You have probably heard about the ‘risk to reward ratio.’ All it really means is that before undertaking any activity or course of action, you should first weigh the potential risks against the potential rewards. For the sake of today’s discussion, let’s put it in terms of particular exercises and whether or not you should be doing them.
As is often the case, this is really aimed at those of you who have been training for at least a few years. By that time, you will have found that one or more exercises either cause you pain in a joint or tendon, or even worse, inevitably lead to injury if you perform it on a regular basis. This is something that can and will continue to change as more years go by. Due to wear and tear, injuries, or sometimes simply because you are not mechanically suited for a particular exercise, eventually some exercises will be a very bad idea for you. For instance, anyone with rotator cuff issues is only going to make things worse by doing barbell presses behind the neck. A person with lower back trouble should not be deadlifting or squatting heavy. Sometimes you will find that you only feel pain with a specific exercise due to your body mechanics. I have known guys who only felt knee pain when they did hack squats, or only felt pain in their shoulders when they did dips. Others can do flat bench presses with dumbbells no problem, but if they use a barbell it feels like their shoulder is going to rip out of its socket.
The easy solution is to avoid those movements that you know from experience are just not safe for you. The problem with that is, often you will either feel obligated to do it anyway thanks to your own beliefs, or beliefs that others push on you to accept. Let’s take squats, since I just wrote about my recent injury to the quadratus lumborum and sacroiliac joint incurred while squatting, and how I decided to stop squatting. I also explained that since my quadriceps are a dominant bodypart that has always grown easily anyway, giving up squats isn’t going to hurt my physique. Yet in spite of all that, I got a slew of emails and Facebook messages from people who meant well, attempting to talk me into keeping squats in my program. Do them a little lighter later on in your workout, they suggested. Use a wider stance, etc. Even funnier was when John ‘Mountain Dog’ Meadows posted a photo of his ripped 31-inch thighs at 5-7 and mentioned that he stopped squatting this year because of lower back problems. Plenty of people, none of whom I bet have leg development remotely like his, also tried to coerce him back into squatting even though he is clearly doing just fine, far better than them in fact, with other exercises.
You see, many of us have been brainwashed into believing that if you don’t do certain key movements, you are doomed. Deadlift, or else you will never have a decent back. Squat, or you will have chicken legs. Bench press or else you will have a flat chest, and so on. I have to take a little of the blame for his, having written literally thousands of training articles over the last 22 years of my career as a published writer. In my younger years, I was far more dogmatic and tended to repeat various tenets as being gospel truth. As the years went by and I opened up my mind, I realized how closed minded and limited my whole approach to bodybuilding was. Eventually I came to understand that there were no ‘rules’ as I had been so sure there were. There were many, many different ways to train and eat that delivered results.
It’s always tough to break free from the crowd and do things your own way, especially when you know you will be judged or mocked for it. Bodybuilding is a close-knit little cult when you get down to it, and most want to be seen as ‘hardcore.’ Hardcore bodybuilders lift very heavy free weights, and they are strong in all the basic movements: squats, deads, bench presses, barbell rows, military press, weighted dips and chins, barbell curls, and skullcrushers. God forbid you aren’t super strong on all of them or worse, sin of all sins – you don’t do all those! The irony of this is that the sport of bodybuilding is judged entirely on your appearance. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or which exercises you do, only what your physique looks like.
And the real irony here is that if you insist on doing exercises that hurt you, you will sabotage your physique. You will miss plenty of training time while your injury heals and you gradually regain any size and strength you lose. The key point to remember is, you won’t be making any progress while you’re hurt. Certain areas like the lower back and shoulders are involved in so many exercises for so many different bodyparts that if you hurt them badly, your training will be a joke. You won’t be able to do hardly anything with weights. And guess what? None of the people who insisted that you continue doing exercises you knew were dangerous for you will give a damn. So I say, why should you give a damn what anyone thinks?
Be your own person, and you listen to your body. You do what’s best for you, regardless of what others do or what they say you should do. It’s your body, not theirs, and YOU will be the one dealing with the pain and frustration of injury if anything happens, not them.
Furthermore, don’t believe for a minute that taking any one exercise out of your program will doom any bodypart. Great backs have been built without deadlifts. Great legs have been built without squats (German IFBB Pro Ronny Rockel claims to have only done front squats, never regular back squats, and his quads are fantastic). My chest is pretty decent if I do say so myself, and I haven’t bench pressed regularly since I was a teenager in the 1980′s.
The point is, you need to take charge of your own body and your own training, and do what’s safe yet productive for you. If you have existing pain or past injuries that are aggravated by certain exercises, you are an idiot if you insist on doing those. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are ‘must do’ exercises according to everyone. You shouldn’t do anything where the potential risks far outweigh the rewards. That’s not training smart, and it’s not the way to have any type of longevity as a bodybuilder.