After a long break from lifting due to travel, injures and plain old restlessness… I’m back in the gym.
What I love most about hitting the gym these days is my “white belt” mentality to everything I’m doing.
I approach everything in the gym like it’s my first time ever.
I’ve dropped all pre-conceived ideas, all previous knowledge and assumptions about training so I can listen closely to what my body is telling me over anything else.
I approach every exercise, set and rep with awareness and mindfulness.
I take meticulous notes on how my body responds, and I track everything.
I am not in a rush.
I have no agenda.
I take nothing for grated.
Its just me and my old friend the barbell getting well aquatinted with one another, once again.
To move forward in life sometimes we have to clear the slate and start from scratch, and adopt the “beginner’s mindset”. With over 20 years of experience and education in fitness and strength training this approach has demanded the greatest humility from me — but I’m loving it.
The first few weeks in the commercial gym I played around with almost every piece of equipment they had.
I used the Hammer Strength machines.
I used the Nautilus machines.
I used the Smith machine.
And the step-mill (I did’t even know such a thing existed!).
But it didn’t take long before I found myself back in the squat rack with a simple, sturdy barbell and 45 pound plates.
Its not that the machines weren’t helpful or fun, I’ve just found that the simple slabs of iron and sturdy barbell challenges me in ways that the machines could not.
The machines targeted certain muscle, but they left the rest of my body jealous and bored, especially my core.
Barbell bend-over rows target the biceps, upper back and lats; but they also force me to use my abdominals, low back, glutes and hamstrings to stabilize the bar.
When I do barbell bend-over rows my whole body gets a great workout, unlike when using a row machine.
In this phase of my training I’m only hitting the gym 2x per week, and I am following a “Golden Era” full body split similar to the Intermediate program in my Advanced 5×5 e-book, so I’ve got to get the biggest bang-for-my-buck with every exercise.
Single joint exercises and machines are not the most economical for me right now, my time is best invested using the barbell for compounds movements instead.
You might be thinking, “Duh Elliott, I thought you already knew the benefits of barbells over machines“.
Yes, but remember I am taking nothing for granted.
I’m giving every experience it’s fair chance again to ensure my understanding isn’t mere “knowledge”.
Another thing I’ve experienced are the superior benefits of doing core hold and plank-type exercises for the abdominals, over crunches. Again, you might think I already “know” this, but I wanted to give something new a shot.
I’m acting like a complete newbie to test my assumptions.
Within the first few workouts using the crunching machines I began to feel my posture deteriorate. With the deterioration of my posture due to over-flexion, my breathing began to stifle.
When the recuts abdominus is trained in absence of the pelvic stabilizers an imbalance occurs which causes the rib cage to depress, or drop inwards toward the spine. This movement inhibits the expansion of the diaphragm / solar plexus.
The SOLAR plexus is named for the tremendous amount of “rays” or afferent / efferent nerve fibers which are connected to this sheet of muscle. The solar plexus also gives life to the entire autonomic nervous system by regulating breathing and effecting heart rate.
I might be sensitive, but I immediately began to feel the deleterious effects of crunching and have reverted back to exercises like the plank, which honor structural integrity and support health physiology… while tightening and toning the abs.
When starting new in the gym, or after 20 years of experience, it’s a good idea to drop assumptions and use your own testing, tweaking and experiments to learn (or re-learn) what is best for YOU.