That’s One Bad Exercise, Harry

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Like any ambitious, imaginative and talented musclehead with no prospects, I was perusing the assortment of exercises I've practiced over the years. It reminded me of gleaning a jar of indispensable hardware and scraps amassed during a lifetime of thrift and practicality, looking for bolts whose threads are not yet stripped and nuts with enough edge to hold a wrench to its task. I searched for exercises I had not worn out or been worn out by, that had life in them and could be cunningly installed in my diminishing workouts to magnify their effectiveness. I was also planning to discard some of the heavier hardware that no longer suited my dinged frame: Benches, cleans and presses, upright rows and full squats -- hunky metal no longer contributing to my construction.

I put my nose closer to the scrap pile and separated out a handful of originals whose action in the very early days I found dull, restricted and ineffective. Who needed them with the training spectrum replete with bars, dumbbells, pulleys, handles, benches, angles, cams, techno-equipment and other bits of exercise gear? I needed them now.  Spiffing up my weary wagon takes a special application of every unworn, misplaced screw, washer, nut, bolt and indiscernible metal fastener I can scrounge from the old jar.

From the ten or so exercises I set aside, I built my workout for the day. As one does from time to time, I ached all over, but my desire to work out was dancing, alas the foxtrot. A perfect day, I thought, for experimenting and learning. I'll go easy rather than not at all and possibly teach myself a new trick, maybe an old trick. No pressure, take my time, allow for error, be attentive and play. It's one of those days.

Upper body was the focus with my hands, wrists, elbows and left scapula generating the minor havoc. I begin with wrist curls, my hands wrapped around a thick bar (the 2-inch Apollon's Axle from with the forearms resting atop my thighs; slow reps, light weight carefully assessing range of motion with wrist tenderness as my guide. Warming up with patience and tolerance allows me to proceed in weight and tougher output. Be kind, I say. This apparent isolation movement I notice involves enough biceps contraction and body persuasion that the elbows are slightly bending and loading with a hint of contraction in the muscles crossing the scapula. The thick bar distributes the weight across a broad area of the hand and alters the rotation, thereby engendering a different resistance. Sets of fifteen to twenty with a slowly increasing moderate weight suits me in this movement; heavy weight and low reps tend to get me in trouble. I'm in motion.

I continue in my ever-moving multi-set fashion to a thumbs-up curl, bringing the flat of the plate toward the cheekbone. Contrary to my style of using a heavier weight and a mild thrust, I stand rigid and pull the dumbbells in tight isolation, flexing all the stabilizing muscles I can locate and command. There's a bunch and they obediently pump if I apply my will, a reward within a reward. I lower the dumbbells to the count of two, if you're counting, and roll my shoulders back, arch my back comfortably, extend my triceps and contract with poised deliberation for two beats and bust into the next rep. The use of lighter weight with magnified concentration and the more complex contribution of subordinate muscles provides deep and effective intensity within the muscles, something I'm coming to depend on to give me more miles to traverse the horizons ahead. Rep range: 10

I need a triceps exercise that's not going to cause me to groan as my tender elbows flare. I'm going to learn how to perform bent-over triceps kickbacks and then I'm going to learn how to love them. In one hundred years of weight lifting, I haven't practiced this simple exercise more than twice. Unimpressed. It feels like a rebellious reaction common to stubborn mules. However, it’s one of the few actions that don't hurt my elbows… yet. You know how they're performed: bend at the waist, hold a dumbbell in one hand, set your upper arm firmly alongside your rigid, horizontal trunk and extend the weight backwards or to the rear by contracting the triceps. Beware of excessive back thrust and elbow hyperextension. Presto. Boring. I apply myself and seek performance variations to effect burn, pump, mass, shape, form, rhythm…whatever. We'll see. It might be a blast from the past, a buried treasure, an untapped watershed or a wash. I'm as hopeful as a worm hanging on a hook.

I’m good for three trisets. After that my math gets fuzzy and my muscles get muzzy.

The last combination of ordinary yet relatively unpracticed exercises I choose is the preacher curl supersetted with one-arm overhead triceps extensions. Preacher curls done vigorously and with full range of motion can be troublesome; tendonitis, over-extension of the elbow, biceps tear, insertion overload and so on. But if done with moderate weight and within a controlled range of motion that prevents over-contraction at the peak of the movement and hyperextension at the vulnerable extension, the preacher provides excellent healthy muscle action. It's up to you to find the limits and approach them slowly and rhythmically to extract the most from the exercise. Don't do preacher curls aggressively. Use your might and wits. Enjoy the steady pull and the steady extension.

One-arm dumbbell extensions are best performed on a utility bench with a back support. Sit tight with one weighted hand straight overhead. Position your torso and stabilize as needed to execute the extension with the triceps in control. Here again you are in charge of determining the most efficacious groove to satisfy your muscular-skeletal mechanics. I found that perfect track that gave me sufficient triceps activity without sending me to the moon was the textbook application -- elbows to the sky, slow dumbbell descent till near-ear position and slow, determined return. Crank. With practice I expect to squeeze something worthwhile out of the little rascal.

Three supersets work for old guys like me. Kids, you’re on your own.

No, I don't have ADD. It's just that....... Hey, look! There's a squirrel...

Captain Barbell


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