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It was chest day. I love chest day, but not for the same reason that most guys do. Most guys look forward to it as a macho ritual and a chance to prove their manly mettle by cheating up a lot of weight with the generous help of a willing spotter, who invariably screams, "It's all you, bro!" as encouragement.
The most common question asked of any man with a modicum of muscle is usually, "How much do you bench?" I used to go into lengthy explanations on why I didn't do the flat barbell bench press anymore, or tell them how much I used for dumbbell bench presses.
Neither response ever seemed to satisfy the uninformed, so a few years ago I just started lying and saying "405." It's so much quicker and easier. I am well aware that each time I do this I am breaking one of the Ten Commandments, but I am fairly certain Moses and his buddies never had to deal with ignorant types in the desert demanding to know how many camels they could lift, or some such nonsense.
No, I loved chest day because I have always had a great mind-muscle connection with my pecs. My front delts or triceps never took over. It was always the muscle fibers of my chest that I felt straining against the resistance.
My chest always gets a nice pump, it always gets sore for the next couple days, and getting it to grow has never been a problem. I guess I just got it like that, yo. Sorry, I think I am starting to imitate the speech patterns of my eleven-year-old daughter. If you catch me spending hours a day on AOL Instant Messenger like her, feel free to smack me.
Back to the whole issue of being honest and upfront. It was a recent chest day that I found out Randy hadn't been entirely truthful about something with me for quite some time.
A quick update on Randy. He had indeed gone out to the after-hours New Year's Eve party at the club that didn't let out until eight in the morning, while my wife and I had opted for a local place that closed at two. Randy had been so hung over and nauseous the next day that he didn't eat a thing until he went to bed the next night, though he did sip at a protein shake a few times over the course of the day.
To his horror, when he stepped on a scale the next day his weight had dropped from 217 down to 212. That's what happens when you have a fast metabolism like this kid does, and miss a few meals. It took him over a week to get those five pounds back, too.
Now it was almost a month after New Year's, and his weight was fluctuating back and forth between 217 and 220. On the days he was 217 he was miserable, on the days he was 220 he felt on top of the world.
As I have said before, we bodybuilders are the anti-anorexics. Just as they cringe at gaining the slightest ounce, we feel the world is coming to an end if we lose weight. Many a time I have stepped on the gym scale and cursed aloud if I had lost a pound or two, or even if I weighed the same when I was trying to gain. Some dude with a big old potbelly would often try to be sympathetic. "Put a couple pounds on, huh?"
"I wish!" I would fire back. "We all want to weigh 300 pounds, but maybe it's just not meant to be." Then the heavy guy will look puzzled, as if I had just told him my goal was to be half-man, half-dolphin, and live out the rest of my life performing at Sea World for buckets of dead fish.
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Many A Time I Have Stepped On The Gym Scale
And Cursed Aloud If I Had Lost A Pound Or Two.
A Secret Is Revealed
Incline Dumbbell Press
Click Here For A Video Demonstration Of Incline Dumbbell Press.
"What?" I was shocked, mainly because I had only been doing the bar most of the time when we trained together because I thought he liked it. "How long have you felt this way?" I almost felt like he was a spouse breaking the news that he didn't love me anymore - but don't get any ideas with that one, folks. I don't judge anyone's lifestyle, but both Randy and I are very much into the female of the species. The human species, that is. If you're into other mammals, that's your deal. And it's nasty.
"Pretty much since I started training." Now I was starting to fume. I knew Randy wasn't this dumb.
"Why didn't you say something, for God's sake?" I demanded. "I would take dumbbells every time over barbells for chest!"
"Well," he shrugged, "You know, barbells are supposed to be the best thing for mass, real basic and everything." My mind was reeling.
"Anyone who says that is just repeating something they heard or read," I said. "I defy anyone to tell me dumbbells aren't as good at stimulating muscle growth as a barbell. In fact, I think that for a lot of people, they're better. I know they have been for me, for sure. And if you want to get into how hard the two are to control, balance, and master, dumbbells are much tougher."
"Huh," was Randy's inspired retort. He thought a moment. "Maybe my upper chest would be even better if I had been using dumbbells all this time."
"Ya think? Look, just because a specific exercise is supposed to be the very best, doesn't mean it's the best choice for everyone. You know I haven't done the flat bench since I was a teenager, back in the Johnson administration."
"Huh, you mean when Magic Johnson was still playing for the Lakers?" I guess I should have just been grateful he knew about one historical figure, even if it was sports history.
Not Always Right For Everyone
"Never mind. Another good example is squats. For most people, they are simply incredible for building leg size and strength. But for tall guys with long legs, often they are a waste of time. They just don't have the right leverage for them. They usually do much better on the leg press, especially if they can find one of those ones with the larger platforms so you can set your feet wider apart. Any other exercises you do that you shouldn't be doing?" He barely hesitated.
"Straight-bar curls. They hurt my wrists so bad that I can never use enough weight to really hit my biceps right. I like the EZ-Curl bar better. But every arm-training article says regular barbell curls are the best exercise, and you have to do them if you want big guns."
"Don't you see how crazy that is?" I asked.
"You wrote a lot of those articles," he deadpanned. Now he had me, the S.O.B.
"Well, be that as it may, I have also written many times about how you need to try many different training methods and exercises, and use the ones that work best for you. We are not clones. We are all different, with our own metabolisms, bone structures, muscle fiber makeup, energy levels, tolerance for volume, temperament, attention span, favorite soft drink, on and on. But when it comes to exercises, especially, you really need to find the movements that work best for you, and stick with them. Doing exercises that don't feel right won't help you at all. You won't make progress, and you won't enjoy training. It's just an endless, vicious circle."
Choose What's Best For You
We talked a little more, and Randy now understood the need to customize his workouts to fit his particular needs and preferences, rather than blindly do what everyone else was doing, or mimic the routine of some pro bodybuilder that won his first contest the week after he started training (a pro named Dave Henry actually took home his first trophy a full two years before he began lifting weights - really). And as always, the bottom line is results.
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David Henry At The 2009 Olympia.
View More Pics Of David Henry At The 2009 Olympia.
If something works for you, no matter how much it goes against convention, it can't be 'wrong'. So if any of you are stuck in a rut and not making improvements, take a long, hard look at your workouts. Are you doing what's best for you, or just doing what you think is best, or what someone else told you is best?
Don't be afraid to be your own person in the gym and break away from the crowd. Always remember - most of the people in that crowd don't look that great, anyway. And because most of them will never step back and question whether they are doing what's most effective for them, they never will.
About The Author:
Ron Harris is the author of "Real Bodybuilding: Muscle Truth from 25 Years in the Trenches," available at www.ronharrismuscle.com.
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