You're probably not taking advantage of these underappreciated exercises, but you should be. They're surprisingly beneficial. Here's what to do, why, and some set and rep recommendations for each.
By using only a ball, a wall, and a set of dumbbells, this move basically offers the same benefits as a Smith machine squat... but without the Smith machine.
Oh wait, you still think the Smith sucks? It's true, the fixed bar path of the Smith machine isn't a great way to improve your free-weight squat performance since the two movements involve different mechanics, but not everyone wants to be a powerlifter. And not everyone judges every lower-body exercise by how it relates to their barbell squat.
For the purpose of building and strengthening your quads, both the Smith machine squat and the wall squat are great options. Plus, who says you can't do both? Liking one thing doesn't mean canceling out the other.
These make for a great burnout move towards the end of a workout.
Set and Reps: 2-3 sets of 12-30 reps.
Many lifters don't appreciate the unique benefits this machine offers relative to most other horizontal rowing variations.
T-bar rows fit your strength curve more closely than most other rowing exercises. When doing horizontal rowing exercises, the lever arm is at its longest when your humerus is perpendicular to the force vector. So if you're doing barbell bent-over rows or one-arm rows with your torso roughly parallel to the floor, the lever-arm is at its longest when your humerus is parallel with the floor (in-line with your torso). This is at or very close to the end of concentric portion of the range of motion.
But when doing the T-bar row, the weight is getting lighter as you pull it because the higher the angle of the bar (closer to being vertical), the more weight is going into its pivot point, so it offers a mechanical advantage over the load as you pull it in on every rep.
Sure, you can do T-bar rows by simply anchoring a barbell in a corner. However, the machine version is far less awkward, and the chest pad support allows you to deal with heavier loads. It also makes it more difficult to cheat.
Set and Reps: 3-5 sets of 6-20 reps
Back in 2011, I coined the term "angled barbell training" to represent the wide variety of great exercise options offered when using the Landmine Device (or with a barbell in a corner). I also co-produced the first DVD on the subject with Bert Sorin, the original inventor of the Landmine. And today the standard angled-barbell (landmine) press is a pretty popular exercise.
That said, an underrated version of it is to simply lean your torso forward to change it from a diagonal pressing action to a vertical (overhead) pressing action. This is much like how an incline barbell press creates a different training stimulus to an overhead barbell press.
I failed to cover the leaning variation in The Ultimate Guide to Landmine Presses. However, I did discuss the benefit of adding band resistance to angled barbell presses:
"As you press the barbell, the weight load actually gets lighter. Since you're getting stronger as you extend your arm (due to creating a shorter lever arm), it makes sense to add a band for accommodating resistance: the band creates a continually greater resistance challenge as you continually gain a mechanical advantage."
Just like with the standard angled barbell press (where your torso's more upright), if you're in a split-stance, you anchor the band underneath your front leg. If you're in a parallel stance, you anchor the band underneath the same-side foot as the arm you're pressing with.
Set and Reps: 3-4 sets of 6-20 reps each side
Back when I was coming up as a trainer, cable or wood chops were all the rage. Now, you're hard pressed to find folks doing dynamic rotational training exercises like this, and it's far more common to see anti-rotation (Pallof) presses, which I believe are overrated.
Look at athletes in action and it's obvious: the torso has an active role in rotational strength and power production in actions like throwing, golfing, batting, punching, etc. And if you want to improve your rotational ability, the principle of specificity dictates that you need to practice dynamic rotational exercises like cable chops. They're great for teaching your torso and hips to work together to produce rotation.
Set and Reps: 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps each side
Exercises like face-pulls, rear-delt flyes, and wide-grip rows maximally load your arms when they're out to the sides, which is when the posterior shoulder musculature is in a shortened range. However, they neglect to strengthen the aspect of horizontal shoulder abduction when your arm is in front of, or across, your torso – when the posterior shoulder musculature is in a mid to lengthened range.
That's where the side-lying rear-delt flye comes in. It loads the aspect in the range of motion missed by most other rear-delt exercises and helps you build full-range strength. Once you've got that down, you can take the exercise a couple steps further:
You can combine the side-lying rear-delt flye with a side plank, which not only helps make the side plank less boring, but also serves double duty and maximizes your training time. You can also do your plank with your upper body on a bench.
Set and Reps: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
When you do this unique exercise, it's mainly training your hip extensors (glute max) because the band is pulling your legs forward – unlike walking with a hip loop around your ankles or knees, where the bands are pulling your legs together. This mostly trains your abduction musculature.
But these linear monster walks will have your biscuits burning! You can do this exercise, both the solo and partner version, using a Superband, but I'm using an NT Loop band – NTLoop.com – because it's specifically designed to be more comfortable and stable to put around your body.
Keeping tension on the band throughout, take steps backwards while keeping your knees fairly straight, allowing your glutes to do most of the work to drive your legs backward against the band on each step.
Take about 4 to 6 steps back depending on your strength relative to the band. Then reverse the motion by walking forward in a controlled manner while keeping the same form and not allowing your hips/pelvis to rotate throughout.
Set and Reps: 2 to 3 sets of 45-90 seconds
This is a more hamstring-oriented version of the hip thrust. You'll feel it in the lower portion of your hamstring just above your knee. But make no mistake, it certainly involves your glutes too!
The key is to have your leg elevated at least to knee height. Otherwise the range of motion is very small and people tend to use more of their low back to extend their lumbar area as opposed to using mostly hip extension.
The cool thing about this exercise? It's not only a great option for those unable to do RDLs, it also trains the hamstrings in a manner that's different from most other hamstring exercises. Unlike leg curls, you're keeping your knee only slightly bent, as you would when doing an RDL, but it hits you hardest at the top, which is where an RDL is the easiest. So it's a nice complement to traditional hamstring exercises.
- Flex your hip and knee as high as you can slightly beyond a 90-degree angle. Hold a weight plate at your shin of the flexed leg with both hands.
- Holding your one leg flexed, raise your hips straight up as high as you can while keeping a slight bend in your knee.
- Keep your lower back from overextending. Push your hips upwards, not backwards, on each rep.
- Keep your hips from rotating.
- You can also do the exercise using only bodyweight.
Set and Reps: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps each side
Serious lifters often associate the stability ball with circus acts because people have done things like barbell squats on them. But if you're not going to blame the barbell when people do silly things with it, don't blame the stability-ball either. Blame the user.
With that out of the way, the stability-ball push-up pike combo is killer on the abs, and it's the only exercise I know that trains upper-body pushing in a smooth manner that begins like a horizontal press (the bottom of each rep) and finishes like a vertical press (the top of each rep).
A "jammer press" comes close to doing that, but you need a special apparatus and it finishes with your arms more like an incline press. Here, all you need is a ball and a can-do attitude because this exercise is no joke!
Since you can't do much for adding load to this move outside of wearing a weight vest, I prefer to do this exercise as a burnout for max reps toward the end of a workout.
Set and Reps: 1-2 sets of max reps
By definition it's not exercise, but it can't be emphasized enough. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the scientific term for the energy you expend during your occupation, leisure activities, standing, walking, sitting while fidgeting or toe-tapping, shoveling snow, playing the guitar, cleaning, and any other movement outside of conventional exercise.
Research consistently shows that NEAT represents the most variable component of daily total energy expenditure (TEE) within and across subjects in populations worldwide. In fact, it's responsible for 6-10% of TEE in individuals with a mainly sedentary lifestyle, and for 50% or more in highly active subjects (1).
That said, one of my favorite terms is "sedentary bodybuilder" or "sedentary lifter" because there are many iron-enthusiasts who don't do much, if any, other physical activity outside of the gym. Many of them actually want to lose fat or at least practice fat-gain prevention (FGP), but have a difficult time getting leaner without feeling like they've got to eat like a bunny rabbit.
NEAT is a significant component of daily energy expenditure, so it makes sense to view (and use) it as an essential tool for fat loss and fat-gain prevention.
If you're a lifter, a great place to start increasing your NEAT is to put your dang plates away and re-rack your weights after using them. In this case – and many others – being considerate can actually help you lose fat.
- Von Loeffelholz C et al. The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity. [In: Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000. 2018 Apr 9.