In my writings here at ProSource, I've made no bones about the fact that getting stronger on a handful of basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, chins) over the course of many years should be the primary focus of anyone seeking a better physique and enhanced fitness. I've stated time and time again, regardless of one's training goals, training split, etc., workouts should always begin with diligent, focused, systematic, and most importantly, PROGRESSIVE work on one or two multiple joint exercises.
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With the above being said, training also needs to be fun and not overly rigid. Optimal progress, in my opinion, comes from a delicate balance between structure and variety. Beginning your workouts with 1 or 2 big bang exercises, staying consistent with these exercises week to week, implementing a progressive scheme for these exercises, doing everything you can to get a little better at them each week, and keeping a detailed training log for these exercises, takes care of the structure.
Trying out and implementing new exercises, whether that's on a workout-to-workout, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, addresses the variety. The fun. I don't want to call this "muscle confusion," but trying out "new stuff," or new ways to do "old stuff," just gives you physiological and, more importantly, psychological variety. It just makes training fun. If your training is fun, you'll train harder and you'll attack each workout with greater enthusiasm.
Building your exercise arsenal is a blast. It's fun to open up your locker and pull out a new weapon from time to time. With this said, here are five exercises which can give you a little shot in the arm (literally in some cases), and inject a little variety, a little more fun, into your workouts. Add these to your arsenal and give them a shot in your upcoming workouts:
Thick Rope Kettlebell Hammer Curls
You'll need access to a 2 to 3 in. diameter rope for this exercise (or you can purchase one). If your gym has battling ropes (and more and more gyms do), simply feed one end of the rope through the handle of a kettlebell and leave yourself a foot to a foot and half on each side. Set your grip evenly just as you would for a hammer or neutral grip curl and curl away.
The thickness of the rope, longer lever, and unstable movement of the kettlebell presents a unique challenge to all of your elbow flexors. If you are looking to build a stronger grip, impressive forearms, and a fuller overall look to your arms, give this a try.
Thick Rope Kettlebell Upright Rows
While I'm not a huge fan of the traditional closer grip barbell upright row, this version allows you a little more wiggle room to find a pain-free path. The thick rope, longer lever and unstable movement of the bell will necessitate a lighter load and stricter form, which allows you to still overload the delts and traps while lowering the risk to the shoulders.
I'd suggest performing this movement later in a workout for higher reps when everything is "loose and lubed." Like dips, doing upright rowing movements early in a workout doesn't feel all that great, so wait until you've gotten some of the cobwebs out before performing.
TRX Face Pull with Rope Attachment
I love face pulls. Properly performed, they are a great movement to increase scapular stability and keep the shoulders healthy. Notice I said PROPERLY PERFORMED. If you watch most people perform this exercise, they'll do it with their hands and shoulders internally rotated, which is a big "no no" in my opinion. It turns an exercise which is supposed to promote shoulder health into one which becomes potentially problematic.
In this version, make sure you grab the rope with a neutral or hammer grip with your thumbs facing your head. I love this exercise because, unlike the cable or band version, it is closed kinetic chain, which is also a healthier option for your shoulders (you have to move your torso towards your hands instead of your hands towards your torso). This is another exercise which lends itself better to higher reps. Walk your feet in or out to find a sweet spot: if you are unable to get at least 8 or 10 reps, you need to walk your feet out. On the flip side, if you find it too easy, simply walk in a bit.
Neutral Grip Band Resisted Push Ups with ISO Holds
I always laugh when people tell me push-ups are too easy or a "beginner exercise." With a little knowledge and creativity, you can create push-up variations which will challenge double-bodyweight bench pressers to the maximum. This is one of those variations.
You can use a pair of dumbbells or a parallel grip bar (as shown in the video) for this movement. Again, I always look for exercise variations which are easy on the shoulders, and using a parallel or neutral grip on this exercise meets this objective. Wrap a resistance band around each thumb and then wrap it around your back. The band should be hitting you low, close to your elbows. Set up in a push-up position on the bells or bar as you normally would. I like to elevate my feet for increased difficulty, but if your fitness level isn't quite there, just go from the floor. Lower down slowly into the bottom position and perform an isometric hold for 5 seconds. Drive up aggressively through the band tension to lock out. Rinse and repeat for 6-10 reps. This exercise will hammer all of your pressing muscles and your serratus anterior. For more fun, superset this will a fly variation to light your chest on fire.
Countdown 1.5 Lateral Raises
Well-developed medial deltoids just make a physique "pop" and kind of completes the package. Unfortunately, the medial or side delts are often a stubborn area resistant to growth. You have to get a little creative with your training to get them to respond, and creating a lot of tension is your ticket. This version of the lateral raise will take you closer to "boulder shoulders."
While this method can be used on a number of exercises, I've found it to be most effective with this one. Expect to experience a delightful, extreme pump in your medial delts from this one. Using a moderate load, perform a lateral raise, drop down half way, and then come back into the top position. These are one and half reps. Repeat four more times for a total of 5 reps. After the fifth rep, hold for 5 seconds in the top position. Then, perform 4 more consecutive 1.5 reps, and then hold again for 4 seconds. Continue on in this fashion until you get down to 1 rep and a 1 second hold.
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