Q: For each of the major body-parts—chest, lats, traps, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings, calves, forearms, abs—what exercises do you feel are most underused by bodybuilders today? Also, why do you feel those exercises are so valuable? Thanks.
A: Hey, aren’t the ear muscles important? Okay, I’m obviously kidding, but I had to incorporate some humor before answering your question because these days I get quite frustrated with what I see going on in most gyms. Today’s trainees seem to want something for nothing. They desire massive muscles but aren’t willing to get down and dirty to earn them. In other words, I see more lifters doing pulldowns than pullups, cable crossovers than bench presses, leg extensions than squats, and front raises than military presses. Sorry to break it to those misinformed, misguided gym-goers—pay attention if this sounds like you—but trying to build new muscle is like going to war. You’d better be prepared to do battle. That means working your rear end off on the basic movements. Yes, the ones that hurt deep to the core and make you breathe like a runaway steam engine.
Now that my little rant is over, let me more precisely address your question.
Chest: Today I see fewer and fewer bodybuilders working really hard on dips. To me, dips are more like the upper-body squat than even bench presses, and anyone I know personally who’s gotten really strong on dips, using perfect form and complete range of motion, also has a massive, dense set of pecs to show for it. The dip is a pure movement, and any exercise that forces you to propel your body through space rather than remain stationary and move a bar tends to activate the central nervous system to a greater degree. That, my friend, stimulates gains in muscle.
Lats: Once again I’ve chosen an exercise that makes you move your own body through space: pullups. True, some lifters still occasionally use that exercise but usually more as a warmup than a fundamental part of their back-building routine. I’m not sure whether people tend to avoid pullups out of laziness—hey, you get to sit during pulldowns—the fact that they seem so basic or because most trainees aren’t very proficient at them. Certainly, practicing would improve their technique. Whatever the reason, it’s time to rethink the matter because in no way does a pulldown machine have the same muscle-fiber-stimulating value as the standard pullup properly executed—especially when you work your way up to strapping on some additional weight for reps.
Traps: Early in my career all I really did for traps were basic barbell and dumbbell shrugs, and that’s what the majority of aspiring bodybuilders do. As I began to progress up the competitive ladder, however, I started to more carefully examine and critique my overall physique because my main goal has always been balance. One thing I quickly recognized was the lack of development in my traps from the rear, even though when viewed from the front they looked pretty darn good. That led me to begin experimenting with a movement that the great Lee Haney used for his traps: the behind-the-back shrug. It took me a few tries to get it just right as I slowly learned that I could focus better doing it on a Smith machine than with a free barbell. In addition, I could really blast my midtraps if I made the exercise somewhat of a hybrid of upright rows and shrugs rather than just performing a straight shrug. After a few years of using the movement rather consistently, I consider my middle and upper traps a strong point. That’s why I think it’s one of the most underused gems in the gym.
More on this subject next month.
Editor’s note: Eric Broser’s new DVD, “Power/Rep Range/Shock Max-Mass Training System,” is available at Home-Gym.com. His e-book, Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout, which includes complete printable workout templates and a big Q&A section, is available at X-Workouts.com.