If you repeat anything enough times, it becomes ineffectual and boring. Yet, so many people just trudge into the gym, week after week, and grind out the same old training routines. The same number of sets of the same lifts, performed in the same way, within the same rep ranges.
These are also the people who moan about being stuck on a plateau, and how much their shoulders hurt.
The best way to keep progressing and hitting your goals is to be inventive with your training. Mix it up, hit the muscles from different angles, work through the body parts in a different order, even alter the frequency of your workouts.
Are the old favorites really the best exercises? Well, in some shape or form, generally speaking, yes. If you’re a powerlifter, your workouts need to be based around your three core lifts. That’s just common sense. But for bodybuilders and those looking to add and sculpt muscle, you really do need to drop the ego and be a little more clever, to get the edge. How can you hit the target muscles more effectively? How can you optimize range of motion? How can you find an advantage?
Now for some killer lifts that you probably don’t do…
OK, the full deadlift is the undisputed king mass builder. Again, if you’re a powerlifter, they are obviously a must. But if you’re a bodybuilder, they are, for the most part, too unspecific, present an injury risk, and may actually be hindering your training. Full deadlifts hit the hamstrings hard, meaning they may not be at full power come leg day, and may even become overtrained and over-tight.
Probably the greatest back ever built belonged to the multiple Mr. O, Dorian Yates. Dorian rarely performed a full deadlift, instead opting for the upper partial variation.
The lower portion of a deadlift is virtually all legs. It also puts the lower back in a compromised position. Upper partials isolate the lower back more effectively and work it through an excellent range of motion while keeping the pressure on the target muscles.
You’ll be using a far lighter weight here, but your lower back will know all about it.
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Underhand Barbell Rows
Here’s another Dorian Yates signature move that perfectly complements the previous lift.
The myth runs that a wide, overhand grip builds a wider, thicker back.
This makes NO sense.
The lats, the main muscle of the upper back, and the second largest in the body (behind glutes) are stretched and contracted far further with an underhand grip. This goes for chins as well, where a narrow, underhand grip is more effective.
This takes some getting used to, but once you have the technique down, you will instantly feel the benefits.
Donkey Calf Raise
Many of you will have seen the picture to the right, before. Arnie at the bottom of a strange looking calf exercise, with Bill Grant and the great Franco Colombu on his back.
This may look like a bit of gym fun, but it is actually the donkey calf raise, an exercise that can give your calves a new dynamic.
It is well known that the standing and seated calf raises work two separate muscles of the lower legs, the gastrocnemius and soleus, respectively.
Donkey calf raises work both muscles, but the main benefit lies in the fully stretched start position, meaning the muscles are worked more effectively just below the knee.
Donkey calf raise machines do exist but are rare. As you can see from the picture, you may need to employ a little inventiveness. A high bench or platform, a thick block of wood, and a buddy or two will work. Some people even manage to utilize the Smith machine. Use your imagination…
Crush Grip Bench Press
This is an interesting one.
Let’s start by saying that the dumbbell bench press beats the barbell version for building a thick, full chest. The range of motion is greater, and the injury risk is reduced.
This variation adds a new dynamic and is a great way to finish off your bench work. It keeps constant tension right across the chest, and it hurts like hell!
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Back to the back, and onto an exercise that has lost some popularity in recent decades, probably due to the ego boosting properties of the good old deadlift.
Let’s start by saying that deadlifts are essential for lower and central back development.
However, these little beauties are an excellent way to warm up and hit the muscles in a slightly different manner.
Due to the position of the weight, good mornings have a very different feel to deadlifts. This is mainly because, while deadlifts stabilize themselves, good mornings leave that down to you.
The stability aspect means that your core gets a good work from all angles, as well as the smaller muscles of the hips. For this reason, if you are new to good mornings you should start extremely light until you have the technique down.
Reverse Grip Triceps Extension
The triceps are one of the most complex muscle groups of the human body.
As the name implies, they are made up of three separate muscles, the lateral, medial, and long heads. To build full and well-developed triceps, you need to blast all three heads.
Different grips and exercises isolate the heads to some degree, meaning that, with a little education, you can sculpt your triceps into various forms, boosting weak areas and emphasizing strong aspects.
It is the lateral head that provides that sought after, striated horseshoe shape that looks so impressive at full contraction, while the long head provides much of the bulk. Using a reverse grip helps to hit all three heads, adds both mass and definition. Reverse grip is also far kinder to the wrists and elbows as it allows for a more natural motion.
The reverse grip can be employed on all triceps extension exercises: lying, overhead or press downs. For this example, we shall cover the latter, as pictured.
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