Sometimes, all you have to do to break through a workout plateau is get a grip -- a new grip, that is. Simply changing your grip on a lift such as the bench press may allow you to shoulder significantly more weight. Why? Well, the technical answer is because it forces your brain to recruit your benching muscles differently, and the new stimulation is often enough to increase strength temporarily. But in the greater scheme of things, the fact that you've done something different -- in this case, moving your hands to a position on the bar they're unfamiliar with -- means you've broken out of your comfort zone. And generally, the less relaxed you are in the gym, the better your workout tends to be.
We all like to think we're "zoned in" during a training session, but most of us look up from the weights from time to time, whether it's to notice sexy lady trainers or to laugh at people who accidentally roll off their Swiss balls. Nevertheless, whether your focus is impenetrable or not, changing your grip and stance between sets requires more presence of mind than banging out the regular versions of your old standby exercises. Because the position you take will be different from what you're used to, you'll feel the muscles being engaged differently. It's what's known as the "mind-muscle connection" -- actively thinking about the muscles you're training to make them work harder -- and it nets you better results than if you just absently heaved your way through a set.
Muscles change their minds in a matter of inches. Take a wide grip on the bench press, and your nervous system will recruit the pecs more than any other muscle group to lift the weight. Now move your hands in to where they're shoulder-width apart, and you're suddenly using a lot more triceps strength. Therefore, if you're always benching with your hands in the same place (for most guys, that's just outside shoulder width), you're cheating yourself out of greater pec and triceps growth, respectively.
Not only will repositioning yourself help reshape your body, it will also help prevent injury and add strength by addressing weaknesses you've caused through neglect. For example, if you've been deadlifting with the same stance for eons, the narrow-stance RDL will emphasize and even activate different parts of your gluteal muscles than the conventional deadlift hits -- helping to even out the strength deficit in that muscle group and improve your overall performance when you go back to regular deadlifts.
CHECK YOUR EGO
In the following workout, we've paired exercises with similar grip and stance variations (see the next page for an explanation). And while you'll no doubt be able to use more weight on one of the exercises than the other (which one depends on the kind of training you're used to), we don't want you to. Instead, choose the heaviest weight you know you can handle for your weaker exercise in the pair. That means if you can squat 315 in a regular stance, we want you to use whatever load you can handle on the wide-stance version-even if that means 275. Don't worry, once those weaker muscles kick in, you won't feel like you're using a "light" weight.