Workout Tips

3 Reasons You're Not Ripped

Get chiseled and build lean muscle by avoiding these common workout mistakes.

Reason #2:  Too much specialized training

If your current lifting program isn’t producing the ripped results you’re after, take a close look at the exercises you’re doing. If you’re doing set after set of single-joint exercises, this could very well be your problem—specifically, chest routines that are heavy on flyes and cable crossovers instead of presses and leg workouts where leg extensions take precedent over squats and lunges.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do isolation exercises. Calf raises, concentration curls, and dumbbell kickbacks will always have their place in bringing out the finer points of a physique, but they’re not what’s going to make you shredded. Compound (multi-joint) movements need to be the foundation of your program, since they’re the exercises that will build the most muscle, and hence keep your metabolism revving.

“There's a reason why you don't see a lot of guys doing deadlifts and step-ups at your gym,” says Staley. “It’s the same reason you don’t see a lot of guys with significant leg development. The most results-producing exercises are also the hardest ones. Generally speaking, the more weight you can use on an exercise, the more muscle that will be stimulated, resulting in a faster metabolic burn. This means more muscle and less body fat.”

Specialized training also includes the recent trend of “functional” training—doing dumbbell presses while lying back on an exercise ball, squatting on a BOSU, repping on curls while standing on one leg. And just like with isolation training, we’re not deeming functional training ineffective; improving core stability and stressing smaller, assisting muscles serves a great purpose.

But when you do a particular exercise on a ball, you’re typically not able to go nearly as heavy or do as many reps as you would on a stable surface, like a bench or the floor. This means you’re not stimulating the muscle enough to produce maximize size, which can reduce overall calorie and fat burning.

If your primary goal is to improve core strength, by all means employ an exercise ball all day long. But if getting lean is the objective, hitting big muscles with big weights is the way to go. You’ll get the most bang for your buck this way, and your metabolism will respond.

The below deadlift and step-up workout, designed by Staley, is evidence of another big-lift benefit: “Part of the value of compound lifts is that you don’t need to do as many exercises,” he says. “Too often, people substitute volume—extra exercises—for intensity.”

The wrong workout:

Leg Day

Exercise  Sets/Reps

Leg Press 3/8-10
Hip Extension Machine 3/10-12
Leg Extension 4/10-12
Leg Curl 4/8-10
Standing Calf Raise 4/12-15
Seated Calf Raise 3/12-15

The right workout:

Leg Day

Exercise    Sets/Reps  Rest

Deadlift 10/2*  60 sec
Dumbbell Step-Up** 5/6  90 sec

Proceed to your normal hamstring and calf routine or train them on a different day

*Using a weight that’s your 5RM
** Use a box, bench or step that positions your working thigh roughly parallel to the floor to begin each rep.

Coach’s Tip: “Deadlifts and step-ups don't necessarily constitute a complete lower-body program,” says Staley. “Whatever else you think you need to do for legs, like squats, can be done in another workout. One big mistake people make is thinking that everything has to be accomplished in one workout. It doesn’t.”

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