Bodybuilding and smoking


Do any of the pro bodybuilders smoke? The two best physiques at the gym where I train both smoke. They work out together, and even take a fag break during each workout! Isn’t smoking harmful for bodybuilding?

I don’t know for sure, but I would think that some of the pros smoke, as does a proportion of almost any group of people. Smoking is harmful for anyone, not just bodybuilders, but it probably won’t hamper a young bodybuilder’s progress provided that the health damage hasn’t started to kick in.

But even if smoking helped with bodybuilding — which it doesn’t, but let’s suppose it does — I still would never recommend that a bodybuilder smokes. A few extra pounds of muscle over the short-term would be no compensation for damage to your health over the medium- and long-term.

My father died at age 59, largely as a result of the harm that smoking had done to him. (He’d smoked since he was 14 or 15.) While depriving him of many years of life, the smoking also denied me and my sisters a relationship with him during our adulthood, and it made my mother a widow at just 59.

I grew up in a house with cigarette smoke in it, and I was a passenger in a car that was often full of cigarette smoke, as were my sisters. I had serious allergy trouble as a boy, and one of my sisters continues to have serious allergy problems today. According to some research, children brought up in a smoker’s household suffer more allergy problems than children from non-smokers.

I urge you not to smoke — for your sake and for the sake of those close to you.



I’m 28, but only 5 foot 4 tall. Do short bodybuilders need to train differently to tall guys?

The physiological processes involved in training and muscle growth are the same regardless of height, but height can influence exercise selection. Choosing exercises that are best suited to you is one of the rules of successful bodybuilding. Short people commonly have better leverages for some exercises than tall people. For example, many tall people aren’t suited to the barbell squat and bench press, but many short people are.



I hear mixed reports about the barbell row. What’s the best way to perform it?

The safe way.

The barbell row has long been notorious for causing injuries. Or, more accurately, the barbell row performed in an unsafe way has caused many injuries. All exercises can cause injuries, and all exercises can be safe — depending on the form used. But some exercises, including the unsupported barbell row, are more likely to be performed incorrectly than others.

The freestyle barbell row and T-bar row are fraught with danger because they don’t have the body supported, the lower back is excessively involved, it’s difficult to keep the lower back hollowed and secure once the weight becomes substantial — just a slight slip in technique can produce lower-back injury — and the wrist positioning they impose isn’t ideal.

Why take such a risk with those rows when there are safer but still effective bodybuilding alternatives? Use the one-arm dumbbell row (with the disengaged hand braced on an incline bench), chest-supported machine row, or prone row. (Use a narrow bench for the prone row — and, perhaps, with a slight incline to it — and dumbbells rather than a barbell, for a full range of motion and the freedom to find the most comfortable wrist positioning for you.) With correct technique, all of these alternatives are much lower risk than the freestyle bent-over rows.



My gym recently got a machine for one-legged leg curls. It really isolates my hams, and I love that, but since using it I’ve had a nagging lower back ache. Is there a connection?

The one-legged leg curl is a unilateral movement that commonly leads to technique flaws, including a torso twist, and uneven stresses on the spine and torso from the asymmetrical loading. Those stresses are probably responsible for the lower back irritations you’re getting. If you can’t do this exercise safely, return to a two-legged leg curl, which makes it much easier to apply symmetrical loading on your body.

Generally, the seated leg curl is the pick of the machines — for comfort, maintenance of correct technique, and isolation of the hamstrings.

I don’t know your level of muscle development, or how much training experience you have. But it may be that the leg curl isn’t an appropriate bodybuilding exercise for you at your current level.