by Martin Rooney T-Nation
Recently after a full day of seminars, I returned to the gym after midnight to drop off the equipment I used that day and noticed a couple of 18-wheel trucks parked out in front of the facility.
Driving past the trucks, some movement in the dark caught my eye. I saw a team of workers moving big boxes and cellophane-covered pallets with the speed and precision of a Special Forces covert operation.
It was late, however, and I had an early morning workout scheduled the next day, so I just dropped off my gear around back and headed home to catch a few hours of sleep. As I drifted off, I’d all but forgotten about the trucks, just like they had planned.
When I returned the next day it was like Christmas morning. I walked into our facility and almost every piece of equipment on the health club side had been replaced with a shiny “new-and-improved” version.
Gone were the ripped pads on the machines, and the polished chrome of the new equipment glistened brilliantly under the lights against the fresh coat of paint on the walls.
The scene was hypnotic. Like myself, many of the early morning members were walking around the gym like starry-eyed kids in a toy store excited to try the new wares. Most couldn’t resist the urge to ditch what they’d planned to do that workout to give the shiny new equipment a “test-drive.”
After an impromptu upper body workout on the new bench that seemed “just right,” I realized they must’ve moved the 45-degree back raise to another part of the gym. I looked around but couldn’t find it. “They must be bringing that tomorrow night,” I thought.
Day 2 of the takeover was leg day, and once again I was in the new trophy room of equipment looking for another favorite finisher, the standing calf raise. After I couldn’t find it, I assumed they must have all the “special” equipment coming that night on a different truck.
It’s been over a month, and I’m still waiting for the truck to arrive.
“The United States has attempted to protect endangered species, through legislation, since the Endangered Species Act was introduced in 1973. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are responsible for deciding which species get protection. Once an animal is placed on this list, it is officially protected.”
What about the official endangered species organization for exercises? Remember some of your favorite pieces of equipment that you no longer see in the gym? What happened to them? Where’d they go?
Just like some animals, exercises can also disappear when people either no longer respect their usefulness or just stop caring. I’m here to remind you that just because you don’t see something anymore, it doesn’t mean that it no longer has value. This article, therefore, is an act of exercise conservation.
Take a close look at what happened in my gym. This is Gym Death: replace select items that only the most seasoned gym goer might notice. Then, after a few days of searching, complaining, and mourning, even the most stubborn Zubaz-clad meathead eventually moves on and accepts the new pieces and quickly forgets his old favorites. After a couple generations of this practice, entire styles of training can disappear.
Just like with animals, humans are also the cause of the endangerment of exercises. Let’s look at the main reasons why animals (and exercises) become endangered:
1. Destruction or Alteration of Habitat
Population decreases as another species expands.
Gym translation: Once the ellipticals and spin bikes take hold, other things have to go.
2. Introduction and Competition of Exotic Species
New species often prey on the native species.
Gym translation: Hello ropes, kettlebells, and suspension trainer; goodbye leg press.
Like the dinosaurs, a toxic environment can eradicate an entire species.
Gym translation: The Internet is full of ideas that are damaging to the environment. The idea that chin-ups make your arms bigger and the plank is the best core exercise castrated both the concentration curl and push-up.
These are people that willfully hunt down an entire species to extinction.
Gym translation: If a guy can’t clean his socks off the floor, don’t heed his latest “Why Cleans Are Bad” blog.
As a result of the above, we may be on course for another mass extinction event. This time not because of an asteroid, but perhaps some hemorrhoid of a blogger calling a half-hour of foam rolling followed by one-legged pistol squats on a Bosu Ball a workout.
I get the machines aren’t functional argument, but when you think about it, are people even seeking “function?” Most guys aren’t lifting to improve their single-leg, eyes-closed balance – they’re lifting to build bigger muscles.
I argue that some of the endangered exercises I used to do gave me the best results of all. And if I polled men to see if they’d rather be referred to as “functional” or “jacked,” I know which most would go with.
But instead, the “dumbbell lunge to curl” is thrown in our face by people that surely don’t do them. Hey, if you say that some of the old stuff isn’t functional, I’m not sure that a kipping handstand push-up is, either. The function I was looking for was getting diesel. And it worked.
Just like all animals are equally important and play a role in the Earth’s biodiversity, I argue that the endangered exercises below play a role in gym-diversity.
Since people have different goals, every exercise is important. Every exercise counts. My purpose is to fight on behalf of some of these exercises that can’t stick up for themselves.
Here’s my endangered list, along with a workout that I promise will remind you why the exercise isn’t dead yet.
1. Roman Chair
For all you “scientists” out there that say, “Et Tu, Brute?” because of my support of this old staple, I laugh while doing abs on my Roman chair.
Workout: Around the World
Perform 10 back extensions, 10 oblique crunches right, 10 abdominal flexes, and 10 oblique crunches left. Don’t worry, the pain in your abs after you’re done isn’t a blade.
2. Decline Bench
I always found the decline to be an easier movement than flat bench. It’s easier on the shoulders and it makes many people feel stronger, too.
Workout: Decline Barbell Bench Strip Set
Start with 7 – 10-pound plates on each side of the bar (185 pounds). Do 5 reps and have two people pull a 10 off each side. Perform 5 more reps and repeat until you get all the way down to the bar.
3. Standing (or Seated) Calf Raise
The poachers will tell you that you don’t need this one, yet I’m quite certain that not only do they not do this exercise, they also don’t do the one-legged hopping variations they extol in its place.
Or maybe you’ve been convinced calves aren’t important? Try severing an Achilles tendon and get back to me on that.
Workout: The Dirty 30
On either a standing or seated calf raise machine:
Toes forward for 10 reps
Toes out for 10 reps
Toes in for 10 reps
Hold at the top, 2-second negative.
Don’t have a calf raise? Just do them on the Smith machine. Oh, I forgot – that one’s already extinct.
4. Preacher Curl
Every bench you buy should come with a free preacher curl attachment on the end. The world went from giving them away to making them harder to find than perfect pitch at a Karaoke bar.
Workout: 21 Gun Salute
Using your dusty old preacher curl and a barbell:
Do 7 half-reps from 90 degrees up to full flexion (no rest)
Do 7 half-reps from 90 degrees down to full extension (no rest)
Finish with 7 painful reps through a full range of motion.
5. Cable Crossover
Yes, the cable crossover station takes up space and is expensive, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
Workout: The Tree Hugger
Using the cable station, do 8 pec flyes to the front and standing upright; 8 pec flyes towards the ground and bending at the waist; and then lower the handles to the bottom position and do 8 flyes upward towards the ceiling. Perform each rep as if you were hugging a tree.
6. Lying Hamstring Curl
I know, you’re lying down and it’s not functional. Really? I used it for everything from hamstring re-hab to guard work in MMA. So re-habilitation and fighting aren’t functional? Right.
Workout: Ham and Aches
On the lying leg curl machine, do 8 full hamstring curls with a 5-second eccentric phase. Then perform 6 reps with just the left leg followed by 6 reps with just the right.
I’ve been to the equipment trade shows. Roman chairs, preacher curls, and decline benches are seen as dinosaurs that take up valuable square footage and don’t excite people into buying a membership. They’re also relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment that manufacturers can’t make much margin on. As a result, they’re becoming harder to find than a Javan Rhino.
The good news is that there’s still hope. You can start by scouring Craig’s list for these rarities, and maybe start a shelter for these poor abandoned pieces of equipment. I actually had a garage full of the stuff because I couldn’t say no to old friends at such a low price. The challenge was to feed them a couple of reps every few days.
But remember, just like an extinct animal, once your favorite exercise disappears, it ain’t coming back. And if you have a favorite piece of equipment, keep an eye on it because if it makes its way out of your gym at midnight, the next time you see it may be on the back of a milk carton.
If you have some favorite endangered exercises that you want to preserve, share them with me in the LiveSpill below.