Top Personal Trainer Christian Finn Provides 5 Muscle Building Tips

Recently in the Men’s Health forums the forum admin organized a members Q + A session with UK based personal Trainer Christian Finn. I was lucky enough to post my question which was asking him to give important tips for those wanting to put on muscle mass:

A big thanks for Christian for taking time in answering my/as well as other member’s questions. You can visit Christian’s personal training website HERE!

As for his answer to my qeustion:

Here are my 5 most important tips for building muscle:

1. Concentrate on pressing (overhead press and bench press), pulling (deadlifts, chin-ups and rows) and squatting. Other exercises such as lateral raises, flyes, incline curls are a supplement to rather than a replacement for pulling, pressing and squatting.

2. Make to sure to incorporate progressive tension overload in your routine (i.e. keep adding weight to the bar at every opportunity). I’ve covered this elsewhere in the Q&A.

3. Use a sensible training routine. If you’ve built a decent “base” of muscle and want to improve certain muscle groups, then some kind of split routine might be the way to go. But for most guys, lifting weights 3-4 days per week is all you need. A whole-body workout done 2-3 times per week or an upper-lower body routine performed four days each week will do the job.

4. Eat enough calories. If you’re very lean (below 10%) or very active, aim for 21-25 calories per pound of body weight daily. Using the lower figure as an example, a man weighing 150 pounds would consume 3150 calories per day (150 x 21 = 3150).

If you have slightly more body fat (10-15%) or you’re not very active outside of the time you spend in the gym, then aim for a calorie intake of 15-20 calories per pound of body weight daily. Using the higher figure as an example, a man weighing 180 pounds would consume 3600 calories per day (180 x 20 = 3600).

In both cases, start with the lower figure, and assess your progress on a weekly basis. If you’re not gaining weight, increase your daily calorie intake by 250 calories for one week. Keep making small increases until you see a change on the scale.

You’re going to find it very difficult to eat this much food if you’re “eating clean” all the time. So it’s fine to include a little “junk” in your diet – ice cream, pizza, that kind of thing.

5. Give your body a rest now and again. I like to take a week off for every 3-6 weeks of hard training. An “off” week (called a deload) doesn’t mean doing no exercise at all. Rather, reduce the number of sets by 50% while maintaining the weight and number of repetitions used in the previous week. Personally, I like to have a 3-week “blast” followed by a 1-week “cruise” in week 4.



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How to feel your chest when training them!

A very useful article i stumbled upon while browsing the web, credit to Nick Nilsson:

One of the most common training questions I get with regards to chest training is simply not being able to feel the pecs working at all when doing chest exercises!

And when you can’t feel the pecs working, you know darn well that actual muscle development is simply NOT going to happen.

So enough about the problem…how do you FIX it?

I’ve got a number of techniques for you to try out, some of which may work better than others for you.

But they should get you well on your way towards the chest development you’re looking for.

1. Pre-Exhaust Training

When performing a movement like the bench press, the pecs are definitely involved but can be easily pushed into a secondary role by the front delts and the triceps.

So instead of doing a regular bench press movement, you will instead do 6 to 8 reps of dumbell flyes (an isolation movement for the chest) THEN immediately go right to the bench press.

The idea here is to “pre-exhaust” your pecs so that when you do the bench press, your pecs are the weakest link and the shoulders and triceps then push the chest harder than it would normally be pushed.

When you have to stop, it’s going to be pec fatigue that ends the set while the shoulders and triceps are still relatively fresh.

2. Feeling The Flye

Now, the pre-exhaust training is all well and good…but what if you can’t feel your pecs even doing FLYES? Pre-exhaust won’t be much help.

The first thing you need to do is get off the flat bench and onto a Swiss Ball.

Get into position on the ball and wrap your entire back AROUND the ball. Don’t just put your shoulders on the ball and keep your body straight, like many people are taught with the ball.

To get the most out of flyes, you need to open up your rib cage and get your shoulders back (which helps focus the tension on the pecs instead of the shoulders).

The ball is PERFECT for this position. So lay back on the ball, wrap your back around it and consciously force your shoulders back and down.

THEN do a dumbell flye.

Imagine on the way down like you’re trying to push your chest up to the ceiling. And imagine on the way up that you’re wrapping your arms around a big tree.

When doing flyes, don’t hold the dumbells perfectly parallel to each other…hold them at about a 45 degree angle to your body (thumb end in closer to the head – pinky side outwards). This takes stress off the shoulders and helps keep tension on the pecs.

3. Tilt the Dumbells

When doing dumbell presses (either on the ball or the bench), tilt the dumbells down and in…if the dumbells were pitchers or water, it would look like you’re pouring them on yourself.

This tilt (and make sure and keep that tilt through the whole exercise) keeps tension on the pecs. If you keep them horizontal or tilting outwards, the tension goes to the shoulders.

4. Concentration Flyes

These are done standing, in a bent-over position, with light weight. They’re a great exercise for developing that “feel” in the chest. They won’t build a chest – just assist in getting that connection.

Grab the dumbell and bend over a bit.

Now, keeping your arm slightly bent but stiff (no movement other than at the shoulder), bring the dumbell up and across your body as though trying to touch it to your opposite shoulder.

5. The Rolled-Up Towel Trick

This is a technique I came up with to force the shoulders down and back (as I mentioned with the flyes above) and get the pecs involved in the bench press. This is done on the flat bench.

Roll up a towel and lay it lengthwise down the centerline of the bench. Set it on the bench right between where your shoulder blades will be. Your head should be on a flat section and your butt should be on a flat section.

Lay down on the bench, feeling the towel run right down your spine. This elevation immediately forces your shoulders back and down (the proper position for benching and feeling it in your chest).

It’s not particularly comfortable but it’s a great teaching tool to force your body into the proper position.

6. Stop Trying To Go So Heavy

Half the time, you’re probably just trying to go too heavy on the chest exercise and you just lose the feel for the exercise. Back off on the weight and feel the pecs working rather than focusing on blasting up the weight.

When you load the exercise heavy, your body immediately turns to its strongest movers. If your chest isn’t part of that A team, it won’t be called upon.

7. Don’t Grip So Hard

One of the things I’ve noticed with chest exercises is that the harder you grip the bar/handles, the more the tension gets moved to the shoulders and triceps.

Try easing up on your grip a little – not to the extent that you make the exercise dangerous, but back off on the death grip and see if you feel a difference. If you’re training heavy on bench press, though, KEEP the tight grip. In that case, safety is more important.

8. “Shocking” High-Rep Training

This is best done on the very first set of your workout with NO warm-up. You’re going to just be using a moderate weight, so don’t worry about not doing a huge warm-up. If you have a decent amount of training experience, you’ll be just fine.

We’re going to literally “shock” your chest muscles into responding here. Load the bar with (or select dumbells) a weight you’d normally be able to get about 12 to 15 “strict” reps in your regular workout.

Now lay down and CRANK OUT as many reps as you can with that weight as fast as you possibly can. Don’t worry if your form isn’t perfect…just hammer the reps out.

And when I say crank, I mean CRANK…don’t bounce the bar off your chest or anything but you must quite simply EXPLODE out of the bottom of every single rep…and don’t even think about slowing down to get the negative.

The idea here is very rapidly call upon every available muscle fiber worked by that exercise to contribute an emergency situation, especially the power-oriented type 2 muscle fibers.

And this emergency idea is why you’re not going to do a warm-up…we want it to be a TRUE emergency situation where you go from zero to kablammo!

ONE set of this is all you need. Because once you do that first set, not only will the entire area be fatigued, you won’t be able to get nearly as many reps and it won’t have the same emergency effect on your body.


A handful of useful bodyweight exercises

I’ve compiled a number of bodyweight exercises that will hit all the major upper body groups:


Muscles Worked : Chest, Shoulders, Triceps.

Tip: Go for a narrow grip to place more emphasis on your triceps.

Take it to the next level: Wear a bag pack or get your training partner to place a weight plate (not too heavy) on your back to add more resistance.

Chin up:

Muscles Worked: Back, Biceps, Forearms.

Tip: A wider grip will work your back more, closer grip will place more emphasis on your biceps. A close grip chin up is a very underrated move for the bicep.

Take it to the next level: Use a dip belt to add more resistance.

Can’t do chin ups? Many people would recommend using the lateral pulldown machine (which is a good alternative), but another useful method is to try and do one chin up. Then the following week try and increase it by another 1-2 reps. You can even ask for your training partner to assist you by holding on to your feet and have him/her helping you.

Another popular variation is the pull up, a useful article on how to do pull ups and chin ups with proper form can be found HERE

Bodyweight squats:


Dips are considered as one of the best upper body exercises as they hit the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles.

There are a number of ways to do dips, you can either use a dip station, a dip machine, a bench or even a chair (perfect for those at home!)

Dip Variations

Fore MORE body weight exercises i recommend giving Body Weight Culture a visit.

iPhone Fitness Apps

So I finally purchased my iPhone 4 yesterday, very happy with it especially with the number useful appliations I stumbled upon in the app store.

I’ve made my own applications folder which contains useful fitness applications such as :


Fitness Pro application

Deep Sleep (Helps users get into sleep)


iHome + Sleep

A possible future purchase?

I’ll be adding more in the near future

Wednesday 18th August Workout

Flat BB Bench (Havent done these in months so i expected the numbers to be a bit down)




Incline BB Bench:



Military Press:




Tricep pushdowns:


Also found an interesting article on T-Nation:

Random Video – Barbell Rows