Get the Answers From the Champs – 1997 Muscle and Fitness Article


Published in Muscle and Fitness in 1997 the following article relays Lee Labrada, Lee Haney and a host of other bodybuilder’s opinions on training and bodybuilding in general. A nice insight into the training mindsets of the time, the article goes well with our previous post on the Workouts and Diets of Bodybuilding Champions. A reminder that is the time before high speed internet, training advice came primarily from muscle mags and the big guy at the gym!


Question: I just changed jobs and had to move to a new city. The only gym anywhere nearby has mostly machines – there just isn’t a great selection of free weights. My friend and I always thought that free weights were superior to machines, and now I’m worried that I’ll lose the mass I worked so hard to gain. My other option is to drive about 20 miles, and I’m not sure I’ll stick with my training if I have to drive that far.

Lee Labrada, IFBB Grand Prix Champion, answers: “Calm down. You’re not going to wilt away using machines. The old argument is that free weights are superior because they force you to balance the weight and control the movement. Well, machines have their advantages, too. With machines you can often get better isolation precisely because you don’t have to worry about balance. Because balance is not a factor, synergists — muscles used for balance — are not recruited to help move the weight and you can get a better degree of isolation when working muscle.

“Ideally, a gym should contain a wide selection of free weights as well as machines. But regardless of the source of resistance, focus on the contraction of your muscles. You’ve probably done right in choosing the gym close to your home, because what is most important — much more important than free weights vs. machines — is that you continue to workout on a consistent basis.

“The free weights vs. machines argument has been going on forever, and it will continue forever. Leave it to the gym philosophers, and get on with your training!”



Question: Is is true that a bodybuilder with a thin shoulder span should not train to increase the size of his neck, because having a bigger neck will only make his shoulders look smaller? Not that I need to worry yet — I’m not a pencil-neck myself.

Lee Haney, seven-time Mr. Olympia, answers: “While it is true that someone with a 38-inch chest and a 20-inch neck would look a little out of proportions, a well-developed neck should be part of a muscular physique. And the good news is that no untrained bodypart responds as rapidly to training as the neck. But you have to be careful how you train your neck.

“Never move your head in a circular motion against resistance, instead, move forward, backward, or side-to-side. The neck will also respond to someone to isometric contraction. The idea here is to protect the cervical spine. Damage to the disks between vertebrae could lead to chronic neurological problems. Never do the old wrestler’s exercise called ‘bridging’ — the cervical spine is simple not designed to handle that load of compressive weight. Regular chiropractic care can help maintain the health of the spine.

“I should mention also that bodybuilders have a second reason for training the neck. When you work the neck, the trapezius muscles are also being worked.”



Question: What’s the deal with turning the wrist while doing a biceps curl?

Shawn Ray, winner of the IFBB Ironman Classic, responds:

“What you are calling turning the wrist is supination, where the palm is rotated so that it is facing upward at the end of the curling motion. (Supination is the opposite of pronation, where the palm is rotated downward.) One of the functions of the biceps muscles is to turn the palm upward, and there force including this movement in your curling motions puts a greater demand on the biceps and helps to isolate it.

“It sometimes happens that people who are just starting to train may be able to curl more weight with their wrist in the neutral position. (This type of motion is called the hammer curl, because your wrist is in the position it would be if you were swinging a hammer.) The reason for this is that other muscles, particularly the brachialis, are in a favorable position to help in moving the weight. (The brachialis is the muscle running up the side of the biceps, it is often well-developed in non-weight-trained persons who do lots of lifting at their jobs — guys loading trucks or bailing hay.) Because of this, the biceps is not being fully stressed the way it is when the wrists are supinated.”



Question: I’ve been dong incline dumbbell presses to fill out my chest, but now my friend tells me that all I’m really dong is strengthening the front of my shoulders. Could this be true?

Berry DeMey, World Games winner, responds:

“Let me see if I can explain what your friend is talking about here. Incline presses are terrific for the upper pecs, but you need to watch the precise angle of the incline. If the bench is slanted at an angle greater than 40 degrees, the upper pecs are no longer the prime movers. At that angle the anterior deltoids, the front of the shoulders, begin to take over.

“Remember too, to keep your elbows out from your body in any benching exercise. This is one more way to stress the pecs while minimizing involvement of the anterior deltoids.”

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