Q & A with Michael Furci - Benefits of low-volume, high-intensity training; working arms, shoulders
How do I get a full chest like Arnold's? What
exercises best hit the upper chest? What angle should I set the bench
to hit my upper chest? What exercises can I do to build the bottom part
of my chest? Are dumbbell flys a shaping exercise? These are by far the
most popular questions thrown my way while people are training their
To help answer these questions, you must first begin to look at genetics. Our abilities to gain muscle are as different as we look. Some people seem to be able to build a great looking chest no matter what they do. However, these people are few and far between. Most people must work hard and have a properly structured training program in order to build a decent size chest.
Everybody's chest will grow at different rates and have its own distinctive look. You cannot change the basic shape of your chest. Only Arnold can build a chest like Arnold. Using the "Austrian Oak" as motivation can be very helpful in attaining your goals, but thinking you can build a chest like his can be counterproductive. Let's put it another way: If you trained like Michael Johnson, the world record holder in the 200-meter dash, do you think you ultimately could run as fast as he can? Do you think you would even come close? This is not meant to discourage anybody but to help you make reasonable goals. Take what you have and strive to make it better.
In some poses, Arnold's upper chest looks so thick that it seems as though he could set his beer on it. Wouldn't that be awesome to be able to do that at a bar? What exercises did he perform to get that look? At what angle did he set the incline to target that area? Let's look at this from an anatomical viewpoint. Is the upper pec really a body part? No, it's not. Actually, what is considered the upper pec by most is really the clavicular part of the pectoralis major. When the pectoralis major is fully developed, it does give the impression of a "shelf-like" appearance to the clavicular portion of the chest.
As to the questions about actually training to target the clavicular part of the pectoralis major, there are studies that suggest an increase in the angle of the bench does not mean an increase in the work load to the upper pec. Many studies have also pointed to the fact that the higher the incline, the more you'll activate the deltoid muscles. To make matters even more confusing for you, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning has published a few studies showing that using a narrower grip is much better at stimulating the upper pecs than adjusting the angle. Now what do we do?
What we're going to do is start from the beginning. I am going to give you a workout that I promise is going to stimulate your pectoralis major more than it ever has been. But, we must first concern ourselves with the basics. As I alluded to earlier, the shape of your chest is the shape of your chest. Don't think that there is a magical exercise that's going to change that fact. This goes for any body part for that matter. If we could change the shape of our muscles, don't you think all pro bodybuilders and fitness athletes would be doing it? Our muscles will grow in a genetically predetermined fashion. In many books and magazines, several authors talk about mass exercises and shaping exercises. Whatever! Show me the proof. Arnold is by far the most accomplished and admired bodybuilder in history, yet I haven't see anybody with arms or a chest like his in any gym or contest I've ever been to. Is it because nobody wants to look like him? Don't get caught up in the game of trying to make your muscles look a certain way. Take what you've got and make it the best it can be by working your chest correctly.
When working your chest, don't be so concerned about what part of the muscle you're stimulating. You'll be hitting your chest from a variety of angles with some basic guidelines, so all your bases in that regard will be covered. It's important that you first learn how to feel the muscle that you're working. I'm sure that many of you have heard of the "mind/muscle link." Concentrating on and feeling your chest work is as important as the exercises themselves. Using tempo during your sets is going to help your concentration level.
Q: I want freaky big arms. I'm
not asking for 22" guns, just 18" - 19" would do. No
matter what I do, I just can't seem to get them to grow. I am completely
frustrated. What do you think about Synthol? I am really considering
trying it. A couple of guys I know are using it, and it has really
put on some noticeable size to their arms. I keep reading that Synthol
is safe and the affects are long lasting.
Can you tell me what you know about it?
A: First of all you did not give any info on your workout. But, I can guarantee you are not training your arms correctly. Before you inject yourself full of oil read, "9 weeks to bigger arms part I and II." Try this workout for a full nine weeks before making your decision whether or not to use Synthol.
As far as my views are concerned, I not only think it's ridiculous, I think it's dangerous. Not only are infections common, sometimes needing surgery, a few people have almost died from injecting Synthol. Milos Sarcev, a well-known professional bodybuilder, collapsed suddenly while injecting his bicep. The oil went through his circulatory system and collected in his lungs. He basically started to suffocate. If his wife were not there, he would be dead.
As with most people, scare tactics probably won't deter you from using this crap, but maybe pain will. That's right, pain. The injection site is very painful for three or four days after the injection. In fact, it's so painful if done correctly -- every other day -- that many users resort to using painkillers like Nubian just so they can work out. But it doesn't end there. When Synthol is used on a regular basis, which is needed to get any appreciable size difference, the muscles get a lumpy smooth appearance. I also see a lot of bodybuilders at shows, both competitors and people in attendance, with bruising and injection marks. Why anyone would walk around with a short sleeve shirt on, or compete after using Synthol is beyond me.
So if lumpy, painful, bruised muscles are worth the extra size, be my guest. Just make sure you don't main line like Milos.
Q: My shoulders both hurt when I train. They especially hurt on shoulder day when I hit them directly. On the weeks that I haven't worked them at all they feel much better. They also feel better when I don't bench press. I've considered cutting way down on my shoulder training and cutting barbell bench presses out completely. But like most people who train, I'm afraid of losing the size that has taken so long to get. What are your thoughts?
A: I think cutting down on shoulder training is a great idea. I rarely prescribe more than one exercise for shoulders when developing programs. The shoulders get hit from a variety of different angles and exercises and are easily over-trained. The rear or posterior of the shoulders get plenty of work from back exercises, and the front or anterior of the shoulders get plenty of work from chest exercises. I would suggest doing only one type of lateral raise every shoulder workout, whether it's dumbbells or cables. Cutting down to one exercise will give your shoulders the recovery they need to grow.
Definitely take barbell bench presses out of your program. Bench presses are not an effective chest exercise anyway. Most of the best bench pressers in the world have largely developed anterior deltoids and triceps. The only other exercise that will aggravate a shoulder more than bench presses is behind the neck presses.
Dumbbells are much less restrictive on the shoulder joint and allow you to find joint angles that suit your anatomical needs.
Got a question for Mike? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.