Every Christmas my immediate family partakes in an annual tradition involving a gift exchange. It consists of everyone making a list of items that are all priced under $30.00 and then placing each person’s wish list in a hat or bowl in order to be randomly drawn by another family member. Some of my relatives live for this and try to decipher who each person has picked in the exchange. This aspect borders on the absurd and clues are nitpicked and facial expressions are analyzed with closer examination than Nick Cage trying to decode clues in the movie National Treasure. Needless to say, by the end of the day through careful and meticulous calculations my mom and sister have concluded without exception the drawer of each name. How they do it beats me and I really don’t give a frog’s fat ass because I honestly laugh at the whole escapade. You see, I am probably the least materialistic person in the whole capitalistic United States. Don’t pull a fast one and conclude that I am somehow a commie. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I just have seen too many people I know become unhappy because their possessions own them, not vice versa.
I always end up receiving books or CD’s for Christmas because I enjoy both and it is a safe bet I will be content with whatever is chosen. This is similar to getting the old man ties or socks. It becomes habitual and deep down he really doesn’t give a shit either. I realize the same presents year in and year out will be bestowed upon me and I am happy to receive them because young kids in Bangladesh or even Djibouti would love to be able to comprise wish lists with maximum costs not exceeding 30 takas or francs. To be stupid one year I decided to make a wish list of items I was confident would never come my way. I chose a rectal thermometer, leather panties, a solar flashlight, and a nose hair trimmer. You are probably asking yourself why these items? Why not? Well, to my utter shock and amazement when Jesus’s birthday arrived I felt as if the magi themselves had personally visited me because all of my wishes were granted. My father had carefully constructed purple leather panties lined with velour and he had a solar powered flashlight put together to look real, but of course you know these are not available for sale in the US because of our policies against alternative fuel sources. This was only a replica or model. The rectal thermometer was legit and it worked like a charm. Lastly, the nose hair trimmers proved to be an invaluable tool in my arsenal of personal hygiene management. As I get older crazy hairs choose to crop up in a variety of orifices and the trimmer enabled me to keep the fields plowed while preserving my civilized non-Neanderthal appearance. The point of this long laborious intro was to get across the point that sometimes when training the so-called useless or stupid exercises can prove to be quite beneficial whereas the same old same old exercises that others praise prove to be quagmires where frustrated and stagnated individuals reside.
I have now lifted for over two decades. I have experimented with or tried about everything there is regarding weightlifting. There is no substitute for experience. My goal of this article is to list exercises that I personally believe are keepers and another list of exercises that I would choose to throwback because they proved to be of no benefit for what I was aspiring to do.
- Foam bench press
- Board presses + two/one boards
- SSB squats- regular and reverse
- Big tire drag
- Reverse band presses
Alright, I suppose the items listed above are my top seven or eight at this time. The list is always evolving and changing based on my training goals and injuries. I must say that I am satisfied with this list. I will elaborate on why I chose each for the list of keepers.
Push-ups – Push-ups have always been a favorite of mine because they offer tons of variations such as ramp, chain, band, plyo, etc. I have found that when an individual’s work capacity increases regarding push-ups, especially our style of chain push-ups, there is a good carryover to the bench. We have found that if done correctly push-ups can improve the lock-out. Also, even when my shoulders are at their worst I can still get a fairly good workout in centered around push-ups because they cause the least pain.
Pull-ups – Pull-ups have also been a mainstay in my gym. I scoff at lifters who try to rationalize that their increased bodyweight inhibits their ability to do pull-ups. I am simply too massive to pull my chin over the stationary bar. No, you are just a weak ass at pull-ups. Several of us in our gym can do one finger pull-ups with our feet out in front so we look like the letter L.
Pull-ups again offer a wide assortment of alternatives while working various muscle groups that I have discovered help stabilize a lifter while benching. By changing angles when doing pull-ups you can be assured the lats are being worked in the plane that best enhances the bench press. Grip strength is also increased. I absolutely abhor pull down machines because 90% of people do them wrong and it amazes me when individuals can do pull downs with the stack, but can’t do a single good pull up. When we do pull ups we like to play follow the leader. At least five pull up variations are chosen and usually 5-6 reps are performed. We just go one after the other until are set is completed. When this is done the same order of variations is done, but they are done in a row without partners jumping in, so that in two sets approximately 50-60 pull ups are done using several grips. Another favorite is to choose five grips and do 10 reps at each grip. You cannot move on until ten perfect reps are completed at each variation. The key word is PERFECT reps. This is brutal and time consuming so choose a favorite song or two or three and get at it. Seriously, sometimes this takes 5-6 minutes to complete.
Kettlebells – I purchased my first K-bell several years ago and it is still one of my most prized inanimate objects. If a kettlebell was a person it would be the type of guy you would want in an alley fight. Whereas, the lat pull down would leave you hanging and would run off and hide behind its mother’s skirt. OK, that was weird, but you get my point. We mainly utilize the KB to do swings both single and double and crazy eights. The main positive aspect of the KB is core strength enhancement. Also, if you challenge yourself the KB offers a quick route for improved cardiovascular conditioning or GPP. Kettlebells vastly improve all our squats in the gym and again the thick handle improves grip strength. Personally, I believe the kettlebell has done more for my back than the reverse hyper.
Foam Presses – For those who follow my writings you are aware of my shoulder problems. The fact that my shoulders generally hurt has caused me to constantly seek new ways to train effectively while limiting my pain during and post workout. The greatest discomfort arose when I did full range of motion (ROM) lifts in the bench. I have done board presses for years, but I was looking for something that would take away the excessive jarring that accompanied my board pressing. I found a foam pad that was intended for the trapezius challenged while squatting. I decided to place the pad around the bar while bench pressing and this has proved to be a valuable addition to my menu. The foam press is similar to doing a 1-2 board press, but it forces the lifter to practice flawless form and technique. I highly recommend this when training with or without a bench shirt. When training for meets the foam requires a more precise bar placement unlike boards and one must stay tight throughout the lift. Give it a shot.
I can honestly say I have never become bored with board presses. I love two and three board presses for max singles. I do these in the normal fashion. Four boards I slightly alter as suggested by Billy Carpenter. We do three reps off 4 boards holding each rep for 3-5 seconds at the top. I also enjoy “Beekers” and “Triceps Death” with the boards. A new board variation is the use of a two board that is a one board at the end. Doing alternating reps, lower the bar down past the two board onto the single board. This causes you to really take the bar out and place it on your upper abs. When this rep is completed do a rep off the two board placing the bar high so the elbows flare. We do ten total reps. Five off each board. When finished with the ten reps then another 10 reps are done off the two board. The rule in my gym is that if the tenth rep is missed then the lifter must repeat the ten. I fell prey to my own rule several times and have ended up doing 40 -50 reps before I could exit the bench. This rule causes lifters to fight and it increases the pressure because it is rather embarrassing and slightly demeaning to be trapped on the bench while others watch you struggle for the required reps.
Safety Squat Bar – The safety squat bar is a must have in any gym. I must have it because I cannot put my arms back in order to squat with a straight bar. Oh, I can squat with a regular bar but it is not worth the displeasure. We do regular squats with the SSB and we often squat without holding on. We usually work up to max singles. Another choice is to do reverse SSB squats where the pads face the back, not the front. This is tough for a couple of reasons. The bar placed in this position tends to choke you out and there is increased emphasis on the quads and knees when squatting in this manner. We have a box that is various heights when flipped. So, we like to do 5 reps off a 17” then 5 off 15” then 5 off a 13” box followed again by 5 off the 17” for a total of 20 reps. The SSB is also used on strongman night to walk with weight. Simply, the bar is placed on the person’s back with added weight and the lifter proceeds to walk the prescribed distance. This is excellent for building core strength. Just don’t fall because it tends to be real ugly.
Tires – One man’s sandbox is another man’s piece of equipment. Tires are what make the world go round. We used to do a lot of tire flipping, but now we rarely rotate the rubber. Instead, we pull the tire backwards while gripping the lip of the tire. This is done in the alley by my house and we drag the tire backwards the length of my fence row. This exercise is beneficial for the lats, glutes, hammies, bis, etc. It is a tremendous core builder and it also serves as a barometer for individual’s tenacity and work ethic. It is the sort of exercise no one looks forward to doing, but upon completion it brings the greatest amount of satisfaction as well as the most battle scars due to blisters. On the topic of tires we also have recently enjoyed hooking up a harness and sprinting with a medium sized tire.
The Grappler – With a name like grappler you know it kicks ass. I added this within the last year and find it quite useful for my shoulders and for my back. I do various exercises to warm up my shoulders and to increase my ROM. We also use the grappler to perform various rowing movements for the entire back. The neat thing about this apparatus is the never ending list of exercises that can be performed with it. The only drawback would be a limited imagination. We have experimented doing an assortment of odd things with the grappler, but its primary use is for the reasons previously mentioned.
Reverse band presses – Reverse band presses have always provided a mark or indicator of where my competition bench is. For instance, if I do a 635 reverse green band bench I know I can get another 75-100 lbs. in a meet with my shirt on. If I get 675 with the blues, I would say I was capable of a 725 bench if all goes well. This of course hinges on whether or not I actually practice with my suit. So, I believe this exercise does offer a good carryover for the bench. We do this with either green or blue bands and establish a record for each. The use of the bands allows the lifter to experience heavy weights and it mimics the use of a bench shirt because of the help out of the hole. Don’t be afraid to use boards for this exercise.
I hope you enjoyed my list of keepers. Feel free to make your own list and have all your buddies make one too. Get together and put your lists in a Westside Barbell cap and try to choose who made what list. Wouldn’t that be fun! Hell no it wouldn’t.
In my next installment I will focus on several exercises that I would throwback or return to sender.