Monday, June 14, 2021

Side Bends: An Underrated Exercise - By Jim Duggan

Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts, Bent-over Rows, Overhead Presses. When people talk about the basics, it doesn't get any more basic than these five movements. Anyone who wants to get bigger and stronger realizes that these movements are the core exercises of any sensible training program. You simply cannot build strength without devoting a significant amount of time and effort to these fabulous exercises. Many powerlifters will also include a number of "assistance" exercises. These are exercises designed to strengthen, or "assist" a particular lift. Leg Extensions, while not a basic exercise, will strengthen one's Squat, just as close-grip bench presses will assist in strengthening one's Bench Press. Basically ( no pun intended) smaller exercises will assist in improving the big exercises. This is a formula which has been used by many lifters over the years.

Notice that I said "many" lifters because not everyone has embraced the idea of performing assistance or accessory exercises. Hugh Cassidy, former world champion super-heavyweight powerlifter, eschewed assistance exercises for the most part. His workouts consisted primarily of the three competitive lifts. Also Larry "Bruno" Licandro would go months at a time doing nothing but Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts. There are also lifters who would do assistance exercises for several months during the "off-season," or when there were no contests on the horizon. So, when it comes to assistance work, there are many differing opinions as to the effectiveness of supplementary exercises.

If you are one of those people who believe in the value of certain assistance movements, there is one exercise in particular that would be an invaluable addition to anyone's training regimen. Powerlifters, Strongmen, or anyone who desires "main strength" can benefit from including Side Bends in their workout program.

The movement itself is very simple. Hold a dumbbell ( or kettlebell, CMB,etc.) in one hand while standing with the feet either close together, or shoulder-width apart. Now, simply bend sideways at the waist. Keep your knees straight. All the bending is done by the waist. Do not sacrifice good form in order to handle more weight. In other words, do the movement smoothly, without any sudden, or jerky movements. Do the exercise under control. If you're holding the weight in your right hand, then you will be bending to your right side as far as possible. Return to the starting position, but do not go past it. In other words, don't over-exaggerate the movement. Even though you are holding the weight in your right hand, it is the muscles on your left side which will be doing the work. You can do anywhere from 10-30 repetitions. After you complete the required number of reps on one side, simply switch hands and do the opposite side.

Don't try to use so much weight that you start "bouncing." Also, do not try to alter the movement by placing a barbell on your shoulders, or by using a dumbbell in each hand. If you hold a weight in each hand, then you will negate the effectiveness of the exercise.

One can readily surmise that Side Bends will strengthen the entire torso. This will lead to greater stability when squatting, deadlifting, or carrying heavy weights. Think of the benefit a competitive strongman can derive from this great exercise. But it's not only athletes who can benefit from doing Side Bends. Strong, well developed obliques will help anyone who has to carry heavy objects on their shoulders, or carry a weight in one hand. If more people strengthened their backs and torsos from Side Bends then there would be no need for luggage with wheels. Think about it: What would the early 20th century Strongmen think of a man who can't carry his own suitcase? Leave the wheeled luggage for the toners and pumpers.

Incidentally, do not buy into the old wife's tale that says that Side Bends will "thicken your waist." Who cares? If you have been doing heavy Deadlifts and rows, your waist will naturally be thicker due to the increased muscle in your lower back. Let the pumpers and other "mirror athletes" worry about obtaining a wasp waist. If you strengthen and develop your obliques, then you will be stronger and look more impressive than someone who simply seeks a tiny waist for the sake of appearances. I could never understand why anyone would want to be "all show, and no go." Don't fall into that trap. Strive to strengthen ALL parts of your body. And Side Bends will help strengthen and stabilize your body for heavy lifting. Don't neglect this excellent- if underrated- exercise.
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