For some odd reason, people take it personally if I say the bench press sucks. They consider it blasphemy. "You've got to bench to be hardcore," they say. I hate to break it to them, but most pro bodybuilders haven't done free-weight bench presses in years. Are you going to tell Tom Prince or Jay Cutler they're not hardcore because they don't bench?
The problem is that unless you keep your shoulders down and back and maintain the precise groove for every rep, free-weight bench presses place too much pressure on shoulders. Again, the taller you are, the more this is amplified. There's also the possibility that you'll suffer a pec tear by doing bench presses. Think of how often you hear about guys popping pecs while benching and how rarely pecs are torn doing anything else. I need two hands to count the number of top bodybuilders whose careers have been shortened by bench- press injuries.
People bench primarily to answer the question, "What do you bench?" That's not enough of a reason for me. I'd much rather do what's best for building pec mass, and there are at least 10 exercises superior to free-weight benches, starting with incline presses, machine bench presses and dumbbell flyes. As with shoulder presses, I avoid the lowest position in any chest press.
Here's another exercise I never do, and it's all because of that devil's tool - the straight bar. Straight bars put too much pressure on inner elbows. If you have elbow pain, chances are it's from a straight bar. Using a straight bar to perform curls forces you into an unnatural position. If you stand talking to someone, your knuckles or palms aren't facing forward unless you're planning to clock him or beg for money. The natural position for hands at your sides is with your palms facing each other, and the natural position for a curl is for the thumbs to come up higher than the pinkies, which a cambered bar approximates.
Instead of barbell curls, I do cambered-bar curls in most biceps workouts. There are many other curling lifts that I like, and I'm a big advocate of workout variety, but I'll single out dumbbell preacher curls as an excellent exercise. Dumbbell preachers both restrict your movement (by bracing your arms against a bench) and provide for more freedom, as you can rotate your wrists.
LYING TRICEPS EXTENSIONS
Here's a lift you should avoid just based on its nickname: skull crushers. That's taking "no pain, no gain" way too far. Again, lying triceps extensions are typically done with the dreaded straight bar. Worst of all, each rep starts and stops with your head as the base. That's not good, at least not for those of us who like our heads. If you want to do a two-hand free-weight extension, do French presses (while seated, lower the bar behind your head), which at least won't bounce off your forehead, and always use a cambered bar. While we're on the subject of triceps, don't use a straight bar for pushdowns, either; use an angled bar or rope instead. Have I gotten across the message to avoid straight bars?
The common link among all the classic movements I dislike is that they were invented a hundred years ago before anyone had much knowledge of training, and they were just making it up as they went along. You don't see anyone doing one-arm kettledrum presses anymore. Other ancient exercises should be obsolete as well. I suppose we could still crank-start our cars, but I prefer to just slip my key in the ignition and turn it on. Trainers need to take advantage of the many modern tools they have at their disposal and not be too concerned about what others think is "hardcore."
You can be hardcore with Nautilus, Hammer Strength, Strive or whatever the latest computer-designed contraption is. Why not incorporate as many tools as you can? Too many guys get this ridiculous "hardcore" mentality, which ends up limiting their muscle gains. There is no rule that the more noise you make or the faster you drop the weight the quicker you'll grow, and there's no rule that you have to do certain exercises just because they've been around since the Sig Klein era. It's a new millennium. Training hardcore today doesn't mean limiting ourselves to the same movements our great-grandfathers performed. It means having the stones to say there are no sacred cows in bodybuilding, and it means doing only what works best for you to build maximum muscle.