The fact is that training without the time-tested "foundation exercises" isn't always a crime against God and physical culture. Nor is it just for gym geeks who spend
more time at the drinking fountain than they do under the iron. In fact, for some bodybuilders it may be the only way to go.
This may sound odd, but how many bodybuilders do you see in the gym who continue to do the same routines while continually failing to build great physiques? Perhaps worse yet, they continually com-pound bad ones. Their numbers are legion. Many fail to grow. Others develop droopy or bunched-up pecs, turnip thighs, disproportionate front deltoids, blocky waists or huge butts. There are hordes of bodybuilders, at all levels, who are unpleasant-looking combinations of all of the above. Have you found yourself slaving away at an exercise with no results, yet struggling on because you feel you have to do it? Because the champions did it? Because everyone in your gym does it? Probably most people reading this have had this experience at one point or another.
Nearly all the great bodybuilding authorities will tell you that the same exercise will have varying effects on different bodies.
Yet there is a huge and widely accepted belief that you can't even begin to build a physique without the "big basics." Pick up any bodybuilding rag and you'll see at least one or two articles stating this every month. The fact is that it just isn't true.
Three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane once said that he would perform no exercise that didn't put muscle exactly where he wanted it. This is a very simple yet amazing piece of enlightenment that is ignored by legions of bodybuilders. Let us say you suffer from tall man's disease. You are tall -you have long arms and legs. You have a lot of area to fill in with muscle mass. You are squatting; yet it doesn't seem to be helping. After your leg workout it's your lower back and butt that are sore. Your legs really don't seem to be growing at all. Your rear end and waistline are. Just great. The king of all bodybuilding exercises is failing you, and perhaps ruining your physique as well. What to do? Get smart.
Arnold (no last name necessary) commented about this situation in his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. He pointed out that many bodybuilders find the squat to be a very rewarding exercise; yet with his proportions he had to throw vast numbers of front squats into his leg routine to bring his thighs in line. Arnold was also one of the first bodybuilders to stress doing whatever works. That is the key to building a great physique - doing what works for you, not everybody else.
For example, most bodybuilders consider hack squats to be primarily a shaping or precontest exercise. Still, many bodybuilders, particularly those who have oriented themselves to heavy back-squatting routines, just can't see what they think of as a shaping movement as an alternative. They, as well as you, might want to try this. Get on a hack slide, and put on as much weight as you can handle for 8 to 12 reps. Do 5 to 8 sets to absolute failure. On top of this, combine your hack squats, as Bob Kennedy has suggested, with heavy leg extensions in pre-exhaust supersets. Presto! You have a burning, exhausting, near-vomit-inducing thigh workout without the concomitant hip, butt and waist expansion. True gluttons for punishment might wish to add front, Roman-chair, or sissy squats as a finishing exercise. As an alternative to the regular squat, the front squat can perform miracles on thighs that lack size and sweep. For a long time front squats remained a little-seen exercise for those in the know. Now they're prominent in gyms everywhere. Anyone who thinks they are easy or a way of avoiding real leg work is a fool or just hasn't tried them.
The pectorals continue to be one of the muscle groups most screwed up by bodybuilding trainees. The bench press is a source of great argument. It's one of the big three. Legions of bodybuilders thrive on it. Many don't. Yet nearly everyone in the gym benches, regardless of the results. Gyms are full of crappy-looking pecs tied to over-developed front deltoids. Mental slavery to the barbell bench press has a lot to do with it. Does this sound like you? If it does, get smart. Look at your pecs. Look at what you are doing to develop them, and ask yourself, honestly, "Is it working?" The answer in all honesty may be no. There are more exercises and variations of exercises for the pectorals than perhaps for any other bodypart. The flat barbell bench press, acknowledged king that it is, is only one. Again - and this cannot be overemphasized-every exercise affects everyone's physique differently. Seek out and find what works best for your physique.
The biceps are another area full of suffering and angst for bodybuilders. Standing barbell curls are widely considered the number one biceps-building exercise. An aspiring bodybuilder looks at the old black and whites of Arnold and Franco curling away, and he can hardly help but barbell curl. Still again, for many the standard barbell curl does not get the job done. The front deltoids muscle in. The forearms seem either to give out before the biceps or to take over the movement. It may seem as if every muscle in the body is being used before the biceps get any real work. But the barbell curl is the acknowledged king of biceps-training, so you do it anyway. Yet there are viable alternatives available.
Two-time Mr. Olympia Larry Scott owned a pair of the best-developed arms on the planet, and he built them primarily with variations of preacher-bench curls. Bodybuilding icon Steve Reeves (now deceased) attributed his biceps development almost exclusively to incline dumbbell curls. The Gold s Gym Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding states that Mohamed Makkawy favored the barbell slide-curl for development of his biceps, which were outstanding.
One has but to look at the routines of bodybuilding's greatest champions to see one overwhelming trend, and that trend is diversity. Just about all champions of note will have at least one favorite exercise, often an odd-sounding one that gives them out-standing results. They may consider it almost a secret technique that only they have discovered. What they have discovered is not the perfect exercise, but the exercise that is biomechanically perfect for their physique.
Genetics is a great limiting factor in bodybuilding. It commonly receives the blame for poor muscular development, and rightly so; however, the other often-unrealized factor is biomechanics. It can frequently be overcome as simply as by switching exercises. Remember, everyone's physique is unique. Any gym's membership will have the gamut of heights, widths, bone structures, limb lengths and joint relationships. Everyone's physique will respond to an exercise differently than everyone else's. Awareness of this simple fact can possibly cut out years of frustration and unproductive workouts. One simply has to break ties with convention and find what works best for the specific body.
This article is not intended to be a slap in the face to the squat, the bench press or the other acknowledged foundation exercises. On the contrary, if the bench, squat and barbell curl give you rapid development where you want it, more power to you. You are among the biomechanically blessed, and have the relatively easier row to hoe.
However, if the big basics aren't producing the results you want, it may pay to examine the huge pool of exercises available to you, and do some personal experimentation on your physique. The answer to rutted development is an open mind. There is more than one way to skin a cat. There are an immense number of bodybuilding exercises, techniques and principles, as well as philosophies that can bind them together. It is simply a matter of finding the right combination to slam on mass and shape. Proper rest, nutrition, and loads of determination can be helpful as well.
Do not be tied to hardcore bodybuilding dogma. Remember, old or new, what works for you is the best approach.