In my lastarticle I outlined ten plateau-busting upper body exercises you probably aren't doing. In this installment, I'll introduce you to ten out of the box lower body variations. Use these exercises as assistance lifts or main lifts in your program.

Two Quad Dominant (Squat) Variations

Anderson Front Squat from Pins

  • Strength Building Properties: Out of the hole for squats; starting strength for deadlift
  • Muscle Building Potential: Quads and overall leg development

Squats from pins were popularized by one of the strongest men ever to walk this earth, Paul Anderson. Paul would work at various positions to improve his strength, even setting up a barbell on the grass and digging a hole underneath to squat the bar from different heights.

A variation on this lift is to use a front squat instead of a back squat position. This variation will build explosive power for the squat since the lifter must generate a ton of force to get the bar moving off the pins. This is also beneficial for athletes having trouble coming out of the bottom during cleans.

This can be a max effort lift done for singles or used as an assistance lift for moderate reps. Use different pin heights to work on different weak points. The clean grip or cross handgrip can both be used depending upon personal preference.

Zercher Squat Morning Combo

  • Strength Building Properties: Back strength for squats and deadlifts
  • Muscle Building Potential: Upper back, glutes, and hamstrings

The Zercher squat is one of the best lifts for increasing core stability and the upper back strength needed to stay erect when attempting a record in the squat. By using a good morning on the eccentric portion of the lift, the lifter will have to engage the muscles of the upper back and core to a greater degree since the weight will be in front of the lifter.

To really push the limits of this exercise, use a squat bar pad to save the elbows and forearms. Without the bar pad, pain tolerance will be a limiting factor rather than leg or back strength. If you're looking to improve pain tolerance, then by all means ditch the pad!

Two Hip Dominant (Deadlift) Variations

Snatch Grip Rack Pull from below knee

  • Strength Building Properties: Lockout and grip strength for deadlifts
  • Muscle Building Potential: Entire posterior chain

Rack pulls are a staple assistance exercise for both powerlifters and bodybuilders as they're a great mass builder for the entire posterior chain. When performing any type of rack pull, it's important to sit back as hard as possible to mimic body position when pulling off the floor.

Using the snatch grip (ultra wide grip) targets the upper back and grip much more than a regular rack pull. This is great for improving snatching ability and building a thick back necessary for big benches, deadlifts, and squats.

Grip will be the limiting factor here, so I recommend using straps if you're looking to build size rather than focus on grip strength.

Keystone Deadlift

  • Strength Building Properties: Lockout strength for deadlifts
  • Muscle Building Potential: Hamstring development

The keystone deadlift is a slight variation of the Romanian deadlift. Many lifters struggle with the lockout of the deadlift as well as suffering from poor hamstring development. This exercise will help both problems.

The keystone deadlift calls for an extreme arch to significantly stretch the hamstrings on the eccentric portion of the lift. To maintain the arch, most lifters opt to go down to the top of the kneecaps.

Two Dynamic Core Variations

Barbell Rollout with Pause

  • Strength Building Properties: Core strength and stability for squats and deadlifts
  • Muscle Building Potential: Entire abdominal region

Core training is extremely important to all aspects of lifting and performance. It's important to use both static and dynamic moves when training the core. Dynamic moves will help the actual strength of these muscles and isometric moves will inherently involve more stability.

Barbell rollouts are the best for core strength on the big lifts, and can be made even harder by using small plates to extend the range of motion. Another great way to add difficulty is to pause at the bottom of each repetition.

Barbell Floor Press to Overhead Sit Up

  • Strength Building Properties: Core strength for heavy squats, deadlifts, overhead presses
  • Muscle Building Potential: Entire abdominal region and shoulders

There's a lot of controversy in the fitness world surrounding sit-ups. Overhead sit-ups, however limit the amount of spinal flexion while still hammering the core and hip flexors.

Taking it one step further, the barbell floor press to overhead sit up is a great way to train both core and shoulder stability. Pressing the bar overhead limits the amount of spinal flexion that occurs during a regular sit-up, making it a much safer and more challenging alternative to regular floor sit-ups.

Two Static Core Variations

Suitcase Rack Pulls with Static Holds

  • Strength Building Properties: Grip and core stability for deadlifts and strongman events
  • Muscle Building Potential: Oblique development

Static exercises help improve the stability of the core. Stability is extremely important since it helps the lifter hold proper form during squats, deadlifts, and presses. The more core stability a person has, the more strength and size improving potential in heavy compound lifts.

The suit case rack pull is one of the ultimate oblique exercises. I like to use some form of static hold to work the grip as well as train anti-lateral flexion. Due to the unbalanced load, the body needs to work extremely hard to stay upright.

This exercise works the grip a ton too, making it a perfect assistance lift for training stability for a big deadlift.

Shovel Deadlift

  • Strength Building Properties: Core stability for strongman events
  • Muscle Building Potential: Oblique development

Although dynamic in nature, the shovel deadlift is also a great isometric core exercise. Any asymmetrical loading significantly challenges the core and the shovel deadlift is a great example.

This exercise is also a little easier on the grip than the suitcase rack pull.

Two Forearm (Grip) Variations

Barbell "Spiders"

  • Strength Building Properties: Dynamic crushing grip strength
  • Muscle Building Potential: Forearm and hand development

I like to include grip training at the end of my lower body sessions, after deadlifting. You're welcome to include grip training on other days if you find that works better.

Barbell spiders are an easy way to get in some dynamic grip work. I recommend using chalk for all heavy grip training to help avoid tearing calluses. Simply pick up a bar with a double overhand grip and pull the bar up as high as needed for you to catch it with a double underhand grip.

This exercise works dynamic crushing strength and is a great way to get in extra grip work without any special equipment.

Overhead Barbell Wrist Roller

  • Strength Building Properties: Forearm and wrist stabilizers for pressing exercises
  • Muscle Building Potential: Forearm and hand development

Forearm development is often a problem and it's extremely important for stabilizing heavy bench press attempts. The wrist roller is one of the best ways to develop the forearm muscles.

This is a variation of the normal wrist roller using a barbell and the lifter's body weight. Set up a barbell inside a power rack and roll it up and down on the pins by flexing or extending the wrists. This is an extremely advanced exercise that will blow up the forearms!

Putting it All Together

To accompany the upper body routines outlined in the last article, here are two lower body routines composed entirely of the new exercises listed above. Replace your current lower body workouts with the following for the next six weeks.

Workout 1

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Anderson Front Squat (greater than 90% 1RM) 3 1
B Keystone Deadlift 4 6-8
C Barbell Rollout with Pause for 3 sec. 3 8
D1 Barbell Suitcase ISO Hold 5 sec. per side 3 5
D2 Barbell spiders 3 12

Workout 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Grip Rack Pull (with straps) 3 5
B Zercher Good Morning 3 6-8
C Shovel Deadlift 3 6/side
D1 Floor press to overhead sit-up 3 12
D2 Barbell overhead wrist roller 3 6-8/hand

Wrap Up

Every successful lifter has had to battle a plateau at some point in his or her lifting career – sadly, they're as much a part of the game as chalk, belts, and PR's. If your bread & butter squats and deadlifts are refusing to budge, take it as a sign to try out a new lift or two.

These new movements may feel foreign and your poundages may be pitiful, but give it time and persevere. Your patience will be rewarded in six weeks when you return to squatting and pulling new PR's.

As for those extra couple pounds of lean mass you packed on? Let's just say you got the bonus plan!


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