I’ve never been one to accept the status quo. If something isn’t working as well as it should, I’ll find another way to do it. Even if it’s working, I’ll think about ways to make it work even better.
I love to experiment, even if it takes me out of my comfort zone, and I have no fear of screwing up. Some of my new ideas work and some don’t. The ones that don’t are easily set aside. The ones that get put into practice are continuously tested and refined until they become important parts of my training programs.
The five exercises I present here are my own creations, based on familiar exercises but tweaked to make them more useful to my athletes and clients. Granted, someone, somewhere, has likely created similar ones, so if you’ve seen one or more of these before, no need to call the exercise copyright police, okay?
Supine External Rotation with Band
I developed this exercise because most of the traditional exercises for external shoulder rotation suck.
When performing the traditional (standing) external rotation with band, the athlete can easily substitute lumbar-spine extension – bending backwards – for external shoulder rotation. It’d be hard for him to tell the difference. He might think he’s doing the exercise correctly, when in reality he’s cheating his external rotators by not working them through their fullest available ROM while teaching his body to use a dysfunctional movement pattern.
So my goal in creating the supine version of the exercise is to make sure he’s using the correct range of motion with no chance for cheating.
Here’s how it’s done:
Lie on your back with one foot flat on the floor. Raise the other foot off the floor, and wrap a light resistance band around it. Hold the ends of the band in your hands, with your upper arms on the floor, perpendicular to your torso, and your elbows bent 90 degrees.
With your legs in this position, you flatten your lower back, making it impossible to go into lumbar extension.
From here, the actual exercise is simple: Drive your hands toward the floor behind you while your upper arms remain flat on the floor with your elbows bent 90 degrees.
This exercise is also a great assessment tool, since it tells you how much range of motion you have in external rotation. If you have to extend your wrists to complete the movement, as shown to the right, your ROM isn’t what it needs to be. (Or you’ve chosen too thick a band to start off with.)
If you’re doing it right, you’ll touch the floor with the back of your hand while keeping your wrists straight, as shown in the next photo in the sequence.
I’ve been using monster walks for something like nine years now. No matter how many new and interesting exercises I learn or invent, monster walks remain one of my favorite choices for glute activation.
I came up with the name because I noticed that the monsters in the movies I grew up watching have a weird physiological quirk: They almost never bend their knees. That means they rely on their glutes for locomotion.
Newly married husbands have a similar walk on their wedding nights as they lurch towards their bride with their pants around their ankles.
Anyhow, since some athletes rely too little on their glutes, we have to find ways to fire up the glutes in training so we can teach the athletes to use them more effectively in their sports.
For the solo version of the exercise, secure a band to the bottom of a squat rack, or any other support structure that won’t move. Put the band around the backs of your ankles. Now walk backwards as far as you can, taking big steps. You want a slight bend in your knees, allowing your glutes to do most of the work.
Walking forward is the eccentric part of the exercise. Keep the same form, avoiding excessive pelvic rotation.
You can also do a partner version, as shown in the video. I prefer to use this one whenever possible, since the partner allows you to keep more tension on the band when walking forward.
Wall Split Squat
We’ve all done static lunges, and I’m sure almost everyone reading this has done the more difficult (and infinitely less popular) progression, Bulgarian split squats. The problem with that progression is that the BSS takes the glutes out of the exercise. It’s almost all knee extension. I developed the wall split squat as a way to put the posterior chain back into the movement without losing the obvious benefit of quad development.
If you’re involved in any kind of sport that requires an explosive forward motion – a wrestler shooting for a takedown, a sprinter coming off the blocks, a football lineman coming out of a three- or four-point stance – the wall split squat can help.
Stand with your back to a wall so one foot is flat against the wall and the other is far enough out in front of you that you can do a split squat. You want a slight bend in your front knee, your torso upright, and your hands behind your head in a prisoner grip.
Make sure, as shown in the photo below, that the heel of the foot on the wall is at the same height as your knees.
Now, keeping your rear foot on the wall (thus activating your glutes), drop into a lunge position.
A slight forward lean is okay, but try to remain as upright as possible throughout the movement.
Of all the exercises in this article, the WSS is the one I’m most excited to share and have you try.
Angled Deadlift to Press
What I’ve shown so far are exercises that attack specific problems you might have with shoulder rotation or glute activation. They’re good for anybody – and indeed I use them with most of my athletes – but they’re especially good for addressing those weaknesses or deficiencies.
The angled deadlift, on the other hand, is for everybody, as long as they’re at the intermediate to advanced level and have enough experience with the basic pulling and pressing exercises that they’re ready for a new challenge. (My version is a modification of an exercise I originally learned from Lorne Goldberg, a Canadian strength coach.)
It hits the posterior-chain muscles you’d use in a traditional deadlift, along with the shoulder and arm muscles you’d employ with a shoulder press. As a bonus, it also works the same core muscles you’d hit with a cable reverse wood chop. So it’s three exercises in one, working many muscles in all three planes of movement.
But it’s more than a muscle-builder. It’s also a ball-buster – a great total-body conditioning exercise, and great for fat loss if used for that purpose over time. After a few sets of these bad boys, you won’t just want to rest, you’ll want to go home and take a nap.
Let’s start with a video of the exercise, and then I’ll get into the details.
The best way to do the exercise is with a Sorinex Landmine. If you don’t have one, a barbell in a corner works fine.
To begin, load the bar using 25-pound plates or smaller; 45s will force you to stand too far away from the bar and impede the movement. (I was sore as hell when I took these pictures and videos, which is why I used such a light load to demonstrate.)
Set up sumo-style, with your hands inside your legs. Use a mixed grip, with the underhand grip on the outside, at the end of the bar, as shown on the right. Your thumb goes over the outside edge of the bar.
Drop down into a traditional deadlift starting position, with your hips back and spine in its optimal alignment.
Pull up explosively, driving the bar toward your chest. Then twist your hips, as shown on the right, and press the bar away from your body, pivoting on your feet to complete the movement. At the end, you want to have your rear heel up off the floor, with your rear foot pointed toward the bar.
The superdog is probably the best-known of the exercises I developed.
As the name implies, it’s a combination of a prone superman and a bird dog. Both exercises have benefits, but they share a common flaw: It’s easy to hyperextend your lumbar spine.
The superdog offers the same posterior-chain work as the superman and bird dog, but without the risk of putting your lower back into hyperextension.
Get down on all fours on a soft surface (I’m using an Airex pad in the photos), with your left knee and right elbow bent and resting on the pad. Set your hips back, so your left heel touches your left glute. Extend your left arm in front of you and your right leg behind you, keeping them on the ground and aligned with your body.
Without deviating from this position, lift your left arm and right leg up as high you can off the floor. Keep both the leg and arm as straight as possible.
Do all your reps with that side, and then switch. We use the superdog in our warm-ups, but it also works for rehab or prehab.
The main reason I wrote this article is to give you some new exercises to try in your own workouts.
I deliberately avoided specifying sets and reps so you can work them in wherever they fit in your current program. The reps you do on the body-weight exercises depend on your skill, of course, as well as how you use them – as warm-ups, rehab, prehab, general conditioning, or for strength and size.
You can load the wall split squat the same as you would a Bulgarian split squat, and you can go as heavy as you want on the angled deadlift, using it for strength, hypertrophy, power, fat loss, or any combination.
My other goal is to encourage you to use your own creativity to come up with new ways to accomplish the goals that are important to you. If you can come up with a variation that works better than the standard versions of exercises, more power to you.
My only caution is to make sure you have a reason to create and implement nonstandard exercises. Different for the sake of different can be fun, but different for the sake of improving your performance is much better.
If you come up with something interesting, let me know in the article discussion thread. I’m always interested in new and better ways to help my athletes and clients reach their goals.