Break the Rules

How, why, and when to break 15 of the most popular workout rules.


Chris Lund

Color outside the lines. Wear white after Labor Day. Leave the toilet seat up. Go ahead, fight the power. Not all rules are made to be broken, but some of them should be—at least on occasion and probably with some qualifications. And so it goes in the gym. There are some workout edicts that you can, and perhaps should, disobey.


The bias is toward barbell, dumbbell, or body-weight exercises over their mechanical counterparts.

BREAK: Of course, there are some instances, such as leg extensions, when the machine is the only good option. But let’s deal with the tougher choices where machines mimic free- weight lifts. A curl machine may resemble a preacher bench, but it adds a crucial advantage— gravity. By shifting the gravitational pull from the slanted arm pad to a horizontal weight stack, equal tension is applied to the biceps all the way to contraction, unlike a barbell preacher curl that begins losing tension around the halfway point. Similarly, the weight stack of a chest flye machine keeps pressure on your pecs throughout each rep, while its dumbbell counterpart loses it as you approach contractions. The prevailing rule is the one Isaac Newton discovered more than three centuries ago: Gravity matters. And for that reason, sometimes machines are better options than free weights.


Because it’s such a taxing exercise, start your workout with deads when your strength and energy are maximized.

BREAK: The same argument can be made for deadlifting last. By ending your back routine with deads, you can better target your pre-exhausted dorsal muscles. Also, you’ll have more strength and energy to apply to all the other exercises. By the way, this reasoning for saving your biggest lift for last applies to other compound exercises for other body parts, such as bench presses in your chest routine and squats on leg day.


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