What's so wrong with being strong?

by Natural Pro Bodybuilder & RKC Brad Loomis

I have noticed that there has been a bit of a shift in the iron game of late.  I’d like to think that we here at 3DMJ have played a small part in that.  More and more cosmetic athletes are turning to strength sports in an effort to enhance their physiques.  If I could be so bold to say, it’s about time!  After all, the body’s response to lifting weights is getting stronger, those hard, full muscles are simply a by product.

So when did the two become considered separate you may ask?  Like most things it’s not attributed to one mindset or event, but more of an evolution.  In bodybuilding, it was most likely in the early 80’s when the use of steroids really flourished.  With the use of drugs (and liberal increases in dosage), you did not have to actually be strong to look it.  In the mainstream gyms, I attribute this trend also to the philosophy of most personal trainers and their certifying agencies.  Unfortunately, many trainers started simply “smoking” clients; making them feel like they got a good workout instead of correcting posture and teaching them strength.  Many people convince themselves that it’s just too darn hard and takes way too much time and effort to be flexible, strong, and to effortlessly hold good posture.  This is why I love being and RKC, where we are part of a school of “strength” and not a school of “tone,” but I digress.

In the RKC (and most quality personal training schools and certifications), the foundation of movement is based on good posture.  If you can bend over with the proper postural lumbar lordosis maintained throughout the movement, then and only then are you ready to pick up a free weight.  If not, then you need to practice until you can, period. For you, strength training needs to be done on machines (or some other way besides free weight deadlifting) until that is achieved.  The same goes with upper body, over head lifting.  If you can abduct your arms from your body in any direction (especially overhead), while maintaining a “packed” shoulder socket and pain free lordosis, then you are ready for free weights.  If not, you have no business lifting a free weight over head.

So I suppose it’s time to get off my soap box and discuss the real purpose of my writing, being strong.  Honestly, who cares how you look if you are weak, in pain, or unable to do the natural things in life like running, shoveling, hiking, climbing or all of the above?  Honestly what is healthy:  A skinny man or woman who looks fit but can’t hold a gallon of milk with one arm and stand up straight?  Not in my book.  On the contrary a “thick” man or woman, who easily maintains good posture, can hold their 6 year old over head, and can deadlift the groceries off the Costco shopping cart with ease is the picture of health in my book.  All these habits need to be worked and practiced in the gym and perhaps under the supervision of a trained professional.  Specifically, one who practices what they preach, regardless of whether or not they are “certified.”

So why start with the deadlift?  It’s quite literally the perfect lift.  A well executed deadlift uses every muscle in the posterior chain including a good chunk of those popular “core” muscles in the anterior and posterior mid section.  If we all bent down and picked up our kids, picked up the groceries, tied out shoes, cleaned the toilet etc in perfect deadlift position, you’d never hear of anyone “throwing their back out.” If we make sure to deadlift (whether it is 2,3,400lbs or more) with perfect lumbar extension, open hips, and weight distributed evenly from the heal to the toe, don’t you think we should reach for that can of Pure Pumpkin on the bottom shelf at Wal-Mart the same way?  Every day I hear how people have “thrown their backs out” doing simple day to day things like this. Yet if you ask any serious powerlifter how many times they have hurt their backs doing the hundreds (if not thousands) of heavy deadlifts in their lifetime, I bet you will find the number is quite low.  Once a person knows how to deadlift properly and makes this good-form as second nature as breathing, the frequency of “throwing their back out” will be reduced to the rare occasion.

Once you have mastered the deadlift and perform the lift heavy and frequently, a strong back, core and posterior chain is almost a given.  For those of us in bodybuilding, if you haven’t been deadlifting it’s almost a “free pass” to increasing the amount of hard, dense, muscle on your back side from your hamstrings all the way to your traps. 

Coach Brad just started dead lifting in 2008 for his run to pro status.

Three years later, the amount of dense muscle he added to his lower half is evident.

 For upper back development, you need to look no further than these dramatic results on Natural Pro Jeff Alberts back side from 2009 & 2011.

Once again I can not reiterate the importance of sound technique and proper posture when doing this beneficial and nearly therapeutic exercise.  If you are not sure if you are deadlifting correctly, my advice is to ask this gal who weighs 114lbs and can dead lift 265lbs.  If she says you are good, keep at it.  If you hear her go “EWWWwwwwwww”, fork out the extra cash and either pay her to teach you how to do it, or find someone else who is qualified to do so.  It’s literally a health insurance policy that will save you trips to and dollars spent at the chiropractor.

Team 3DMJ’er Barbara Lyon hits a PR state record 265lbs at the 2011 APA West Coast RAW Championships, nearly 2.5 times her bodyweight.

If there was one lift that I truly believed everyone should do once mastered, it would be the deadlift.  With that being said, we have to do something for the T-shirt and tank top muscles right?  What’s that one exercise that makes the arms and shoulders full, beautiful and defined?  The press, it is to the shoulders and arms what the deadlift is to the hips and legs.  A properly done press uses easily a hundred muscles from the delts down to the calves. Pressing uses and expands upon the posture used for the deadlift. If you can deadlift with good posture, you are pretty much ready to press. An added bonus is that the technique used for pressing does not change whether standing, sitting, or in an incline, flat, or decline position.  It just takes differing degrees of mobility to perform the various body positions.

So here again, the safety caveat is that if you cannot hold the shoulders packed into the socket, spine in lordosis pain free, and arms perpendicular to the floor, then you have no business with a free weight in your hand.  Most people have the greatest difficulty with these prerequisites when pressing overhead.  While it is a fantastic exercise, 90% of gym rats should not be doing it due to flexibility and coordination issues.  Now that is not to say that you cannot press. If you find yourself in the “Heil Hitler” pose when trying to press overhead (not good), maybe you should focus on trying to maintain good posture, a packed shoulder, and pain free lordosis while lying in an incline, flat, or decline position.  If you cannot press overhead properly, simply reduce the angle.

The shoulder is a sensitive joint due to its range of motion.  If God did not build us with the ability to pull the ball out of the socket, we would not be able to reach overhead.  This can be quite an inconvenience. Sure, holding light weights overhead or away from your body with a non-packed shoulder will probably not hurt you.  However, if there is any significant weight placed there and the upper back muscles are not tensed to hold the ball of the shoulder into the socket, an MRI will be needed to diagnose which rotator cuff muscle you tore.

As I stated, there is a bit more latitude here compared to the deadlift.  Most people can pack the shoulder while laying flat and maintain it throughout the whole press.  This is good! Grab some weight and get to work and consistently train to make those muscles strong! However, a good majority of those same people that can press while lying flat cannot do so while standing or sitting upright. Until you can, stick to the machines or find other ways of training this movement besides overhead pressing with free weights.

Just as with deadlifts, if you make a habit of tightening the lats and packing the shoulders during everyday movements, any shoulder pain or problems you’ve had may very well be alleviated.  Whether you are in the gym, or doing day to day tasks, stay mindful of keeping this healthy posture when doing pressing movements until it is as natural as breathing.  We press this way because it’s safer and stronger, so make sure you move that way as well.

For us as bodybuilders there is nothing better for overall pectoral and deltoid development than pressing.  You just can not overload those muscles and move as much weight pressing as you can with a shoulder raise movement.  I don’t think there is a gym rat reading this that can lateral raise a heavier dumbbell than they can press over their head.  Likewise I know a well performed set of flies for me is less than half of the weight I can press for reps.  With that big weight comes big strength, and with big strength comes big muscle.  Now that is not to say that isolation exercises do not have their place in bodybuilding.  However, these movements are more the finishing touches to a well designed program that is built on the foundation of good pressing.

With only dumbbells, barbells, Kettlebells and good pressing skill, Coach Brad’s Chest/Shoulder/triceps development continues to improve. Left to Right: '07, '08, '09, '11

Arguably one of the strongest all around pressers in the world,  Kenneth Jay cares little about having big muscles, he just has them.

So again I ask, what is so wrong with being strong?  The answer is: nothing.  It’s but an excuse for most, “I don’t want too get to bulky” or “I’ll get hurt.”  The bottom line is it takes hard work being strong and most don’t want to put the work in, but they want the results. Hence the allure of short cuts or quick fixes. But, for those of us committed to a healthy drug free lifestyle, if you actually put in the time, do the work, and earn big lifts, you will not only have the muscles to show for it, but you will be strong too.

Not at all the definition of “bulky”, 3DMJ Athlete Lindsay Arnold squats a California State Record of 165lbs at the recent 2011 APA West Coast RAW Championships. Both Lindsay and Barbara Lyon above can bench press more than they weigh!
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