Tweak to become a Freak.

How to alter 10 common exercises for hyping-up hypertrophy!

By Eric “Merlin” Broser

Long before I ever put in my first serious workout I spent much of my spare time painting, sketching and drawing – coveting shapes, lines and colors more so than muscles. I always had a natural inclination for art, and just loved putting my thoughts and ideas down on canvas or paper. I would use whatever medium (or tool) I needed to create the image I had envisioned in my mind – whether it be pencil, charcoal, marker, and/or various types of paint.

Later, when building muscle became my passion, I felt compelled to continue expressing the profound artistic side that always dwelled within me. Thus, my body had now become my canvas, and my drive was to manifest a “living work of art.” For me, bodybuilding was more accurately a process of body “sculpting.”

Because of this, I have never been able to “stay between the lines” when training myself, or any of the hundreds of clients I have worked with. I view every machine, pulley, bench, BB and DB as tools with endless possibilities– and every basic exercise as nothing more than a rudimentary outline with infinite potential.

And this brings me to the very important subject(s) of this article – Can I help you to finally really feel movements you have never felt? In what ways can you tweak various common lifts so that they affect the target muscle in a somewhat novel manner, exhausting unique sets of motor unit pools? How can we make ordinary exercises become extraordinary?

Read on to learn how to tweak to become a freak!

  1. The CG Bench Press Tweak: Turn this general triceps mass builder into a more targeted movement for the long head of the triceps by heading over to the Smith Machine. Rather than grabbing the bar as you normally would, rotate your hands inward so that the elbows rotate outward. Allow the bar carefully rest in your palms instead of wrapping the fingers around entirely. Lower slowly (and carefully) in line with upper pecs until forearms contact the biceps, then push with pure triceps power to just before lockout on each rep.
  2. The Lying Leg Curl Tweak: I include this basic exercise in just about every hamstring session. However, I alternate the standard version with one in which I keep my torso elevated (rather than flat on the pad) by holding myself in a semi-push up position. This unique angle forces a more intense contraction on every rep, making it feel like a concentration curl for the hamstrings.
  3. The Standing Side Laterals Tweak: This is a key movement for developing the lateral deltoid head, helping to create greater width in the upper body. However, the majority of lifters perform this exercise incorrectly, by going too heavy and/or initiating the motion with momentum via the lower back. For maximum side-delt stimulation, try performing this exercise while standing, and leaning the upper body (back) against an incline bench set at about 70-80 degrees. This removes the possibility of cheating and will force maximal contractions from the medial shoulder.
  4. The Single Leg Press Tweak: The leg press is an awesome tool for packing on slabs of mass on the lower body. The unilateral version is a terrific variation, making this exercise even more challenging. A great way to tweak this movement even further, for more specific precision targeting, is to angle your torso and working leg inward at about a 45-degree angle while you press. These slight alterations in position will not only engage the vastus lateralis of the outer thigh more directly, but will also increase recruitment of the all-important (to competitive bodybuilders) side-glutes.
  5. The BB Curl Tweak: For many, the standard BB Curl provides a direct biceps hit, and a pump that stretches the skin. However, for others, this movement does little more than pump-up/exhaust the forearm flexors, while leaving the biceps almost entirely flat. If this pertains to you, try doing your curls with the wrists cocked downward, which will cause the forearms to go lax, so they can no longer assist (the biceps) to any great degree in arm flexion. While your weights may go down with this technique, growth will likely double.
  6. The Hyperextensions Tweak: Most gym goers utilize “hypers” to work the lower back, and of course it does do a great job. However, what few people realize is just how effective this movement can be for frying the hamstrings. At your next leg workout perform several intense sets of some form of leg curls, and then head to the hyperextension apparatus. Lock your feet in and push your heels up against the pad throughout the set, forcing the hamstrings to contract. As you lower your torso, make sure to keep maximum tension on the hams as you ease into full stretch. Think about “pulling with the hams” (and relaxing the low back) as you rise back up, and hold the squeeze for a moment when you get to the top.
  7. The DB Preacher Curls Tweak: This is one of my favorite exercises for crushing both the biceps and brachialis, especially when done on a 90-degree angle.

However, if you want to make this exercise even more interesting (and more effective over time), try performing one set with the hand grasping the middle of the DB; a second set grasping right up against the inner plate; and a third set grasping right up against the outer plate. With each set you will feel a unique strain/pull on the biceps, while also attacking varying sets of motor pools.

  1. The Seated Calf Raise Tweak: As someone who was born with very poor calf genetics (thanks mom) I have had to fight for every centimeter of muscle on my lower legs. Thus I am constantly looking for ways to shock these muscles. The seated calf raise targets the soleus on the outer calf rather effectively when performed with strict form in the standard manner. However, through experimentation I have discovered that by simply leaning my torso forward (to just about 90 degrees), rather than sitting straight up, every rep provides a much more concentrated, intense and complete contraction, which of course results in enhanced growth.
  2. The One Arm Rows Tweak: Similar to Side Laterals, this is another excellent muscle-building movement that all too often gets “butchered” in the gym. The ego-driven desire to use bigger DB’s and/or pump out more (ineffective) reps forces most lifters to jerk the weight up using way more momentum than muscle. This is precisely why I invite you to try a “tweaked” version of this exercise, which has become known in my gym as “Merlin Rows.” Instead of positioning yourself with one knee on a flat bench and one leg behind you, set an incline to about 45 degrees and lay forward onto your chest. Row the DB with one arm while the other wraps underneath the bench to keep your torso set in place. This position forces one to eliminate any possibility of cheating, and will more effectively target the entire lat-muscle.
  3. The Lying Pullover Tweak: The Lying Pullover (with BB or single DB) is one of the best mass-building exercises for the upper body. It can be utilized during a back workout to help widen the lats, or during a chest workout to build thickness and density into the pecs. When targeting the lats tweak your form by keeping the arms only slightly bent, and lowering the weight both down and back (away) from the top of the head. When crushing the chest is the goal, bend the elbows to a greater degree, while lowering the weight straight downward toward the floor.

In future articles I will go over more ways to tweak to become a freak.