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Exercises are for Kids Who Fly Kites; Movements are for Bombers

Draper curls
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It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to tell us spring is around the corner. It takes a hopeful and impatient musclebuilder up to his ears in wet and cold and stiff. Where are my shorts and tank top? All eyes are on the horizon as we look for the groundhog, budding flora, the robin red breast, a rise in temperature, clear blue sky and strong sun and the lengthening day. A few months too early, but we are forever optimistic.

We’re the same way about our training -- wishful, eager, expectant. We train, look and wonder. We work out in the morning and probe for improvements in the evening. Nothing there. We do it again the next day and grope again the next night. Nothin’ nowhere. AM we push the iron, PM we explore the barren unknown. Nada! Been weeks (months or years), must be doing something wrong. Reps are too high, too many sets. Not enough reps, more sets. Wrong exercise combinations, incorrect muscle groupings. Perhaps the Bulgarian methodology I’m practicing is for Bulgarians, whereas I’m a German-Hungarian from Secaucus, New Jersey.

Time creaks along, the body grinds along and we groan along. Progress is around the corner. More like over the mountain pass, across the raging river, along the dark abyss and through the wild man-eating jungle. We change the mirrors in the bathroom; we heavy overhead lighting; we apply oil; we pump up; we squint. It’s been... what... almost a month, and still no stinking muscles. Patience is one thing, but longsuffering is for saints, poets, lovers and clowns with sad faces.

Oh, I can remember the long insufferable months and years. Those persistent, resistant biceps -- 15 1/4 inches held my gaze when I was 17. The stubborn pounds -- 170 was my first focus on an unmovable bodyweight. The obsessive calculations distressed my youth and innocence; I really wanted 16 1/2-inch arms and a bodyweight of 185 pounds. Only then would I be satisfied.

And where are the lats?

The phases came and went amid the rough and tumble process of growing up in a world not so friendly. I mean, what do taxes, war and a career have to do with me? Unions, voting and medical insurance? I’m just a kid. By 20 I was 200, by 22 I was 220, by 23 I was 230 and Mr. America.

And then I said to myself, “Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Reps are too high, too many sets. Not enough reps, more sets.” Rings a bell, sounds familiar, been here before. Nothing changes, bombers. Only the clay we mold and the hands that do the molding.

Here I am, clueless at 60-something. I’ve narrowed my workouts down to include a dozen different exercises.

Note: Exercise, or any variation of the word, I’m compelled to mention after all these years, is not a sufficient word to convey the action imbedded in the activity I reference as “exercise.” Got that? Sure ya do. Exercise is... well... wimpy in comparison. I prefer the word, “movement.” See what I mean; feel the difference? Expressed therein are liberty, strength, dimension, action, distance and space.

Let’s try that again: I’ve narrowed my workouts down to include a dozen different -- drum roll, maestro, please -- movements. So much better: clearer, inclusive, energetic, powerful and limitless. A dozen different movements are like a thousand different exercises. Movement indicates wide range of motion and finesse of motion, improvisation of action and invention of groove. One does exercise as prescribed. Another does movement as felt, according to instinct, need, ability, capability and creative purpose. Rocket launching is movement; the countdown is an exercise.

I had to bring a little science into the picture or you might not believe me.

What does any of this have to do with lifting weights and getting strong, ripped, huge or shapely -- our primary interests? Weight training is not a physical matter only; it is a thing of the mind, a matter of perception and conception, as well. Look... I’m not trying to complicate things or sound heavy. Nuts to that. I’m offering an easier, less restrictive, more engaging and creative way to work out.

I see guys and gals at the gym who lift weights according to prescribed form and format. Good. Form and routine are important. They look the same and perform the same month after month. God bless them. But in time a bright trainee, if he is at all involved with his training, will (and must) personalize his exercises and routines. He will execute an exercise to engage his muscles most effectively for muscle growth and muscle performance, despite prearranged design. He’ll stretch out, cut loose, stray from the norm... sniff around.

To underscore my previous note, any variation in exercise implementation extends the exercise into the category I call “movement.” Once, where rigid positioning and muscle isolation were recommended, looseness and broad-stroke motion take precedence. Strictness gives way to freedom of movement led by the muscle’s need, not by instruction. The engaged trainee -- one following his instincts and needs and desires and inner guide -- finesses an exercise like an MVP linebacker carrying the football down the field of a crowded defense, zigging and zagging, rushing and dodging. He squeezes the reps out of an exercise like water from a rag, squeezing and twisting, re-gripping and squeezing again.

Somewhere right about here I feel compelled to caution those who depend on a personal trainer regularly. An experienced PT is valuable in teaching a novice the basics of musclebuilding, periodically directing and programming a devoted trainee, and introducing an intermediate to the intricacies of advanced methodologies. But routine guidance can lead a wannabe athlete to routine performance. It can stifle his self-expression in exercise development and thwart his creativity in training direction. The student might remain a student forever, less inclined to experiment, experience and think on his own. This arrangement is fine for some folks; preferred, in fact, and I don’t knock it. Just... be aware.

Seven of my favorite and most practiced movements are listed below, each with a rough description of its performance -- its movement.

Rough is a carefully chosen word to describe the action. Though the execution of the movement is smooth, the picture is roughly conveyed cuz the movement changes according to impulse, purpose, necessity, ability, facility and muscle demand. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes -- any way it has to for maximum effect.

Pulley pushdowns --

You want a treat for strong cable training, use the various thick handles: more muscle recruitment, less lost energy, relief from wrist and elbow injury. Don’t ask me why. It’s like the switch on the wall; you flick it and the lights come on. A miracle, I guess.

What is a simple and effective secondary triceps exercise, the pulley pushdown can be creatively modified and executed to extend its worth to a larger portion of the upper-body musculature. Start with the standard close-grip pushdown standing several inches outside the overhead pulley. Draw the moderately loaded handle down and position your elbows near your torso for the first phase of 8 to 10 repetitions -- the upper arms are held rigid against the torso as the hands and forearms move up and down by the strong effort of the triceps. This groove is quite ordinary and the effect on the tris is gratifying, but limited.

Now, take one step back from the starting placement, crouch and lean forward from the hips while retaining the same tightly tucked upper arm position. Complete 4 to 5 reps -- full up and full down -- following the lean of the body. The lean and the distance away from the pulley extends the range of motion, engages a different (and fresh) region of the triceps. We’re burning. Now, take one step forward from the starting placement and with a split leg stance lean into the overhead cable, allowing your upper arms to naturally extend away from the torso. Here you execute another handful of now-brutal reps pushing the handle away from you and toward the cable system you’ve come to adore. There’s nothing left... except the relief -- and finishing reps -- you offer the upper body by stepping back from the machine while extending your arms and upper body in line with the cable system. Feel the stretch.

The triceps have been hit from every angle and the grip is a under heavy load. You can feel the resistance climbing up the forearms, though the burning tris and into the supporting deltoids. The upper torso is hot, sizzling about the serratus and intercostals from the fight for balance and stability as the tris work gallantly. Bend the arms slightly, lean into the resistant cable and extend the arms fully and pull the handles downward and toward your midsection. Arch your weary back in an effort to meet the handle and contract tightly. Repeat the sweeping motion with grace and gratitude for 4 or 5 reps. Done.

This convolution of the pushdown is at once tiring and exhilarating. It takes practice and involvement and once accomplished, the transition through the four subtle yet distinct variations of the movement becomes smooth and controlled. Muscle fatigue is compensated by sufficient muscle-engaging body thrusts to execute and complete the reps. A new level of maximum muscle involvement and exertion is achieved.

I do this as the last set in a triset for forearms: Wrist curls (5 sets x 12 reps), Thumbs-up curls (10-12 reps) and extended pulley pushdowns (20 some reps).

Wow. That a picture is worth a thousand words suddenly has new meaning. I have six more movements to describe and I’m thinking maybe we’ve endured enough confusion for one day. I’ll continue my wordy instructions next week if ya’ll promise to come back.

Thanks for the warning, Bomber.

Maybe I should spread my wings, spin my propellers and keep my mouth shut.

Later... Dave

PS: Remaining movements: standing barbell curl, widegrip pulldowns, seated lat row, one-arm dumbbell row and machine dips.

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