in place throughout each set. As with most other exercises, he focuses on contractions. “I make sure I finish each rep and tense hard,” he says. He does at least four sets of 10 to 15 reps.
He usually begins his triceps routine with some kind of pushdown (example: elbows-in-front, cambered bar). He might conclude the same routine with a different type of pushdown (example: elbows-at-sides, rope).
So we’ve covered lateral and long heads, but what about the largely forgotten medial head? Pushdowns can be modified to emphasize this head as well. Research demonstrates doing pushdowns with an underhand grip places more stress on the medial. Like Big Ramy, bodybuilding’s Iron Hulk, it’s best to switch up your pushdown grips and elbow positions on occasion to work all areas of your tri’s. – FLEX