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The Problem With Bodypart Mentality.

Posted Aug 12 2009 10:21pm

One good thing about the rise in popularity of bodybuilding in the 60s and 70s was that it got people interested in lifting weights.

One bad thing (” One bad thing?”, the peanut gallery asks) about bodybuilding going mainstream was that it made “bodypart mentality” a part of the training consciousness - bodypart mentality being the idea that you build your muscles by working specific muscle groups with specific exercises, i.e., Curls for biceps, flyes for chest, leg curl for hamstrings, etc.

Of course, this is utter horse sh-t.

In my formative years as an exercise physiologist, I fell hook, line, and sinker into bodypart thinking as well.  Then, while I was doing a set of ball squats one of my co-workers noted , “Hey, you’ve got a nice teardrop in your quad! You do leg extensions a lot?”

At that time, I hadn’t touched a leg extension machine in about 7 years or so.  Yet somehow I’d managed to grow that specific muscle (which is primarily grown via leg extensions as per conventional wisdom) using other means.  It was the first chink in the armor of a theory that really has no basis in reality.

Bill DeSimone said: “Take someone who’s been training his whole body for 10 years.  Do you think you’ll be able to tell whether or not he did preacher curls vs. hammer curls by the shape of his biceps?  Or if his triceps will look any different if he did rope pushdowns vs. french presses?”

The point:  Bodypart mentality is poisonous because it tricks you into thinking you have to work every single muscle with a different exercise.  Or, rather, that it makes you forget that on the main multi-joint movements, multiple muscle groups work - and develop.  In other words, it distracts you from the real work.

I’m not trying to imply Tommy Kono or Eugen Sandow never did a lateral raise or a hammer curl (although they probably didn’t).  But Kono didn’t sculpt his chest with endless sets of cable crossovers, nor did Sandow “cut up” his midsection by doing a 25-minute death circuit of abs.  They earned their muscle by getting darned strong on the basic, multi-joint (read: most productive) exercises.

The moral of the story is: Don’t waste time on detail exercises when you’ve not built enough “ material ” to detail.  Build muscle using the most productive exercises, and eat to lose enough bodyfat to show the results of your hard work.  A corollary example: You don’t need to do 20 sets of biceps curls for your arms to grow.  Cultivate the ability to do a weighted chinup and your biceps will be big enough (and you’ll have built a nice set of lats and abs, to boot).

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