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How to build muscle like Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Legends of fitness like Lee and Schwarzenegger invented iconic moves to build muscle. Here's how you can master them

Do you want ripped abs like Bruce Lee? Here's you do it.
Do you want ripped abs like Bruce Lee? Here's you do it.

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A gym usually has a unique blend of individuals with different goals, styles of working out, diets, and beliefs. Some will follow a distinct pattern of warming up, according to their muscle group of the day, and end with stretching and rolling and flexibility; some will just run; some will entirely rely on the dirty gain, piling on the calories and lifting ridiculously heavy weights. All of these practices are based on trial and error and, most importantly, results. 

But there’s nothing wrong in combining two methods of fitness science. You could follow a heavy gaining and lifting diet and still work on your stability. It is about choosing the best principles which give you results over the course of a few weeks. Keeping your workout fresh and adding new moves is a great way to continue challenging your body, because it learns moves over time and gets used to them. Which brings us to iconic bodybuilders and athletic marvels who spent so much time experimenting in the gym that they invented exercises. But which ones should you pick from a multitude of options? Here’s a breakdown of the most proven innovations from the world of fitness.

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The Arnold Press: The most commonly mentioned, most clinically proven, and most shoulder-ripping exercise that is so popular that it is now part of most upper body workouts is the Arnold press. Easy to learn and master, and with visibly good results, the press manages to engage all the parts of your deltoids: anterior, lateral and posterior. It also hits the triceps, biceps and traps. What else do you want?

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But here’s the catch: the Arnold Press is best done after some compound moves, for example the basic overhead shoulder press, because the tweak in the Arnold Press means you won’t be able to lift as heavy as more isolated shoulder exercises. A research paper published on the Indian Journal of Public Health Research and Development compared muscle activation in overhead presses versus Arnold Presses and concluded that, “Due to greater range of motion Arnold dumbbell press was more effective exercise for the activation of Anterior and Medial deltoid muscles as compared to the Overhead Dumbbell Press.”

The best part about this exercise is how it can also be further innovated. You could do a standing Arnold Press, a one-arm Arnold Press, or an alternate-hand Arnold Press where the inactive arm continues to hold the dumbbell while the active arm completes a press. 

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Bruce Lee’s Dragon Flag: The Martial arts marvel was not interested in bulking up as much as Schwarzenegger, but more of a believer in incredible bodyweight power packed in a lean body with almost no fat and only muscle. Lee’s great gift to the fitness world was convincing people that bulk is not equal to strength, but nevertheless, he did flaunt an incredible core and abs to die for. His main move for that six pack? The dragon flag. Is it easy? No. Is it effective? Oh yes. 

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This is an advanced exercise, so work your way up with basic lying leg raises and hanging leg raises so that you don’t lose heart when you attempt beginner dragon flags. Other things to take care of is to not arch the lower back because that will take the load off the abs and put it on the lower back and nobody wants that. Warm-up well, this is not a start-of-the-workout exercise, and add a lot of rest between sets, unlike in other conventional ab workouts which minimise rest. 

The Svend Press: One for the chest is Svend Karlsen’s wonderfully simple Svend Press, where you take two plates (not too heavy), squeeze them together with your palms facing each other and then push them out till your arms are locked. Return the palms and weights back to the chest for starting position. The Svend Press adds a lot more contraction to the chest muscles than standard chest-flys and presses and gives you something different to try on chest day, which has a very set workout routine and can get mundane over time. Karlsen was the world’s strongest man in 2001, and it’s worth trying this for a more defined chest. 

There are many more inventions as fitness science keeps evolving, and the above list is far from exhaustive. But it is a great marker to start adding new tweaks to your routine, whether you are a beginner or at an advanced level. 

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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