Teaching An Old Dog
New Tricks - Part I by Arik Orosz
Wandering around aimlessly throughout the gym day, after day, after
Guilty as charged! You will hereby be sentenced to 4-6 weeks of
new exercises as well as implementing some new twists on your same
Get out of the Rut
We all done it and I don't
believe any of us are exempt from this particular scenario. We humans
are creatures of habit and like to act accordingly. Life gets busy,
and suddenly we find ourselves not alotting the amount of time we
used to spend thinking about how to train intelligently. We begin
to give ourselves a pat on the back just for the fact we got our
foot through the front door of the gym today. Then before we realize
what even hit us, we're waking up one cloudy morning only to realize
that our progress has become stagnant and our current routine is
about as exciting as quantum theory is to an exotic dancer. It's
time to pull out of autopilot in the gym and begin to think things
through a little more carefully again. The intended purpose of this
article is to 1) add some new weapons to your training arsenal and
2) transform some of the more primitive, basic movements into more
highly evolved, and thus more effective movements. Now, as Judge
Mills Lane always states so eloquently- Let's get it on!
Movement One: The Flat Dumbbell Press
I know what you're thinking, "Arik,
what in the hell are you going to teach me about a dumbbell press
that I haven't already heard a million times before?" Indeed,
this is one of the most basic, old school exercises
in the book. So why is it then, I can still walk into nearly any
gym and find 9 out of 10 people still not doing this movement correctly,
or at least not taking it to it's full potential benefit. Perhaps
you are already utilizing some of the techniques I'm going to describe
in the latter part of this article. Maybe, you aren't using any
of them. Nonetheless, after we break this movement into it's individual
parts you'll be dumbbell pressing like an old veteran.
Gripping each dumbbell directly in the center of their handles,
lie back into a centered position on the bench. Be sure to
hold the dumbbells parallel to the torso and in close while
lying back to avoid undue stress on the shoulders.
Turn the dumbbells out so that they are perpendicular to the
torso and the palms are pronated (forward). The inner head
of each dumbbell should be approximately on the same plane
as the chest at the initiation of the movement.
Before initiating the first concentric (upward) protion of
the movement, take a deep breath and lightly retract the scapulae
(shoulder blades) so that the chest is pushed out higher than
the delts. Maintaining this position in the scapulae is critical
to maximizing the load on the pectorals and minimizing the
load on the anterior delts. Also, be sure that the head, upper
back, and glutes remain in contact with the bench at all times
and that the lower back remains slightly arched. Contrary
to what what I've heard many a knucklehead trainer telling
their clients, arching the back lends itself to proper biomechanics
during this movement as long as the glutes don't come off
the bench during the exercise.
Initiate the press forcefully, but under control. Begin to exhale
only after you have pushed through your sticking point in the exercise.
For most people this will be somewhere between the bottom and the
midpoint of the movement. This offers several advantages. One, there
will be oxygen available to the body during the exertion. Two, there
is a distinct mechanical advantage when the chest cavity is full
of air and as a result you will be considerably stronger, plain
and simple. Keep the lower back and abdominals tight at all times.
Step Five *Pay close attention to this one
As you approach the top 1/3
of the movement, allow the outside head of the dumbbell to
tip slightly downward about 20° to 25°. This will
minimize involvement of the anterior delts through the lockout.
The shoulders have a natural tendency to dominate the top
portion of of pressing movements, especially in beginners
who have not yet developed adequate neuromuscular efficacy.
Contract the pectorals briefly at the top of the movement.
Begin to descend the weight in a controlled fashion. On the
average, the eccentric (negative) portion of the movement
should last between 2-4 seconds. Take note that this rep tempo
is not written in blood, but is merely a good starting point.
Other rep tempos may be desirable depending on the athletes
training priorities, and current training program but that
is beyond the scope of this article. Repeat steps one through
six until the desired number of reps are completed for that
Movement Two: The Close Grip Incline Press
This is bar none one of the best movements
you can do to develop the clavicular portion of the pectorals. Paying
attention to the details involved on this one will make or break
whether you'll end up with an impressive upper chest or just tired
shoulders. Traditional incline benching is not the ideal
movement for upper chest development because of the large degree
of anterior delt involvement, especially if the elbows are at a
greater than 90 degree angle (which is never desirable).
Bodybuilding mags of yesteryear always preached a wide grip for
a wide chest. If we take a closer look at the kinesiology of this
movement, it becomes increasingly apparent that the individual who
developed this theory had a few too many hits from the bong. Benching
with the wrists placed outside the perimeter of the elbows will
do nothing but place increased stress on the shoulders. On that
Step One Start by laying back on a bench with an
incline that varies between 30 and 60 degrees. If the base of the
bench adjusts, set it so that the bar requires a minimal amount
of excess movement to unrack the weight.
Step Two Place the hands so that they are approximately
16-20 inches apart, depending on the length of your humerus.
Take a deep breath and unrack the weight, preferably with
a lift from a competent spotter. The key to this movement
is to lower the weight under control directly in line with
the clavicle (just below the base of the neck) while keeping
the shoulders pinned back, the elbows in line with the clavicle,
and the upper chest pushed out like a soldier standing at
attention during a General inspection. The most common mistake
on this exercise is bringing the bar down to low on the chest.
This cheats the muscle fibers we're targeting out of being
used to any appreciable extent.
Step Three Lower the weight only until a moderate
stretch is felt through the upper chest. This may be anywhere
from 0-3 inches from actual contact with the clavicle based
on the length of your arms and individual ROM in the shoulder
capsule. Paul Chek wrote an informative article some time
ago discussing this issue in depth in relation to the flat
bench press. As long as you are taking the muscle through
its required range, bottoming out is not necessary on most
chest exercises. Choosing the appropriate amount of weight
is also critical to getting the max benefit from this movement.
Why you ask? Here comes that term again- Load Sharing! The
weight must be heavy enough to maximize use of the targeted
muscle fibers, yet light enough that it will not divert a
large portion of the weight to peripheral muscle groups.
Keeping the scapulae retracted, press directly upward, paying
careful attention to keeping the resistance on the upper chest.
If the shoulders are held back when the humerus is forced
to move medially (inward) by the chest, it will generate a
whole new kind of contraction that most trainees have never
experienced on this movement before.
Forcing Adaptation Means Learning to Use the Muscle Effectively
More often than we realize, peripheral muscles will
become involved in an exercise to a greater degree than is desirable
in that particular movement. The body's natural solutions for compensating
for muscle weakness and are rather efficient and can sometimes cheat
us out of the results we expect to achieve from a certain exercise.
We must 1) recognize these muscle imbalances and take the proper
steps to correct them and 2) develop the proper coordination through
practice to trick the body out of doing what it naturally wants
to do at times. The exercises described in Part I of this article
are a perfect example of this. The body does not want to naturally
retract the scapulae throughout the entire ROM during these movements,
which is why beginners almost always overexert the shoulders at
the top of most chest exercises. It takes conscious thought and
repetitive application to develop the skills necessary to maintain
ideal body positioning at all times. It's also common to see beginners
applying intensity at the expense of technique. After all, one must
"lift heavy to get big", right? Not so fast. Proper technique
is critical if the increased level of intensity is going to do it's
job. This is mostly due to the phenomenon we discussed, known as
"load sharing". In laymen's terms this simply means if
you are handling to much weight for the targeted muscle(s) to handle,
the body will swiftly divert more of the load onto other muscles
that may not necessarily be the muscles you are prioritizing. We
will discuss this more and take an in-depth look at how it relates
to many different exercises in future issues of Shapeshifter.
Arik Orosz is the owner of Shapeshifter, an athletic training facility
located in Minneapolis Minnesota. To schedule a private consultation,
call 612-328-5712 or send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org