Q: I've scoured through tons of bodybuilding mags trying to find a different chest movement - something that's not the usual dumbbell or barbell press. Is there any such animal?
A: Well, I'm not sure that this is what you're looking for, but I do have an exercise that you might want to try. It's Dan Kennedy's modified pec fryer. This combination exercise is a variation of a superset shown to me by former Rutgers strength coach Kennedy at a seminar given at the New York Athletic Club many moons ago.
Superset flat dumbbell presses with a manual resistance pec-deck movement. Perform a set of six to eight reps of the flat dumbbell press, making sure to have the palms facing each other throughout the movement to ensure a greater stretch (it allows you to lower the dumbbells further). The tempo is up to you, but I'd recommend trying 3210: three seconds for the eccentric portion, a two-second pause in the stretched position, one second to lift the dumbbells, and no pause in the contracted position.
After you drop the dumbbells, stay on the bench. Place your hands behind your head as if you were being arrested, and then have your partner stand over you and apply manual resistance on the tips of the elbows – pressing directly on the skin of the biceps or triceps will give the trainee pain reminiscent of active fascia release. Make sure to start the set when the elbows are in their lowest (stretch) position in order to give your partner the best leverage when he applies resistance. If you start with the elbows up, your partner will find it nearly impossible to spread your arms apart.
As your spotter applies pressure, try to close your elbows together as if you were using a conventional pec deck. The force applied by the spotter should match your strength curve. This can be done by keeping the speed of the movement constant, thus giving more resistance in those ranges where the muscles can apply more force, and less resistance when the pectorals are in their weakest position (in this case, the stretch position).
Keep the number of reps low, but do them very slowly. I've found that sets of four to six reps using very slow tempos of four to ten seconds in the concentric portion of the movement and four to six seconds for the eccentric portion of the movement works very well.
The pec fryer can also be performed on the incline bench if you're interested in giving your clavicular pec muscles a good trashing.
Q: Most humans do dumbbell flyes with their palms facing each other. But whenever I see pictures of your trainees doing flyes, their thumbs are facing each other. What's the deal?
A: When trainees do flyes with their palms facing each other, their upper arms are externally rotated. The problem is that the pecs are, in fact, internal rotators of the humerus. Therefore, flyes should be done with the thumbs facing each other, thus internally rotating the humerus.
Furthermore, when you lower the dumbbells, the elbows should be in line with the ears in the bottom stretched position. Try it. You won't believe how much greater the stretch is on the pectorals. And, to really get a good stretch, do them on a Swiss ball.
One cautionary note regarding flyes. They generally require more warm-up than any other exercise.
Q: I use the Smith machine extensively in my training, but I've been hearing that it's not the greatest piece of equipment ever invented. What's your take?
A: To be frank, I don't think much of the Smith machine. In fact, when I design a weight room for a client, I never ever buy a Smith machine. In fact, if a dork asks me a question about chest training during one of my workouts, I quickly prescribe him ten sets of 20 on the Smith machine as my way of getting revenge. One of the reasons that the Smith machine has so much publicity in the magazines is because it makes a great visual picture but, as far as functional transfer, it scores a big zero. It was probably invented by a physical therapist who wanted more business for himself.
What you might perceive as positives with the device are in fact strong negatives. The perceived positives are only short-lived because, in a Smith machine, the weight is stabilized for you. However, the shoulder really operates in three planes. But if you do exercises in a Smith machine, none of the shoulder stabilizers need to be recruited maximally. For example, the rotator cuff muscles don't have to fire as much because the bar's pathway is fixed. That creates a problem when the trainee returns to free-weight training. When that happens, the trainee is exposed to the three-dimensional environment called real life. Since the Smith machine has allowed him to develop strength only in one dimension, it predisposes him or her to injury in the undeveloped planes of movement.
Exercise prescription specialist Paul Chek of San Diego has identified what he calls pattern overload syndrome. In his seminar and videos, he stresses that the Smith machine bench press is one of the most common sources of shoulder injuries:
"People get a pattern overload from using the Smith machine. The more fixed the object, the more likely you are to develop a pattern overload. This is due to the fact that training in a fixed pathway repetitively loads the same muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints in the same pattern, encouraging micro-trauma that eventually leads to injury. If Johnny Lunchpail always uses a Smith machine for his bench presses, he ends up working the same fibers of the prime movers in the bench press all of the time: triceps brachii, pectoralis major, long-head of the biceps, anterior deltoids, and serratus anterior. But he can't change the pathway – the bar will always be in the same position."
Because of the mechanics of the human shoulder joint, the body will alter the natural bar pathway during a free-weight bench press to accommodate efficient movement at the shoulder. A fixed bar pathway doesn't allow alteration of this pathway for efficient movement of the joint, thereby predisposing the shoulder to harmful overload via lack of accommodation.
All in all, the Smith machine is a training piece for dorks. If you're interested in training longevity, you're far better off sticking to the standard barbell and dumbbell exercises or try the newer chest machines from Magnum and Flex.
Q: You provide some interesting supplement recommendations in your "Poliquin Principles" book. Given the evolving nature of the supplement industry, would you change anything if you were going to rewrite it?
A: Of course I would change my supplement recommendations. Scientific knowledge doubles every 18 months nowadays. In fact, my opinion on supplements would fill an entire book. Since this answer goes beyond the scope of my column, I'll just mention a few things that I do differently.
For one, I take Power Drive before my workouts, as do all of my athletes. I'm not sure if it's because of increased neural drive or enhanced muscle fiber recruitment, but Power Drive usually guarantees that I get a great workout.
I've also customized my post-workout recipe. Since 1982, I've been a strong advocate of post-workout liquid nutrition. In my book, I made a rather precise recommendation for post-carb intake. After lengthy discussions with Dr. Mauro DiPasquale and Dr. Eric Serrano, and after analyzing the feedback of personal trainers who used the formula, I've come up with a new formula. Here's my latest recommendations based on my observations and a host of scientific research (these recommendations are for one-hour workouts):
It should be at least 0.6 g/kg of lean body mass. So if the athlete weighs 90 kg (about 198 pounds) with 10% bodyfat, that would represent at least 50 grams of protein.
My previous recommendations were based on the research available at the time. I generally recommended two g/kg of bodyweight but, after being exposed to more research and discussing it with my colleagues over the years, I have come to the the conclusion that the total carb content of your drink should be a reflection of the training volume for the training session – the greater the number of reps per training unit, the greater the carbohydrate intake.
The trouble is that all reps aren't necessarily equal. A squatting or deadlifting rep is more demanding than a curl or triceps extension. By the same token, three reps of slow-tempo squats have different caloric requirements than three reps in the power clean. Still, you may want to make the assumption that all reps are equal so it doesn't get too complicated.
- 12-72 reps per workout: 0.6 g/kg/LBM
- 73-200 reps per workout: 0.8 g/kg/LBM
- 200-360 reps per workout: 1.0 g/kg/LBM
- 360-450 reps per workout: 1.2 g/kg/LBM
Again, after many discussions with my low-carb proponents DiPasquale and Serrano, I've been experimenting with higher glutamine intakes. Recent scientific research has demonstrated that consuming glutamine following exercise can accelerate muscle glycogen resynthesis and, of course, elevate glutamine levels – both of which are critical in the prevention of overtraining and the creation of an anabolic environment.
I'm also big on antioxidants these days. All my athletes use an antioxidant blend because they tend to have a higher fatty acid intake than their colleagues. Fatty acids are extremely sensitive to damage and oxidation. This happens regardless of whether they're in your body or outside of your body. For example, an increased consumption of fish oil has been linked to higher levels of lipid peroxides in the body, which apparently prompts an increase in the need for vitamin E. If you supplement with E, try to use a blend of mixed tocopherols – not the single form of alpha which is most commonly sold.
Aside from taking E, I'd recommend using a formula of antioxidants that contains a wide array of them, such as selenium, vitamin C, and beta carotene. I also like to include a blend of antioxidants of an herbal nature that contain grape seed extract, green tea extract, bilberry, quercitin, hesperidin, turmeric, gingko biloba, and ginger. In my practice, my athletes use both Champion Nutrition Oxypro and Twinlab Antioxidant Fuel, rotating between the two.
Many of my athletes use Tribex-500, too, as the formulation results in added strength and size as well as enhancements in overall performance. Frankly, I wasn't 100% sure that Tribex was right for my athletes until the preliminary results from two university studies arrived. One of the studies looked at strength while the other looked at performance, the latter being very rare and often quite hard to prove. Nevertheless, Tribex came through with flying colors, showing a dramatic increase in the free testosterone:cortisol ratio over the placebo (a strong anabolic indicator). I'm also quite interested in Ribose-C, our new ribose/creatine formulation, as well as some of the exotic new flavones currently being studied.
I could go on and on about new recommendations. But suffice it to say that, yes, if I had written "The Poliquin Principles" recently, the supplement chapter would look very different than the original.
Q: You guys are sending mixed signals regarding the efficacy of training on a Swiss ball. Should I use them in my training or not?
A: The Swiss ball originated in the land of watches and Gruyere cheese where physical therapists have used them extensively in the rehabilitation process of their patients. They are valuable tools, but depending on them too heavily will probably be counterproductive in the long run.
For instance, many of my trainees do some of their chest work on Swiss balls. Generally speaking, it will cause you to control your movements and eliminate sloppy form. Why will it eliminate sloppy form? Because, if you're not careful, you'll end up rolling a few exercise stations away with the dumbbell manufacturer's logo permanently imprinted on your forehead.
When you use the Swiss ball to do dumbbell presses, the instability of the ball will force you to recruit your stabilizers extensively, thus allowing you to build a more injury-resistant shoulder structure and to recruit a greater number of muscles.
For this reason, my colleague André Benoit uses the Swiss ball for the chest training of all his novice athletes. Additionally, the round surface allows one to lower the dumbbells over a great range, thus providing a much better stretch for the pec muscles.
A sample chest exercise that you can do on the Swiss ball is the eccentric incline dumbbell bench press. This one's a beauty. I came up with the idea while giving a seminar for personal trainers. Someone in the audience asked me how to train the clavicular pecs eccentrically when training alone, so I came up with this exercise.
Situate yourself on a Swiss ball. Press the dumbbells up as if you were doing conventional dumbbell bench presses. Once you get close to locking out, keep your torso stable, but lower your hips as much as possible.
Since you're weaker in the incline press than in the flat press position, you'll use the strong leverage from the flat position to help you get the load up in preparation for the eccentric part of the movement. In effect, you're doing a flat bench on the way up, and an incline bench on the way down.
Just don't get too dependent on the ball. You might reach the point where your stabilizers prevent your prime movers from getting stronger. As they say, the strongest chain is only as strong as its weakest link and, in this case, it's the stabilizers.