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Upper-Body Builder

Trying to lift heavy weights before you're ready is like going up to Vin Diesel and calling him "Baldy"-it's just asking for trouble. In their zeal to bench press, many guys neglect exercises that develop balance in the shoulders and lower back (key stabilizers for benching). That not only ends up stalling muscle growth but can also lead to injury. If you're really ready to push it on the bench press, you should have no problem doing a pushup on the floor. Take this modified pushup test-which measures the stability in your shoulders and lower-back muscles-to find out for sure.

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THE TEST
Get into pushup position, but place your arms farther in front of you than normal, so that your thumbs line up with the top of your head [1]. Perform one pushup, lowering your body until your nose nearly touches the floor [2].

THE SCORE
Your body should move as one unit. If your hips sag at any point, it means your shoulders and lower back are weak and will hamper your upper-body development. If you fail the test, stop lifting weights for four weeks. Go back to the basics, doing only body-weight exercises, which will strengthen your stabilizer muscles. In particular, practice doing regular pushups. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.

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