Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Advice: It doesn't have to be that complicated

I was in the gym yesterday and was approached by someone asking various questions, from the age-old "how to lose some weight?" and "how to make" this or that "bigger?".  So one question that stuck in my mind was "How do I make my shoulders look wider?".  The simple and honest truth is, you can't make them "look" wider, you have to make them "be" wider.

At the time, this guy was using the squat rack, albeit the wrong way round, given he couldn't see where to rack the bar with his back to the rack.  After pointing out that he is likely to get squashed under the bar if he falls forward and foul of the rack arms, he realised why the mirror is the other side of the rack; not for posing, but so you can see what you are doing with the bar.  Obviously fairly new to this, I adjusted my response accordingly, though I may have sounded a little patronising:
"If you want to make your shoulders wider, you need to regularly perform the shoulder press."
He questioned it as if I wasn't revealing some secret formula to building shoulders.  But I explained that there is nothing untoward about body building.  You just need time, patience and consistency.  Pick an exercise and stick with it until you see progress decline.  When this happens, change it.  When it happens again, change it back to what you were doing before or change it again.  Variation is sometimes all that is needed to overcome a plateau.

I think more often, people are under the impression that you can transform your body over night.  I even see some guys who believe in this ideology so profusely that they think they have actually transformed their bodies in a few months, when all they have actually done is increased their body fat percentage through eating too much weight gaining supplements.  I wouldn't mind, except they strut around the gym with their chest puffed out and traps poised like their lats are too big to stand with their posture otherwise, throwing weights on the floor to make some kind of statement (what is it by the way, I haven't actually figured this out?).  These people identify themselves when they pick up 25 kg dumbbells and shout "encouraging" words at each other when they get to their sixth and final rep, before throwing the weights on the floor in the most irritating and cumbersome way possible.  Well done, you deserve a pat on the back!

The truth is, these things take time.  Don't expect to see results overnight and don't be consumed by what you read in magazines or on the internet; especially not from someone who is kindly taking your money for advice.  If you think about it, magazine publishers and personal trainers aren't going to tell you how simple it is to actually achieve your goals, because then you wouldn't buy their magazines or pay extortionate rates for them to tell you how important it is that you use a bosu ball, balancing on one foot, performing bent over rows in order to build "the shoulders you have always wanted".  Maybe I am wrong; maybe people want to balance on a one foot stood on a bosu ball, believing this is the best way to build their shoulders.  Maybe the magazines are just a front for an undercover ring of one legged bosu ball shoulder press experts?  If so, I'll stick to what I am doing and what I know works and mind my own business.

My one piece of advice that covers pretty much any muscle group is: Keep it simple.  That's it.  If you want to know how to build a particular muscle, just stand in the mirror and identify ways of flexing that muscle as part of a compound or in isolation.  There will be many ways you can flex a muscle, but you need to identify what works best for you!  Generally, everything boils down to three basic principles, since these principles are pretty much all that the body is mechanically capable of:

  • Pushing / Pressing
  • Pulling
  • Twisting
You can apply these principles to any part of the body and use the principles to formulate exercises to work selective or collective muscles.  But one thing for sure is, you will not invent anything new!  There is already a well established collection of simple exercises out there that have stood the test of time.  Eventually, everything leads back to these basic exercises and eventually everybody realises, that because something is so simple, does not make it ineffective.

So, if you want to build your shoulders.  I urge you to stop trying to discover the best way to build your shoulders or the most obscure way to build your shoulders.  Instead, just go an pick up some dumbbells and start pressing them above your head.  Before long you will need heavier dumbbells or will be performing more repetitions.  This is an indication what you are doing is working, so stick with it.  

Again, if you want to build your chest, perform push-ups.  When push-ups are too easy, use dumbbells.  I never advocate barbells, simply because they are not necessary and add an element of danger when trying to lift to failure.  Dumbbells can be dropped on the floor if your spotter is rubbish.  Better still, holding one dumbbell means you can spot yourself with your other hand, then switch sides.  

Make sure you do pull-ups.  Start by lying under a squat rack.  Keep your feet on the floor and pull your chest towards the bar.  The more upright you stand, the easier it is, so start fairly upright and gradually become more horizontal over time.  Eventually you will have enough strength to muster a real pull-up.  Once there, do those to failure.  When that's too easy, you will be at a stage where you will be able to figure out what to do next.

Do dead lifts and squats.  These are all important compound exercises that will help you build strength all over.  It will help you become more stable and more confident with weight.  As a minimum, perform leg presses regularly.

Don't get caught up on what you can see in the mirror.  Exercising those T-Shirt muscles will have you looking weird from angles you can't see yourself from in the mirror.  Your posture will end up wrong and you will most likely end up with an injury years down the line.  Instead, keep everything balanced.  If you work your chest, work your back next time.  If you pull, push in the opposite direction.  Work your legs!!  There is nothing worse that the guy with an enormous upper body and stick thing sparrow legs.  It looks ridiculous.  If your legs are behind, work them twice as often as the rest of your body.  Let them catch up.

If you don't like a particular exercise because it's too difficult or doesn't massage your ego enough, then that's all the more reason to do it.  Usually if something is hard, there is a reason.  That reason will be that your are not as strong as your thought you were.  Stop doing those easy exercises and concentrate on something harder, something more challenging.

Hmm.  I have rambled on with this way beyond my original expectations.  But this has been rather medicinal to me, firstly venting my frustration at mistakes I see all the time and secondly writing down some of the truths I have to regurgitate on a regular basis.  But if you got this far and found it hit a nerve or you found it enlightened you somehow, then I hope it helps you on your journey.  If you still believe there is magic in bosu ball balancing that will build you mystical muscle mass and super powers, you go for it, don't let me or anyone else stand in the way of your progress!  In the words of Mr and Mr Hodge, this is all just advice.  It's advice based on my own personal experiences and challenges I have faced.  If you follow it, good for you. If you choose not to, good for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I appreciate any feedback, good or bad as long as it's constructive, so feel free to share your thoughts!