Friday, August 5, 2016


Much of strength and health focuses on muscles and strength. In the midst of that, perhaps a nod towards skeletal development would be worthwhile. After all, a set of 17" all terrain tires might look good on a full size truck, but not so good on a Honda Civic. While much of the frame broadens and thickens just from being under the iron, some exercises serve this purpose more than others.

One can also give a nod towards symmetry without automatically being tagged a bodybuilder. If a young man has a shallow rib cage, but wide shoulders and long arms, there is nothing wrong with forgoing wide grip pulling movements for a season. If a guy has huge hips, and no upper body, once again, it isn't a crime to stay with some real low rep squats, gentle and progressive, while focusing on the upper body till things even out. When he stands straight and true for his bride to be, he'll thank you!

To spread the shoulder girdle, I would put wide grip chins, front and back, at the top of the list. These should be done in a slow and controlled manner with a FULL range of motion. Don't bother blowing your rotator cuffs with the common kipping craze. You'll only get away with it for so long. Keep the chest out, back arched unless you want to diminish the effectiveness by half. Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how many guys have such little back development that do the right exercises, but with bad form. Couple the wide chins with some deadlifts or rows and it is a real winner. Looking back to the narrow scapula I had as a 143 lb. guy compared to my shoulder width two years later, after consistent wide chinning and rows, I am sold on this. And remember, while muscle comes and goes over the years, the frame you build stays pretty much the same.

For spreading the rib box, nothing beats the dumbbell pullover. Some guys do pretty well with a barbell as well. This is one of my great regrets in exercise selection, and probably helps explain my two dimensional appearance. Because I didn't "feel it" in the muscle, I thought it wasn't worth much. Many young guys make this same mistake. Don't be one of them. Keep a slight bend to the arms, take a deep breath, and sink into a good stretch while keeping the hips low. Patience and persistence will yield a couple inches on the chest in a few years when you're younger. It can be done when older, but it takes longer. This also arguably makes more room for the organs and potentially bigger motor under the hood, i.e. heart and lungs.

Squats are the well deserved and predictable choice for the lower body structure. The amount of growth hormone released into the system by squats is perhaps greater than any other exercise. Add to this the large amounts of weight your skeleton has to support, and it really contributes to a strong, solid frame. The carryover strength and athleticism for everything from a vertical jump, to driving opponents backwards in football or wrestling are noteworthy as well.

When training, surround these three worthy exercises with some heavy presses, curls, rows (upright or bent), dumbbell work, and some core work. I also recommend some neck work, especially bridging, but that is up to you.

For enduring muscle (not endurance muscle), the kind that won't disappear during a two week vacation or month lay off due to injury, build up to heavy weights and some lower reps. Pyramids up to a heavy single or double and 5x5 were my favorites. This winter, for the first time in twenty years, literally, I got a gym membership. For a change (and to try to help a couple nagging joints), my teen kids and I pummelled ourselves on a high volume, higher rep lifting routine. We're talking 20 sets of 12 to 40 reps, something I hadn't done in over twenty years either, but, hey, it was dark early and we were bored. After four months all of us hated working out and even I was surprised at how quickly the veiny, puffy muscle shrunk. Those three pounds I had put on through such toil were GONE when I took a couple weeks off.

On the flip side, when my brother and I first started training consistently, 30 years ago, we didn't own a bench so we built our three times a week full body routine around heavy military presses, frequently pyramiding up to a max lift. Though I can't claim much, my shoulders have never left me, even over extended layoffs. No one else in my family, besides my brother, has noticeable shoulders, so it isn't genetic. He can also still walk into Dick's Sporting Goods and side press a 90 pound dumbbell. It would be hard to overstate the role heavy, safe, lifting can play in the formative years for how one may look and be strong for the rest of their life.
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