Brave New Exercises

Add up all the exercises you see in the gym on any given day, and what’s the sum? Two dozen? And you wonder why so many guys in the gym not only look bored, but their bodies don’t look a whole lot better than they did a year or two ago.

Maybe you’re one of those guys. Maybe you’re doing the same exercises as everyone else but aren’t happy with your progress. If that describes you, here’s a radical idea: If the traditional exercises don’t work for you, or if they worked for a while but now they don’t – then design your own.

“A lot of the traditional exercises were passed down by people who sort of understood the concept that if you lifted a heavy object, you’d get stronger,” says Doug Brignole, a personal trainer based in Venice, California. “But they didn’t always understand the biomechanics of the movement, so we ended up with a series of inefficient exercises.”

Specifically, Brignole points a skeptical finger at the upright row, parallel-bar dip, overhead military press, behind-the-neck press, behind-the-neck pulldown and even the good old-fashioned bench press. Countless guys have built tons of muscle doing these exercises–Brignole himself put a few pounds of lean tissue on his own frame while doing them. But today he claims most lifters, those who already have a base of muscle and aren’t looking to add slabs of mass, would be better off performing different exercises. These new exercises would add to and shape muscles without putting joints and connective tissues under so much stress.

“Most people do a bench press because they think they’re supposed to,” Brignole says. “But you’re better off doing a one-arm cable flye,” which is not only easier on your shoulder joints than the bench press, but also allows your chest muscles to fully contract.

And what, exactly, is a one-arm cable flye? It’s an exercise variation Brignole invented, one of 10 we’ll feature.

Brignole, now 37, won the Mr. America (medium-tall division) in 1986, but despite having an award-winning physique, his body was a mess. His shoulders, he says, “ached like crazy” from his heavy pre-contest training. That’s when he discovered he could get the same results from cable exercises that he’d been getting from barbells and dumbbells, but with less pain and a greater correlation between the exercise and the true function of the muscle being worked.

To pick an example of an exercise that perfectly follows the function of the muscle, look at the biceps curl. The primary job of your biceps is to bend your elbow, and that’s exactly what a curl makes it do. On the other hand, the overhead press is purported to be a major builder of deltoid muscles. But Brignole feels it’s only a major builder of the front part of the deltoid muscle; if you want to stimulate the meatier middle part, you’re better off doing lateral raises.

Most guys do lateral raises with dumbbells, but Brignole is critical of that, too, because your middle deltoids experience almost no resistance at the beginning of the move and maximum resistance at the end.

Brignole thought there was a better way to do the exercise, so he morphed it into the lying one-arm cable side lateral, an exercise performed while lying on your side with the cable near your feet. Your middle deltoids experience resistance from the beginning of the movement to the end, with maximum resistance at the halfway point. Plus, the cable exercise takes pressure off the shoulder joint and focuses only on the deltoids. As with most exercises he designs, there’s more resistance where there used to be less, and less resistance where there used to be more.

Pungky Dwiasmoro Hiswardhani

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