Q: Given the fact that it doesn't train the stabilizers, should I ever slide my handsome ass into a pec-deck machine?
A: I've seen your ass, and it definitely isn't "handsome." Regardless, as a source of variety, and if you're an athlete who's generally uninterested in functional strength – like a bodybuilder, for example – you can do the pec-deck sporadically.
However, make sure that the model used has a pedal which allows you to "leverage up" the weight so that you can get your arms into a pre-stretched position to do the exercise. Also, when you do the movement, make sure that your palms are facing the floor during the exercise. For instance, if you use the standard hammer-grip style, your upper extremities will be in external rotation, which sends a signal to the brain to fire the pec major, an internal rotator of the humerus. This results in poor recruitment of the targeted muscles.
As is the case for just about any other exercise, you'll adapt to it in six workouts or so, which means that it will have outlived its usefulness.
Q: In your "Poliquin Principles" book, you briefly mention one-armed chin-ups. Are these just showoff exercises, or do they have some value to a bodybuilder? How about one-armed push-ups, same deal?
A: The one-armed chin-up isn't exactly a showoff exercise, as very few individuals can even dream of doing them (well, for those individuals, I suspect that it's a showoff exercise at times). It's been estimated that only one out every 100,000 trainees has the genetic potential to achieve a single one-armed chin-up. The athletes most likely to be able to do one or more are mountain climbers or gymnasts.
Once, one of my client's bodyguards who, aside from being a sharpshooter, was also a very accomplished mountain climber. He told me that he really liked my concept of changing tempos and that he was getting much stronger. So I asked him what exactly it had done for him, and he explained that it had really improved his chin-ups. To illustrate his great strength gains, he handed his Glock to his partner and then proceeded to do a full-range, one-armed chin-up, taking 20 seconds for the concentric phase and 20 seconds for the eccentric phase. What was even more impressive was that he was doing it with only his middle finger wrapped around the bar.
There was another mountain climber who worked for our National Ski Team that performed 23 of them in front of me while using a pronated grip. He did them while holding onto the diving board of a drained swimming pool.
Both of these examples were quite slender and didn't sport excessively muscular arms. But obviously, they have superior motor-unit recruitment abilities. So, the direct applications of one-armed chins are rather limited because of genetic factors. Furthermore, this movement would be considerably harder for the average bodybuilder, as the rest of his body is generally a lot more massive than that of the average mountain climber or gymnast.
One-armed push-ups are more readily accessible to the average person as they require much lower levels of maximal strength. After all, if Sylvester Stallone can do them...
In my opinion, a more impressive form of the one-armed push-up is to have only the contra-lateral foot on the ground when doing them. If you're doing one-armed push-ups using the right hand, your left arm is extended in front of you, and your right foot is kept a few inches off the ground.
I first saw these being done by the late Kay Baxter at the Pro World Bodybuilding Championships in Toronto 14 years ago. What I like about this advanced form of the one-armed push-up is that it requires a much greater range of motion than the classic Rocky ones, and you also need to fire a much greater amount of motor units to stabilize yourself.
Q: What's the best time of day to train? We've heard about training in the morning because growth hormone levels are supposedly higher. But I tried it, and my poundages went to hell. Others say that the optimal time is mid-afternoon. What's your opinion?
A: This is a classic case of people looking at only one factor and basing all of their decisions on that one factor. As far as growth hormone is concerned, there's a bit of overkill involved in this one. Taking a sauna increases growth hormone, but so does being exposed to cold temperatures. I'm surprised that Ellington Darden or Joe Weider hasn't come out with a Temperature Contrast Principle yet in which you superset squatting in the sauna with leg curls at the morgue.
According to some rather limited research – most of it by German strength physiologist Hettinger – it appears that the best time to train is 3-11 hours after waking up – assuming, of course, that you always wake up at the same time.
But from personal experience, you can train yourself to have optimal workouts at any time during the day as long as you are disciplined to always train at the same time. In the summer, when I'm my busiest, I enjoy very good workouts at 11pm. It takes me about a week-and-a-half to get used to it, though. In the fall, I prefer to train at around 10am.
Regardless, don't get too anal about it. My schedule changes a lot in the fall and winter, and I still have great workouts any time, assuming that my blood sugar is constant or slightly elevated. I know where the 24-hour gyms are in any city. I rarely go to bed having missed a workout. I've trained arms at 1:30 in the morning with a police officer friend of mine at the World Wrestling headquarters (thanks to the hospitality of Vince McMahon). I've also gotten up at 3am to eat so that I can "enjoy" a 5am leg workout at the Gold's Gym in Las Vegas because I had a full day of consultations lined up from 7am.
The most important thing is to have an accurate training diary and resolve to exceed your previous gym performances. The rest is really irrelevant. Often, seminar attendees or interns ask if they can train with me. If they're not dorky, "pain in the ass" material, I'll say, "Sure, meet me at the gym at 23-hundred hours." Then I see how keen they are about training with me. Much to their surprise, they enjoy an excellent workout, and the time of day doesn't matter much, providing that their mental attitude is right.å
Many trainees fail to achieve gains because they make all sorts of excuses. You can dream of gains in the gym, or you can stay awake and actually make the gains.
Q: Do you think that those devices used to stretch the legs are worth it? I see them all of the time in martial arts magazines, and I could use some flexibility.
A: Keep in mind that flexibility is very specific. In other words, you can be supple in the short adductors of the thigh, yet have very tight long adductors like yours truly. I have perfect squatting flexibility, but I can only attain enough height in a sidekick to stun Mini-Me on the kneecap.
Most of the machines advertised in martial arts magazines only aim to improve flexibility of the long adductors of the thighs so that you can achieve the type of splits often achieved by Belgium's most famous wife-beater.
You're far better off buying some good stretching cords or one of the devices advertised in Jerry Robinson's "Health for Life" catalog. They're economical and very versatile. For more information, call 800-874-5339.
Q: What do you think of those funny-looking shoes that supposedly increase your vertical jump? Several models are out now. Are any of them worth the money?
A: Those devices are, in fact, a copy of a device developed by a Spaniard who competed in the high jump during the '30s. The guy was quite ahead of his time, and he had figured out that elevating the front of the shoe created a more rapid and greater stretch of the ankle extensors upon takeoff, thus permitting a greater jump performance.
Consequently, he kicked all of his opponents' asses at the track meet when he first showed up with them. Since they weren't described or addressed in the rule book, he was free to use them. At the end of the meet, however, the officials met, and the shoes were banned forever from track competition.
Based on the research that I've seen, these shoes only allow the user to have a greater vertical jump while he or she is wearing them. Training with them over a longer period appears to have no advantage over more conventional shoes for plyometric ability.
Don't spend money on these shoes. Your calves will grow more if you invest that money into nutritious foods or quality supplements.