Muscle Building Madness: 8 Things You Probably Need to Stop Doing
Muscle building is a game of good, better, best.
There are good things you can do. They will help you build muscle, but aren’t necessarily the most efficient or safe. These include exercises performed on the Smith machine, working out at a gym like Planet Fitness that has limited heavy dumbbells, and doing bodyweight movements in your hotel room when there is no time to hunt for a gym.
There are better things you can do. They might be exercises that aren’t exactly top tier, but they work, like choosing the leg press instead of squats, lat pull downs instead of pull ups, and Arnold presses instead of the military press. “Better” might also mean dumbbell shrugging the 120s for 30 reps when no heavier weight is available, or deadlifting with that nasty smooth barbell at LA Fitness when you’re out of town.
Related: Learn How to Build More Muscle Today
Then we have the best. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, and military press. Pull ups, dumbbell and barbell rows, and brutally heavy Romanian deadlifts. Texas deadlift bars, and real bench press stations. Gyms that actually allow chalk and encourage a hardcore attitude and intense aggression. The “best” tools, exercises, and gyms allow you to maximize the muscle building process and your motivation.
Ah, sounds like heaven. Or hades, if you prefer steaming pits of barbell bending den of iniquity. I do.
This article addresses exercises, practices, and rituals that fall into the “good” category. They have value, but either limit your ability to build muscle, are inherently dangerous, or are simply a waste of time.
10 Things You Probably Need to Stop Doing
#1 – Front Lateral Raises
Front lateral raises are typically a waste of time. Yup, you read that right. A. Colossal. Waste. Of. Time.
The substantial amount of pressing movements you perform on chest and shoulder day (if you’re into those sexy, sultry bro splits) hammer the front delts into oblivion. Even if you “only” perform the bench press and military press, there is little reason to add front delt work.
I’ve never met a seasoned bodybuilder or powerlifter who didn’t have exceptionally impressive front delts. In fact, many of these guys never performed a lick of front delt work.
Beyond that, additional front delt work can contribute to shoulder girdle imbalances. Most trainees overwork pressing movements while training the shoulders and back with so-so intensity. Let’s face it, most guys get fired up over chest day, but there aren’t too many shoulder day or back day memes.
Bottom line… The front delts are hammered while the rear delts are treated like a red-headed stepchild.
Drop the front laterals. Unless you are a freak with the worst front delt genetics on the planet, there is little reason to heap on extra work to this area.
#2 – Deficit Deadlifts
This one is likely to tick a lot of people off. I don’t care. Go cry in your cornflakes, they’ll listen. I’ll be over here in the corner NOT doing deficit deadlifts and saving my lower back some wear and tear.
Here’s the thing… As someone who has pulled 735 for 4 reps off a 5″ rack height (video is on Massive Iron Youtube channel), I’ve learned a few things about the deadlift over the years. First and foremost, I’ve found that:
- Rack pulls are far more forgiving on the lower back than floor pulls, even at small height increases of 3 to 5 inches.
- Most men and women have the power to get a weight off the floor, but stall somewhere between that point and lockout. I stress “most.” I’m not saying this is the case for everyone.
So what does this have to do with deficit deadlifts? It’s simple. They are more stressful on the lower back than rack pulls, making recovery a greater issue, and most lifters are better off working rack pulls/block pulls from 3 to 7 inches because they are already strong off the floor.
In 2012 and 2013 I worked rack pulls exclusively. My lower back recovery improved dramatically, and my deadlift lockout power skyrocketed.
#3 – False Grip Bench Press
This is just a dangerous movement. Period, end of story. Especially when the weight gets heavy. There is simply too much that can go wrong when using a false grip bench press.
But what if you use face-savers, and the threat of dropping the bar on your noggin or throat is non-existent? False grip bench presses still aren’t worth it.
You want a death grip on the barbell. This helps with upper body tightness, improving performance. This tightness also reduces some of the stress placed on shoulders, elbows, etc. from a looser grip.
Some will argue that a false grip, or suicide grip, is safer on the shoulders. That could very well be the case for some. I’m not pretending that this is a black and white issue. The reality though is that most gym bros and bro-settes don’t:
- Train on a bench with face-savers
- Have the best bench form to begin with
- Struggle with tightness already
- Haven’t developed the lift stability and cadence that season powerlifters and bodybuilders have
Therefore, most of you should ditch the false grip bench press as an option until your form is rock solid, and until you are training with some form of face-saver or rack pins to prevent an untimely death.
#4 – Smith Machine Compound Exercises
OK. This might sound like the typical anti-Smith machine tirade, but please take time to read this section.
The Smith machine does have valid uses. I could see using it for a number of minor assistance-type exercises. It’s never a good swap for major compound movements, but for minor movements it’s probably OK to use.
Let me explain. Here are two reasons to NOT use the Smith machine as a swap for compound movements.
#1 – The Smith machine takes away the natural movement plane.
This forces your body to respond to a compound movement in a very unnatural manner. Because the bar is on a fixed plane, the body must compensate and do things it wouldn’t normally have to do during a free weight, barbell compound exercises.
This increases wear and tear on the body, and increases the likelihood on strains, pains, and injuries. Especially when the weight gets heavy.
#2 – The Smith machine is simply not the better option.
Simple, really. Compound movements are your best option. If you’re looking to maximize results, regardless of your goals, free weight compound movements are light years ahead of Smith machine exercises in terms of effectiveness.
You only get so many hours in the gym each week. Don’t waste your time with inferior exercise choices. You want the fastest results, right? Then dump the Smith machine and grab a barbell. Every expert agrees on this point. Ask them if you don’t believe me.
#5 – Rounded Back Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Most people don’t have a clue they are making this mistake. So let me explain what I mean…
When performing stiff leg deadlifts, or Romanian deadlifts, you never want to lower the weight past the point where you lose lower back tightness.
As the weight slowly descends, pay close attention to what your lower back is doing. When your lower back wants to lose tightness, or when you feel it wants to start rounding, stop the descent. Immediately stand back up and drive your hips forward.
You need to protect your lower back. When you lose tightness during a stiff leg deadlift, you are putting your lower back in a precarious position. You are now lifting a very heavy weight with an unbraced lower back. This is a recipe for strains, tears, or worse.
The point of a Romanian deadlift or stiff leg deadlift isn’t to see how close you can get the barbell to the ground. The point is to work your hamstrings, glutes, and hips. Just keep that is mind and practice safe sets.
#6 – Back Work Without Straps
This is a hot button topic. I hear so much misinformation passed around the net and social media regarding back work and the use of straps. It goes something like this:
Bro, don’t use straps. It will weaken your grip!
Are you in the gym to train your back, or your grip? Are you hungry for a monster, barn-door back or is grip strength your ultimate conquest? Let’s be real here. You want a big back.
At some point NOT using straps will limit your back strength. You should be able to barbell and dumbbell row more weight than your grip can handle. You should be able to seated cable row more than your grip can handle. You should be able to power shrug more than your grip can handle.
If not, you’re doing back work wrong. Wrong!
Are you really going to let a minor muscle group limit your ability to develop a major muscle group? If so, you have it all backwards. Strap up, and crush heavy back sets. If you’re grip is weak, train it after back exercises.
Furthermore, there is evidence that having a strong back may actually improve your gripping prowess. Why? Having a weak back signals the brain to release a weight. Your body doesn’t want you to get injured. A strong back delays the signal sent to your brain to drop/release a weight.
Using Versa Gripps or wrist wraps may actually improve your grip strength, Think about that for a moment.
#7 – Endless Crunches and Situps
Most of you know that crunches and sit-ups won’t give you six pack abs. Still, despite trainers beating this drum of reality over and over again, it seems like half the folks at any given gym haven’t heard it.
So, let me repeat it again for the 10,344,567,907,875th time. Performing an endless amount of crunches and sit-ups will not help you “slice and dice” your abs and burn fat. Nope. Never going to happen.
Abs are made in the kitchen. Through fat loss.
If you train abs, do so wisely. The point is to strengthen your abs, which also encourages muscle growth in that area. Slight muscle growth. You aren’t going to build your midsection into a barrel of muscle simply by using progressive overload.
So instead of crunching your way into oblivion, which is also a good way to spork your lower back and spine, limit the number of sets you do but make them challenging.
#8 – Forearm Work
Not grip work. Forearm work.
If you need grip strength, then build grip strength. What I’m talking about here is direct forearm work with the purpose of improving forearm size. It really isn’t needed for 99% of you. Really.
Wrist curls. Reverse wrist curls. Dumbbell curls performed over a bench. You don’t really need to perform any of these.
My forearms are huge. Absolutely impressive and massive. I’m often asked my secret. My secret is indirect work.
If you spend years building up strength using a wide variety of barbell and dumbbell compound movements, your forearms are going to grow. I guarantee it.
The majority of exercises you perform in the gym require some form of forearm and grip work. Curls. Deadlifts. The bench press. Heck, even squats and leg curls require you to grip a barbell or handles tightly to perform the movement.
Your forearms will develop nicely over time just from all this unceasing indirect work.