When it comes to training, I’m very vanilla in my approach.
I believe that there are certain basic, big bang exercises that everyone should be using, regardless of their end goal.
But whether it’s to stimulate new progress, breakthrough a plateau, or simply give yourself some much needed variety, I think there are times to mix in some fresh ingredients to your training.
Here are seven exercises that I love using in my programs. Some may be new to you; while others are simply tweaks to our favorite exercises, but I think everyone reading will find something there they’ll want to try in the future.
Exercise #1 – Pause Squats
What’s better than the age-old squat?
Easy – making the squat even more torturous and brutal!
If you’re anything like me, you don’t mind squatting deep – but you’re also trying to get in and out of the hole as quickly as possible.
And while this is all fine and dandy from time-to-time, if you want to be strong, stable and comfortable in the hole, you need to spend some time there.
Pause squats are fantastic for a few reasons:
- They get you comfortable in the hole/in the pocket,
- They improve your kinesthetic awareness and body control, and
- They develop a tremendous amount of starting strength.
With my clients I’ll often start with three-second pause in the bottom, but if I’m feeling especially evil we could go as long as seven seconds.
Trust me, if you can pause a squat for seven seconds while maintaining stability and control, your standard squats are going to feel like butter in your next training cycle, guaranteed.
Exercise #2 – Deadlifts to the Knee
Another twist on a staple exercise is a deadlift to the knee, and then pausing.
When people start deadlifting heavy, it’s not uncommon to see them either get sloppy off the floor, or get into bad positions in that transition zone between the mid-shin and knee.
By deadlifting only from the floor to the knee, you work to maintain more optimal posture through the trunk, but also get strong in a really disadvantageous (and often downright awkward) position.
In this case the pause at the knee will range between one and three seconds. Make sure to really dial in posture and position, as this is more important than the load you’re using.
Exercise #3 – Kettlebell Arm Bars
After assessing clients’ shoulders for the past 10 years, it’s not uncommon to see most have the stability of a newborn giraffe.
And if your goal is to bench or overhead press ridiculous weights, that’s simply not going to cut it!
The kettlebell arm bar is not only fantastic for scapular stability, but it also opens up the hips, pecs and thoracic spine. Here’s a quick demo in case you’re unfamiliar with the exercise:
When performing the arm bar, think about keeping the arm perpendicular to the ground throughout. The torso and hips should move around the arm.
Exercise #4 – Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
I’m a huge fan of half-kneeling work.
Not only is it great for hip/core stability and control, but also you can train the upper body in various postures and positions to rebuild better movement patterns (i.e. vertical pulling, vertical pushing, etc.)
Unfortunately, most trainees don’t show up on my doorstep with the physical prerequisites necessary to overhead press safely and effectively. So with the half-kneeling landmine press, I can effectively kill two birds with one stone:
- 1. Get all the benefits of half-kneeling work (i.e. hip/core stability and control), coupled with
- An exercise that starts to re-build my vertical pushing pattern.
The structure of the landmine keeps you pressing at approximately 45 degrees, so shoulder mobility and core stability aren’t as big of an issue.
Here are a few quick tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of this exercise:
- Work to set-up in a perfect 90-90 position. Exhale fully and think about “rolling” the pelvis back underneath you on the “down” knee.
- When pressing the implement outward, think about reaching long, while not sacrificing or compromising core and lumbar spine position. Too often, when people reach they substitute with lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt.
Since this is a stability exercise, don’t worry too much about the load early on. Instead, think about staying in control and owning the movement throughout.
Exercise #5 – Turkish Get-Ups
Mobility, stability, strength, and athleticism all in one move.
Who says no?
The Turkish Get-up (TGU) is one of my favorite exercises because it trains so many physical qualities, while simultaneously tying your body back together and making it move more efficiently.
And if you’re not ready for the big-time yet, you can always break it down into its constituent parts and re-build it from the ground up. Even if we don’t use a full get-up from Day 1, you may see these components in an IFAST program:
- Kettlebell arm bar (critical for scap stability prior to using a TGU),
- Rolling patterns,
- Get-up to elbow,
- Get-up to high post,
Perhaps the best thing about TGU’s is that you can also add “modifiers” to get more mobility or stability out of them at various positions.
Here are two of the modifiers we like to use:
- Neck rotations – Get to a specific point in the lift (i.e. to the elbow), and then slowly rotate the neck from side-to-side,
- Screwdrivers – Get to a specific point in the lift (i.e. to the elbow), and then slowly internally and externally rotate the shoulder that is holding the ‘bell.
Whether your goal is more strength, fat loss, or building muscle, Turkish Get-ups warrant a place in your training program.
And if you want a thorough overview of the Turkish get-up, check out my step-by-step article on the topic.
Exercise #6 – Low- Cable Split Squats
If you’ve been training for any extended period of time, you’ve probably run the gamut of lunge and split-squat variations.
However, the low-cable split squat is a variation that you’re not only not familiar with, but one that you can really benefit from as well.
The low-cable split-squat intends to “pull” your center of gravity forward, so you immediately shift your weight back, which more effectively loads your glutes and hamstrings.
To get the most out of this exercise, use these simple tips:
- Set-up in a perfect 90-90 position.
- Exhale fully and “roll” the pelvis back on the trailing leg side,
- Keep the weight towards your midfoot on the front let, or even shift it back slightly towards the heel.
While this exercise is great for stability, I love it for inhibiting the hip flexors of the “down” leg/hip. Trust me, this will pay off when it’s time to start squatting and deadlifting heavy weights!
Exercise #7 – Supine Anterior core exercises
Last but not least, I don’t have a single exercise per se, but rather a group of exercises you should be incorporating into your programming.
Too often, we see athletes that have a huge lordosis or massive anterior pelvic tilt. An inability to control their pelvis not only impacts mobility and movement quality, but performance in the gym as well.
Every athlete I’ve trained over the past two years has used supine anterior core work in his or her programming with great success. Each one of these athletes is getting stronger and more stable through their core, which then transfers to great speed, strength and power on the field or court.
And if your goal is to be a beast in the weight room, you need to build a set of abs to offset those boa constrictors you currently call spinal erectors.
Luckily, I’ve already written a full article on this topic, which you can find here:
The exercises are detailed there, but here are a few key points to focus on when doing these exercises:
- Exhale fully, allowing the rib cage to come down.
- Roll the pelvis back, engaging the lower abs.
- Keep the back flat throughout the course of the movement. It may help to think about resting the outer, backside of your ribcage on the floor and keeping it there.
These exercises look benign at first glance, but I can assure that when done properly, they’re much harder than they appear.
Whether your goal is to build huge muscles, get as lean and shredded as possible, or simply to move superhuman amounts of weight, one of the exercises here can help you get here.
You may not need all of them, but give a handful of these exercises and progressions a shot in your next training routine. I think you’ll love them as much as I do.
And if you REALLY like them, help a brother out and share this article on Twitter, Facebook or via e-mail. I’d really appreciate it!