9 BEST EXERCISES YOU’RE NOT DOING

9 BEST EXERCISES YOU’RE NOT DOING

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BY JOE WUEBBEN

Sometimes the best exercise is the one you’re not doing. But why are such great strength and conditioning moves not part of your training? Probably for one of two reasons: 1) You don’t know they exist or 2) they’re so challenging that you’d rather skip them and do something easier. But you’re not looking for the easy way out, right?

The following nine exercises are ones we think every physique-conscious guy should add to their arsenal.  Some are moves you’ve heard of but never wanted to try while others are so unique we bet they’ve never even crossed your mind. Some are harder than the moves in your normal workouts and will test your strength and resolve. But there’s one thing they all have in common—they’re all absolutely worth it. It’s about time you changed things up and added these moves to your repertoire.

1. Front Squat

HOW TO DO IT

In a power rack, place the bar across your front deltoids with your forearms crossed in front of you and your hands gripping the bar. Unrack the bar, step back, and begin the set with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your elbows pointed straight ahead, not downward. Keeping a slight arch in your lower back, squat over your heels, keeping your elbows up, until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Press up through your heels until your knees are extended but not locked out.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“Front squats have really helped my quad development, especially when I was preparing for the Ironman,” says six-time Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath. “Most people don’t do front squats because they’re uncomfortable and there are easier alternatives, but to really add size to the quads, they’re a must.”

2. Arched-Back Pullup

HOW TO DO IT

Drape a neutral-grip cable rowing handle over a pullup bar. Grasp the handle with both hands and start from a hanging position, arms fully extended. Pull your chest toward the handle while also lifting your hips up and letting your head travel back so that, at the top of the rep, your chest touches your hands and your torso is roughly parallel with the floor.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“This exercise involves both a vertical and horizontal pull from the upper body—most pulling moves involve only one or the other,” says Martin Rooney, the founder of trainingforwarriors.com “It maximizes core and abdominal recruitment. So the arched-back pullup hits about as much total muscle as any lift.”

3. Crush-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press

HOW TO DO IT

Lie back on a flat bench with dumbbells over your chest and arms extended, with the insides of the dumbbells touching. As you lower the weights toward your chest, press them together as hard as possible. When they reach your chest, lift the weights back up, still pressing them together. Keep the rep speed slow.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“‘Crushing’ the dumbbells together while slowing the tempo increases the tension across the chest, shoulders, triceps, and upper back,” says Jim Smith, C.S.C.S., the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning  “More time under tension will immediately increase the muscle-building and natural hormone-release effect.”

4. Wide-Grip Upright Row

HOW TO DO IT

Grip a barbell with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip. With your knees slightly bent, pull the bar straight up your body, bending your elbows, until it reaches chest height. As you lift the bar, don’t let your shoulders shrug up; keep them depressed to maintain tension in the delts. Hold the contraction at the top for a one-count, then lower back down.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

Wide-grip upright rows can be a great deltoid-builder if used correctly, says Justin Grinnell, the owner of State of Fitness, in East Lansing, MI. “Doing them with the wider grip will take the traps out of the movement,” he says, “and you’ll hit the delts better than you would if you were using a narrow grip.” But if you have shoulder impingement issues, proceed with caution.

5. Overhead Squat

HOW TO DO IT

Grasp a relatively light Olympic barbell in a power rack with a very wide, overhand grip (aka snatch grip), with your feet shoulder-width apart, your back flat, and your chest out. Push press the bar overhead so you’re in a standing position, arms fully extended, shoulder blades squeezed together. The bar should be slightly behind your head, not directly over or in front of it. Maintaining this bar position, slowly squat down as if sitting on a stool, keeping your chest out, until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Press through your heels to stand back up to the start position.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“The overhead squat is not an exercise you should be skipping,” Brian Strump, the owner of CrossFit Steele Creek in Charlotte, NC, says. “It combines functional strength, flexibility, and core and shoulder stability. Thus, the overhead squat elicits a hormonal response that builds muscle and burns fat.”

6. Biceps Ladder

HOW TO DO IT

Set a bar in a power rack or Smith machine just above arm’s length from the floor. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip, with your body hanging underneath it in a straight line from head to toe. Starting with your arms fully extended, curl yourself up as high as possible, bringing your forehead to the bar. Do as many reps as you can, then raise the bar one setting and repeat. Keep raising the bar until you reach failure.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

On top of the crazy pump you’ll get, the ladder has a host of other benefits. “The biceps ladder is a great mass-builder,” says industry expert Jim Stoppani, Ph.D. “First, it allows you to go heavier than you could with standard curls [by using your own bodyweight]. Second, you’re focusing on the negative of each rep, which will further stimulate growth. And finally, the ‘ladder’ aspect of the lift functions like a dropset, increasing your total number of reps to maximize blood flow to the biceps. One trip up the ladder and your biceps will be screaming.” 

7. Seated Reverse-Grip Overhead Triceps Extension

HOW TO DO IT

Sit on a low-back seat or bench and hold an EZ-curl bar overhead with your arms extended and an underhand grip (palms and forearms facing behind you) inside shoulder-width. Keeping your upper arms stationary and your elbows in tight, bend your arms to slowly lower the bar until your elbows reach 90° of flexion. Contract your triceps to extend your elbows to full lockout at the top.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“The long head of the triceps tends to get neglected,” says Ray Wetterlund, N.S.C.A., a strength coach in San Diego. “It responds best to heavy loads and overhead movements, which people often leave out. This is why, when it comes to the long head, the seated overhead extension is my go-to move.”

8. Seated Rotation

HOW TO DO IT

Sit on the floor, holding a weight or medicine ball with both hands in front of you, elbows slightly bent. Start with your knees bent 90° and feet on the floor. (Advanced trainees can raise their feet off the floor.) Rotate the weight from one hip to the other in a continuous side-to-side motion, following the weight with your eyes and allowing your shoulders to rotate. Try to keep your legs from swaying side to side. It’s not just difficult in terms of coordination, but it will also give your stabilizing muscles a ton of extra work.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“Life and sport happen in the transverse plane, like when you put on your seat belt or swing a bat,” says celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson. “You need to train that way in the gym. Like the commercial says, ‘Keep crunching,’ but add in some side-to-side rotation to do everything better.”

9. Good Morning

HOW TO DO IT

Stand with feet hip-to-shoulder-width apart, holding a relatively light barbell across your upper traps. Keeping your back flat and knees slightly bent, slowly bend your hips back to lower your torso toward the floor. When your torso is parallel with the floor, reverse the motion to return to the standing position.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING IT

“Good mornings target the larger posterior chain muscles [glutes, hamstrings, and paraspinals],” says Guillermo Escalante, a California-based bodybuilder, “which can help you improve your strength in lifts like the deadlift and squat, as well as decrease your risk of lower-back injury.”