Steve Kuclo has performed thousands of workouts through the years, and, for extended periods, he’s adopted unique workout philosophies, including Doggcrapp, HIT, and FST-7. From his years as a teenage bodybuilding champ to his winning the 2011 USA Championships at 25 to his ongoing pro bodybuilding career that includes five victories and a 6th place finish in the 2019 Mr. Olympia, Kuclo is always striving to learn more about muscle growth. What exercises, techniques, and philosophies work best? Steve Kuclo has answers, even as he keeps questioning.
These are Steve Kuclo’s top 10 training tips.
1. GET STRONGER FOR MODERATE REPS.
“When people talk about heavy, they tend to think low reps. But Ronnie [Coleman] built his physique not with those 800-pound deadlifts and squats for two reps, but with 600-pound squats and deadlifts for 10 reps. I go heavy, but I don’t go low-rep. And heavy is relative. What’s heavy for you, probably isn’t heavy for me. Push yourself as hard as you can in the 10-12 rep range, and that’s heavy, regardless of how much weight you’re using. Keep doing that over and over again, and the bigger weights will come.”
2. PRESS DUMBBELLS.
“I love pressing dumbbells, either for shoulders with seated overhead presses or for upper chest with incline presses. Dumbbells make me work to keep the weights balanced, and they also let me find the best, safest path for both arms. A barbell doesn’t allow for that same range of motion. Of course, barbell’s have their place, too. But for shoulder and chest presses I prefer dumbbells or a Hammer [Strength] machine where the arms move independently.”
3. END YOUR BACK ROUTINE WITH DEADLIFTS.
“This was something Dorian [Yates] did, and I agree. If I do deadlifts now I like to do them at the end of my back workout. I do all my pulldowns and rows, but then at the end of the routine I’ll do deadlifts for five sets of 5-8 reps, either off the floor or off a rack set just below my knee-level. In that way my back is warmed up with lots of blood in there, and I feel the deads more in my back than in my legs.”
4. USE STATIC HOLDS ON SHRUGS.
“Sometimes I do traps with back, but I usually do them on shoulder day, after delts. I’ll do one or two movements. I like the Hammer Strength shrug machine for 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. And I like to do a static hold at the top of each rep for one or two seconds. Another favorite is the standard barbell shrug. It’s tempting to really load on the plates for shrugs and shorten the movement. But the movement is short enough already. Don’t go too heavy, and don’t shrug too fast. You want to stay under control at kind of a slow pace. I recommend holding the contractions. That’ll force you to go a little lighter but really work the traps.”
5. PARTNER UP.
“I’ve almost always trained with a partner. It’s not that I need the encouragement. If I have my earbuds in, I can barely hear him. But I like having a spotter nearby, so I know I can always push myself and get that last one or two reps. The last reps are the most important reps, the ones that really lead to growth. And I especially like my partner there for forced reps. Usually on the last sets of exercises, he’ll help out just enough so I can squeeze out a couple extra reps. Just any old spotter probably won’t give you the best forced reps, but a partner who you’ve trained with a lot will be in tune with your strength and can give you just the right amount of help to keep a set going.”
“I don’t always squat with a barbell now, but when I was a teen growing fast I always squatted. I think everyone should master the squat. Get your form down, so you know how to squat with depth and focus the tension on your quads. Don’t get hung up on the weight and chase big numbers just because other people in the gym might be big squatters. If you’re a bodybuilder, you want to use the squat to stimulate leg growth, so stay above six reps. An all-out set of squats for 12 reps is harder than a heavier one for four reps anyway. Get stronger in the squat with 8-12 reps and proper technique and depth, and the leg growth will come.”
7. FOCUS ON UPPER CHEST.
“I always try to do two exercises for upper chest, one a pressing exercise and one a flying exercise, in every chest workout. I usually do four chest exercises, so half of my chest work is focused on the upper pecs. You want to emphasize that area to get that full pec look. You don’t want that droopy pec look that comes with too much lower pec work. The lower pecs tend to grow a lot easier, so focus more on your upper area with incline presses and dumbbell flyes or an incline fly machine, if you gym has one. Also, when you do cable crossovers, pull the handles up to at least your eye-level to focus those more on the upper, inner pecs.
8. MAKE THE WEIGHT WORK FOR YOU.
“It’s not about working the weight; it’s about making the weight work for you. The weight is not your enemy. It’s just a tool, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, cable, or machine. Use that tool to feel the targeted muscles working from stretch to contraction on every rep. The same way you use any tool to get the result you want is the same way you use weights to get the growth stimulation you want.”
9. MACHINES ARE HARDCORE.
“I’m known for going heavy on exercises like barbell squats and dumbbell shoulder presses, but free weights don’t make you hardcore. What makes you hardcore is the intensity you bring to your workouts and that desire to squeeze out one more rep when the pain is telling you no. And so machines can be just as hardcore as barbells and dumbbells. Sometimes I do nothing but cable and machine exercises for biceps and triceps, and I might do only machine squats, leg presses, and leg extensions for quads, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a hardcore, balls-to-the-wall workout. Machines are just tools, and a lot of the time they’re the best tools to work your muscles the right way.”
10. EATING IS THE KEY.
“The key to getting big isn’t training, it’s eating. Be consistent with your meals to take in enough quality protein throughout the day. You tear down the muscles in the gym. You build them back up outside the gym with food and enough rest and sleep. When you realize bodybuilding is a lifestyle and not a kind of workout, you can unlock great gains if you have patience and just keep stacking those quality workouts and all those quality meals.”