Taking a new look at some old exercises

There comes a time in everyone’s life where it’s apparent that things just aren’t working. You may be applying yourself to the utmost of your ability but if the effort is ill directed, the desired results will most probably not be achieved. In other words, if you’re running east to find a sunset, it doesn’t matter how fast or how long you run, it ain’t there.

That is why it’s necessary to sometimes take a different approach – look at the problem from a new perspective. This is what makes bodybuilding more than just a physical activity. In an effort to “outwit” the constant adaptation process and find new methods of inducing growth, a little creativity is in order. This is where “inside-out training” comes into play.

What is inside-out training? The principle is simply to approach an exercise from the opposite perspective. Most bodybuilders have used an apparatus for something other than its original intent. A few examples may be using a cambered bar for rows or employing the tricep rope for curls. Yet most of the machines available in most gyms are approached in a more conventional manner. Using the “inside-out” principle we can mutate the action involved with most machines to incorporate several functions even their designers hadn’t thought of! Let’s start with the pec deck. As we all know, the pec deck was designed to be a more effective version of the dumbbell fly, but bodybuilders soon began using it as a rear deltoid developer. By facing the machine and placing the triceps on the pads, you would then contract the scapula forcing the posterior deltoid to work in a way that no other movement or free weight exercise can.

Let’s stay with the pec deck for a moment and examine the inside-out approach. How else can the movement of this machine be utilized in a more unorthodox fashion?

Try this. Stand facing the machine. Grab the handles and contract them together keeping the arms straight. As the hands come together, lean back a bit to allow the pecs to do all the work. (If you lean towards the machine the delts and tris will help too much.) Once you find the proper “groove,” you’ll realize this movement works the inner pecs like nothing else!


Another variation using the pec deck is to employ one arm at a time. Grab one handle in the conventional way. Support the other arm by holding on to the side of the seat. Now, contract the handle inward as usual but lean into the movement. This is something that obviously cannot be done if both arms were contracting simultaneously. Each arm will now be contracting far beyond the halfway mark, once again, forcing the inner portion of the pecs to work more intensely. This will give that awesome split in the middle of the chest that can be so elusive.

By now you’re probably getting the idea of how this principle works. A little ingenuity and creativity can go a long way in developing interesting new variations. Look around the gym. Study the angles of the various machines. Sometimes sitting down in the opposite direction is all you need to do. By sitting down facing out on the lat pulldown, it becomes a whole new angle to straight arm pull downs, tricep extension and abdominal crunches. Here are a few more examples you may want to try.

Everyone knows the SMITH machine is a versatile apparatus. Squats with unusual foot placement that couldn’t possibly be performed with the free standing squat can be executed with relative comfort on the Smith. However, the Smith machine makes a great standing calf raise machine! Place a block under the balls of your feet and put the foam pad on the bar for extra comfort. (The Manta Ray works especially well for this.) The movement, I feel, is far more “natural” than most calf machines.

How about ONE ARM ROWS with the Smith? If the machine in your gym goes low enough, this movement is unlike any other variation of its kind. Very smooth and controlled! (Of course, stand parallel with the bar.)

The cable system at most gyms is often the source of some rather ingenious variations. Here’s one you may not have seen. Use a straight bar on the lower rung of the cross-over cable frame. Instead of doing curls in a standing position, lie supine down on the floor with the feet supported against the frame. Executing curls while lying down eliminates any cheating and works especially well with the feel of the cable.

Did you realize that the pad of a lat pulldown or an abdominal board can become a hamstring exerciser? We all think of working the hamstrings by curling the leg up. Why not support the legs and lift your body up? Kneel down with the back of your ankles securely under the pad support of your choice. Now lift the trunk of your body

backwards by contracting the hamstrings. Make no mistake about it, this is one hell of a difficult movement! Unless you can comfortably hamstring curl well over 100 pounds it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do a single rep in this manner!

Once you get in the mind set of viewing things in this manner, you’ll be surprised how many alternatives are possible. I’ve used leg extension machines for sissy squats, a hamstring machine can be a makeshift seated calf raise machine, even the pads of standing calf machines can be used for doing shoulder shrugs! The variations are limitless.

By breaking some rules you may find your way towards more interesting and productive training progress. So the next time you want to get through a sticking point by trying something different, think inside-out!

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