Rules I Always Break and Why – Episode 2

11 Jul

I would expect anyone worth their price tag in the fitness industry to already be breaking destroying this rule. In actuality it’s probably a stretch to call it a rule. Unfortunately, I see the majority of personal trainers and gym goers alike adhering to this ass backwards principle, and this ish needs to stop!

Body weight before external load for the upper body.

External load before body weight for the lower body.

Source: Where did this little rule of training come from? With a little searching on the internet (Note: no book in my house worth reading would tell me to do this, and I’m not going to seek one out) I found that it’s mainly a result of infinite gym douche bag wisdom, with heavy influence from trainers more concerned with their hair than their client.

However, if you can find something in print telling me that I should squat with a barbell before I can properly squat myself, I can’t wait to read it. Same thing goes for something that tells me I shouldn’t perform DB bench presses in a full range of motion if I can’t do any proper push ups first. Or god forbid I regress a push up by elevating my hands instead of continuing to hammer away at something resembling prone shrugs.

I digress…

Why It’s Ass Backwards:

Here’s how it should look: External load before body weight in the upper body. Body weight before external load in the lower body.

Ok, so why?

Here’s a hands on way to get healthy dose of common sense: Go do as many consecutive pushups as you can. Then go beat that number with body weight squats. You are stronger in lower body – hip and knee dominant movements. Think about a beginner to strength training. Do you think they can do a lot of push ups? Any Pull – Ups? Probably not.

Let’s focus on upper body movements today.

You need to deload and externally load the main upper body movement patterns. But hold on! Re-read that last sentence.

You can’t just bench press and get good at push -ups. You can’t do lat pull downs and get good at pull-ups.

Body weight exercises fall under the category of “closed kinetic chain exercises.” What the heck does that mean? Just think about it like this. In a closed chain kinetic exercise your feet or hands are in a fixed position. You are moving your body to and from the fixed position. In an “open kinetic chain exercise” you are moving the load to and from your body.

Examples) Open chain –> Leg press, lat-pull down, bench press, leg curl…

Examples) Closed chain –> Push ups, pull ups, squats….

Open chain and closed chain exercises place different demands on the nervous system, and cause different muscle recruitment. It is important that you use open chain exercises to load beginners during upper body movements, but also that you prescribe closed chain variations of the body weight movements.


People continue to think that open chain exercises like a lat pull are going to results in the strength to do pull ups. Furthermore, they think just using dumbells or barbells will accelerate their push up strength. You need to properly deload the closed chain movements by using variations that keep them closed chain. Use band assists, elevate hands, suspension trainers, etc.

Upper body, body weight exercises are challenging. They are more challenging to many than externally loaded movements. It is not productive to make someone only train in a body weight fashion with upper body movements until they can master them.

Considering many people train for fat loss and hypertrophy, body weight before external load in the upper body makes even less sense to me.

Lastly, those trainers and trainees that continue to let themselves and their clients perform crappy excuses for push ups, pull ups, and inverted rows waiting for the day when these will magically turn into properly executed movements are killing me.

Use a combination of open chain externally loaded exercises and regressed (deloaded) closed chain exercises to bring yourself and your clients up to par.

I have to go, but stay tuned next time and we’ll talk about the lower body and why 405lb half squats don’t impress me.



3 Responses to “Rules I Always Break and Why – Episode 2”

  1. Suevonne August 9, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    Yo, that’s what’s up trutfhully.

  2. Kourtney August 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    So true. Honesty and eevrytihng recognized.


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