Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#1 Factor in Building Muscle

My friend Vince DelMonte was the classic "skinny guy", but in the past few years he has built a lot of muscle and has helped thousands of folks around the world do the same.

He really has been a hero to the "classic hardgainers" over the years.

(He's even giving away a copy of his "Upside Down Workout". Click here to get it.)

And because he knows how hardgainers must train and eat, I asked him for the #1 factor that leads to muscle gains and making progress in the gym.

His answer?

Proper form and technique.

Here's why he said that...

Craig, imagine driving into town and seeing a series of store fronts called "Doug's Dental Center" or "Bill's Auto Center" where you have a few dozen chairs for members so they can operate on their own teeth and cars?

Wouldn't that be crazy?

Or what if there was "Amy's Accounting Office" and "Larry's Legal Office" which provides offices for everyone to do their own taxes and legal work?

Of course, this doesn't happen. Instead, we all hire dentists, mechanics, doctors, lawyers and accountants to get professional advice.

However, walk into any gym and you'll see rows of machines and benches where members are free to join and do anything imaginable to their bodies - no wonder gyms have a 60% failure rate in the first 3 months!

If you approach me for fitness advice I can make suggestions to change your intensity, volume or frequency but none of that makes a difference if I cannot assess that you're training with proper form.

I know this is a critical issue from personal experience.

I have personally been trained by over a dozen personal trainers over the past six years and I am regularly corrected with errors in my technique so I have developed a skill set to detect training errors - yet I still continue to make them.

So how in the world is the average gym-goer supposed to detect error in their training form and how will they develop the skills to suspect inappropriate training form without any professional instruction?

Let me ask you another question.

Would you attempt to ski a double black diamond without mastering the technique required to ski on the bunny hill? Unless you're a lunatic I'm going to guess you wouldn't.

But beginners regularly march into the gym and start doing the same super-advanced program they found in the steroid user's guide magazine they bought at the bookstore.

Before I share my top do's and don't to proper technique let me strongly suggest to invest into a professional fitness trainer; train with someone far more experienced or invest in fitness videos that show you how to do each exercise with proper form .

Now Craig, I know you might not agree with everything I'm about to say here, but I truly believe this is the absolute best way for someone to train for maximum results AND safety.

Here are some do's and don'ts of proper technique so that you can maximize your weight training routine and avoid injury:


1. Focus on full-body workouts and include a variety of exercises for each body part so that you can strengthen the various supporting tissue from multiple angles.

2. Use a slower and more controlled rhythm to feel the muscle. Also focus on squeezing the muscle.

3. Focus on full-range of motion before increasing the speed of the motion. Increase the speed of the motion before increasing the load selection.

4. Use a pyramid rep scheme like 12, 10, 8, 6 reps to progress your weights up safely.

5. Breathe out when you push the weight and breathe in while you lower the weight.

6. Always stop 1-2 reps shy of muscular failure.

7. Stick to dumbbells and uni-lateral exercises before progressing to barbells.


1. Avoid using momentum to move the weights.

2. Skip out on some dynamic stretching to assess any tightness in your body.

3. Perform unfamiliar exercises without doing an unloaded set or light weight set first.

4. Train through unfamiliar pain. Burning from lactic acid is acceptable but pain is not.

5. Perform technically challenging exercises at the end of your workout.

6. Bring your ego to the gym. People are more impressed with how you look, not how much you lift.

7. Train when you're muscles are overly sore and not recovered. Light weights and high reps is okay.

If you want to build muscle fast with safe workouts, those rules will help you achieve more in less time than ever before.

=> Click here to get a FREE copy of Vince DelMonte's "Upside Down" workout


Andy said...

Agreed on all of Vince's recommendations...If there was a bet on this and if everybody did proper form correctly on every exercise throughout each set - I honestly don't think any training program would be viewed as "too easy"...even adding more reps would be a bit dicey (I tend to do that sometimes as well i.e. adding more reps) because then I would question if form is done correctly here especially if doing a program made by someone who's certified and tested. My .02 cents.

What I did with workout a of the MM workout was video tape my one leg stab curls...and I kid you not - my form was bad with the first circuit. Then the next 2 came more fluid but I realized how bad my form was on the first circuit.

Lot of cheating can go on with alot of moves (again, I do that too...just generalizing here)...but if you have the mindset of proper form - bets are you'll be getting better results!


Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS said...

Thanks Andy!

Sherry B. said...

Craig - are you saying that you SHOULD use momentum when moving weight? (First item in the "don'ts" list). I've always been taught that if I have to use momentum (swing) to move the weight that I should use less weight. Sherry

Seth said...

It's not like "momentum" is a machine that does the work for you. It represents force generated by your muscles over the previous milliseconds. The amount of work you do causing a 200-lb barbell to rise 2' is 400 foot-pounds, whether you lift it SuperSlow (10 seconds at about 2.4"/second) or slam it up in under one second; however, the maximum force generated by your muscles is greater in the faster case.

Olympic lifts are all about momentum; have you ever seen a slow, deliberate snatch with a non-trivial amount of weight?

I'm not saying you should always use momentum, sometimes slow deliberate lifting is best. But eliminating it entirely isn't right either.

Andre said...

Sherry B. the easiest way to explain this would be to use a standard bicep curl.

can do:
-rock slightly to get the weight moving.

-let your arm swing back to use to momentum from the weight help you up.
- also do not lean back to try and gain the advantage over the weight. if you have done this you have sacrificed form for reps which doesn't do you any good.


Seth said...


Using your back (at all) for a bicep curl is bad form. Momentum would be more like "slamming" a bench press up hard (and fast).

Timothy said...

If I didn't train when my muscles were sore (what is overly sore??) I would only train about every 10 days. At my age (late 50's) muscles are always sore when they get worked like I work 'em. Copious amounts of ibuprofen and stretching do seem to help.

Clint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clint said...

All are good recommendations, for the beginner, or for a veteran who maybe veered away from some of the basics along the way.

I don't completely agree with #5 (Breathe out when you lift/push, breathe in when you lower).

I know there are breathing strategies that are used for optimal lifting, especially when power lifting is involved, but I strongly feel that trainees should find their own breathing rhythm, and this strategy should be encouraged from the beginning.

In contrast to the prescribed breathing pattern, many trainees like doing anatomical breathing -- i.e. inhaling when your thorax is expanded, and exhaling when the thorax is contracted, which is the opposite approach usually recommended for basic exercises like the military press or front squat.

For me, I like to use a combination of different breathing patterns based upon my body's need for oxygen, and this also varies with the training approach. With muscular endurance work, where the wind is heavily taxed, often times I find myself automatically "double sipping" in order to regulate air more consistently, and this could be done with anatomical breathing, the prescribed method, power method, or a combination.

To summarize, rather than telling someone exactly how to breathe, I think it's important that they just remember to breathe!


PS - Your Blog rocks, Craig! I think it's cool when you bring in advice from other coaches or compare/contrast. We learn something new every day.

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS said...

Thanks for the feedback! Glad you like the guest posts.

Definitely some of these are more beginner type things...for beginners perfect form. For competetive lifters, a lot of things change.

Good stuff, back soon with more!