Thursday, October 4, 2018

What To Avoid....And What Not To - By Jim Duggan

     There is no shortage of training information available to anyone willing to look.  And you don't have to look very hard.  Note that I didn't say "quality" training information.  A casual glance at the typical articles appearing in the various muscle comics, fitness blogs, or the ubiquitous training videos will illustrate that there is a serious shortage of quality information for those who seek to build strength and health.  As for those unfortunate individuals who are forced to train in commercial gyms, well, I don't have to remind you of some of the silliness that passes for training today.
     It is not my intent to denigrate an entire generation of trainees.  And I certainly am not trying to be one of those people who look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  The "good old days" weren't always good, and the only way to make gains and achieve your goals is to train progressively.   And the only way to make progress is to continuously look forward. Living - or lifting- in the past won't get the job done.
     It's usually not too difficult to look past some of the strange training ideas being put forth by "the experts."  Just about anybody can go online and become a "certified" trainer.  Anybody with a smart phone can make and publish exercise videos.  And anybody can make, and post, exaggerated claims regarding what they lift.  I've always approached such claims with a great deal of skepticism. Perhaps I've become a bit cynical in my, uh, middle age. But for as long as I can recall, if a person claims a certain lift, then it should be verifiable. Eyewitness testimony is usually reliable, so long as you can trust the witness.  As a Lifter, it was easy for me to distinguish between what was real and what wasn't. If it wasn't done in a sanctioned contest, then it is merely a "gym lift," which means it falls into the same category as the various outrageous claims made by countless persons.  And while there are countless claims, and all too many foolish ideas floating around, most of the time, it is easy to ignore the silliness.  Once in a while, though, you have to take the time to address things that are just plain wrong.   
     Recently, a popular magazine published an article detailing fourteen exercises that you shouldn't do if you're over 50 years old.  Over the years, I have made my feelings about getting older quite clear.  It may sound trite, but age is only a number.  Whatever your age, there is only one way to approach your training, and that is to go all-out.  Progressive resistance means training progressively, regardless of your age.  Naturally, if you're injured or have a medical condition, you may need to adjust your training. Train smarter, not harder if that's the case.  But if you have no medical issues, then there is no reason to limit your training, or your choice of exercises.  
     So, getting back to the article in question, I will highlight some of the exercises that are verboten.  And I will offer my opinion as to why these movements SHOULD BE PERFORMED.  
1) Push-Ups.  Is there anyone out there who has not done Push-ups at various times during their life?  Push-Ups are part of every American Phys-Ed program. Not to mention every branch of the Armed Forces. Why Push-Ups are right up there with Apple Pie, the Flag and watching The Honeymooners reruns ( OK, The Honeymooners is my addition, but if you've ever watched it, you known what I mean.) Seriously, what lifter hasn't done his/her share of Push-Ups, especially during their early years?  The person who wrote the article claims that wall push-ups ( leaning against a wall a doing them standing) is safer, in order to save your shoulders as you age.  What a joke.  Charles Atlas did hundreds of Push-Ups every day until the day he died, and he enjoyed a long, healthy life.
     2) Squats.  Has there ever been a strong man who did not dedicate a large portion of his training to performing heavy Squatting? Back Squats, Front Squats, Partial Squats.  All elite strength athletes have spent a large amount of time inside a Squat Rack ( or Power Rack.) Now there may be some people who, because of poor leverages or body mechanics, cannot Squat without risking injury.  If you have a legitimate issue, there are alternatives. But if you can Squat safely, then you should do Squats. Period. Don't let fear of hard work deter you from performing this wonderful exercise.
     3) Bench Press.  The King of upper-body exercises.  Pure, unadulterated power is how the Bench Press has been described, and I think most people will agree.  Except the person who wrote the article.  Her alternative? Using a rowing machine.  Ridiculous , don't you think? Bench Presses, properly performed ( no bouncing, no back arch, no cheating) will develop great upper-body strength. 
     4) Pull-Ups.  Another staple body-weight movement.  Yes, they are challenging, especially if you weigh more than 200 Lbs.. But if it were easy, then everybody would be able to do it, right?  Stick to it, and make the effort to do them.  You will build great strength. You can do Chin-ups if it's easier. Either one if those exercises is superior to using a Lat machine in my opinion. The author of the article recommends doing Lat Pulldowns instead of Pull-Ups.  Yes, you can pump your lats better with Pulldowns.  But is there anybody reading this who is interested in pumping and toning?  This website is called Natural STRENGTH.  Go someplace else if you want to pump.  Besides, how many times have you seen somebody doing Pulldowns incorrectly and hurting their shoulders? Stick with Pull-Ups and Chins.
     5) Crunches.  While the person who wrote the article advocates doing Planks instead of Crunches and Sit-ups, my advice would be to listen to your body. If you can do Sit-ups without injury,  then stick with the exercise that has been strengthening the mid-section of generations of lifters.  We're not looking for six-pack Abs, we are after functional strength.  Therefore,  use a sensible approach. No need to try to do hundreds of Sit-ups per day. Leave that for the posers. 
     6) Deadlift.  "The meet doesn't start until the bar is on the floor." That is a refrain that is familiar to all Powerlifters. The most majestic of the three Powerlifts, and the one that will build the most overall body power.  Is there anything more motivating than seeing someone fight through a heavy Deadlift? While some lifters may have mechanical issues with the Deadlift, there a several safer alternatives. Dumbbell Deadlifts, Trap-bar Deadlifts, Partial Deadlifts, Deadlifts off a block, Snatch-Grip Deadlifts.  All of these are more effective than the alternative suggested by the person who wrote the article. Her recommendation? Glute bridges.  I kid you not.  If performing Deadlifts after the age of fifty is dangerous, as the author claims, then I recommend she speak with Steve Weiner who regularly does heavy Deadlifts in his mid fifties. Or Tom Tedesco who is still doing Deadlifts at age 63.  
     7) Leg Presses.  Earlier, I mentioned that if you can Squat safely, then you should most certainly do Squats.  However, there are some people who simply cannot Squat without incurring injury.  Years ago, I used to train with Drew "The Human Wall" Israel.  Drew had a congenital back condition that prevented him from doing Squats.  That did not stop him from training hard.  He simply substituted Leg Presses for Squats.  Through heavy high-rep Leg Pressing, he was able to build great size and strength. There are two important things to remember when doing Leg Presses.  One, use a quality Leg Press machine.  The sled-type machines found in most commercial gyms are of little, if any, value.  Yes, you can load a lot of weight, and the toners can feel strong moving heavy poundages.  But what they don't realize is that the machine is leveraged in such a way as to allow anybody to use a lot of weight. They are just ego machines, plain and simple, for people who don't want to Squat.  The Hammer Strength Iso-Leg Press was an excellent machine, and Drew had one in his home gym.  The second thing to remember about the Leg Press, is to use it properly.  That is, do not try to use it for low reps with near-limit poundages. High reps, done to failure, will give you a terrific workout.
     The above movements are just some of the exercises that shouldn't be done by those of us over fifty, if you were to listen to the author of that dubious article.  Personally, I think that they are all terrific exercises that have been used successfully by generations of Lifters the world over.  But if you are over fifty, and want to take her questionable advice, then so be it. If you are younger than fifty, then on the day before you turn fifty, do all of the exercises listed above.  Then never do them again.  Seriously, don't listen to people who have no understanding of what it's like to train hard. Listen to your body,  train smarter, and progressively.


Editor's Note: Great Article Jim. This is one of my favorites.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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