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Q&A: Nautilus Cams, Barbell Rows, Straps and More

Q: Why did Arthur Jones use the name Nautilus for his machinery?

A: Here’s Jones’ own explanation: “Well, according to Webster’s, the nautilus is a type of shellfish with a smooth, spiral, chambered shell, and since this is almost an exact description of the spiral pulleys (or cams) that we developed for the purpose of regulating the required variations of resistance provided by the new exercise machines, I thought the name was unavoidably appropriate.”

Arthur recognized the inadequacy of free-weight exercises in that they don’t provide an even resistance throughout the entire range of motion. Consider that each exercise has a point of greatest resistance—the “sticking point”—and areas of much less resistance. Jones’ creations, though, were designed to provide, in his own words, “perfectly balanced resistance—it is never too high and never too low; there are no sticking points and no points of little or no resistance. When you fail in such an exercise, you may fail at any point instead of always at or before the sticking point, as usually happens in conventional exercises.”

Q: I hear mixed reports about the barbell row. What’s the best way to perform it?

A: The safe way. The old-fashioned, unsupported barbell row has long been notorious for causing injuries. Or, more accurately, the barbell row, performed in an unsafe way, has caused many injuries. All exercises can cause injuries, and all exercises can be safe, depending on the technique used. Even so, some exercises, including the barbell row, are more likely to be performed incorrectly than others.

The old-fashioned freestyle barbell row and T-bar row are fraught with danger because they don’t support the body, the lower back is excessively involved, it’s difficult to keep the lower back hollowed and secure once the weight becomes substantial—just a slight slip in technique can produce a lower-back injury—and the wrist positioning they impose isn’t ideal.

The rows I recommend are one-arm dumbbell rows, cable rows, seated machine rows with chest support and low-incline dumbbell rows, but even they are dangerous when done incorrectly. Pick just one of them per workout and perform it with correct technique and a controlled rep speed.

Q: Do you recommend wrist straps and hooks as grip aids?

A: No. Those are temptations that are best avoided, or you may become dependent on them for some exercises. Instead, invest the time and effort in building a grip that enables you to hold the bar with no assistance other than the use of lifters’ chalk.

Using straps and hooks to attach yourself to bigger weights than you could otherwise handle can be dangerous. There’s a risk of injury because of a large weight increase without the necessary strength having been built up in the involved joints and connective tissue. For example, you need extra strength in your wrists, elbows and shoulders when performing deadlifts and pulldowns with substantially more weight. If you add 50 pounds and 25 pounds, respectively, in a single jump, you’re asking for injury. Never impose a sudden big increase in load.

Q: What should I eat for breakfast?

A: Breakfast cereal is a common choice, along with something rich in protein, but most ready-made cereals are loaded with sugar. Some contain four or five different types of sugars—which may include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses and honey. Plus, many cereals are loaded with hydrogenated oil.

Avoid pseudocereals like those. Instead, look for ones that are low in sugar but high in fiber and made with natural ingredients. Be informed and discerning—read nutrition labels.

I recommend home-prepared oatmeal. Make it from scratch, from pure oats. Avoid ready-made mixes that have sugar and other rubbish mixed in. Mix the pure oats with about three times the quantity of water, a sprinkle of salt and a little ground spice, and then bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Then stir in a little butter and a spoonful of pure honey or maple syrup. That, along with two or three boiled eggs or a piece of cheese, plus a spoonful of flaxseed oil, is a simple, quality breakfast.

Q: My gym recently got a machine for one-legged leg curls. It really isolates my hams, and I love that, but since using it, I’ve had a nagging lower-back ache. Is there a connection?

A: The one-legged leg curl is a unilateral movement that commonly leads to technique flaws, including a torso twist and uneven stresses on the spine and torso from the asymmetrical loading. Those stresses are probably responsible for the lower-back irritations you’re getting. If you can’t do that exercise safely, return to a two-legged leg curl, which makes it much easier to apply symmetrical loading on your body.

Generally, the seated leg curl is the pick of the machines—for comfort, maintenance of correct technique and isolation of the hamstrings.

—Stuart McRobert


Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or


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