Think for a minute about the exercises you've used this week in your workouts. For chest you probably did the bench press. How boring! For legs, we'll bet you did a barbell back squat and maybe some leg curls. How passe! Did you do biceps curls, too? Ha! Old fashioned! Ab crunches? Dude, that's so five minutes ago.
Okay, okay, the truth is there's nothing wrong with any of those exercises, but there are many others out there that work just as well, if not better in some cases. Not only will a new exercise provide a fresh stimulus to elicit muscle growth, it'll also provide a break from the mundane workouts you may normally perform. This psychological effect can make a world of difference in your training progress as you'll come into the gym excited about trying something new and challenging.
To put this article together, we scoured the archives of T-mag and dug up the most interesting, effective, and oddball exercises we could find. We also threw in a few new ones from our infinitely large bag of exercise movements that you might not have seen before. We'll be featuring subsequent features like this one periodically, but the seven exercises below (eight if you count the last one) ought to freak out all the mild-mannered personal trainers around you for at least awhile.
Throw a couple into your next workout and freshen up that stale training regimen!
The One-Arm Deadlift
Stand beside (not in front of) a loaded Olympic barbell. Using good deadlift form, bend down and pick it up with one arm. This is yet another classic full-body movement that's been forgotten by the new generation of gym rats. That's too bad because the one-arm deadlift will hit your muscles in ways no other exercise can match. Not only will it work your legs, traps and shoulders, it will also make your torso rock hard as it trains the obliques and other deep back and abdominal muscles.
Just remember to raise your body evenly as you stand up. When lowing the weight, keep your torso tight and sit back until the weight hits the floor. Do an equal number of sets for both sides.
The Turkish Get-up
This is an old functional-strength standby that's making a comeback thanks to guys like Coach John Davies. Lie on your back and hold a dumbbell above your head with one arm. Your elbow should be locked. You goal is to stand up with it without unlocking your elbow and to keep the dumbbell in the air above you.
Most guys turn to one side, prop themselves up on one hand, then try to get up on a knee and stand up. Then, reverse the movement until you're again lying on your back, weight held above you and the elbow locked.
Afterward, do it with the opposite hand.
That said, there really aren't any rules to this exercise. No matter how you do it, you'll be hurting in muscles you didn't even know you had! The old timers did this exercise with a barbell. Try it if you think the dumbbell is "too easy."
The Overhead Squat
Warning: No sissies, complainers, whiners, or Body-For-Lifers are allowed to try this devious exercise!
The overhead squat is another total body incinerator that will improve balance, speed, flexibility, and power. Simply perform a squat with the bar held at arm's length over your head. Take a wide grip on the bar (hands outside the rings) and with your back arched and chest out, squat down slowly by pushing your hips back. Go rock bottom on this one if you can! Start light and add weight as you get accustomed to the movement.
The Overhead Squat/Military Press Combo
And you thought the last one took some coordination! Ha, ha, ha, ha, cough, cough, gasp. Excuse us. We get a little asthmatic when we start with the fiendish laughter.
Anyhow, this variation, courtesy of Coach John Davies, is done exactly the same way as the overhead squat described above, only while in the "down position" you'll do one, two, three or more military presses before squatting up again. Got it? Holding the bar overhead, squat down slowly as far as you can go, and then knock of a few military presses (that's behind the neck) before squatting up again.
Adding this little "twist" to the overhead squat will only accentuate the benefits of the movement, in addition to giving your central nervous system a real kick in the pants. You might feel a peculiar kind of wearniness after this movement. If that happens, either take a nap or take a hit of 4-AD-EC.
The Saxon Side Bend
Some strength coaches call this the most effective exercise you can do to strengthen the core muscles. To perform it, simply hold two light dumbbells overhead with your feet spread about 18 inches apart. Now bend slowly to one side, come back up and bend to the other side. You'll immediately know why we recommend light dumbbells!
Keep the torso tight and the dumbbells held the same distance apart throughout the movement. Do about six reps per side.
One-arm Barbell Curl
Nothing too tricky about this one. It's just a one-arm curl, only you'll be doing it with a 7-foot Olympic Bar. It sounds easy, but it ain't. Given the amount of coordination and gripping power it takes to balance the bar, you might end up losing control of the bar and knocking out the guy next to you who's doing dumbbell bench presses. That's okay, though. It's all part of the learning curve.
This is a great movement for building the forearms. Plus, it activates the central nervous system like no other biceps movement.
The Glute-Ham Raise
This is a mother of an exercise. Unless your hamstrings are copper-sheathed and iron clad, don't even try this movement. If you ignore our advice and decide to do it anyhow, take it easy.
Find some sort of pad lying around the gym. Fold it in two or three if you need to. Kneel on the pad with your hands on your hips. While your partner holds onto your calves, slowly lean forward toward the ground while keeping your back straight and not bending at the waist. If you're like most people, you'll only get about half-way before your hamstrings give out.
This next part is important so pay attention: as you fall toward the ground, catch yourself with your hands! Otherwise, you'll look like Jersey Joe Walcott after Rocky Marciano pasted him one in that famous picture of their heavyweight title fight.
Continue lowering your torso with your hands. Allow your body to come to a push-up position. Then, explode out of the down position until your hamstrings can pull you back up. Repeat until fatigued or until you hear a grotesque, gut-wrenching, tearing sound.
The Annoying Sissy-Boy Toe Drop
This movement can be performed in conjunction with almost any weighted exercise listed above. Here's how it works: While doing those odd-looking exercises, an annoying sissy-boy who works at your gym will approach you to tell you how dangerous the movement is or that it isn't within the rules of the gym to allow such exercises. He will most likely approach you during your set and will justify his narrow-minded opinion based on the fact that he didn't see such an exercise listed in his ACE personal trainer home study guide.
While said annoying sissy-boy is giving his spiel (usually in a huffy, better-than-though tone), lock your eyes on his toes. This will help with the "mind-muscle connection." Now, depending on which exercise you're performing, drop the barbell or dumbbell directly on sissy-boy's toes. If you don't hear a suitable crunching sound accompanied by high-pitched squealing, repeat the "accidental" drop.
Explain to sissy-boy that if he would've added some variety to his training, he might have had the athletic ability to dodge the weight and avoid a debilitating injury. Tell him that when he recovers you'll gladly show him a few of the movements and loan him a copy of T-mag.
Walk away smirking with an air of superiority.
Editor's note: The picture of Coach John Davies doing an overhead squat was borrowed from "Renegade Training for Football," written by John Davies and published by Dragon Door Publications. For more info on the book, please go to www.renegadetraining.com