Serious lifters usually aren't novelty seekers, but they will embrace subtle adjustments to make troublesome exercises work better for them. These small changes can alleviate pain or just make an exercise feel right.
Here are two examples of that. Both involve a simple change: switching to an EZ-bar.
EZ-Bar Romanian Deadlift
- Set your shoulder blades back and get your chest out while maintaining a natural curvature of the spine. Set your feet about shoulder-width apart, then begin with a slight bend in your knees.
- Grip the bar overhand and keep the bar path close to your legs as you descend. Pivot at the hips with no movement of your knees or lower back. Instead of thinking about tipping forward, focus on pushing your hips back as you lower the weight. We aren't trying to lower the weight as far as possible; we just want to maximize the hamstring stretch while avoiding lower-back stress.
- Descend slowly with control until you've maximized this stretch, then reverse direction with a forward thrust of your hips. Squeeze your glutes at the top while posteriorly tucking your pelvis under your ribcage. Hyperextending the lower back in the lockout is a common mistake. This takes tension off our intended targets and has no training effect.
- A neutral head position is ideal, but as long as you avoid extreme neck flexion or extension it's safe to tuck your chin or tilt your head up. Find the best head position for maintaining good form, though I do recommend not twisting your head sideways to watch your form in the mirror.
EZ-Bar Bent-Over Barbell Row
- Take an overhand or underhand grip on the EZ-bar and pivot into the bottom position of a Romanian deadlift. Most lifters use too much load and use a more upright position, often convulsing the weight in a bastardized row-meets-shrug. For better lat training, hold the strict bent-over position.
- Fully extend your arms and protract your scapula to allow the bar to drop as far as possible while keeping a neutral spine. Keep the bar close to your legs as it descends.
- Initiate the positive rep by drawing the shoulder blades and elbows back and pulling the bar up toward your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while ensuring the elbows don't rise behind your body. You don't want the ball of your shoulder to glide forward from the socket. This draws tension away from the lats and creates a repetitive stress on the long head of the biceps and rotator cuff tendons holding the shoulder ball in its socket.
- Avoid generating momentum from the hips, and don't get progressively more upright as you complete reps. This will give you a good hip and upper-traps workout, but you'll miss the intended upper-back targets.
EZ Advantage 1: Wrist Comfort
Not everyone can comfortably externally rotate their wrists to hold a bar in an underhand row. EZ-bars address this issue for curls, so why not for rows? Lifters often deal with forearm strain caused by the overuse of the overhand grip. Even a subtle adjustment to grip position can go a long way to alleviating discomfort and injury potential.
EZ Advantage 2: Lower Back Comfort
No matter how strict your form, sometimes the bent-over position of a row or Romanian deadlift can bother your lower back, especially as fatigue sets in.
The EZ-bar's curved hand position allows the bar to travel a little closer to your body in an overhand grip. This small adjustment can make a big difference to how your lower back feels.
EZ Advantage 3: Novel Stimulus
Always doing the exact same exercise gets stale and boring after years of training. We often do it out of habit. Layers of strength and muscle are built over time through consistent application of basic movement patterns, but these exercises can be varied. Small adjustments can keep your workouts fresh and interesting.