I hate to admit it, but there are some lifts that I suck at. I still do them, or variations of them, but nothing about my performance is impressive. All these exercises have their place in a balanced workout program, and it is important to work on weaknesses, so I still do them. Just not very well. Here, in no particular order, are 3 exercises I suck at…
#1. Barbell Bench Press
If by admitting that I suck at bench press you want to rip up my Man Card, fine, I will accept the consequences. Barbell bench press is a program pillar for most dudes, especially ones that love pushing weight from Point A to Point B. My max bench press occurred in 1998, when I did 240lbs three times. Not impressive.
But, as an athlete, bench press is overrated. There is no sport that has players on their back pushing a stable load off their chest. (If you wanted to argue that grappling has an element of the bench pressing motion when competitors push people off them from their backs, I would agree with you. But, in a grappling match the load is unstable and the competitors are in constant motion.) Bench press is a great way to build upper body strength; it is a great way to have T-shirt-popping-pecs; but it is not a functional movement for athletes. Instead, I prefer a variety of push-ups, single-arm DB bench press, or a standing single-arm cable chest press. While these substitutions will not impress the meatheads, they do help with coordination and unilateral strength.
I love most body weight exercises, and pull-ups fit right into that category. I’m just not good at them. As a kid in elementary school gym class, I did not have the upper body strength to haul my large ass up to the bar. (Too much glute-gravity dragging me down!) I watched skinnier kids crank out numerous pull-ups and wondered how they were so strong and why I was so weak.
But, I have addressed my weakness by concentrating on various grips and angles to build up this upper-body-vertical-pull-pattern. I did my first real, dead hang pull-up at 26-years old. Of course, I could swing, kick and use many other momentum building movements to cheat, and sometimes there is merit to that. But, I am talking about a dead hang pull-up–my definition of a pull-up. I do them, I just can’t do that many in a row.
On a good day and with a favorable grip, I can do eight dead hang pull-ups in a row. Pull-ups are a maximal strength movement for me, so I try to do multiple sets of around 5 to make sure I get the greatest reward for my effort.
#3. Barbell Squat
Sucking at barbell squats might come as a surprise, since squatting is part of all athletic programs. Throughout high school and college I could always move heavy weight, but something about squatting 300+ pounds just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t until I became NASM certified in 2006 that I was able to do a kinetic chain self-analysis. I had two major problems with my squat pattern: 1. My big ass resulted in a posterior pelvic tilt (refer to ass problems above in pull-ups). 2. As a catcher, I spent my life in a crouch/squat with my weight on the balls of my feet.
The pelvic-tilt-plus-balls-of-my feet-reality meant I transferred my catcher squat into my barbell squat. I had a real hard time driving through my heels on a barbell squat, and a harder time firing my glutes. I was also too flexed at the spine. As a result, my squat was inefficient. Instead of using all the muscles in my legs and my core, I was only using some of them. My quads looked great but my butt cheeks were soft and floppy. I also found that my squat pattern improved without a barbell on my back. By focusing on cleaning up the movement pattern from the ground up, I was able to address some glaring weaknesses and build a better foundation.
While I will occasionally do barbell squats, I prefer single-leg squats, or jump squats. I do not like putting a loaded barbell on my back (or my clients’ back) because we can achieve the same result–stronger legs–without compressing the spine.
Barbell bench press. Pull-ups. Barbell squat. While we could argue that these three lifts are Kryptonite for me, I still work on them to improve my movement patterns. It is important to address weaknesses but since I am not training to become a bench press champion, there are other ways to work the same chest muscles in a more favorable way. Even though I suck, I still work at it.
Feel free to heckle me next time you see me struggling with a wimpy bench press.