“Black and White Thinking”, as defined by Wikipedia — , “In psychology, a phenomenon related to the false dilemma is black-and-white thinking. Many people routinely engage in black-and-white thinking, an example of which is someone who categorizes other people as all good or all bad”.

Perhaps a part of the adolescent thought process of good vs evil or good guys and bad guys the concept of “black and white” thinking is an attempt to simplify or vilify the subject. If it is NOT good, it therefore must be BAD! However life is not like this. That type of thinking avoids the middle ground. It’s convenient, but not correct. 

The photo above of actor, Mr. T is an example of an entertainment image and branding for media. Mr. T was in fact both religious and philanthropic. While completely familiar with violence and protecting people from danger, he employed his own bodyguards, Cliff Stewart and the late Larry Hartsell, when fans and celebrity attention increased in intensity. Hardly black and white thinking!


Years ago, author and strength, Pavel Tsatsouline wrote an article for the now defunct, Muscle Media 2000. It was called, “Drills That Rule and Drills That Drool”. It was later published in his collective strength book, “Beyond Bodybuilding”. 

The idea, is that some exercises are bad and some exercise are good is a clear example of good vs evil. If one thing is valuable, the other must be worthless. This is not a criticism of Pavel. Magazine editors like adversarial approaches, lists and good vs bad scenarios as much as we did watching cartoons and cowboy movies on Saturday morning in our youth. However that is NOT reality. There is NO such thing as a bad exercise. There may be BETTER choices in your case or for others. The risk/benefit ratio is another issue. However to simply stack the choices on either side of line is a lack of critical thinking. Following is the drills from the article and my thoughts and examples. 

1. Abdominals. The CRUNCH is supposed to drool, while Janda Sit ups Rule. 

Pavel developed the Pavelizer to supposedly enhance the effect of the Janda Sit up. The original Janda Sit up demonstrated ample action in the hip flexors as shown in this study. 

Juker et al. (1998) helps resolve this issue. “They found substantial electrical activity in the psoas major muscle in all sit-up exercises, while curl-ups had minimal effect on these hip flexors. Activity in the psoas increases compressive and shear forces on the joints in the lower back, which is not good for people with bad backs. Fit individuals should be able to handle them, though.
The authors concluded that there is no single best exercise to train all the abdominal muscles. The safest exercises that maximize abdominal activation and minimize hip flexor activation are probably curl-ups, cross-curl-ups, and isometric side support”.

This next quote by Dr. Stu McGill is in Hardstyle Abs by Pavel. It’s an explanation in the footnotes. I quote-

“Also,the tolerable volume of training is modulated by the spine posture. Repeated bending of the spine reduces the tolerable volume—for example one could tolerate much more volume in “stir the pot” on a ball vs situps”

Based on the study and the input of Dr. McGill, I’d rate the “Stir the Pot” at the top of the heap,.. but NOT exclusive as a tool of abdominal development. If overload is needed. Add a weight vest.

2. Obliques. The Sit up with a Twist is supposed to drool, while Suitcase Deadlifts rule.

I have no qualms with this. I’d think that weighted carries, either Farmer style or racked would be better than doing another type of deadlift for most trainees. It is a strong stimulus to the quadratus lumborum. When that muscle is paralyzed, walking becomes impossible, so this unseen muscle group is of high importance.

Realize too, that NO ONE of any great importance used a “twisting motion”, to any great degree, save for this Austrian guy.

However with current research and a bit more practicality, I’d suggest using a Slam Ball on a Rope for overhead, “Helicopter Type” spinning. Once again. Dr. Stu McGill employed this with MMA fighters and others. Forcefully stiffening the torso and “pulsing” at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock for rounds seems to be both brutal, portable and useful.

3. Glutes. The Fire Hydrant exercise, according to Pavel, drools. “Pull Throughs” with a cable, rule.

I wonder if this is opinion or evidence based? I guess the assumption is that floor based drills are hard to load and the Pull Through is loadable. However don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. According to “The Glute Guy”, Bret Contreras, “The glutes seemed to be highly activated by certain simple bodyweight movements such as quadruped hip extensions, single leg hip thrusts, bird dogs, and quadruped hip circles”.  Amazing. Bodyweight movements work! If loading is a problem, then Pull Throughs have an upper limited based on the type of cable machine you use. Why not use a fully loadable glute drill like the Hip Thrust? It can be loaded to 400 or 500 pounds.

4. Low Back. The “Sissy Deadlift” drools. [I have no idea what a Sissy Deadlift is]. Lockouts or “Top Deadlifts”, like Frank Zane did, rules.

Here is a stiff legged deadlift. I don’t know if this guy is a sissy, but he’s fairly developed.

The idea that Top Deadlifts or Heavy Partial Deadlifts develop the low back are not in question. The need to do overloads in particular ranges of motion depend greatly on the effect they have on the trainee. Some swear by them. Some swear at them. My choice for the BEST low back exercise is the same machine/drill that can cure Ebola and Third World Debt. The Reverse Hyperextension designed by Louie Simmons.

 5.  Quads. Any machine exercise drools. The squat of course, rules. Realize that if you don’t squat, you will get cancer and your sexual orientation will be in question. So wonderful to know that Dr. Jonas Salk probably never saw a squat rack yet saved have the planet and is having his sexuality questioned.  Whenever the word, “Squat” shows up, other than “Dr. Squat”, Fred Hatfield, the name, Tom Platz is mentioned. He set the standard for lower body size, definition and ability. Here is a look at this work out. 

Tom Platz Leg Routine
Squats 8-12 5-20
Hack Squats 5 10-15
Leg Extensions 5-8 10-15
Lying Leg Curls 6-10 10-15

OK. 75% of his workout is on machines. How can that BE?? Machines drool! Perhaps time blurs the memory so I pulled up a photo of Tom Platz showing how inadequate his primarily machine based workout was.

However to be fair.. Squats are a powerful tool and certainly exploited by Mr. Platz in a most amazing way. However if Tom were training for competition nowadays, he might try this alternative for his quads.. the  Reverse Sled Drag.

6. Hamstrings. Leg Curls drool and Good Mornings rule. OK. I’m not a genius in physiology, but the Leg Curl is leg flexion and the Good Morning is hip extension, right? Aren’t there muscles that only do leg flexion? Of course there are.

“Both heads of the biceps femoris perform knee flexion. Since the long head originates in the pelvis it is also involved in hip extension. The long head of the biceps femoris is a weaker knee flexor when the hip is extended (because of active insufficiency)”. — Wikipedia

Then there is this piece of research to, “The hamstrings has very different muscle architecture from one another, with a range of fiber lengths, pennation angles and physiological cross-sectional areas. Training the hamstrings with a range of different loads and speeds may therefore be necessary. – Chris Beardsley, Research Review

So the short head and to a degree, the long head need leg flexion. Doing just the Good Morning or just the Leg Curl would be insufficient for full development. Remember, we are avoiding “Black and White Thinking”. My choice for an alternative would be, “Loaded Slideboard Leg Curls”. They both flex the leg and extend the hip and are loadable. [Loading can be done by placing weights on the sliding cloth under the heels or by using bands]

7. Calves. Standing Calf Machine drools. Negative Accentuated Toe Press rules. The failing grades given to the standing calf machine had to do with spinal compression. If that were the case we could eliminate squats, top deadlifts, good mornings, Janda Sit ups, etc. The Negative Accentuated methodology can be seen in Vince Gironda’s 10-8-6-15 routine as demonstrated by Don Peters. It was popularized by Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame for use on MACHINES. Interesting that a drill made popular by HIT Jedi’s is contained in this article. My vote for an alternative calf workout is from Louie Simmons.

” I would also have the guy do a lot of sled- dragging wearing a weight vest while staying up on his toes as another exercise to build the calves”. — Louie Simmons

8. Lats. Pulldowns Behind the Neck drool. Pull ups on Rings rule.

I won’t argue with the comfort of the rings when they accommodate individual shoulder, elbow and wrist mechanics. However the unstable nature of “STILL” rings brings them into the realm of squatting on stability balls. You are focusing on not moving versus adding lots of overload. The Pulldown Behind the Neck is described as being only for Olympic Lifters or Gymnasts. The man below isn’t either, but it appeared to work pretty well.

Perhaps the idea of safe, stable and heavy can be merged a bit. I elect the Kroc Row as the go to move for both overload and safety. It’s certainly worked well for Mr. Kroc.

9. Traps. Smith Machines Shrugs drool. Barbell Shrug with a Hip Thrust rules. Ummm. They are both shrugs. I don’t see too many people use a Smith Machine for shrugs unless there is no free barbell, but whatever. Using a hip thrust to increase the weight used has value and it has flaws. One would measure the risk/benefit ratio if the exercise were THAT MUCH BETTER THAN THE REST. The answer is,…. it isn’t. Here is a comment on the effect of the exercises and their effect on the traps.

Finally, although I was aware the upper traps got worked through a variety of shoulder exercises, I had no idea as to the magnitude of upper trap activity that was involved in typical shoulder exercises like military presses and lateral raises. I mean, the cable lateral raise topped the charts in peak upper trap activity, BEATING OUT HEAVY SHRUGS! [Emphasis mine] — Bret Contreras

If you don’t believe Bret, you might want to listen to Jack Reape. He had this to say-

Don’t waste your time on barbell shrugs. Powerlifters sport traps that would make a Silverback gorilla envious, yet the barbell shrug is not part of most powerlifting training programs. The reason is that the shrug doesn’t duplicate the skill or build the strength for pulling a heavy deadlift to lockout”. –Jack Reape

So skip the shrugs and do some laterals at the end of your workout. They might be safer than hip thrusting too.

10. Pecs. Cable Crossovers drool. Powerlifting Bench Presses rule.

Once again your sexual orientation will be threatened by doing Cable Crossovers. Amazing that the man below is not only one of the most popular wrestlers of all time, he was a college football star and currently a movie star. His Dad was legendary wrestler Rocky Johnson and his Grandfather was Peter Maivia. He hardly can be called a sissy. He does crossovers.

The drill that rules is the Powerlifting Bench Press. For some reason attaching, “Powerlifting” to the Bench Press makes it better. I wonder what type of bench presses are done the man regarded as having the best pecs in history, Serge Nubret?

Not exactly a typical competition bench press. By the way, where is his suit? I digress, one alternative also offered is nail bending to “bring out cuts”. OK. You have to constantly buy new nails and “cuts” are a product of nutrition, not nail bending. The reality of  “what exercise does what” can be argued with EMG. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than assumption. Here are the results of Bret Contreras’ tests-

Here are the top three exercises in terms of mean and peak activity for each muscle part:
Upper Pec
Mean:?Mid Pulley Crossover, Band Push Up, JC Band Press
Peak:? Dumbbell Incline Press, Guillotine Press, JC Band Press
Mid Pec
Mean:?Dumbbell Bench Press, Floor Press, Fly
Peak:? Guillotine Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Fly
Lower Pec
Mean:?Weighted Dip, Blast Strap Push Up, Guillotine Press
Peak:? Guillotine Press, Fly, Weighted Dip

So I didn’t see, “Powerlifting Bench Press” among the winners. My recommendations, take your pick from above.

11. Shoulders. The Seated Barbell Press drools. The Arnold Press rules. According to Pavel, “The big guy knew what he was doing”. Ummm, OK.  Yes I guess he did.

12. Biceps. Zottman Curls drool. One Armed Dumbbell Curls rule.

No one can argue that direct work, in the form of curls has not been the formula for most all trainees. Unfortunately the One Armed Dumbbell Curl is not at the top of the pack. Here again is an EMG by Bret Contreras-

Biceps results-
Mean:?Weighted Wide Parallel-Grip Pull-up, Weighted Chin-up, Barbell Curl
Peak:? Weighted Chin-up, Weighted Wide Parallel-Grip Pull-up, EZ-Bar Curl

The formula seems to be some type of weighted pull up/chin up and a type of barbell curl.

13. Triceps. Dumbbell Kickbacks drool. Close Grip Bench Press rule.

“The long and lateral heads won’t work without a respectable load” — Pavel.

I really think that the Close Grip Bench Press is an amazing tricep drill. Certainly for powerlifters and also with the variation of doing it off of boards or telephone books. I don’t see how a tricep can’t fire doing a kickback although it’s not the heaviest of exercises. Here is some more EMG testing of the triceps this time.

Tricep results-
Mean:?Rope Extension, Cable Extension, Weighted Dip
Peak:? Rope Extension, Cable Extension, Band Extension

So some type of cable/rope extension is necessary.  I mean, what did the icon’s of the sport do? [Cue Sergio and Arnold]


14. Forearms. Wrist Curls drool. Suitcase Wrist Curls rule.

The suitcase or one armed wrist curl is just a variation in theme. Different strength curve. Wrist curls hardly drool. I mean Bill Pearl did them with 200+ pounds on a low bench. That is where Larry Scott got the idea from. Look at these forearms.

But times are changed and we like variety. It fulfills our Attention Deficit Exercise Disorder. So here is a drill used by Sly Stallone as designed by his trainer, Gunnar Peterson. Do your Lateral Raises with Fat Gripz on the dumbbells. Here is what it looks like in Expendables fashion.

Pick your sets and reps carefully and remember that this drill activates the traps better than shrugs! Whether it works or not is up to you. Here is some visual evidence. Sly strolling down the street.


Really ANY program works and any drill has value if it fits into your program. As long as you are progressive, consistent and not getting injured it is certainly of value. The idea of “Black and White Thinking” is incorrect and only feeds the idea that only certain things work or that exercises or programs are based on morality or Good VS Evil.

I conclude with two quotes. Take your choice based on this article [please understand sarcasm and tongue in cheek] and your critical thinking skills.

“There are many more fine bodybuilding exercises and even more exercises that suck”. –Pavel

“Don’t moralize in the weightroom”. –Dan John

At last, the END.