Nothing beats the classics. In an era where movie producers are dropping hundreds of millions of dollars into creating movies for the world to see, the classics always seem to emerge, no matter how hard we may try to keep them down. Remakes of Godzilla and Superman are still packing theaters, even decades after the originals graced the black and white movie picture screens. It seems that once people latch upon to an idea, for whatever reason, it sticks, and grows with them.
The classic muscle builder exercises have staying power in a very similar sort of way. Engineers and designers have spent decades working to design a better way of stimulating the muscle groups of the body. They've broken down lifting arcs, analyzed momentum and body position, and despite the massive lucrative awards available for building a better bench press (or whatever exercise), it has not yet been done. The tired and true classics remain in place, and no machine has been able to supplant them for building basic muscle mass and strength. And while they cannot be replaced, the basic top muscle builder exercises sure can be upgraded. Let's look at a few of the top muscle builders and examine how they can be improved.
Without a doubt, the bench press is THE first movement that 90% of lifters attempt during their first, their last, and just about every workout in between. Builder of chest, shoulders, and triceps (with some back muscle overlap as well), the bench press is an effective measure of strength, power, and will build up a fairly thick chest in the meantime. But in the 6 or 8 decades that lifters have been using this movement, has anything really changed about it?
The new variation that is seeing some real attention is known as "head off" bench pressing. Simply choose a bench and scoot yourself up so that your head is no longer supported by the bench. This positioning looks strange, but provides some really creative results. When your head is no longer on the bench, your spine can actually straighten out. This improves shoulder mechanics, spinal position, and makes your physique flat and more powerful. This simple adjustment has many lifters boosting their bench press numbers. You should definitely give this one a shot!
The tried and true means of building the upper back has got to be the pull up. It is as simple as it is painful and productive. Pull your body upward. Defy gravity while requiring your back, shoulders and arms to work together in a delicate ballet of functional strength performance and muscle building effectiveness. However, as simple as it is to just pull yourself up using an overhead grip, there may just be a better way to do it.
Foot-loaded weighted pullups are the next generation in pullups. Most lifters use a weight belt with a chain, placing the weight plates around their midsection and usually pulling to the front. This places more weight upon their lower back and really creates an awkward, unnecessary pull on the body. Hanging the weights from the feet is the most natural way to add weight to the body in a safe and controlled way in which the body is already primed and prepared for!
Back Extension Rows
Back extensions are a very popular movements for targeting the lower back with higher repetitions, isolated without the overall body demands that deadlifts provide. And dumbbell rows are very popular as well, for their quality stimulation and isolation of each side of your body, hitting the lat muscles in their entirety. Both exercises are effective when used separately - but can some synergy be discovered when they are put to work together?
Back extension rows are one exercise which combine the two. Spinal flexion doesn't take place, forcing your back and shoulders to lock into nearly perfect form. Set up on the back extension machine in the upright position. Grab some moderately light dumbbells (to start) and knock out a set of slow and controlled hanging back extensions. This idea may seem completely novel at first - but it is catching on in gyms everywhere. The isolative nature of the lat training, coupled with the flexing of the lower back and perfect form for both, makes it a popular and useful exercise on both fronts… simultaneously!
Back in the day, EVERYONE used pullovers in their workout. A lot of top athletes in the 1970s preferred combining their chest and back days, with the pullover providing the ultimate in muscle group overlap. It was also the chief exercise for the very popular trend of "rib cage expansion". See, back before the days of GH guts, bodybuilders were able to pull off vacuum poses, with their hands above their heads, quite effectively. Pullovers were a big reason for that success.
When performed in what is known as a 'hollow body' position, pullovers can be even more effective. Raise your legs slightly when laying down for this movement. The core of your body will instantly receive a greater demand. Your spine will receive less stress as well. Your shoulder girdle will no longer be over-stretched. You'll see the same amount of stimulation to your triceps, chest, lats, deltoids, and the serratus, without many of the associated risks that you normally see - from one quick adjustment of raising your foot position.
Fifty years will pass, and you will still be seeing remakes of Batman and Godzilla movies. Yes, creativity and originality will never be what they used to be. And some concepts just seem to have a universal appeal. The exercises used in the gym are no exception. However, these movements can continue to remain productive for you, as long as you are able to tailor and tweaks them to see better results, continually requiring your body to adapt - and grow - in the face of new challenges from new angles. Good luck!