Short Topic: Functionally Correct Exercises

Traditional bodybuilding practices focus so much on parts and pieces, trying to work on muscles as isolated entities that magically grow only when picked on individually. There in lies an irony. This protocol backfires, since the muscles we usually try to pick on simply aren’t strong enough to move the weight we load them with, so the body, in it’s constant quest to be helpful, must call upon the bigger muscles to assist.

The classic cases of this would be the lateral raise and the bicep curl. If the lateral raise were to actually focus on that medial head of the deltoid (which, by the way, get plenty of abuse form any form of overhead pressing), most folks wouldn’t be using much more than a 10 or 15 pound dumbbell. Any more weight than that and the traps, posterior head, levator scapular and the obvious bouncing or swinging of the torso must play a role.

When is the last time you saw a bicep curl performed without any upper arm or torso movement or shoulder rotation? Only with lighter weight and strict focus can you even begin to attempt the erroneous isolation of a joint. So why do we kid ourselves that this is the way to improve the ability of muscles?

Movement is a series of chains and adding resistance to those chains increases our ability to move. Simple. As strength competitor Dan John says in his Ten Commandments of Training: Commandment 9: Put the bar on the ground and pick it up a bunch of different ways. Here’s two of those ways.

Both of these exercises require one end of the bar up against a wall or a super sturdy piece of equipment. Load the desired weight on the other end and watch the other folks in the gym look at you funny.


The First one is a modified version of something called a Full Contact Twist. We have since renamed it a Bueler (I had a naming contest through my online group and this was the winner). Start light on this because it’s deceptive in it’s ability to trash you.

Approach the bar as if you’re going to deadlift it, except you’ll be positioned close to the weighted end. Get the bar slightly off the ground so you have a tight arch and good deadlift position with the bar right below your knees. In one smooth movement you’ll stand up, rotate the torso and take a step to face the wall or equipment the bar is up against. Here’s the caveat: don’t bend the arms at any point through the movement. All the rotation is done with the hips and the torso, meaning the muscles of your trunk and hip chain have to deliver.

Lower the weight in the exact reverse of raising. Again the straight arm technique is tricky, and avoid the tendency to round the back on the return.

Through all of this, show the spine some love by keeping your midsection tight. Bare down on those belly muscles throughout the lift Once the bar feels easy, throw some weight on the end.

Bar Thrusts

There is an ongoing debate about the benefit of the bench press for sports specificity. I know, we only want big muscles, but frankly, I’m a fan of function, so this debate intrigued me. The cliff-noted version goes like this:

Talking Head 1: “The bench press is essential to athletic development because of the increased potential for strength in a horizontal pushing motion and the increase in shoulder stability and structural strength.”

Talking Head 2: “But what sporting movement involves anyone pushing with there back up against a wall? Without the support of a bench, the strength gained from benching is superfluous.”

And so on. To meet half way, new equipment was developed. Enter a wave of new machines meant to fix this problem. With a slew of cool names , these machines gave the body a chance to participate in the pressing motion. Since Dan John’s 9th commandment got me thinking, why can’t we use what we have in front of us for this task?

Using a modified Bueler technique (you can bend the arms now) get the weighted end of the bar up so you’re facing the bar, which is on end, with your arms locked in front of you straight out. Now brace you body (you know the drill, tush tight, belly tight, stay proud) and lower that the bar with one hand towards the shoulder and then press it away from you. If it’s light, make it heavier. If it’s heavy (now here’s the good part), use your body to help move the weight. That’s right, with tight belly, the hips and legs can play an essential role in this exercise. It’s a chest press with the power of the body to help. A great move for many sports, like football or wrestling, but also a perfect lesson in the function of the body. Your trunk will feel it, your usual pressing muscles will notice, and your body gets to work as a chain, not in isolated parts.

What fun. 


Written by Chip Conrad

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