The Basics, Done Right

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, October 1998

The Basics, Done Right

By Paul Keegan

The beauty of Newton's resistance-training program is that you need only master 12 exercises to follow it. How much weight to use is difficult to estimate, says Newton, but to start, pick a load at each station that you can hoist 15 times fairly easily. Exhale during exertion and inhale during recovery. Also, remember to rest for about 90 seconds between sets — anything less is akin to simply doing one long set, while anything more is a waste of time. Newton has you beginning with five basic drills in the Transition period and then mixing in the other lifts over the coming months.

Bench Press (pectorals, deltoids, triceps)

It may seem the most rudimentary of exercises, but Newton raises an insightful point: "Not using a spotter leads to death more often than we like to admit." So consider getting some help on this one. Grasp the bar with a closed grip — your thumbs wrapped around the bar — keeping your hands just wider than your shoulders and your feet flat on the ground. Slowly lower the bar to your chest, and then push it up.

Lat Pulldown (latissimus dorsi and biceps)

Contrary to popular wisdom, pulling the bar down behind you doesn't utilize different muscles than keeping it in front. So as long as you don't crane your neck forward, either way is fine. Pull the bar down to the collarbone in front or to the top of the shoulders in back.

Crunches (abdominals)

The big mistake people make here is trying to get their lower back off the ground. Keep it there, and with your chin tucked to your chest, raise just your upper torso.

Back Extension (spinal erectors)

Climb on the not-so-aptly-named hyperextension bench and place your hips against the pad, leaving your torso to flop down. Most folks cross arms across their chests, but Newton prefers that you lock your fingers behind your neck. Raise your upper body until it's in line with your legs — no farther.

Leg Press (gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings)

Adjust the seat so that your lower back stays glued in place. Lift the platform with your feet set flat and hip-width apart. And despite the folklore you may have heard, positioning your toes at odd angles does nothing at all to work different muscles. Let the weight down, making sure the angle that your leg forms at the knee doesn't drop too far below 90 degrees, which is a recipe for blowing out your knees.


Dead Lift (quads, glutes, lower back)

This one's tricky, so start with a very light weight. Standing with your feet under the bar, bend at the knees and waist and grip the bar just wider than your hips. Keeping your feet flat and back straight, slowly stand up with the bar. Be sure not to lift with your arms. Flex at the knees and waist to lower the weight.

Squats (quads, hamstrings, glutes)

Standing with your feet at hip-width and your toes jutting slightly outward for balance, duck beneath the barbell so that it's resting on your back and shoulders. Under the watch of a spotter and looking straight ahead, bend at your waist and knees as if sitting in a chair. Your butt should stick out and your back should remain straight, though angled over your hips. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground and, without bouncing, stand up slowly.

Seated Row (rhomboids, deltoids, biceps, lats)

Sitting at the rowing station of a Universal gym and holding your back straight, pull the handles toward your chest. Be sure not to involve your back. Let your arms out until they're straight.

Dumbbell Press (pectorals, deltoids, triceps)

This is essentially a bench press that uses dumbbells, thus calling on more stabilizing muscles. Starting with the weights at your shoulders, slowly extend them to the ceiling.

Incline Press (pectorals, triceps, shoulders)

Sitting on an incline bench under a barbell rack, grip the bar a little wider than your shoulders and lower it to just below your collarbone. Under the watch of a spotter, push the bar up.

Seated Press (shoulders, triceps)

Sitting straight up under a barbell rack, start with the bar at your clavicles and push it toward the ceiling.

Dumbbell Row (rhomboids, lats, deltoids, biceps)

With a dumbbell at your feet, set your left knee and hand along the length of a bench. Keeping your back parallel to the bench, grab the weight with your right hand and draw it up to your chest. Be sure to keep your elbow in tight. Lower the weight until your arm is straight.

Photographs by Craig Cameron Olsen

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