Workout Report: Bench Day 5/21/11

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Workout Reports

I am sometimes stiff necked when it comes to trying things that I have some predisposition against. Rather than being a point of pride, I must say that this is generally a trait that serves me poorly. For instance, I have, for over a year now, lamented that none of my gyms (the community center, the caveman gym, and the gym at work) have a squat rack. People say the the barbell back squat is the best lift ever. I don’t have any scientific proof otherwise. Clearly, it’s a great exercise, not just for your legs, but for your whole body. Anyone who’s physically able to squat and who chooses not to is probably missing out. I was missing out, though my sandbag squats were at least a decent substitute. The thing is, though, I could have been squatting all along, had I swallowed my pride a little and gotten over myself.

The community center gym has a piece of equipment called a Smith machine. It’s basically a barbell on rails, so that it travels in the same linear path, up and down, all the time. There are hooks on the end of the barbell, such that it can be “hung up” at around eight or ten different heights along its path. You can do any “up and down” barbell exercise on it, and do it safely without a spotter, since it can’t really squish you. You can’t push the weight, you just hang the bar up. Easy-peasey.

In the days of yore, I did quite a bit of my shoulder work on the Smith machine. Shoulder presses, upright rows, shrugs, etc. Since then, though, I’ve become sort of antagonistic toward machines, especially for primary lifts, and for exercises that can be done with free weights just as easily. The Smith machine, I suppose, is somewhere between a free weight and a machine. It can only travel in its own track, but it can still be used to lift “unsupported”. That is to say, with the weight bearing upon your skeletal system, right down to the floor.

Most of your gyms today have a Smith, and it’s usually in high rotation. You’ll see a lot of guys doing partial range of motion bench on the Smith all the time. From time to time, you’ll see someone squat. Usually, the bar doesn’t have more than a 35 pound plate on each side. I tried squatting nnd benching on a Smith many years ago. Hated it. I couldn’t find a “groove” for either exercise. I put the idea aside and didn’t come back to it. I found other ways to work shoulders, and the Smith became viewed as useless.

Well, I have been wanting to do barbell squats for a while now. I feel like my knees are in good enough shape to do the exercise again, and I feel like I’m prepared to push my body in that fashion, after lots of deadlifts and other conditioning work. But…getting a squat rack, a barbell, and the weight required was a big investment, not just of money, but of space. I have a tiny, 3/4 car garage that plays host to a variety of brick-a-brack. There’s enough space for the caveman equipment, but you start adding a variety of barbell equipment, and I would very likely have to tidy up. We can’t have that.

In any case, as it was time for me to go to the leg press station today, someone else was using it. What was I to do? Skip a pressing movement, the heart of my leg workout? Wait around? Try to chase the person off? Nah. I’d just…do something similar. My eyes fell upon the Smith machine. I sighed. I supposed that I had to try, though it would be awful, and I’d hate it. When needs must…

I warmed up with one plate on the bar, getting the feel of how the machine moved, and where I’d want my hands. Of all the tough things about barbell squat, the one that is toughest for me is the shoulder pain, not from where the bar sits, but from the angle in which your arms are stressed as you hold onto the bar. I’ve been doing a lot of shoulder stretching, but my flexibility in this area is still pretty poor.

The Smith machine squat…I wasn’t hating it. There’s a bit of a trick to getting your feet positioned, as the pull of gravity won’t help you in the same way as with a free-moving bar, but it’s do-able. I went up to two plates/side for 5×5, being careful, as you always should with a new exercise. I got bold and went to 3 plates/side for 3×3, which proved to be about what my working weight needed to be, considering I have no prior conditioning on this particular exercise.

What did I learn? Well, I was certainly reminded that sometimes “pretty good” makes a decent substitute for exactly what you want. Is Smith machine squatting as good as “real” squatting? I don’t thing so. Is it better than leg press? Very likely.

I went from there to bench, performing a workout quite similar to the previous week, working up to 315 for three reps, which I did at various hand widths and over around five or six sets.

I normally steal the bar from the bench press station in order to do my Pendlay rows, but someone was waiting to bench, so I had to improvise once more. Back to the Smith machine with me. I did rows from a dead stop at the lowest position available on the Smith, but that still made them much higher than I’m normally used to. They felt pretty good, though, hitting me across the upper back and shoulders nicely. I wouldn’t know what to call them, exactly. Some weird hybrid of Yates rows, Pendlays, and uprights. It was still an effective lift, and I got work done that will allow me to keep advancing.

I’ve always held that it is better to do something than do nothing, but I have be be reminded of my own philosophies sometimes. If you don’t have the ability to do your workout just like you want to, that doesn’t mean you should just bag it and go home. There are a hundred ways to stimulate every muscle group. Failing to train because you don’t have the equipment you like best is just…failing.

In the final stage of my workout, I did butterflies and reverse butterflies, then dumbbell biceps curls and tricep French press. I keep finding more power for the butterflies, as I am now in uncharted weight for this particular piece of equipment. It’s so strange that I was being held back by simply not using an efficient method to start the exercise. In two workouts, I’ve gone from my long-standing 170 weight up to a best ten rep today of 250. It’s crazy. I’ve noticed my chest muscles responding by looking more like muscle and less like “man boob”, too. Hey, I care, at least a little. Improving my aesthetic appearance is a bonus for me, though I’m primarily interested in strength and health.

Anyhow, that’s the current news. Hope you are doing well. Please leave a comment if you’ve done anything neat in the realm of exercise, provided that the Rapture didn’t take you away.

Happy Lifting!

  1. Bobby-T says:

    Sounds good, Pat. I took my newest bow and a target up into the mountains today. Met up with the guys at the “He-man Woman Haters” campout. Shot the Centroid for a while and just hung out. They were spoofin’ the Rapture prediction and held a count down. The Centroid is top-notch and really shoots good. Not much of a workout compared to what you’re doing, but I gotta do what I can.

  2. Bob, getting out in the mountain air with friends, shooting a bow you like, gettin’ ready to be taken off to see the Almighty…that’s a pretty good weekend. I looked it up, and archery actually burns around 600 calories an hour. That’s pretty respectable, for what we generally think of as a leisure time activity.

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