The big basic exercises certainly build size and strength, but just doing the basics could leave you with strength gaps and imbalances. Plus, not everyone is built for those exercises. Here are some of the best alternative and add-on exercises.
Sure, the standard squat is fine. But on occasion, save your back and swap it out with this version:
The goblet squat is often considered an exercise for beginners, injured people, or used as a lighter exercise. But given the benefits, it can and should be seen as a primary lift.
The big setback? It's hard to load heavy because getting a dumbbell over 100 pounds into the "goblet" position is tricky. Here's how to do it:
- Place the dumbbell vertically on a flat bench.
- Stand perpendicular to the bench and, facing the dumbbell, get into a deep squat.
- Place the palms of your hands on both sides of the "bell" part, not the handle.
- Then pull it off the bench and toward your midline.
- Do your reps. When finished, squat down and place the dumbbell back on the bench.
A heavy goblet squat will roast your core. It also loads up the quads like crazy. It's easy to hit depth since the weight acts as a counterbalance. It builds upper body strength while at the same time forcing the upper back into extension, keeping the low back safe. And it's easy to bail; just drop the weight.
Try back extensions that hit your glutes:
This one is wildly underrated. Do it the right way and it can place a ton of tension on the glutes. The key here is to extend that time under tension. Most people just bob up and down like dolphin at a Sea World show. Don't do that.
Honestly, the back extension is a lame tool when used to train the low back. The low back is basically made of connective tissue and your quadratus lumborum (QL) – the deepest abdominal muscle. It doesn't make sense to try and train it outside of a physical therapy setting. You'll get way more bang for your buck by using the back extension for glutes.
Here's how to do it:
- Start in a hanging position with your feet close together.
- To initiate the lift, squeeze your glutes and press your pelvis into the pads.
- Drive the pelvis forward to facilitate the upward movement of your torso.
- Keep tension on the glutes the entire time.
Forget about adding weight for a bit and slow your tempo down. You should be feeling a massive amount of tension on the glutes. Try three sets of very slow tempo and hold the isometric at the top of the last rep for 30 seconds. You'll feel your abs kicks in as your glutes tremble to exhaustion.
Chances are, your back-focused days involve barbell and dumbbell rows, pulldowns, and seated cable rows. This is fine if you have plenty of scapular mobility and you're doing them right. Many lifters aren't and don't.
So swap one of your go-to back exercises for this row. It'll challenge and build your lats along with your abs:
- Grab the attachment and scoot as far back on the bench as you can.
- Pull your upper body toward the pulley.
- Tuck your chin and elongate your spine, allowing the shoulder blades to elevate and spread.
- Breathing out, lift the chin and the chest while leading with the elbows to pull the attachment toward your sternum.
- Pause for a brief second before going into the next rep.
This variation is awesome for spinal decompression while strengthening the abs and low back. It's more like a seated lat pulldown because of the path of the elbows. Try throwing this in as a finisher.
Swap out the standard dumbbell row for this. It'll also help decompress your spine. Spinal decompression strategies should be a staple:
- Set up for a single-arm cable row.
- To create space, place the foot on the ground on the side you'll be pulling with.
- Instead of starting with square shoulders, rotate toward the pulley. Lead with the shoulder and elbow to rotate back to square and pull the elbow to the side.
This variation taps into more lat engagement by increasing the range of motion while getting the obliques and other abdominal muscles involved.
Still doing the standard, two-handed kettlebell swing? Replace it with this:
This is considered a PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) pattern. It can help you work on poor posture while still getting the benefit of cardio and abdominal strength gains from kettlebell swings.
PNF strengthens the body through diagonal patterns, often referred to as D1 and D2 patterns. The diagonal movements associated with PNF involve multiple joints through various planes of motion. These patterns incorporate rotational movements of the extremities and core stability (1).
Why not just do the standard two-handed swing? Because it keeps your shoulders internally rotated throughout the whole movement. This eliminates that problem.
This version allows you to use the PNF D2 shoulder flexion by turning the thumb of the swing arm down at the bottom of the swing, and turning the thumb up at the top of the swing. It will improve your shoulder health, posture, and strength.
- Staff, By: ADVANCE. "The Truth About PNF Techniques." Elite Learning. 13 Feb. 2019.