was early, the town asleep and I was alone. I sat on the wooden
bench, leaned against the loaded bar upheld by uncertain supports
and clasped my chalk-caked hands as if in prayer. My breathing leveled,
the pain subsided and the calm of endorphins trickled through my
body. I was a dozen sets into my workout, curiously alive and my
eyes beheld the riches of the setting around me.
plaster, exposed wiring and pipes highlighted by rust-red water
stains and muted shadows of deserted spider webs composed primitive
art of time-gone-by; these unframed murals of truth, pain, loveliness,
brokenness, toil and joy hung everywhere on the walls of the subterranean
Muscle Beach Gym. The place was falling apart, disintegrating, yet
the sublime essence of the random display of old classics by Father
Time spoke to the spirit of the visitor, the muscleman clad in shredded
sweatshirt and pants to match. “You want it bad enough, you
pay the price,” it echoed in the vast space. “Bulging
biceps and a strong back and the look of a mountain are yours, if
you endure the test of time, don’t collapse or abandon the
silence in the early morning, interrupted by deep breathing, lone
scuffling and thuds, and the speech of grunting men’s voices
and the mad clang of metal by night, told the black n’ white
story of faith, hope and desire: Push and pull with all your might,
this way and that, and, hey, have you tried it seated, standing
or with the weight tied ‘round your waist? What a stretch,
what a pump, what a burn! Unspoken, the priceless information was
passed from one guy to another.
shared what we experienced, not as secrets of training wisdom, but
as bits of molded clay and chiseled stone fragments at a sunken
archeological site, piecing them together to discover the unknown,
the whole. Build a body of splendor and power with the semi-precious
elements at hand.
things never change, thank heaven. Look into your past and recall
our ancient conversation of last week about muscle-making, where
we spoke of the “same old” training with a twist of
lemon. The beginnings of an exercise routine were charted and I
suggested simplicity in course, yet intensity in pursuit: less brain
and more back, order and focus. Let’s get back to work.
your stage-setting aerobic routine, move to an efficient and emphatic,
yet unhurried 10-minute midsection workout, which could include
variations of hyperextensions, crunches, hanging and incline leg
raises and rope tucks. Tightly combine the exercises according to
your level of condition by eliminating pauses between sets, supersetting
and performing high reps with intense contractions. The incentive
for these exercises, which most lifters consider a nuisance, is
realized in their value for extending the aerobic affect, loosening
and warming up the body and building attractive muscle.
If that’s not enough to impress you, there’s much, much
more: The big benefit of midsection training is the strengthening
of that slouchy region upon which our health, independence and longevity
depend. Our abdominal and lower back muscles hold us together, protect
our vital organs and maintain our balance. They keep us erect and
moving forward with the ability to lift heavier weights for more
years and with less limitation and less pain, spelled PAIN.
are full of 40-something folks who can’t bend over to pick
up a nickel, a dime or a quarter. For a dollar they’ll fall
on top of the thing, stash it in their shirt and wait for someone
to pick them up. Then there are those who exercise regularly, but
shy away from lifts that put a load on the lower back. “Hurt
it once. Don’t want to hurt it again.” Listen. Be aware,
be cautious, but don’t be foolish. Think twice; work the abdominals
and the hip and lower back areas. I encourage you to consider light
and thoughtful deadlifts and squats as a regular part of your workout
to strengthen your core structure. These, like water and air, are
necessary, safe and delicious when used correctly and not tampered
with or overdone. If the region is weak, it needs therapy and repair
and continual building, slow and sure, as only weight training can
solid ground work has been established, the site is clear and now
you’re ready for the timber and I-beams. No doubt you’ll
choose several pressing movements in your heavy construction, the
building of your body’s muscle mass and power. What about
pressing? Some lifters have better pressing and pushing strength
than others, while some shine when it comes to curling and pulling.
Generally speaking, pressing involves shoulder, triceps and minor
pectoral muscles and pulling requires biceps and back engagement.
The potential abilities and limitations in each area depend on genes
and muscle mass, of course, but largely on the mechanics of the
muscles, tendon insertions and bone lengths. You go with what you
have and strive to achieve your maximum potential. Done.
bench press is the best known, most popular and, thus, most performed
exercise in the weightlifting repertoire, and as an exercise it’s
not half bad. It builds muscle in the anterior deltoid, across the
chest and in the triceps. The bench press commonly presents a problem
to the bodybuilder and powerlifter, especially when they seek to
achieve extreme power and mass through its engagement. The shoulder’s
rotator cuff was not designed for repeated heavy overload and soon
the mechanism submits to the pain of damage, inflammation and eventual
deterioration. Something to consider, big guy. Warm up, don’t
go foolishly heavy (you da judge), no less than six reps a set and
keep the form perfect -- no radical arching, thrusting, bouncing
and no left arm followed by right arm, as the body contorts like
an electrically-charged lizard.
want to benefit from the bench, treat it as an exercise for four
sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 focused reps and improve your strength and
muscle mass by utilizing a simple rep or poundage increment plan,
workout to workout, over the next month. Go for a one-rep max when
you feel good and get the urge once every three to four weeks. Warm
up, stay cool and you’ll be hot.
most excellent presses by men and women are performed with dumbbells
and on an incline: big shoulders, powerful chest and triceps built
like steel jacks, healthy and pain-free. The carrying of the metal
from rack to bench and bench to rack accounts for some heavy work,
my hard-hitting, high-flying friends. Cleaning the dumbbells into
position and returning them to your uprighted sides is no worthless
requirement of muscle and motion. (I hate it when personal trainers
hand their clients the weights and retrieve them from them like
they were the trainer’s private property or nasty devices
not to be handled excessively.) Grasp the dumbbells with intimacy
and affection. Get to know the steely knurl, the hardness and the
heft, and consider the affect they have on your structure. They’re
for your benefit, for you to control and for your pleasure. They’re
in your hands by your choice and for your touch. Go up the rack,
4 x 12, 10, 8, 6.
incline dumbbell press can be low, a bench on a 4x4 or a crate,
with just enough rise to make it entirely different from a flat
press, a minor modification, but very effective. The steeper the
incline, the more you will notice that the front deltoid and, eventually,
the lateral deltoid comes into action, and the demand on the pectoral
muscles moves upward similarly. The resistance within the muscle
increases as less muscle volume is bearing the load. Steep dumbbell
inclines are the shoulder’s best friends. Coconut makers.
Smith Press is a popular exercise unit on every commercial gym floor.
It’s the piece that has the bar gliding up and down on a pair
of vertical rods fitted with manual stops every 6 to 8 inches, floor
to average head level. Put an adjustable bench under the bar and
you’re in business. The unit is perfect for the trainee who
prefers a guided action for safety as a beginner or assistance when
limited by injury. It serves the needs of those who are working
within a limited range of motion or customizing exercises to suit
specific needs. I count on the Smith Press for incline presses and
the press-behind-neck exercise (PBN) to maintain stability lost
to the malfunction of several rotator cuff supportive muscles. Paradoxically,
the bar’s strictness -- for up and down action only --allows
versatility in exercise creation in that the user can apply force
against the bar, forward or backward, for unique muscle recruitment
or damage and pain protection. Will the real Mr. Smith please stand
up and take a bow?
going onto pulling and curls, may I remind you that freehand dips
with weight are possibly the next best upper body muscle builder
next to gorilla style tire-stretching? Machine dips have great versatility
in that you can control the position of your body to isolate specific
muscles: lean back with a close grip to hit the triceps, lean forward
to pump the chest and round your back to engage the upper back.
And for the tough and adventurous type, cleans and presses work
the whole system from head to toe. Bar from floor to shoulders,
pause and press overhead and return to floor and repeat. Oh, boy.
Takes technique, practice and energy and produces muscle mass, power
exercises, as in curling or rowing or overhead lat pulldowns, are
predominately initiated by the biceps and upper back muscles. I
always say, if you want big biceps, do standing bent-bar curls and,
once conditioned, don’t be afraid to add the weight and use
some healthy body thrust with biting contractions and screaming
extensions. Four or five sets of six to eight reps are not bad for
dumbbell alternate curls are my next choice, again clean, yet fighting
reps for big biceps-building and interior muscle-building evident
in a full torso. I’m not an advocate of isolated muscle-making
-- one-arm concentration curls, stiff-body triceps pushdowns, rigid
knee-up-on-bench bent-over dumbbell rows. I prefer to work the body
like an animal in the wild, a racehorse crossing the finish line
or an ox at the front of a plow. Full range of motion, stretching
and tugging and total muscle action is more involving and fulfilling,
and more logical for growth and health.
There are incline curls, from almost flat for lower biceps and biceps
peak action; there are inclines of any degree for other points of
development, comfort and advantage and there are reverse curls,
thumbs-up curls, Zottmans and wrist curls, all for forearm focus
forget supersetting bis with tris when you get the urge to exceed.
And if you want to set your pants on fire, start curling at the
top of the rack for eight reps (your max) and work your way down
-- six to eight sets -- till you can no longer open your hands.
We have ways to make you talk.
lat width? Go with wide-grip pulldowns, both before and behind the
neck. Wide-grip chins can’t be beat, if you’re able
to do them, but they can be a beast. Seated lat rows give length
to the lats and thickness to the back and begin a welcome conditioning
of the lower back, especially when performed with full range of
motion, an arch of contraction at the peak of the movement and working
your way up to some meaningful poundage, one of the best exercises
on the shelf. Remember, biceps are always enjoying some extra duty
when you’re working the back.
you’ve been most attentive and I’m recommending you
for the Iron and Steel Cross of Concentration. The runway must be
cleared for incoming craft and it’s time for us to apply today’s
fundamentals. It’s in the work, not in the study, not in the
notes, not in the planning and discussing.
pick up were we left off, next week. Till then don’t let her
idle… push her to the max.
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