Best Dang Exercises to Build a Better Body and Be More Awesome – Chest, Shoulders, Back & Abs

bde2Yep, you read that right. This is the first article in the Train to Be Awesome series will show you the best dang exercises to build a better body and become even more awesome.

In this edition you’ll get the best exercises for the upper body (chest, back, shoulders) and abs. The other installment covers the Best Dang Exercises to Build a Better Body and Be More Awesome – Deadlift Variations, Quads, Hamstrings, and Glutes.

Be sure to use these exercises to create the Best Dang Workout Programs to Build a Better Body and Be More Awesome, too.

Best Dang Exercise Criteria

First, the lists for best dang exercises is not all-inclusive. I want to state that now before someone gets all huffy because their favorite exercise(s) isn’t on the list.

Here is the criteria I used for deciding which exercises to include on the Best Dang Exercise lists.

  • Allows for progressive loading. If you want to build a better body and get more results in less time, you must be able to improve your performance, so that means the exercise must allow you add more weight over time or perform a more challenging variation. For example, a push-up works well because you can add weight or perform a more challenging variation. However, a triceps kick-back will only allow you to increase the weight to a certain point before you risk injuring your joints or just can’t increase the weight since it’s such a small muscle.
  • Big, compound exercises that provide most bang for the training buck. This article is about the best dang exercises for building a better body and allowing you to be awesome. Hoisting a heavy dumbbell overhead via a push press will provide more bang for your buck than a skullcrusher. Not saying the skullcrusher exercise is bad, it just won’t produce the results a push press will.Remember, if you’re going to do isolation exercises, you’ve gotta earn them.
  • Most people can learn proper form quickly. I included exercises that can be learned quickly. For example, it’s easier to learn how to properly perform a pull-up compared to a barbell hang clean.
  • Most people can perform the exercise safely without a spotter. Notice I said “most people”. Some people just do stupid things. But most people could safely perform a dumbbell bench press if they were training solo compared to a bench press if they didn’t have a power rack to protect them. We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of a guy getting stapled to the bench when training alone.
  • Does the exercise allow you to Train to be AwesomeBodyweight chin-ups are awesome. Squatting your bodyweight for the first time is awesome. Calf raises, while effective for building nice lower legs, are not awesome. (Note — I did include some abdominal exercises that hardly make you “awesome”, but I wanted to include my favorites since people would ask for them anyway).
  • I must be able to do the exercise(s) in my home gym. I have a power rack, barbell set, adjustable dumbbells, weight bench, back extension, a few kettlebells, resistance bands, suspension trainer, and some other odd and end toys. The only exercises included are ones I can do with this equipment.

So you get a grasp on the criteria above, let’s compare two wildly popular “chest” exercises — Barbell Bench Press versus Push-up.

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If You Want to Build a Better Body, Do This for More Results in Less Time

formulaImagine for a moment your boss gives you the option of working 30 hours per week instead of 40.

Your benefits and yearly salary will be exactly the same. The only thing changing is the amount of work you do — instead of 40 hours per week, you’ll only work 30.

Your boss also says, “If you improve your productivity during the new 30 hour work weeks you’ll get a raise.”

Would you accept this offer? Would you challenge yourself to be more productive, work less, and get paid more?

Uh . . . if you said anything but, “Heck yes!” you’re officially a crazy-pants. (I still like you all the same, but you’re a crazy-pants nonetheless).

So now I must ask you — if you could apply the same concept to your workout program, would you do it?

What if you could achieve the same results (if not better results) by doing less?

Enter – Workout Minimalism

We’ll discuss what Workout Minimalism is as it pertains to strength training, why you should embrace it, and how you can start implementing it.

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Busting Bodyweight Exercise Myths – The Truth about Building a Better Body with Bodyweight Workouts

IMG_0418 (640x480) - CopyIt’s always fun to take a sledge hammer to popular myths. We’ve done it before with 6 Female Strength Training Myths that Won’t Die.

Today, we’re gonna shatter some common bodyweight exercise and workout myths.

Loosen up your arm and let’s start swingin’!


Myth #1 – You Can’t Get Strong With Bodyweight Exercises

Yes, you can get crazy strong with bodyweight exercises. But please keep in mind the rule of specificity. There’s a difference between getting strong on the powerlifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and being able to perform advanced bodyweight exercises such as pistols and handstand push-ups. The term “strength” is relative and we must keep things in context.

Will you become a world record powerlifter using nothing but bodyweight exercises? No, of course not.

Can you constantly challenge yourself, increase your strength, and accomplish great physical feats with bodyweight exercises? Of course.

There’s no arguing that an individual who can perform L sit pull-ups, one arm push-ups, pistols, handstand push-ups, and other advanced bodyweight exercises is strong.

handstand pushup

I recommend moonwalking after completing a set of handstand push-ups, but the choice is yours

Building strength with bodyweight exercises is a huge plus for trainees who can’t perform heavy barbell lifts. Whether it’s due to a lack of equipment or, as was  my case for a long time, due to an injury. I tweaked my back over a year ago and I couldn’t squat, deadlift, or press a barbell without being in pain.

But, I still wanted to be strong.

My solution? Focus on what I COULD do – and that was bodyweight exercises.

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Politically Incorrect Fat Loss – How to Finally Lose Fat

picBeing kind and sugar-coating things doesn’t always get the point across when talking strength training, nutrition, and definitely fat loss.

So today, I’m going to be politically incorrect, because the other way isn’t getting through to some people.

It’s time for tough love.

You’ve been warned.

“I’m just not losing fat that I think I should. I’m really determined to get rid of this flab on my stomach,” she said while grabbing and pinching her waist.

“I’ve been going to the gym four times per week for over a month now. Shouldn’t I have noticed something?” she continued as I popped the top off my last PumpkinHead Ale from Shipyard Brewery.

She asked, “Nia, what am I doing wrong?” as I took my first sip.

I almost forgot how delicious that seasonal beer was. Glad I found it hidden in the fridge. My mind quickly wandered back to the previous summer when I was in Portland, Maine and visited Shipyard. They were in the process of bottling up the PumpkinHead seasonal ale when I stopped by for a tour and taste test.

“Are you even listening?” she said sharply.

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Beautiful Badass Workout Finishers (Guest Post)

clock-in-fire.dreamstimeHowdy, y’all! I posted a guest article from my friend, Mike Whitfield — The Ultimate Workout Grand Finale — a while back. Apparently y’all really enjoyed his workout finishers, so I asked him to share some more. This time, they are specifically “Beautiful Badass Workout Finishers”. Sweet. 


Hey, I’m Mike Whitfield and I used to be a whole lotta’ man (that’s the politically correct way of saying I used to be really, really large).

This is a big year for me, and it will be big for you, too. Ten years ago, I decided to shed some weight as I was about 300 pounds. I jumped on the New Year bandwagon, but set some long term goals to keep me going.

My goal was to hit 50 pounds by the time I went on vacation 6 months later.

I nailed it by hitting 75 in just 6 months. Since then, I’ve dropped another 30 pounds and have been able to keep it off. Yes, that’s 105 pounds. And this is the 10th year I’ve lived a healthier lifestyle.

Now if you’re like me, you probably have tried to change your body by hitting the “cardio” pretty hard and failed miserably… at least I did. (Nia — this is a common mistake many trainees make when their goal is fat loss; they rely too heavily on cardio).

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Women CAN’T Do Pull-ups (Guest Post)

IMG_0419 (640x480)Howdy, everyone! I’m excited to bring you a terrific guest post by fellow Beautiful Badass Shawna Kaminski.

Here’s an awesome fact about Shawna – she can do more pull-ups than most men I know. And she’s almost 50. Shawna’s a serious badass!

Got your attention didn’t I?

It’s true. According to the New York Times and a study from the University of Daytona, women CAN’T do pull ups. Researchers came up with all kinds of reasons for the fact that in this particular study, exercise physiologists were unsuccessful in getting their subjects to achieve an unassisted pull up. Clearly if these ‘experts’ couldn’t get this group of 17 women to do at least ONE pull up, it’s fair to assume that NO WOMAN should be able to do a pull up ever. Right?

Go ahead, sit back down on the couch girls. The experts have spoken.

Oh dear, I need to go find my pull up bar and knock out a few sets. Even though I’d be the least likely candidate to be able to do multiple sets of multiple reps of pull ups…

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Muscle Sculpting Workout Tips Part 2

That’s my friend, Jill Coleman, of

If you missed Muscle Sculpting Workout Tips Part 1, be sure to read that for the first five muscle sculpting tips.

Today we’ll cover five more muscle sculpting tips you can apply to your workouts to start adding sexy muscle in all the right places.

High(er) Frequency

When the goal is building muscle, most trainees turn to a 4-6 day per week bodybuilding split where each body part has it’s own day and is trained once a week. For example, many splits have an entire workout dedicated to a single muscle group. A generic layout with five workout days could be like this:

  • Day 1 – Chest
  • Day 2 – Back
  • Day 3 – Shoulders
  • Day 4 – Arms
  • Day 5 – Legs

With this example, each body part is trained only once per week but typically with several exercises for each body part. For instance, barbell bench press, dumbbell incline bench press, and dumbbell flyes for chest day.

There are several reasons I prefer, and recommend, total body or upper/lower splits when the goal is building muscle. First, you can cut down your workout days to 3-4 per week; this is much more practical for most trainees. Second, I prefer to train a muscle more frequently instead of blasting it in a single session so it receives a stimulus more often.

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Muscle Sculpting Workout Tips Part 1

That’s Jill Coleman of

Muscle sculpting.

Muscle building.

I prefer the term “muscle sculpting”  since the objective, as the definition implies, is to “change the shape or contour of” the body; and it’s fitting because the human body is truly a work of art. Plus, I’m not gonna lie, it just sounds a lot better. Call it whatever you prefer, but this article contains workout tips for women who want to add sexy muscle in all the right places.

What are the “right places”? Generally (at least for my female clients) that means focusing on the shoulders, lats, thighs, and glutes. Not only do building up these muscles make for a nice strong, athletic looking physique, but they also make the waist line look smaller. It’s a little “illusion” trick. Think about it; if you add muscle to your shoulders, glutes, and thighs, and your waist stays the same, it will automatically look smaller. This is a win-win.

Let’s get into Part 1 of Muscle Sculpting Tips for Women Who Want to Sculpt Sexy Muscle and discuss the first five tips you can use to start sculpting some muscle.

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The Reason You May Not be Getting Results & What to do about It

“If you want to lose body fat, you have to eat this way and you have to workout this way.”

“If you want to build muscle, you have to eat this way and you have to train this way.”

The fitness and nutrition world is an interesting place. The latest and greatest fad surfaces on a frequent basis with high promises of allowing you to “finally lose the weight”, or “build muscle”, or whatever desire you have when it comes to your body composition.

Many methods (fad, or not) can be portrayed in a way that people think they absolutely have to follow that nutrition method, or training program, if they want results. Oftentimes this leads people to apply a certain method that may not be appropriate for them because other people are experiencing great results.

You don’t have to do what’s popular or what other experts swear by if that method doesn’t fit your lifestyle and personality.

Here’s my primary rule when it comes to working out and nutrition – the approach you use shouldn’t put too much stress on you, nor should it require you to revolve your life around it. Now, there may be a time when you want to get strict and accomplish a goal, but these should be for predetermined periods of time; it should not go on for months and years.

When it comes to strength training and nutrition, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all-approach that will work for everyone.

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High Intensity Low Volume & Low Intensity High Volume Strength Training. When & How to Use Both for Great Results

hihvtI really like high intensity low volume training when you push every set brutally hard but you only do a few sets (sometimes only one) for each exercise.

I also like lower intensity and higher volume training when you keep several reps “in the tank” and perform many more sets for each exercise.

Both types have their pros and cons, and each can be incorporated into a training program to achieve your performance and physique goals, albeit not simultaneously. In fact, I use both methods in the Muscle Sculpting Program and believe that’s one of the reasons it’s so effective.

You must know that you can’t incorporate both at the same time without risking injury and quick burn-out. Let’s quickly discuss what High Intensity Low Volume and Low Intensity High Volume training is along with the pros and cons of each method.

High Intensity Low Volume Training 

What It Is

“High intensity low volume training” has various definitions. For some it may mean doing a single rest/pause set on many exercises. To another it could mean a single all out set to failure a la the Mike Mentzer and Author Jones method of high intensity training (HIT). And still to others it could mean doing Reverse Pyramid Training or just two all out sets per exercise.

Either way, it usually means keeping the total volume per muscle group very low and pushing sets to, or extremely close to, muscle failure.

For example, let’s say you’re going to do a rest/pause set of chin-ups. You’ll perform a set to failure (I define failure as stopping the set when another rep with perfect form isn’t possible), rest about 30 seconds, do another set to failure, rest 30 seconds, and do a third and final set to failure. That’s the only set you do for that exercise with this method of high intensity low volume training.

You could also do one all out set to failure (as defined above), take some weight off the bar and do the same thing for a second set.

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