Big Names are important.
The best movies of all-time have been centered around a few well-known Actors. Look at any captivating movie and there’s almost a 100% chance they include a familiar name or two.
Brad Pitt. Al Pacino. Denzel Washington.
(The list goes on)
It’s no secret that these Actors produce results.
It’s also no secret that you probably need them for a successful movie.
What has seemingly become a secret is that you need more than just the big names.
While I love Brad Pitt as much as anyone, I’m not sure I’d want to watch a 2 hour monologue starring the Pittster.
You need a few smaller, less well-known names.
You need a supporting cast.
These unknowns are what transform a movie into something genuinely good.
Instead of something, that on paper, “should be good”.
Why am I telling you this?
Because a quality Strength Program is no different.
Change around a few words.
And see if you can spot any familiarities.
The Big Names are still important.
The best physiques of all-time were built upon a few simple exercises. Look at anyone with an impressive build and there’s almost a 100% chance they’ve spent plenty of time smashing the “Big Three”.
The Squat. The Bench. The Deadlift.
It’s no secret that these exercises produce results.
It’s also no secret that you probably need them for a successful program.
What has seemingly become a secret is that you need more than just the Big Three.
While I love Deadlifting as much as anyone, I’m not sure I’d want to spend 90 minutes 4 times a week just smashing some Deadzzz.
You need a few smaller, less popular exercises.
You need a supporting cast.
These assistance exercises are what transform a program into something genuinely good.
Instead of something, that on paper, “should be good”.
Today, that is who we are shining on.
Not the Brad Pitts and the Denzel Washingtons of your program.
But the under appreciated guys who transform your program into something worthwhile.
Morgan Freeman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and all you other little guys out there…
This one is for you.
Here Are My Award Winners For The Best Exercises That You Aren’t Doing.
1. Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
It only makes sense to start with an exercise that targets the red-haired step-child of your body.
The Posterior Chain.
And unless you like suffering from SAS (saggy-ass-syndrome), we need to make sure we train that back-side proficiently.
For a very long time, the conventional RDL was my go-to assistance exercise for the posterior chain.
That was until I stumbled across the love-child that is the Snatch-Grip RDL.
Similar to the conventional RDL, there are few exercises which are better at developing your posterior chain.
Where the Snatch-Grip version excels is by adding in a few extra benefits.
The obvious benefit is to that of your grip strength.
The less obvious benefit is to that of your upper back.
By gripping the bar with a wider-than-normal grip, you significantly increase the motor-recruitment of the muscles in your upper back.
Not only does this help develop a commonly over-looked group of muscles… it gives you a ton of bang for your buck.
Keep the weight moderate with this exercise.
Most of the benefits of the RDL seem to come from the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift.
The most common mistake I see with this is that people go too heavy too soon.
Luckily, the grip component of the snatch-grip helps remedy that.
(Read: go too heavy and you won’t be able to grip it)
Slow down the exercise and focus on feeling the “stretch” in your hamstrings as you lower the weight.
2. Barbell Hip Thrust
Quick list of my favorite things in life:
- Celebratory Pelvic-Thrusting
(Not in order of most fun)
Common theme amongst them?
They all involve your hips.
Or rather, the ability in which you can use your hips.
Unfortunately, most people tend to have poor hips.
Enter the Hip Thrust.
Very few exercises train hip extension adequately.
Which is exactly why the Hip Thrust is so damn important.
Other than training hip-extension, they are also the King of Booty-Building.
Squats have gained notoriety lately as the go-to “booty-builder”.
I say nay.
While squats are a fantastic exercise overall, they tend to be subpar for glute development.
The Hip Thrust though?
No better exercise for the booty in all the land.
Add in a pause at the top of all your reps.
Your butt is a weird muscle. If you don’t feel it working, it’s probably not.
Many people have trouble getting their glutes “activated” or “to fire”.
Use a 2-3 second pause at the top to focus on squeezing your glutes.
By the end of your set, your backside should be on fire.
And if feel is the indicator we’re chasing… that means they’re working.
3. Front Squat
The Front Squat is essentially just like the back squat.
Except, it’s even better.
Front squats trump back squats in two main ways:
- They require much better posture. (No Good-Mornings here)
- Due to the better posture they typically allow people to reach depth much easier.
But the benefits don’t end there.
While Squats are meant to be a lower body lift (not an upper) it’s hard to expect much benefit to the upper body.
Front Squats turn that assumption on it’s head though.
By supporting the bar on the front side of your body, you (like the Snatch-Grip RDL) increase the motor-recruitment of the musculature in your upper-back.
Making the Front Squat a true Total Body Lift.
I’m a huge fan of big bang for your buck exercises.
And the Front Squat may be the King of said exercises.
Wrist mobility can make this lift an absolute pain.
To help off-set that, invest in a pair of wrist straps (not wraps).
Wrap them around the bar and instead of gripping the bar, simply hold onto the straps.
Still keep your elbows up high or else the bar will wind up on the floor.
jacked borrowed this idea from Ben Bruno (check out his site here)
For an example, check out this video of him putting the straps to work.
4. Trap Bar Row
Ever seen a weak guy bench 225 lbs?
Yeah, me too.
Ever seen a weak guy row 225 lbs?
Yeah, me neither.
Once again, we’re talking about how important (while still over-looked) the back-side of your body is.
Rowing not only keeps you healthy and develops those “non-mirror” muscles. It also directly translates into that real-world strength that all us guys (and girls) crave.
The biggest problem most people encounter when trying to perform rows, is the coordination required for the movement.
Their knees get in the way.
Hence why we use the Trap Bar.
(The funny looking hexagon shaped bar in the corner of your gym)
Standing inside of the bar itself, you are able to track the midline of your body without crushing up and down your shins.
By finally making this exercise “smoother”, you should notice a fairly quick jump in the strength of your rows.
Call it bro-science, but the muscles on the back-side of your body seem highly dependent on “feel”.
For whatever reason, people have trouble truly working these muscle correctly.
In an attempt to fix that, once again, focus on sqeeezing at the top of each rep.
Still focus on getting stronger and adding weight to the bar.
But make sure to “feel” this exercise.
Chase the burn.
5. Close-Grip Low-Incline Press
I’m going to let you in on a dirty-little secret.
Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter (or in a fraternity), flat bench pressing is mega overrated.
In fact, it’s pretty pointless.
At least if you want a good looking chest.
Most guys care about having a good looking chest.
Sadly, most guys have a poorly shaped chest as well.
An over-developed lower chest, and an under-developed upper chest.
The flat bench targets much more of the lower chest than the upper, which causes a bad problem to become worse.
To fix this, use an incline bench instead of a flat one.
The low (not high… we aren’t shoulder pressing) incline will target the upper chest.
While still giving you the chance to show all your frat bros how strong your press is.
Use a “close-grip”.
And I’m not talking that so-close-your-thumbs-are-touching crap.
Just bring your grip in 2-3 inches. Almost where your hands are directly above or just outside your shoulders.
You’ll feel it much more in your chest and triceps as opposed to your shoulders.
Should feel much smother as well.
6. Body Saw
I love abs.
You love abs.
We all love abs.
Ironically, most of us also train our abdomen incorrectly.
Performing endless sets of crunches and situps. All while wondering why we don’t see results.
Contrary to popular belief, your core works best by stabilizing your spine… not flexing it.
So in order to train it optimally we need to do just that.
Put your body in positions that forces the core to brace and stabilize your spine.
This is when most people turn to the plank and it’s many variations.
The thing is, what happens when a plank becomes easy?
Just hold it longer?
(fun fact: the plank world record is a little over 4 hours.)
After awhile this exercise quickly loses it’s benefits.
You need something more.
Welcome to the Body Saw.
The Body Saw is pretty much just a dynamic plank… except on steroids.
By extending your arms away from (not towards) your body, you will put your body in an elongated position.
This exact position causes your core to do exactly what is was meant to do… brace your spine.
Feeling a slight “pinch” in your lower back?
Means your hips are flaring.
Try squeezing your glutes.
This should keep the tension off your lower back and on where it should be.
This exercise will be tough at first.
Only extend out as far as you feel comfortable.
Slowly progressing your range of motion over time.
Remember, these aren’t the only exercises you should be doing.
But these are exercises you should be doing more of.
Still Squat. Still Bench. And for the love of God, Still Deadlift.
Those 3 Exercises are proven to work and should make up the core of your program.
Focus on them, get stronger, and you’ll be pleased with where they take you.
Just don’t forget to give the little guys their time in the spotlight as well.
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