Supersize your arms and chest with these three old-school muscle-building exercises. (Photo by Will Mebane, graphic by Priscilla DeCastro/Yahoo Health.)
Combination moves — say, doing a step-up with a bicep curl, or a lunge with a press — are all the rage right now. And you can see the appeal: On the surface, it seems like you can do more work in less time, all while burning more calories.
But when it comes to packing on muscle size, these multitasking moves could actually be wasting your time or limiting your results.
“If your main goal is to gain muscle, then we have to look at the proven principles that have been shown to elicit muscle growth,” says fitness expert Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University and author of Strength Training For Fat Loss. “Lifting heavy weights triggers the microscopic muscle damage, muscle tension, and metabolic response shown to increase muscle size.”
With a combination exercise, however, the amount of weight you can use to perform the movement is limited by the weakest body part involved in the exercise. As a result, you might not be lifting with the intensity you need to see muscle gains.
Take a step-up with bicep curl. In this exercise, you step up on a bench with one leg while holding dumbbells at your sides, and curl the dumbbells at the top of the step. Because our arms are naturally weaker than our legs, you’ll choose the weight of the dumbbells based on what you need for the bicep curl. But that weight might not be enough to really challenge your legs. “Certainly you could gain some bicep size from that — but you’re not necessarily going to gain a lot in your legs,” Tumminello tells Yahoo Health. “You’re really just adding in a step to add in a step.”
If your goal is to work your biceps, why not add a step to burn extra calories? Because it’s a distraction. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that focusing on using a certain muscle to do an exercise — say, concentrating on your biceps during the bicep curl — increases muscle activity in that body part. The step-up with bicep curl, Tumminello explains, divides your attention and takes you away from getting the maximum bicep-building benefits out of the move.
Tumminello’s Big Chest and Arms Workout, the latest in Yahoo Health’s original Triple Threat workout series, uses simple — but insanely effective — exercises to supersize your arms and chest. As the workout goes on, you’ll decrease the number of reps per set you perform. This allows you to go really heavy with the weights you choose, pushing yourself close to your limits with each and every set. Do the routine twice a week for the best results.
The Big Arms And Chest Workout
How to do it: Perform the workout as a circuit, moving from one exercise to the next with little rest. At the end of one round, rest for two to three minutes. Do two to three rounds.
1. Close-Grip Push-Up
The close-grip push-up engages your triceps, pectorals (pecs), and shoulders. (Photos by Will Mebane)
How to do it: Get into a push-up position with your hands narrower than shoulder-width apart. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes during the entire exercise. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground. Keep your elbows close to your sides. Press up. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as possible until your form breaks down.
2. Chest Fly
The chest fly is a classic exercise for your pecs. It also works your shoulders and biceps.
How to do it: Lie faceup on a bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand out to your sides, palms up, with a slight bend in your arms. Raise the dumbbells up toward the sky; pause. In a controlled motion, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on the first set, eight on the second set, and six reps on the third set.
3. Bicep Curl
Get ready for the gun show: Zero in on your biceps with the basic bicep curl exercise.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding dumbbells at your sides, palms up. Bend your elbows to raise the dumbbells until they almost touch your chest. Slowly lower the dumbbells. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on the first set, eight on the second set, and six reps on the third set.
Read This Next: The 2-Minute Warmup You Can’t Skip