Not every great exercise is designed with your individual body type in mind. Whether you're too big, too small, too tall, or too busted up for a certain exercise, it doesn't mean you have to skip the lift. All you have to do customize the exercise to make it work for you. Here are four examples.
1 – Use a Decline Bench for Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts can be awkward to set up. Since most gyms don't own one of Bret Contreras' patented Hip Thrusters, many lifters resort to getting a flat bench and propping it against a wall or sticking weight plates behind it to keep it from moving. This can work, but when it doesn't it's usually because of one of these reasons:
- The lifter is too short for the bench, so sitting on the floor puts the bench edge high up on his shoulders. That means he has to squirm and writhe to get into position before the first rep, and then do the same to take a seat on the ground after his final rep.
- The lifter slides on the bench and doesn't have a consistent point of contact to use as an axis while thrusting. This gets worse if his back is sweaty.
- The bench itself slides or tips, usually away from the lifter as he progresses through his sets.
- The lifter struggles to get the right elbow and arm position to hold the bar comfortably.
Making the shift from a flat bench to decline bench solves all of these problems. Since the bench is heaviest towards the high end of the decline, it's much harder to make it shift by pushing against the low end. That's simple physics.
But banking the heavy end against a wall makes it foolproof.
Plus, since you're now using a bench lengthwise and not widthwise, your elbows are free to tuck towards your body and hold the bar in the position that works best for you.
Lastly, since the south side of the decline bench typically terminates quite close to the floor, a lifter of any height can comfortably use one.
2 – Got Cranky Joints? Use Fat Grips for Pressing
Many people rely on fat grips to increase the difficulty level of pulling exercises like chins, rows, and loaded carries. They're a tremendous grip-training tool. They have another use, too, that benefits people who suffer from joint stress in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. These people never consider bar thickness.
Bar thickness during pushing movements like strict presses, bench presses, and dips can play a huge role in the amount of joint stress a lifter experiences due to the amount of centralized pressure in the palm of the hand.
It takes a few sets to get used to it, but adding fat grips to each of the above movements (and even when pressing dumbbells) can create a world of difference to joint health and happiness.
This is due to the added surface area of the handle that's now spread across a larger percentage of the lifter's hand. This tip can come in quite handy, especially if you're a big guy with big hands. The load now diffuses itself over a greater area instead of one specific spot. You'll notice the difference immediately.
3 – Big Guys, Use Two Ropes for Face Pulls
If you're tall with long arms, or if you're very muscular, you may have trouble doing face pulls. Since a face pull starts in internal rotation and finishes at or above forehead level, its purpose is to exploit not only the scapular retractor muscles, but also to exploit a rotary component of the shoulder, dominated mainly by the rear deltoid.
Guys with longer arms who use a standard rope will be at a much smaller (more acute) elbow angle when compared to shorter-armed guys at the end point of each rep.
This difference can hinder how much rotation they can achieve at the shoulder joint, compared to what they could achieve if given the opportunity for a wider grip. The same problem exists for big guys with tight shoulders, pecs, or triceps.
Ropes come in varying lengths, but many gyms feature ropes that are fairly short. Home and condo gyms are even worse. Since they usually attach to a carabiner, a smart move would be to instantly increase the length of the ropes by doubling them up.
Put two sets of ropes on one carabiner and pull them long. Now you've instantly got a double-sized rope to do your pulls.
Another benefit comes in the form of physics. Intentionally trying to "spread the ropes" on each rep requires a lifter to create outward (lateral) force at the same time he creates resistance against a horizontal force angle.
Because of this, it proves much more challenging for the target muscles (kind of the same way squatting with banded knees works). In short, it won't take as much weight to get the same result due to your "utilization of space" within your range of motion. As a bonus, all of this applies perfectly to triceps rope pressdowns too.
4 – Use an Incline Bench for Foot-Elevated Split Squats
It can be a real hassle for someone who has limited ankle mobility to get to a reasonably comfortable starting position on rear-leg elevated split squats. Many debate between "squishing the bug" on the flat bench with their trailing foot (toes down), or instead positioning the instep down.
Some have solved the problem by setting a pad on the Smith machine and performing their sets there. That implies that you've got a pad ready for this and that the Smith machine is available for use in an exercise it wasn't really intended for – which could piss some other gym members off.
The best option is to make a simple modification using the very same bench you normally use.
Simply set it up on a low incline. The angle will conform perfectly to your instep and not require too much ankle flexion. It also acts as a fulcrum for your shin to pivot around as you descend, encouraging a great range of motion.