Body Conquest Articles | Four Unique Exercises
4 Unique Exercises You Don't Often See PerformedThere are certain "bread and butter" exercises that are a staple in any trainees' programs. Walk into any gym and it's highly likely that the squat rack, the bench press and the lat pull downs are all being used. But what about some alternative exercises that you rarely see? What are they? How do you perform them? Most of all, are they any good?
Progressive overload is the fundamental principle upon which resistance training is based. There are a plethora of variables that you can use to ensure that you are providing your body with an additional stressor to stimulate growth each time you train. Most common of all would be additional weight, others include extra sets, more repetitions, less rest between sets, additional exercises and the list goes on. A challenging variable can be to bring in a new exercise, something that you have not attempted before. This can be in accumulation to what you already do, or you can opt to drop one of your exercises and perform a new exercise instead.
Performing something different is a great way to stimulate new growth. It also can be exciting mentally and provide you with a much needed change to your regular routine. However there is no point in doing something new if it is not effective. There are plenty of people training in gyms that I swear are making up their very own exercises. They don't have a clue that what they are doing is dangerous, potentially injurious, biomechanically unsound and often downright silly. So, I am not going to suggest that you work your shoulders by doing a pike position hand stand where the likelihood is that you will fall on your head. If you are going to challenge yourself to a new exercise make sure that it is representative of your goals. For example is it a proven "mass builder", a great isolation exercise or a good core exercise? Finally, is it a safe exercise?
I think sometimes the reason you don't see some exercises too often is because they are gruelling, demanding, or both. I'm positive the following exercises aren't done mostly for either of those reasons, not because they aren't terrific exercises.
So here is my top 4 least utilised, most effective exercises that are guaranteed to give you great gains either in size or strength.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFTS: HAMSTRINGSContrary to it's name the Romanian Deadlift did not originate from Romania, but rather was given it's name after some American lifters saw a World Champion weightlifter from Romania perform this exercise back in the 1950's. It is primarily a hamstring exercise. There are two major reasons why the RDL is a far superior exercise to the more common standing, seated or lying leg curl. Firstly you can use a ton of weight with the RDL and secondly it is a functional exercise. The hamstring group are primarily composed of fast twitch muscle fibres that mean it responds very well to heavy loads performed with lower rep ranges. In terms of functionality, although it may seem like knee flexion is a big part of every day life with walking and running, a look at the biomechanics of these activities shows that it is, in fact, hip extension that plays the major role in these activities.
Your knee simply flexes in order to reset the leg and start the locomotion movement again, and even there the momentum generated from the hip extension helps swing the lower leg back. Hip extension plays a huge role in several everyday activities such as walking, running, jumping and cycling. An added bonus is when you learn to bend over with a heavy weight in the gym while protecting your lower back; you have learned better body mechanics for use outside the gym as well.
One final note: RDL is also a favourite exercise of mine for my female clients as it is an excellent exercise for firming the glutes. I find they are far more effective than countless reps of leg lifts and dolphin kicks.
HOW DO YOU PERFORM RDL'S?Firstly set yourself up for the exercise in front of the barbell you are going to lift. Being set includes making sure that your feet are shoulder width apart, your chest is up, your lower back has a slight curve in it and that your knees are slightly soft (bent).
Begin by tightening up your core muscles (abdominals and lower back) to ensure a safe spine. Keeping the bar close to your body at all times begin by bending at the hips, pushing your butt out, all the while taking care that the lower back does not move. Your lower back should not lose its natural curve at any time during the movement. Losing this curve and bending or straightening your back can lead to serious injury, so practice on a light weight until you feel confident with this move.
As you slowly descend (this should be a controlled move), your butt should move back ever so slightly and you should feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Most people will be able to safely bring the bar down to around knee level before their lower back begins to straighten.
When you reach the end of your range of movement, stop and reverse the movement. Towards the top of the movement really force the hips through and squeeze your glutes. Repeat for the required number of repetitions.
SISSY SQUATS: QUADRICEPSSissy squats are a misnomer as there is nothing sissy about them. In fact done correctly they are a sure fire way to burn your quads like nothing else. Sissy squats isolate your quadriceps better than any other barbell or dumbbell quad exercise. It does this by eliminating most of the work of the hamstrings and the glutes. When you do it right your heels will be above your toes and you will be leaning backwards instead of forwards and there will be a straight line between your neck and your knees throughout the movement. This reduces the posterior chain muscles to a supporting role, making them work with the rest of your core muscles to keep your body in that straight line. All the action is in your knee joints.
Although the sissy squat movement is called a Squat, it resembles very closely the leg extension in the way it affects the legs. I suggest that you start off with just using your body weight and then later progressing to free weights. On any version you will need a block that is about 3-4 inches high, sturdy enough to support your weight and won't slip out from under you. You can also hang onto a machine or rack for support and balance with one hand until you get the feel for it.
Stand upright, feet a few inches apart, heels over the end of the block, toes on the floor positioned straight. Lean back until your body forms a straight line between your knees and your neck. Your knees will be bent slightly in the starting position. Place one or both hands on your hips, the other on a support if you require.
Lower your body backwards as your knees bend. Lower as far as you can go without losing balance and then push back up to the starting position. Flex your quadriceps at the top of the movement for maximum cuts and development.
Alternatively there is no need to straighten your knees at the top. Complete your reps smoothly, going through the best range of movement that you can without losing the alignment of your torso and thighs. The burn in your quads is going to hurt, but your knees should not feel at all aggravated. Go on, I challenge you, throw a sissy fit!
THE DUMBELL CRAWL-ABDOMINALSOk, ok this is an odd looking exercise, I admit, BUT it truly is an efficient one. Its effectiveness is based on the fact that there is uneven tension through your core with every step forward that you take.
For example, when you lift your left hand (holding the dumbbell) and the right foot, how is your body being supported? Obviously from your other hand and foot! Your core is, in an instant going from a 4 point support to a 2 point support and all the tension is going diagonally through your core. It's bearable without weight, but once you include the dumbbell, it really heightens the difficulty.
To further compound things, while crawling you are also supporting your body in a pike position, working the entire abdominal area isometrically (which means without movement-just acting to stabilise and brace your body position). So, for your core, this is a two-pronged attack.
One of the best things about this exercise is that the strength you develop is extremely functional (yes, functionality is an important theme here folks). Forget about standing on a BOSU ball on one leg and catching a bean-bag.....this exercise will assure you functional power through your core.
The diagonal tension of crawling exactly mimics the natural diagonal tension that goes through the core when walking, running an jumping. Think of it as "force transfer" strength, meaning you'll be better able to transfer force through your core when moving (i.e. running and jumping). Increasing strength in such a targeted manner will have an immediate and powerful transfer to sports performance.
When you do this exercise, start with a light to moderate weight and then slowly increase it.
HOW TO DO ITFind some open floor space for this exercise, preferably where you have about 15 metres of unobstructed space to move. Place the dumbbells on the floor and then get down in what looks like the top
of a close grip push-up position. Your hands will be on the dumbbells and you will be up on your toes. Try to visualise the starting position that sprinters are in when they are about to take off out of the blocks-this is what the position looks like.
Next, you are going to crawl forward in that position. Move the LEFT dumbbell forward a few inches and step your RIGHT foot forward a few inches. Basically you are going to be crawling on the floor with your hands weighted by dumbbells. Crawl forward about 10 metres and then stop. If you really want to challenge yourself, try crawling backwards.
If core strength and performance are important goals in your training, give this exercise a try. As much as it looks weird, it's incredibly effective at working your core. It will totally trash your abdominals.
FRONT SQUATS: QuadricepsSquats are a reasonably popular exercise, especially with the "hardcore" bodybuilders recognising the importance of the squat not just in their leg development but in encouraging overall growth. However the front squat is not often seen and in my view is an oft neglected exercise by athletes and trainers. This again I suspect is largely due to their difficulty and the uncomfortableness of holding the bar in the front position.
Why are they so good?Many people don't squat due to issues such as back and knee pain. Let's take back pain as an example. Back pain has three major issues relating to lifting which include torque (the forward lean), compression (high spinal loads) and flexion. Front squats lessen torque, compression and flexion in comparison to back squats. This is largely due to the less hip involvement in the front squat and the upright position of your torso. Sure, you can't lift as much weight, but less weight means less spinal compression.
Although back squats performed more frequently, you can get away with really bad form with the back squat.....not so with the front squat. If your torso is not maintained in an erect position, the bar is going to drop to the floor. If you don't place the bar correctly across your chest, the bar is going to drop straight to the ground. You are practically forced to maintain good form whilst doing a front squat. Finally, if you are considering weightlifting and power lifting, there is a great transfer of skill from the front squat to power moves. For example, the front squat imitates the catch position of the clean. The same goes for the overhead press of which the starting position is the same as the front squat.
Holding the Bar on Your ShouldersThere are a couple of ways to get around a lack of shoulder flexibility and find a comfortable way to hold the bar. If you try one method and it doesn't feel quite right for you try another way.
The method considered the most optimal way to hold the bar is to imagine that the starting position is in a Hang Clean position or the end of a reverse barbell curl if you like.
If this method is awkward, you can try crossing your arms over the bar, holding the left side with the right hand and vice versa. Just make sure that the hands are not trying to support the bar, but rather simply to prevent it from rolling forward.
Alternatively, although frowned on by purists, you can use the technique of clasping your hands together and use then to push the bar onto your chest and front deltoids.
How To Execute the Front SquatOnce you have decided how to hold the barbell in a manner that suits you, grasp the barbell from the rack with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. Position the chest high with your back arched. Place the bar in front of your neck or upper pecs with your elbows placed forward and as high as possible. Have a wide foot stance with your toes pointed out at about 45 degrees.
Descend until your knees are fully bent or until thighs are just past parallel to the floor. Your knees should travel in the same direction as your toes. Extend your knees and hips until your legs are straight. Return and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Make sure that you keep your head forward, your back straight and there is equal distribution of weight through the ball and heel of your foot.
Front squats will really help you to build size and power in your quadriceps muscles with the primary emphasis on the outside sweep of the thigh. Give them a go!