What’s the best width of grip for the upright row—on the smooth part of the bar, or on the knurling?
Some perform the upright row with their hands almost touching, while others perform it with more like a shoulder-width grip. Whether or not that difference ties in with the areas of knurling on the barbell, depends on the particular barbell used, and the size of the trainee.
I never recommend the upright row. There are much better and safer exercises for the shoulders than the upright row. The close-grip style is particularly rough on the shoulders and the wrists. And regardless of the width of grip, the upright row is invariably done with loose form, which further exposes the wrists and shoulders to injury, as well as the lower back.
For most bodybuilders for most of the time, an overhead press and a shrug is the maximum shoulder-specific training that’s needed for the shoulders. The bench press or the parallel bar dip, and lat exercises, also heavily involve the shoulders. Most bodybuilders overtrain their shoulders, to their cost.
I train with my brother, on the same four-day split routine. We’re 23 and 25, but you’d never know we’re brothers. Jeff’s much shorter than me, stronger, better developed, and he has much thicker wrists, elbows, ankles and knees. He’s also much more athletic than I am. He seems to have taken after our mother, who used to be an outstanding discus thrower. Our father is tall, lanky and skinny, like I am. I train like Jeff does, and hard, but I don’t progress like he does—in fact, I’m not progressing at all. How can I match his progress?
You’re striking illustrations of the influence of genetics in bodybuilding. Your brother inherited very good genetics for bodybuilding. He’s an easy gainer provided he trains and recuperates adequately.
If you train like most bodybuilders do, you’ll be an impossible gainer.
You don’t have the bodybuilding potential of your brother, but you can still make good progress provided you train and recuperate in a way suited to you.
Because of the structural differences between you and your brother, Jeff is probably much more suited to the squat and the bench press than you are. You’re almost certainly more suited to the parallel-grip deadlift than the barbell squat, and probably more suited to the parallel-bar dip than the bench press.
Jeff is making progress on a conventional bodybuilding routine, but would make even better progress on the abbreviated routines I promote. You, however, need to use abbreviated routines to make just modest progress. You probably need to use very-abbreviated routines in order to make your fastest progress.
Jeff can train each body part twice a week on a four-day split, and grow. But you probably won’t grow on anything more than just two brief workouts each week.
You’re copying Jeff’s training, but you don’t have his potential for growth, his capacity to respond to exercise, or his better-than-average recuperation abilities. And you’re copying exercises that are suited to him, but at least some of which aren’t suited to you.
You must train and recuperate in a way that’s suited to you. Then you’ll grow.
Should I do the forward raise standing or face down on a bench, and should I do it with a knuckles-up grip or a thumbs-up one?
A much more important question is should you be doing the forward raise at all?
Most bodybuilders already have plenty of exercise for their front or anterior deltoid, which is what the forward raise works primarily.
Forget about the forward raise. A more important assistance exercise for the shoulders is the L-fly, to even out the strength imbalance between the external rotator muscles and the internal rotator muscles. That imbalance is involved in many shoulder injuries. So, rather than pound your frontal delts even more than you already do, forget about the forward raise, and instead do the L-fly once a week, for two work sets of about 10 reps each side.
What’s the best food preparation tip you can offer?
Prepare nutritious meals ahead of time.
For example, cook large batches of nutritious foods once or twice a week, refrigerate them, and then use them up gradually. These foods can be frozen in single-serving portions ready for a quick microwave re-heat, for example. And pack your lunch and take it to work. For example, pre-prepare some healthy sandwiches, or pre-cook some chicken breasts, fish cutlets, or lean hamburger patties.
Bodybuilders who pre-plan their meals and pack their lunches are much more likely to stick to their eating plans. Some take their lunch to work in a small cooler, for example.
You can also prepare easily and quickly without having to cook, or require a cooler, if you prefer a bare-bones, minimum-effort approach. A super-simple but nutritious, healthy lunch away from home could be a chunk of bread, a tin of tuna and a tomato, or a chunk of bread, a tin of mackerel and a carrot. I’ve had many such lunches, in my car, when I was really pressed for time away from home. It’s functional, effective, and economical.
There’s never an excuse to eat rubbish, or skip meals.
Each evening, give some thought to what you’re going to eat the next day, and get prepared.
I know you don’t like the conventional barbell bent-over row, because it has a high risk of producing injury. Is the reverse-grip version a safer one?
Depends how it’s done. If it’s done freestyle, without any back support, it’s probably just as high-risk as the regular-grip barbell bent-over row. It’s so difficult to keep the lower back in a safe, secure position in any barbell bent-over row, especially at the end of a hard set when you’re tired. And that’s why this exercise is high risk.
If the barbell bent-over row was the only form of the row, there could be some argument for using it. But it’s not the only form. There’s the one-arm dumbbell row with the disengaged hand braced against a bench, the prone row on an elevated bench, and the chest-support seated row. All of these can be done with incorrect technique, of course, and thus with a risk of injury, but it’s easier to perform them with correct technique than it is the barbell row (whether regular or reverse grip). So why do the higher-risk rows?
Play safe. Stick to one of the lower-risk rows, and do it with correct technique so that there’s no risk.
Should I do the seated dumbbell press with back support, or freestyle?
The standing dumbbell press gives the greatest leeway for leaning back and putting exaggerated stress on the lower back, which can cause injury.
When you do the dumbbell press seated, and without any back support, you automatically reduce the degree of leaning back you can do, but you can still lean back if you get sloppy with your technique (especially at the end of a set, when you’re tired). And that’s why I prefer the seated dumbbell press to be done against a high-incline bench—about 75 degrees.
But correct exercise technique still needs to be applied even when you have back support. Don’t put your feet on the floor behind your knees so that you can greatly exaggerate the arch in your lower back, for example. Keep your heels on the floor directly beneath your knees, or just in front of them.
I know a lot about injuries from personal experience during my youth when I used a lot of incorrect exercise technique. And I’ve received lots of feedback from other bodybuilders who also had many injuries due to using incorrect exercise technique—sometimes very serious injuries.
Injuries devastate training, so they must be avoided. And that’s why I promote correct exercise form so relentlessly.