Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rise of the [Rear-Delt] Machine

Okay, here’s something hilarious, at least to me:

I’ve gone off on the “functional” thing a few times in the past, largely on the basis of questioning what ‘function’ means exactly: what function is the exerciser trying to develop, who are the functional training devotees to tell us what functions are ‘legitimate’ and what which ones aren’t, and how exactly does spending 20 minutes working the relatively insignificant muscle that pulls your gut in translate into a better time in the 40? Tying the “functional” label in with one of my other Favorite Things to be Curmudgeonly About, there’s something vaguely condescending about the label “functional” training in general—something that implies, “We Train Athletes to Move The Way They Were Designed to Move (and you don’t).”

The other day, though, I was pumping a spot of iron in my recently renewed quest for what Lou Schuler calls “a few extra pounds of contractile tissue.” It was “pushing” day (yes, I’m back on a split system…here come the villagers with their pitchforks and torches to burn down my local gym…), and I’d finished doing some clean-and-jerks and was looking around for a “finishing” move to just give my shoulders that one extra little push over the edge, as Nigel Tufnel would say.

I hadn’t touched a rear-delt machine in ages, mostly because I’d lumped it in with so many other “nonfunctional” exercises. What’s the point, it’s a big, cumbersome machine that essentially does what can be accomplished equally well with a pair of dumbbells and a bench? Well, maybe I wasn’t thinking too clearly, or maybe I was still smarting from the Olympic lifts I’d been doing (just so as not to be banned altogether from the “macho” club), but I found myself alighting on the rear-delt raise machine for a couple of sets.

And here’s the deal: maybe it was from years of trying to activate my lower traps using moves from the “functional” school (lying cobras and the like), but the machine rear-delt raise seared the hell out of those muscles, the scapular retractors AS WELL as the rear delts.

Since then I’ve repeated that move a few more times and found that it works wonders for that area—which is, ironically, exactly the area that the functional crowd considers essential in addressing some of the most common postural problems.

Usually when you have to explain why something’s funny that means it’s NOT, but to me it’s ironic that a machine ostensibly designed to carve one particular, much-coveted line onto the physiques of its users (that line being the separation between the deltoid muscles and those of the upper arms)—which is to say, the antithesis of a functional movement-- would also prove to be a great tool in the “functional training” arsenal. Personally, I get much better activation of those muscles using the machine that I ever did in hours of lying prone Swiss-Ball dumbbell lateral raises with a 321 tempo, which are allegedly a much more functional.move.

Ah the irony. So I’m here to advocate oiling up the old rear-lateral machine and seeing how far it can take you in the battle against internal rotation and the gradual, inevitable slide towards a sloping, simian posture. Be the first in your local gym to make this old-school move new again.

And I’m going to be on the lookout for more movements and techniques I’d written off as useless, dangerous, and antiquated which actually have hidden benefits.

Like the 45-degree lying leg press loaded up with about 1000 pounds.

[Cue laugh track.]

I slay me.



Rick Mayo said...


I could not agree with you more about the rear-delt machine. I've had shoulder surgery and postural problems in the past and I really prefer that machine to other posterior isolation exercises that you mentioned. Problem is I own what you described as a really cool "recess gym" with all kinds of funky strength tools and few machines. This necessitates a visit to the local Globo gym to hop on my favorite machine. Of course, I always have to wait for the shaved, tanned dude to finish his 10th set of drop-down chest flyes. Let's invent a rear-delt only machine!

Keep up the great work

Rick Mayo

Andrew said...

Hey Rick--Thanks for the comment. Maybe The Recess Gym needs a special inner sanctum with a few machines secreted away in a corner. You only get a key after you've been doing your Olympic lifts, tire flips, and sled pulls for a full two years. And if you've got a suspiciously even tan in mid-February, it's off limits altogether.

I'll check out your site! Thanks for writing--


kevsta said...

Hi Andrew. Greatly enjoying your blog and general take on thigs. I have coincidentally have also taken to using this machine again myself and with clients in the last few months. :)

Kev Grant
Ibiza Personal Trainer

Andrew said...

Thanks, Kev! Glad to hear you're having a similar experience. Maybe it's time that the "functional" and the "aesthetic" folks sat down together and smoked a peace pipe...

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