Monday, July 23, 2007

Five exercises I like - Part 2

This is the second of 5 parts.

Over the years I have tried many movements and exercises. Some felt like a waste of time. Others helped me add on pounds and absolute strength (thereby making me look muscular than my 165 lbs) while at the same time keeping me light on my feet (like I was when I was a 100 lb kid). Here are five movements that I seem to have settled on now. They get done on a regular basis although not in each and every training session.

The Rack Pull

Ever leaned into your car trunk to pick up those grocery bags or a heavy case of books? Ever helped a friend carry a couch up the steps to the 5th floor (because an elevator wasn't available in the building)?

If you are female, do you like wearing clothes with a plunging neckline (men already know the answer to that one)? Well, most pulling action will help you quickly develop that shapely neck, shoulders and arms.

Enter the Rack Pull (aka Top Deadlifts or Deadlift off Blocks). It develops your grip strength, strengthens the back and neck and teaches proper lifting technique when you are in a position where you cannot fully flex your knees. Now I normally would have recommended regular deadlifts (where you lift the weight off the floor). The regular deadlift remains the standard by which one's overall absolute strength should be determined. But regular deadlifts require that you concentrate quite a bit on technique especially when you lower the weight back down. That means you need to have very good flexibility in the ankles, knees and hips to prevent injury. The range of movement in a rack pull is very limited: the barbell is set at a height close to your knees.

Besides there are certain benefits when a chick pulls in the gym...benefits to men, I mean :-) Seriously, don't wait too long to pull the weight. As soon as you are set...pull!

Note: Once you master the squat (which means that you have achieved optimal flexibility in your joints), you can attempt regular deadlifts.

Me getting reaady to pull 405 lbs. The rack pull has no aerobic effect since the bar only moves a handful of inches.

I attempted a 425 successfully that day. The movement does have an effect on your nervous system when you go heavy (the psyching up can tax you and you need to give yourself time to recover).

A broken callus was a painful reminder.

(Acceptable substitute) The Romanian Deadlift

These are a great way to develop the hamstring and hip musculature. You will see that this is also a great movement to recruit the powerful buttocks muscles, something that is necessary to prevent lower back injuries in carryover to real life activities. You can do these with a barbell or dumbbells. Also try with a sack loaded with sand or a weight plate held to your chest.

Note that when you perform a rack pull with the barbell reaching down well below your knees, you are essentially doing a Romanian deadlift.

Tip: To start the movement, do not simply bend over while holding the weight. The trick is to push your butt back...and then push it some more until you are automatically bent over with the weight somewhere below your knees (just before your spine starts to hyperextend).