Saturday, May 5, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 4: Mental Obstacles



No matter how well your contest preparation is moving along, the one obstacle that will continuously stand in your way is your mind. Just like when you are bulking and everyone around you seems to think you are making tremendous progress but you still feel small, dieting for a competition brings along whole set of mind games of its own. You are bound to run into the following feelings at some point and this is where having a close friend to keep an eye on you is important. If you don't have anyone, make a thread in the Contest Preparation section on Bodybuilding.com. It truly helps to have second opinions to ease the tricks your mind plays on you.

Feeling Smaller


Whether you are trying to drop 10 pounds before summer or diet for a competition, you are going to begin to feel smaller. Shirt sleeves will fit a bit looser and pants won't be as snug. You aren't losing muscle. You are just losing fat and glycogen. As your carbohydrates get lower, your glycogen stores will become depleted which causes you to get flat. Flat just means that your muscles are depleted of glycogen which causes your muscles to look a bit smaller and stringy. They don't pop as much as they used to. This further compounds the problem of making you feel smaller. You need to accept this and realize you have the same amount of muscle you have always had. You may look smaller but it's not because you have less muscle, it's because you have less fat. You may look smaller in a shirt but you look much better without one and that's really what is important.

Losing Strength


As the diet progresses and your body weight and calories begin to dip to all time low numbers, it's normal for strength to decline. You can't expect to lift the same weight when you weigh 30 pounds less, are eating half the amount of calories you used to, and doing a lot of cardio. Keep reminding yourself that you are training for a bodybuilding competition and not a power lifting one. The judges won't ask you how much you bench on stage. It's about who looks the best. Continue to lift as heavy as your body allows you to and when the show is over you can focus on building your strength back up to where is was before and even higher.

Constant Hunger


When dieting for a competition, you are going to be hungry all the time. It may not be too bad in the beginning but by the end you will go to sleep at night and dream about food. You will wake up extremely early and lay in bed wishing it was time to eat breakfast. This is all part of the process and there isn't much you can do about it. Keep your eyes on your goal and let that be your motivating factor to push through. When the hunger gets unbearable, you can try to ease the pain by drinking diet soda or another diet drink without calories. You can also try chewing gum or drinking some flavored BCAA's. Just remember that these have calories so keep track of them and don't let it get out of hand. The best thing you can do is to stay busy. When you are sitting home doing nothing, you will stare at the clock waiting for your next meal. If you are out, time will go faster and you won't even realize how hungry you are.

Feeling Irritable

As you get deeper into your preparation and your calories get lower, you will begin to feel drained and you will find yourself getting annoyed more easily. Something that never used to bother you before suddenly becomes the most annoying thing in the world. The lack of carbohydrates effects your brain and mood. You are bound have a few outbursts along the way. Your best bet is to explain what you are doing to the people around you and apologize in advance if you do anything to offend them. It also helps to take a step back for a moment and think about the situation. Ask yourself "would I be this upset over this if I wasn't dieting?" If the answer is no, try to restrain yourself if it's not too late.

Won't Be Ready on Time 

Even if you have striated glutes 8 weeks out from your show, you still probably won't feel like you will be ready. While everyone else sees your veins and striations popping out, all you will see is the little bit of fat on your hamstrings. The worst thing you can do is panic and ramp up your cardio and drastically reduce your calories. This will just cause you to lose muscle and put you in a bad situation. Instead, take progress pictures every 2 weeks and examine them. Make sure you are making noticeable progress. Post them on a forum where knowledgeable people can give you an honest critique. If they tell you that you are in good shape, then you don't need to worry. If they tell you that you are a few weeks behind, then it is a good idea to bump up cardio or reduce calories more. Facebook is the worst place to post your pictures for advice. All your friends will say that you look amazing and tell you that you will win no matter what you look like because chances are you are still in much better shape than anyone else they know.

Other Competitors

It's common to worry about the people you will be going up against on stage. Unlike other sports, it doesn't matter what your competitor is doing. It's not like football where you can watch videos to study what your opponent does so you have a better chance to beat them. With bodybuilding, although you are technically competing against other competitors, you are truly only competing against yourself. For this reason, there is no point in worrying about who will show up. You need to just show up in the best shape you can because that is all you can control. Personally, I have psyched myself out a few times by looking at pictures of competitors before the show. I later realized that what someone looks like in their own bathroom mirror pictures is completely different than what they look like on stage anyway. Just focus on the controllable factors and hope for the best on show day.

Check back next week for part 5 which will cover peak week.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 3: Training and Cardio






Unlike dieting for a competition, training for a competition is much simpler. Whereas your diet needs to change drastically to reach contest shape, the good news is that your training does not. You will need to add some cardio though.

Training

There are a lot of myths surrounding training while cutting and while trying to reach contest level condition. It's commonly said that in order to tone the muscle, you need to lift lighter weights, do more super sets, and do more reps. This couldn't be more wrong. Your diet is what will take care of stripping off the body fat. The goal of your training should be to keep as much muscle as possible. In order to do that, you should lift the same way you did in order to gain that muscle. If you usually lift in the 6-8 rep range, then keep doing that. During contest preparation is not the time to start changing your routine. Continue doing what you have been doing and wait until your off season to make changes. The problem with trying to lift lighter weights is simple. There are two main factors that will contribute to keeping your muscle: diet and training. Since you are dieting, you are in a calorie deficit which is not ideal to maintain your muscle. That means your training is crucial. If you begin to lift lighter weights, your body doesn't have the calories to maintain your muscle or the necessary stimulus to maintain it either. You are basically telling your body that you don't want or need as much muscle anymore so you would like to lose some. You need to continue to lift heavy in order to give your body a reason to keep as much muscle as possible.


Cardio 


Besides dieting, cardio is probably the most dreadful part of the contest preparation process. Cardio is simply a tool to burn calories. When losing weight, you have two options to continue dropping weight. You need to either eat less calories or burn more calories through cardio. If you are lucky, you may be able to reach contest condition without doing any cardio or doing very little.  Unfortunately, for most people it is a necessity.

Since cardio is simply a tool to burn calories, the amount of cardio you do is up to you. If you don't mind doing cardio that much and you like to eat, you may prefer to do a bit more and keep your calories a bit higher. If you absolutely hate cardio, you may choose to do less but keep your calories lower. You may also fall somewhere in the middle. Personally, I like to keep my calories as high as possible and as a result, I tend to do a lot of cardio. At the end of my contest preparation in 2011, my calories were about 300 higher than most people at my weight because I was doing a lot more cardio. Keep in mind that no matter which you prefer, you will need to add cardio and decrease calories at some point. In other words, you can't keep your calories constant throughout your prep and expect to do hours of cardio a day to make up for it just like you can't do absolutely no cardio and eat 1,000 calories a day. You can lean on either cardio or diet to reach your calorie deficit to a degree, but you still need to utilize both for optimal results.

Similar to pre-contest training, cardio also has plenty of myths surrounding it. The first misconception is that fasted cardio burns more fat. Although performing cardio in a fasted state will cause your body to burn more calories from fat stores, it will also increase amino acid oxidation which leads to muscle loss. Although more fat is being used during the cardio, research has shown that it doesn't matter what your body is using for energy during cardio because it will balance out for the day anyway. For example, if your body burns more fat during cardio, then it will burn less fat later in the day and use glucose instead and if your body uses glucose during cardio, it will rely on fat later in the day. All you are achieving from fasted cardio is some unnecessary muscle loss.

The second misconception is that high intensity cardio and even cardio in general burns muscle. In fact, the opposite is true. High intensity cardio is more muscle sparing than low intensity cardio. Studes have shown that high-intensity interval training causes the individual to not only burn more fat, but keep more muscle. In the studies, the skinfold losses were greater with the high intensity group than in the continuous intensity group. This means that the high intensity group burned more fat and kept more muscle. 


Additionally, cardio is not nearly as likely to burn muscle as people think. Burning muscle has more to do with how quickly you lose weight and not how much cardio you are doing. If you lose 1 pound per week, it doesn't really matter how much cardio you are doing. You will not be losing very much muscle if any at all at that rate of weight loss. However, if you don't do any cardio but drop 3 pounds per week, you can expect to lose muscle. Cardio is not the evil muscle burner that people believe it is. Dropping weight too fast is.

As for recommendations, I would do the type that is most pleasing to you and not in a fasted state. Although high intensity cardio may be the most beneficial form, if you hate doing it then you may be less motivated to do it. The benefits over low intensity cardio aren't astronomical anyway. What I mean is that although high intensity cardio is better than low intensity cardio on paper, in actuality it won't make or break your preparation. I have done both and in my opinion, it didn't make a difference. All the high intensity cardio did was let me get my cardio over with faster. You don't need to strictly choose one method over the other. You can alternate every workout, alternate every week, or stick to one method and switch halfway through your preparation.

 Rather than look at cardio in terms of minutes, look at it in terms of how many calories you will burn. For example, instead of doing 40 minutes of cardio, aim to do 500 calories of cardio. Ideally, you should do you cardio on your off days or separated from your training sessions. However, most people don't have a schedule that allows for this. If that's the case, you should do your cardio after your workout. Eventually, you will probably need to throw in some cardio on off days too or even a second cardio session in one day. Just don't do it before your workout or your workout intensity will suffer.

Check back next week for part 4 which will go over posing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 2: Diet






Without a doubt, the hardest part about competing is the diet. Eating so little calories that you are constantly starving and staring at the clock waiting for your next meal does not appeal to most people. However, just as it is the most difficult aspect of competing, it is also the most critical.

Eating relatively healthy and watching your calories is one thing but to compete, you need to go much further than that. You need to be prepared to count every single gram of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you consume. You can't ever miss a meal because if you do, there will be someone at your show who didn't and they will beat you. If you are not in shape, it doesn't matter how much size you have. Of course, the more muscle the better, but a smaller guy in better condition will beat a bigger guy not in condition 9 times out of 10.

Calorie Deficit

Obviously, when you are dieting, you will be in a calorie deficit. As I mentioned in part 1, you should be aiming to lose 1 pound per week. To do this, you should eat 500 calories below your maintenance amount of calories. Your maintenance calories is the amount of calories it takes you to maintain your current weight at your current activity level which includes your workouts and cardio. If you want to lose more than 1 pound per week, simply increase your caloric deficit. Once you have your maintenance amount of calories, the next important step is to determine the macronutrient breakdown of those calories.

Protein

Protein is the most important macronuritent for bodybuilders whether they are trying to gain muscle or lose fat. This is because just like it is essential to build muscle, it is essential to preserve muscle too. When you eat protein, it increases protein synthesis which in turn helps preserve muscle. You should take in a higher percentage of your calories from protein when you are dieting than when you are bulking. Whereas I recommend 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight when bulking, I recommend to 1.30 to 1.50 grams per pound of body weight while dieting.

Fat

Fats are essential for survival. Among their functions, they are responsible for hormone synthesis. The hormone we are most interested in is testosterone. When you eat in a caloric deficit, your testosterone levels will drop. Your body suppresses the release of testosterone in order to spare nutrients. Basically, your body rather use the nutrients you are taking in for energy than use them to make hormones. However, since fats are required to make testosterone, lowering them too much will severely lower your testosterone. You can't avoid a slight hit in testosterone levels when dieting but by eating enough fat, you can minimize the damage. I recommend taking in between 20% and 30% of your calories from fat when dieting. It seems like a big range but it's because everybody is different. I wouldn't go below 20% of your total calories because at that point your testosterone can really take a hit but there is no additional benefit above 30%. It comes down to what amount of fat gives you the best performance. Personally, I go as low to 20% as possible because my body can handle low fat but I know other people who can barely move on such low fat. Shoot for the middle of that range and adjust as you see fit.

Carbohydrates

People look at carbohydrates as the enemy while dieting but the truth is they are farm from it. Just like protein is muscle sparing, carbohydrates are muscle sparing as well. In fact, carbohydrates are actually more muscle sparing than protein. When you workout, carbohydrates are used to produce energy. Your body gets carbohydrates from your muscles as stored glycogen. If you are eating a low carbohydrate diet, your glycogen stores will be somewhat depleted. Instead of your body burning carbohydrates for energy, your body will begin to convert amino acids to glucose and use that for energy. Your body will get the amino acids from either protein you ingest or from muscle tissue. If your body uses muscle tissue to create energy, you will experience muscle loss.

Carbohydrates are also important for performance. Carbohydrates enable you to keep a higher intensity in the gym. If you aren't taking in enough carbohydrates, your energy could be low and your performance can suffer. You may find yourself weaker and by continuing to lift lighter weights than you are used to, you increase your chances of losing muscle. Additionally, depleted glycogen stores will lead to feeling more fatigue both physically and mentally. Carbohydrates can have a strong impact on your mood and you may find yourself irritable and cranky without enough carbohydrates.

That being said, everybody is different and some people feel better on lower carbohydrates than other people. If you are someone who functions better on low carbohydrates, then you should eat more fat. If you function better on higher carbohydrates, then you should eat lower fat. There is no calculation for carboydrates. Just fill in the remaining amount of calories after you have decided how much protein and fat to eat.

Decreasing Calories

When it's time to make a calorie adjustment, calories should be lowered from either carbohydrates, fat, or a combination of both. You need to decide which of the two macronutrients has been giving you better performance and keep that macronutrient as high as possible. For me, I function better on higher carbohydrates so I lower fat when I need to decrease calories. I'll lower my fat until it hits 20% of my total calories and then I'll begin to lower calories from carbohydrates instead. If neither of the two macronutrients seems to give you an advantage over the other, then lower them equally. You can always play around with it to find out what works best for you.

Refeeds

As you diet, an important fat burning hormone called leptin drops. It's your body's way of trying to preserve body fat as you get leaner. Refeeds are used to not only boost this hormone, but to also give you a boost both physically and mentally.

On a refeed, you should keep fat as low as possible since fats have no impact on leptin levels. You should also reduce protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight since you will be eating more carbohydrates which are more muscle sparing than protein. You should increase your calories to maintenance or even slightly above for the day and increase your carbohydrates by 50% to 100% of what you have been eating. Try not to eat fructose since fructose doesn't impact leptin levels. Although not recquired, it is beneficial to have a refeed on the day you train your weakest body part. This is because a refeed is pretty anabolic and the increased carbohydrates will give you more energy for a higher intensity workout.

The leaner you are, the more often you can refeed. If you are below 12% body fat, you should refeed once per week. If you are close to contest shape, it might be beneficial to do two smaller refeeds per week instead. If you just started your diet or are above 12%, I wouldn't refeed until you feel like you need one. Signs of needing one would be feeling lethargic, decreased performance in the gym, and stalled weight loss.

A refeed can give your metabolism a kick start and you may actually lose more weight the next day despite eating at maintenance for the day. This would be a perfect scenario. Otherwise, don't be alarmed if you gain a little bit of weight the next day. It's only water weight from the glycogen and you should notice a drop in your weight within an extra day or two.

Food Choices

Although hitting your macronutrient intake each day should be your primary goal, my opinion is that your food choices should be clean, more so than if you were bulking. The reason is that on a calorie deficit and at a low body fat, your immune system is compromised. You don't want to get sick so you should try to eat as many quality calories as possible with the small amount of calories you are consuming. Also, you will be hungry all the time and healthy foods are generally more filling than less healthy foods.

For protein, you should consume: fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, whey protein, casein protein, and cottage cheese. For fat, you should consume: nuts, olive oil, fish oil, egg yolks, and peanut butter. Your carbohydrates should come from: oatmeal, brown rice, , whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruits, whole wheat bread, and bran cereal.

Although not required, I find it beneficial to eat the same foods everyday. If you vary your foods too much, your sodium intake will vary and your body will be holding varying amounts of water each day. As a result, you won't be able to get accurate weigh ins. Contest preparation is a mentally tough process already. The last thing you want is the scale to be all over the place.

Check back next week for part 3 on training and cardio.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 1: Planning







Many people call themselves a bodybuilder but if you haven't stepped on stage, are you really a bodybuilder? It is my opinion that until you step on stage, you are just a weight lifter who follows a bodybuilding lifestyle. Competing in a bodybuilding competition requires a completely different mindset than casual bodybuilding. It will test you physically but more importantly, it tests you mentally.

As someone who has been through 2 contest preparations for a total of 3 shows under no one's guidance other than my own, I feel that I have learned a lot of information on the subject and can help people who want to compete. I do not consider myself an expert or a guru but I do believe I know more than most and can provide very useful advice.

Due to the large volume of information required on the subject of contest preparation, I'm going to break this into 7 parts: planning, diet, training and cardio, posing, mental aspects, peak week, and show day. I feel that if you know absolutely nothing about the contest preparation process, this is the order in which you should learn about it.

I'm not really into the science of contest preparation. I do understand certain important aspects of the science but for the most part, my approach is largely based on personal experiences, what I have seen work with other people, and recommendations by other knowledgeable people that I have seen work first hand.

Now, let's get started.

Planning

Before you can compete, you need to have a plan. You need to know how many weeks out to start your preparation, which organization you will be competing in, and whether or not you plan to go about the process yourself or enlist the help of a coach.

When to Start

It's always better to start dieting sooner rather than later. You aren't going to add any significant new muscle in an extra 2 to 4 weeks of bulking but significant fat loss can be achieved in those same 2 to 4 weeks. People commonly start dieting at either 12 weeks, 16 weeks, or 24 weeks out from a show. The more time you give yourself, the more room for error and the less brutal your dieting will be.

Most people severely underestimate the amount of fat they have and over estimate the amount of muscle they have. If you have never competed before, chances are you will weigh at least 10 pounds less than your original guess when you step on stage if you reach true stage condition. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Decide how much fat you have to lose and then diet for that amount of weeks plus an additional four. The reasoning for this is that you should be aiming to lose 1 pound per week when you begin dieting. Since you are likely to underestimate how much fat you actually have, the additional 4 weeks will give you some room for error. For example, if you think you have 20 pounds to lose, diet for 24 weeks. If you later realize you had a lot more fat than you originally thought, you will be forced to lose weight faster and will risk losing muscle. Either that or you just won't be ready on time. Despite some myths out there, you can't be ready too early.


Choosing a Show

For some reason, a lot of people think they need to be a mass monster to compete. As long as you have established a decent amount of muscle, there is a show for you. Whether you are 16 years old, 60 years old, drug free, or not drug free, there is a division for you somewhere. Most shows will have a teen division, masters division, and novice division so that you are competing against people of similar experience as yourself. You won't be going up against the mass monsters you see in magazines unless you sign up for the wrong show or are a mass monster yourself.

Tested or Natural Shows: There are over a dozen natural organizations that you can compete in. The more well known ones are the OCB, INBF, and NGA. You need to purchase a membership card to be eligible for each organization as well as pay a show entry fee and polygraph testing fee. However, the polygraph testing is usually good for a few months so if you compete in a few shows close together, you only need to do it once. Although the rules of each organization differ slightly, they all share the common ground of being drug free. You will need to pass a polygraph test and possibly a urine test as well. Each one has a list of banned substances and if you have taken any of them within a certain time period, you are ineligible for the show.

Untested Shows: An untested show doesn't mean you can't compete in it as a natural. It just means there are no testing procedures in place so chances are a lot of the competitors will be using performance enhancing drugs or have used them in the past. Just like the natural organizations, you need to pay for a membership card and a show entry fee. There are no drug testing fees since the shows are untested. Unlike the natural organizations, there is only one main reputable organization, the NPC. The NPC does have some natural shows but for the most part, their shows are untested. Generally, NPC shows are larger than natural shows. There are usually more total competitors, more sponsors and more media coverage. You may get to see Mr. Olympia competitors guest pose at NPC shows. You won't get that at a natural show.

To help you find the right show for you, go here. It will help you find the right show for you in whatever location you want. You can also go to the OCB, INBF, NGA, and NPC websites to view their upcoming schedules.

Contest Prep Coach or Not

A contest prep coach can be very beneficial for anyone who plans to step on stage. A coach can provide you with diet and training plans and reassure you mentally. It takes the guesswork out of the process and let's you relax a bit and focus on following the plan rather than panicking that what you are doing won't work.

However, it is my opinion that you should try competing without a coach. Bodybuilding is a hobby and most of the fun comes from figuring things out on your own. There is a ton of free information out there by very knowledgeable people. If you look in the right places, you can figure it out on your own. There will most likely be some bumps in the road but that's where the fun comes in. When it's all said and done, there is a different level of satisfaction when you know that you have done everything on your own.

That being said, a coach and seeking second and third opinions are different. It is extremely important to have a person that you can bounce ideas off of and who can be honest with how you're progressing. If you don't have anyone like this in your town, I highly suggest you make a contest prep journal in the "Contest Preparation" section on the bodybuilding.com forums. You can post your diet, workouts, and pictures and have it critiqued by a community of very friendly and knowledgeable people who are either in the process of competing themselves or have competed in the past. The best part of all is it's free!

However, I do understand that some people just prefer to have a coach. Mr. Olympia has a coach. Tiger Woods has a coach. Even Derek Jeter has coaches. There is nothing wrong with seeking the help of someone more knowledgeable than yourself. If you do decide to seek a coach, I'm willing to coach people for a very reasonable rate in order to get some coaching experience. You can be my first client!

Make sure you check back next week for part 2 which will cover diet.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Staying Motivated: The Key to Success








Everybody knows that diet and training are the two most important factors in reaching your goals. However, to stay on a diet and continue to train hard, you need to be motivated. Lack of motivation is the number one reason people fail to reach their goals.

A lot of guys start working out to look good for the opposite sex. This is a great initial motivating factor but it's not sustainable. You will soon realize that no matter how ripped you get, the opposite sex doesn't really care. In fact, they may even think you look worse if you get bigger than they would like. For this reason, you need to find alternative motivating factors.

Here are some tips you can try in order to stay motivated to reach your goals:

Music

Music is a pretty simple one but it is very powerful. The right song creates an emotional power that can really amp you up on your way to the gym as well as during your workouts. Songs get old pretty quickly though so make sure you continue to find new ones that work for you. Personally, the song "Boom" by P.O.D. has gotten me an extra couple of reps on deadlifts on several occasions.

Get a Workout Partner

A workout partner can push you during your workouts on days you feel a bit lazy. Having a partner will create a competition between the two of you where neither of you wants to let the other get bigger and stronger than the other.

Take Supplements

Although most supplements are useless in terms of effectiveness, they can help with motivation. If you are spending money on supplements, you won't want them to go to waste. Knowing that you are taking something can push you a bit harder to get the most out of your supplements and your money.

Join a Gym

If you workout at home, join a gym. You are less likely to take it easy if other people are watching you. If you already go to a gym, extend your membership. Sign up for the year rather than pay monthly. You won't want your money going to waste so you are more likely to continue going.

Switch Up Your Routine Often

Doing the same routine day in and day out can get boring. Change up your reps scheme, exercises, or routine lay out if you get bored. You can even try going to the gym at a different time to workout with a different atmosphere.

Tell Everyone Your Goals

Letting other people know what your goals are puts added pressure on you to make sure you achieve them. You don't want everyone to see that you failed.

Set a Schedule

Try allotting a specific time on specific days for the gym. If you have no set plan, then if something else comes up you will be more likely to ditch the gym for the plans. Look at going to the gym as something you have to do. Make it a priority.

Sign Up For a Competition

Sign up for a bodybuilding show or power lifting meet. Knowing that you have to be ready for a specific competition will drive you to push yourself harder in the gym.

Videos

Watch workout videos of people who have already accomplished what you are trying to achieve. If you see someone else did it, then you can do it too.

Summing Up

Although these are some things you can implement to stay motivated, a lot of these aren't sustainable long term and they involve trying to impress other people. Working out for other people is not sustainable because no one really cares about your physique and goals other than you. You need to be motivated internally. The above factors can help you get started for a few months but to succeed long term, you have to want to achieve your goals for yourself. For me, my biggest motivation to start was to look good for other people. That only lasted for about a year and after that my motivation was strictly internal. I wanted to prove to myself I could achieve my goals. I also signed up for bodybuilding competitions because my desire to win on stage helped me train harder in the gym. Find a source of motivation that works for you and you will reach your goals a lot sooner than you think.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Machines vs. Free Weights







You have heard it before. Free weights are far superior to machines because they allow you to use your stabilizer muscles, improve your balance, and they are more hardcore too. But, does this mean that they are necessarily better than machines? In my opinion, they are not.

The Irreplaceables

Let me explain. There are certain free weight exercises that I believe cannot be replaced by machines to achieve the same result. This includes deadlifts and squats. There are no other excercises that will give you the same overall thickness as deadlifts. You can do lower back extensions or a lower back machine but they won't come anywhere close to thickneing up your back and improving your overall strength. Squats are a bit easier to replace than deadlifts since squat machines and leg presses do work your legs pretty well. However, nothing compares to free weight squats for overall leg development and strength.

The "Right" Machine

However, outside of these two exercises, I believe any exercise can be replaced by the right machine. What I mean by the right machine is a machine that you seem to connect well with. It might be tough to explain, but for whatever reason you just love the way a particular machine hits a particular muscle group. This is extremely individual. Everybody is built differently so there could be one machine that you love but your friend hates and a machine your friend loves but you hate.

If you find that machine that works well for you, then there is no reason not to do it. People get too caught up with doing certain free weight exercises because they are "supposed to." However, no matter how popular an exercise is and how important you think it might be for you to do, the fact remains that you just might not feel the exercise well. For example, if you continuously do barbell rows because you think you are supposed to but don't get a solid pump in your back when doing them, that exercise might not be right for you. There may be a t-bar row machine or cable row machine that you will feel much better in your back. If you find the right rowing machine, then that machine would be superior to the barbell row for this person. This applies to virtually every body part. Barbell curls are very uncomfortable for a lot of people but they continue to do them anyway because they are seen as a staple in bicep routines. There is nothing wrong with finding a machine replacement.

Who Cares About Stabilizers?

You always hear about the stabilizer muscles but most people don't even know what they are. Stabilizer muscles are mostly in reference to your core and ability to balance the weight. In my opinion, it is stupid to do an exercise for the sole reason of hitting your stabilizer muscles. You are probably training your core separately anyway and your core is still used when using machines. Ever feel your abs when doing tricep pushdowns?

It is true that a machine doesn't develop your balancing ability as well. If you use a bench machine for a few months and then switch to barbell bench, you will probably have difficulty balancing the weight. However, that balance will develop very quickly once you do start doing that exercise so I wouldn't worry about it.

Be Honest with Yourself

It's imperative to be honest with yourself. Machines are easier than free weights. You don't need to load plates on certain ones and it is less difficult mentally when you aren't responsible for stabilizing the weight. With that in mind, you need to make sure you are only choosing a machine because you actually feel that machine more than the free weight alternative and not because you are being lazy. If you aren't honest with yourself and are just being lazy then you are just cheating yourself.

My Chest Experience

I used to always choose free weights over machines no matter what. I knew that I felt certain machines more than free weights but I had always read that free weights are better so I continued to do them because I thought I was supposed to. Finally, I noticed my upper chest wasn't developing at all from doing barbell bench press and dumbbell bench press. I began doing an incline bench machine that I had always felt ten times more than barbells and dumbbells but was always too afraid to use since I thought it was inferior. After making the switch, my upper chest finally progressed. I was finally targeting it in a more efficient way for my body. For someone else, barbells and dumbbells may be better for chest development but for me, it wasn't.

Other Considerations

Safety is another important issue. Free weights can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. If you are uncomfortable doing an exercise, try a machine instead. Even if the machine isn't great, it is still better to work the muscle with a machine than hurt yourself and have to take time off.

If you are recovering from an injury, you may also want to go easy on the free weights to ease your body back into it. The last thing you want is to injure yourself again.

Conclusion

To sum up, machines are not bad. You can build a solid physique while using them. When choosing exercises, don't be caught up in doing what you think you are supposed to do but do what you feel the most. For most people, this will be a combination of both machines and free weights.

 
Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Best WordPress Themes