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John Leslie

How to get big?

How to add muscle is one of the questions I get asked on a regular basis.

Bodybuilding, for me, is about building quality muscle. Ask any hardcore bodybuilder and you will get the same answer. Everything starts with building a foundation with the tried-and-tested exercises. Compound movements that build the most muscle are the following:

The Squat

You won’t find a bodybuilder on this planet with massive leg development who is not a big proponent of this exercise. Former 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman did not get his enormous wheels by doing lunges! When you perform squats you will definitely build more size. Start by doing traditional back squats when you are a beginner. When you get stronger and more experienced you can alternate between back and front squats. After 15 years of training I still squat for between 6 and 10 sets per session and perform reps ranging from 6 to 20. I always go ass-to-the-grass and I don’t lock out my knees at the top of the movement but try to squeeze my quads, hamstrings and glutes to keep constant tension on these muscle groups for the maximum muscle growth and stimulus.

The Deadlift

If your goal is to build a big, thick and dense back – from the traps all the way down to the lower back – you have to do deadlifts. Even your hamstrings and calves will grow from doing this old-school movement. I attribute my hamstring size to years and years of heavy deadlifts. I shoot for between 6 to 10 sets per session and reps ranging from 6 to 20 with plates just touching the floor. Don’t bounce the weight but keep full muscle contraction in your back to prevent injury. Don’t lock out your knees at the top but squeeze your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Also, when you are at the top of the movement don’t lean too far back but just pull your shoulders back to improve thickness in your traps.

The Bench Press

This exercise was integral part of Arnold’s routine to build an awesome chest. If you want to build a solid foundation of mass for the chest you need to do flat barbell bench presses religiously. Don’t allow your triceps and shoulders to take over and very important, don’t perform half reps. Touch the bar to your chest with each rep you do and don’t lockout the elbows at the top to keep constant tension on the target muscles. I recommend doing between 6 and 10 sets per session with reps ranging from 6 to 20 reps. Only add incline bench presses to your routine when you have managed to build a significant amount of mass.

The Shoulder Press

You don’t get big, cannonball delts from doing front raises but from heavy shoulder presses. Heavy means pressing your own bodyweight with good form overhead. In the off-season I do seated barbell shoulder presses averaging between 140 and 170kg for reps.

Don’t be scared to push heavy-ass weight with good form all the way down to below your chin level and stop just short of lockout when you return back to the top of the movement. Try and keep all the stress on your shoulders and don’t allow other muscle groups from taking over. Shoot for between 6 and 10 sets per session with reps in the range of between 6 and 20.

There you have it! If you focus on these basic exercises you will grow! Remember, when you lift heavy you still need to be in total control of the movement and resist on the negative part of each rep for maximum growth. Happy lifting!

By John ‘The Terminator’ Leslie


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