[Editor's Note: Feeling the autumn blahs? Stuck in a rut in your regimen? Maybe it's time to inject a little variety into your workout. This week, we welcome back expert trainer Patrick Striet, CSCS, with the second in his series on unconventional exercises. Dare to be different!]
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I've always enjoyed training articles which provide me with ideas, exercises and concepts which are immediately usable: I want information I can apply at the gym during my very next workout. In this installment of "Exercises for Extra Credit," I want to deliver this same type of information to you, the ProSource reader, so you can start having better workouts. Today.
The exercises presented below are kind of all over the map. You'll find mobility type movements you can place in a dynamic warm-up, as well as upper body, lower body and core exercises you may not have seen or tried before. Without further ado, here are some exercises for extra credit.
Suspension Strap Cossack Squats
While I always saw the benefit of the traditional Cossack squat as a lower body mobility and warm-up movement prior to squatting and deadlifting, it was a rather difficult drill for me (and certainly for my less "kinesthetically aware" clients) to perform. I have stiff, "cranky" hips, and I need to be super warm in order to perform this drill with any type of proficiency: basically, I needed to be "warm" to perform a warm-up exercise, which kind of defeated the purpose. Enter the regressed suspension strap Cossack squat:
Holding the suspension straps removes some of the stability, balance and strength (by reducing the percentage of your body weight) requirements and allows you to just focus on mobility, a full range of motion, and a smooth movement. This exercise has become a staple in my lower body warm-up, and, frankly, I can't squat or pull as well if I don't perform it. My hips just don't feel as limber. You can also perform a few reps to each side between ramp-up/warm-up sets of squats or deads. Regardless of how you choose to use it, I bet you'll be thanking me for introducing you to this one.
Angled Kettlebell/Dumbbell Press
Big shout out to strength coach Lee Boyce for turning me (and my low traps) onto this exercise. I always liked exercises which could fry you with a rather light weight, and this exercise certainly fits the bill. The low traps are a hard area to get to, but, trust me, you'll know they are there after one set of this movement. You won't need any more than a 20 lb. dumbbell or kettlebell for this exercise, and don't be surprised if 12-15 lbs. presents quite a challenge. Check it out:
Perform this movement strictly and keep the bell close to the body (don't allow gravity to pull it down and away from you). If you want more work for the shoulders, pause for 2-3 seconds in the extended position. You can put this exercise on a back or shoulder day, and try pairing or tri-setting it with any combination of lateral raises, upright rows, Kelso shrugs, rear delt machine or band pull-aparts is simply awesome.
Foam Roller Hamstring Walks
The first time I saw this exercise I thought it was stupid and not worth my time. Then I tried it. Mind changed. It's a very effective yet unconventional hamstring movement. Just be careful, as it can induce some serious cramping until you get used to it. Here it is:
You only need 2-4 reps per set (1 rep is walking out and back in). Due to the aforementioned cramping, it's probably better to place this exercise towards the end of your workout after you are thoroughly warmed-up. Pairing this up with a single leg hip thrust or glute ham raise is murder. Give it a shot.
Shrugs of all kinds used to be a staple in the programs of the strongest and most powerful people on the planet. Then, the functional, dysfunctional, and corrective exercise thing got really popular (and totally out of hand) and shrugs (and any other exercise which involved the upper traps) became demonized. Terms like "upper trap dominant" became part of every "in the know" trainer's vocabulary, and it all became about getting the shoulder blades retracted and depressed.
Like anything else in the fitness industry, there was a vast over reaction, misunderstanding, and misapplication to the whole upper trap thing. The reality is, performed THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION, shrugs are a great exercise, and the Gittleson (named after legendary University of Michigan strength coach Mike Gittleson) shrug is probably the best shrug variation I've ever tried. Thanks to super trainer Nick Tumminello for turning me onto this exercise. Here's how to perform it:
As the video shows, it is key that the working arm receives a big stretch and the opposite ear goes towards the non-working side by laterally flexing the neck. Get a good tight pause in the contracted position. Any time you combine a huge range of motion, heavy loads, and strict execution (as you do with the Gittleson shrug) you can rest assured you are stimulating some serious growth
Off-Bench Oblique Holds
I don't know what else to call this, so forgive me for the name. This is the more effective, more advanced version of the traditional side plank. I never liked side planks. They typically resulted in my clients complaining it fatigued or hurt their shoulders and, despite good coaching and cueing on my part, few people ever felt it in their obliques. I ditched the exercise from my clients programs and replaced it with variations of the off bench oblique hold shown below:
If you are training on your own, you'll have to rig up a rack the way I did in the video (if you have a partner have them hold your feet). It takes some tinkering to get the pin/support height and foot placement correct (and comfortable), but once you get it down you'll be hard pressed to find a more difficult lateral core exercise. I'd start with 20-30s holds with your hands across your stomach. If that gets too easy, make an X across your chest with your arms. Still not hard enough? Put your hands behind your head like you are getting arrested, and, if that's still not quite getting you, stretch your arms out over your head like Superman and really lengthen the lever. Alternatively you could just hold extra weight across your chest.
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While hard, progressive work on the basic barbell exercises is the key to training success, incorporating new exercises which support those exercises, bring up weak points, and add variety to your workouts is also very important. Give some of the exercises above a shot during your next workout and let me know how they go in the comments section below!