TURN THEM CALVES INTO BULLS!
One thing I get asked a lot is how I built my calves. My calves are one of my best body parts which have always got their fair share of attention. I’m not going to lie to you, genetics has played a big part, and both my parents are genetically blessed with calves. BUT I still had to train them hard, very hard!
As we are talking bodybuilding the two muscles we will focus on are the gastrocnemius, the main bulk of the calf, and the soleus, the flat muscle under the gastrocnemius. Nothing looks more impressive than a big set of shapely calves, on men or women. But they can also be the hardest body part to improve. Genetics play a big part in their development but that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved, they can, it may just take a fair bit longer than other body parts and a lot of patience and pain! You have people say that if you have bad genetics for calves that they can never be improved, rubbish of course they can! A great example is a good friend of mine, fellow natural bodybuilder and multi title winner Fivos Averkiou. We’ve known each other almost thirty years and back then his calves left a lot to be desired, but over the years he kept pounding them, never giving up the belief they will grow. And they did! They are not a weak point anymore, and they look pretty impressive now!
One thing you can’t change and that is the shape of your calf. You may hear that some people have high calves and some low. What this means is that a high calf (we are talking the gastrocnemius here) doesn’t come down far down the lower leg, it can look like a little bump below the knee! Nothing can change the length but they can still grow lots! A low calf, obviously the opposite and also the most desirable so if you have caves like these then you are very lucky and have the potential to build great calves!
You may hear calves need a lot higher reps to improve, maybe around 15-20 reps. I’m not really a believer in this and have got great results using lower reps, but it’s best to experiment because what works for me may not work for you. Try a phase of high reps and a phase of lower reps and see what happens. Or for great results mix up the reps! You can use a variety of foot positions on your calf exercises. For example on standing calf raises you can have your toes pointing in to hit the outer calf, toes out for inner calf and straight ahead to hit the whole calf.
As you may have guessed I’m a big believer in the basic bodybuilding exercises, nothing fancy, no sexy exercises as we are talking bodybuilding and we want maximum growth. Also strict form is high on my list as you want to work the muscle as hard as you can. I’m always seeing people train calves loading up silly weights and only using the mid range of the movement and just bouncing the weight, if you do this you will not get anywhere. When you do your sets every rep must go all the way up getting a full contraction and all the way down for a full stretch for full development.
As for the exercises, you are looking at an exercises with your legs straight which will work the gastrocnemius, and an exercise where your knees will be bent about 90 degrees, this will work the soleus. For a beginners routine pick one exercise for the gastroc and one for the soleus. A great basic routine for you guys would be:
Standing calf raise 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated calf raise 3-4 sets 0f 10-12 reps
If you are an intermediate you could add another exercise to hit the calves hard:
Standing calf raise 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
Donkey calf raise 3-4 sets 0f 10-12 reps
Seated calf raise 3-4 sets 0f 10-12 reps
Train them 2-3 times a week and watch them grow! I'm a big believer in training calves more often than other parts, they respond much better to more frequent training than other bodyparts.
Put a lot of effort into your calf training and don’t leave them as an after thought at the end of your leg workout. They will burn like hell and are one of the most painful muscles to train, but be consistent with them and you will reap the rewards!
Big Bad Back Training!
There is nothing like an impressive back. If you look over the past three decades all the Mr Olympias have had outstanding back development. Samir Bannout Mr Olympia in 1983 had a big and highly developed back, complete with Christmas tree development in the lumbar region. On to Lee Haney, Mr Olympia from 1983-1991 had a back as wide as a jumbo jets wings! Then the Brits took over the best back prize with Dorian Yates dominating the Mr Olympia from 1991 -1997 with a back incredibly detailed, thick and wide and as hard as granite. Ronnie Coleman was next with freaky development winning the Mr Olympia from 1998-2005. Along came Jay Cutler winning in 2006 and ’07 and regaining the title from Dexter Jackson in 2009 with an extremely wide back although not as detailed as Ronnie’s but up there with the best for width and thickness. If you have no idea who I am on about then open up another tab in your web browser and get googling and you will see what I am talking about. Great back development looks amazing and makes you stand out from the chest and arms brigade in most gyms these days, of course none of you belong in that category do you? You better not otherwise I have not taught you a thing! It’s all about complete development ok and if I see any of you lot ignoring legs and back then we are going to fall out!
The main muscle that stands out when you look at an impressive back is what us bodybuilders call the lats, the latissimus dorsi muscle. This is what gives us that impressive width and thickness. Then you have the upper back muscles that look like small mountains from shoulder to shoulder consisting of the rhomboids, teres major and trapezius muscles. The lower back looks mighty impressive when developed and these are the erector spinae.
I go on about it in every training article, and I am going to go on about it again as it’s even more important with back training and that is form. FORM FORM FORM FORM!!!!!! Got it? Good! I see so many people training back with bad form, pulldowns where the body is parallel to the floor or even worse the head nearly touching the floor. Serious you should spend some time in the gym where I work. I see it all there. The worse I have seen is bent over rows where the person has so much weight on the bar that he has to have a spotter either side of the bar to help him lift off the squat then he proceeds to do what seems like having an epileptic fit then has the spotters help him back with the weight. It’s shocking! Although it does crack me up that he thinks he’s tremendously strong and that he thinks everyone watches as they are so impressed, what he doesn’t see is everyone laughing at him, bless!
What is unique with your back? You can’t see it can you? When you train chest, arms shoulders etc you can see these muscles in the mirror which really helps you focus on the muscle and use the visualisation technique. As you can’t see your back that means you really have to focus on the movement and muscle to really hit the muscles hard. Your visualisation skills will develop very quickly with back training. So when you first start training back do not worry about the weight. Go for the feel, really feel all them muscles working, feel the contraction. Once you have mastered all that the weights you use will go up and you’ll be nice and strong and using great form with good contractions at the top of the movements.
Right, on to the training! I am going to give you a beginner’s workout and an intermediate workout for the more advanced. We will stick with basic exercises as you will know by now that that’s what I know is best and for bodybuilding we don’t want any of them sexy exercises doing 400 movements at once. We are after building good quality muscle and as much of it as possible naturally OK?! The beginner’s workout will consist of three exercises and intermediate will consist of four. The exercises will consist of a vertical pull movement and two horizontal pull movements. For the intermediate workout I will add a big compound movement that will hit the whole body but will help build a big strong back, and it is one of the best exercises you can do!
Machine Pulldown (various grips)
Chins (various grips)
Bent over row
Seated and various cable rows.
Onto the workouts!
Machine Pulldown. 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
You will find this machine in all gyms. It is great for building width to the back and also some thickness. You can use various grip positions but for this workout we will use a wide grip. Grab hold of the pulldown bar about 1.5 times shoulder width, keep the back in neutral, chest expanded and shoulders back. Keep your core muscles tight and start to pull the bar down to the top of the chest so you get a good strong contraction in your lats. Keep the shoulders back at the bottom of the movement, do not let them roll forward. Keep the chest up and squeeze the lats. Keeping the weight nice and controlled raise the weight back to the start position.
A great exercise for building thickness and one that will help the beginner keep the back in neutral. Have one knee and one hand placed on a flat bench, back in neutral and core tight. Have the opposite foot on the floor and grab a dumbbell with the other arm. The starting position will be with the dumbbell hanging, while keeping the back in neutral pull the dumbbell up towards the body pulling through with the elbow and keeping the elbow close to the body. Focus on pulling with the back and not the arms! Slowly lower to the start position.
Wide Grip Seated Row 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
This is a great exercise for thickening up the upper back muscles and also for pulling the shoulders back for an improved posture as posture is important! We do not want them shoulders pulled right forward and have a rounded back looking like An ape walking around the gym, it’s really not a good look trust me! On a seated row machine ( if your gym doesn’t have one of these use a cable machine and pull a bench in front of it), use a wide bar, for instance the pulldown bar. Sit on the bench, knees slightly bent, back in neutral and core tight, chest up. Take a wide grip of the bar and pull the bar into the lower chest. Keep your elbows up so that the elbow wrist and shoulder are all in line. Pull the shoulders right back and make sure you do not shrug your shoulders. Feel that contraction then lower the weight back to the starting position. You do not need a lot of weight on this exercise it’s all about the feel.
That’s it for the beginner’s workout. It will hit all the muscles in the back and get you off to a good start.
Deadlift 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
This is one of the best exercises you can do to gain mass on the whole body but also great for building thickness in the lower back and all over! Start with the bar touching the shins. Grab hold of the bar with one hand using an over grip and the other hand using an under grip. Your grip will be just outside your lower legs. Get you hips down and have your back in neutral, core tight and chest up. Once you are in position pull the weight off the floor until you are standing tall. Make sure you pull while pushing your heels into the floor. The best thing to do is rather than thinking of pulling the weight up, imagine you are pushing your feet through the floor. Then lower the weight under control back to the floor. So many people round their back when doing this exercise, don’t! Keep it in neutral throughout. If your back rounds you have too much weight. Form remember!!!
Bent Over Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
One of the best back exercises for thickness and width. Take an over hand grip on the bar, have your back in neutral and core tight. Have your back at about 45 degrees and knees slightly bent with your backside sticking out. Pull the bar towards the midsection pulling the shoulders back and pulling through with the elbows. Contract the back muscles then lower to the start position. Do not round the back or throw the weight up. Control and form at all times. I’ll be watching!
Wide Grip Seated Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
Same as in the beginner’s routine but using a little more weight, again keeping good form though.
This routine will be all you need for building an impressive back. The addition of deadlifts will take your physique to another level and make your physique more powerful looking.
Good luck with your back training, listen to what I have said and go for it! Do not ignore this important bodypart. I may be watching!
SOFIE BUTCHART ON TEAM NATURAL PHYSIQUE
Natural Physique has recently taken on the training and nutrition of dressage champion Sofie Butchart. Sofie approached me to help with her nutrition for the competition year ahead and I also persuaded her to let me help her with resistance training which she was excited about!
We are training at Muscle Limit Gym twice a week when she can and Sofie is already making great progress!
Check here at Natural Physique and my Instagram (@Chownie1) for progress updates. Check out Sofie's Instagram @sofiebutchartdressage and website www.sofiebutchartdressage.co.uk .
NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED
The Sissy Squat doesn't sound like a tough exercise does it? Ok, its not quite as tough as a back squat, but it is tough, do not let the name fool you. It's named after a Greek mythical king called Sisyphus who was made to push a big rock up a hill only for it to roll back down again for eternity, as punishment for being a not very nice person. He ended up with big legs funnily enough.
This exercise is a great quad exercise for men and women to add to your leg training, or if you train at home and haven't got much equipment, then this will hit the quads hard. It isolates your quads really well as the hamstrings and glutes are mostly eliminated from the exercise.
It's also a great exercise to superset with a compound leg exercise like the squat or leg press, this will have your quads on fire!
To add size, shape and awesomeness to your legs then this is it, demonstrated by my buddy, of Diversity fame, former client and now owner of his own PT business Bodybox, Terry Smith -
-Stand Upright, feet shoulder width apart.
-Lean back until your body forms a straight line your neck to knees, supporting yourself by holding on to a piece of equipment.
- You can use just bodyweight or when you are stronger then hold a weight place across your chest.
- Descend as far down as you can to work through the full range
-Drive back up through the quads to the starting position.
Give it a go and let me know how you get on!
I'm Too Old To Do That!
As we get older we do like to make excuses to not do things, I know, I've tried a few of them! But age is just a number, ok as we age we do get a few aches and pains, Im now 45 and I definitely have a few of them due to my intense training for my sport, but that shouldn't stop us from doing things. I hear many excuses about being too old to exercise, too old to eat healthy, too old for this, too old for that, but it really hasn't got to be like that.
Over 40 and think you've missed the boat?
Being over 40 doesn't mean it's too late to be the best you've ever been. It's a great time to start a healthy exercise routine and start eating healthy. Being over 40 isn't old
Over 50? Why not look better than you've ever been!
Take my client Karen here, she started exercising at 40, she has been training with me since 2007. She's now 55, an inspiration to anyone over 50, it goes to show with a healthy and fit outlook you can be just as active as you were in your younger days.
A Natural Physique Success Story
Randhir Singh has been a client for a few years now and has made an awesome transformation over that time, his health has improved, he's changed physically and his strength has gone through the roof. This is a short video I made for my YouTube channel a while back. I hope you enjoy it. If you would like me to be more active on YouTube then let me know and what you would like me to film and I'll get on it.
Try this exercise at the end of a bicep workout to really finish them off and be rewarded with an awesome pump!
Fancy a different bicep exercise to try? Watch the YouTube video below. Give it a thumbs up and subscribe. I'm going to use YouTube more in the future so if there is anything you want to see then let the Natural Physique team know.
Mr Natural Universe? My life? What was the mindset that I had to achieve what I have achieved in natural bodybuilding? Hey, its no secret, it was just the way I lived my life! But none the less I am more than happy to share with you my 'secrets'.
I started competing as a natural bodybuilder in 1991 after 2 and a half years of training and over the years have won several Under 21 Junior titles including the Junior Mr Britain and Junior Mr Europe. Later on in my career my achievements extending to winning the INBF World Heavyweight tile in 2005 in NYC and a year later winning the heavyweight title and overall champion at the INBA Natural Mr Universe in Los Angeles, California where I earned my natural bodybuilding professional status. Plenty of moments I will remember for the rest of my life.
Getting yourself into the mindset to train for a bodybuilding competition can be hard! You know you have many weeks, or even months if you have more than one competition lined up, of hard dieting, hard training, 24 hour commitment, tiredness. What the hell made me want to do this?! Well, it is a sport I love and luckily for me its a sport that I was encouraged to compete in from early on in my training as I was actually good at it! I'm not very good at many things so this was my opportunity to excel in a sport. When I'm passionate about something my drive towards my goals is intense. Even before I started training I knew I wanted to be a bodybuilder, I wanted to win the Junior Mr Britain title, to be one of the best in the world.
One other thing that drove me as well was that I was scared of losing! I wanted to win, I wanted to feel special, I wanted to inspire others to build a body that they want, if I can do it then so can others. I was a very shy teenager, I worked in retail where you get many customers look down at you, I wanted to prove that with drive, determination, consistency that this shy teenager in a dead end job could work hard and become a World Heavyweight Champion, a Mr Universe, who could train in Golds Gym in Venice California and be recognised for the physique he built.
What else drove me to have this intense mindset? It was seeing how much the body can take in the gym, as I have always been lifetime natural I didn't have the option of drugs helping me build my physique. I didn't want to limit myself either with the mindset that as I was natural then I'm limited to only building a smaller physique, a physique that could only lift a limited amount of weight. My goal was to build a physique that wouldn't of looked out of place amongst 1980's style physiques, as to me this was one of the best eras of bodybuilding. If I told myself that I can't do this because I'm natural, I can't do that because I'm natural then I would limit myself to what I could achieve. I was a bodybuilder, thats it. I trained harder than anyone else, I was known for crazy intense training sessions, especially leg workouts. I got the respect of high ranking non natural competitive bodybuilders. It's amazing how much punishment the human body can take. I'm not saying this is the way for everyone to train as everyones goals are different, but this was my mindset, every workout was a challenge, I trained intelligently, but like a nutter too!
A massive tool that helped me too was visualisation. I'll cover this inmate depth in a separate blog another time. In my mind I had what I wanted my body to look like. Every workout I trained my body, I could 'see' the fibres contracting, the muscle growing. My body just had grow into what was in my mind. Every time I ate a meal, every gram of protein was building my body, every step of cardio pre contest was turning my body into a fat burning furnace. Visualisation really works!
One other thing that is really important, and something I learned later in my competitive career is a balance in life. Even though I was very intense with it all I learnt to switch off as well. Pre contest I still made time for others in my life, not early in my career, but the last few years I did. In the early years I thought everyone should understand what I was going through. I didn't make much time for others pre contest. It was when an ex of mine competed I found it really hard to be the partner who wasn't competing, not going out, the arguments. This was coming from someone like me who had competed several times! I thought if I found it hard then what must people think who aren't into the sport who's other half is competing, it must be hell! From then on when I competed I always made time to do things with my other half, no matter how tired I was, my cool bag can come with me and we can have days out. It helped and I then had more of a balance, certainly not perfect, I did have competitions coming up but I made the effort. Now when competitors tell me their husbands or wives don't understand, its causing problems in their relationship, I can help. Competing certainly isn't worth losing a great relationship over and no-one forces us to go through this, we can stop at anytime.
This sport isn't for everyone, I've seen many people diet for a show and they've suffered badly mentally, they just haven't got the right mindset, they're almost losing their mind, they get angry with everyone, ranting, its really not worth it. Competing should be fun, seriously hard, but fun seeing the changes your body can make with hard work. If its not fun then take another sport or activity up, life too short!
Anyway, I waffled on enough I think but I'll cover more on mindset, visualisation etc. in the future. If you have anything you'd like me to cover then just let me know!
Natural Physiques Michelle recently had a video posted on youtube talking about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and how she controls the condition through healthy foods, exercise and medication. She has started to be quite an inspiration to other young MS suffered around the world! Check out the video on youtube, subscribe to the Made Strong channel, give it a thumbs up and share!