Approximately three centuries ago the kettlebell, or girya, was used in the Russian marketplace as a counterweight. Eventually kettlebells (giri) were used as fitness tools for athletes and the military. Dumbbells came along later, as did barbells. As the evolution of the Iron Game progressed, the variety of different strength training equipment expanded with cables, machines, strongman equipment, and every other conceivable training device.
With all the different types of equipment available today, athletes and fitness enthusiasts have the opportunity to train more efficiently and effectively. If there’s a downside, it’s that the number of exercises to choose from is overwhelming and perhaps confusing. Sure, squats deserve their title as “King of Exercises,” but there are many other amazingly effective exercises that can help you achieve your goals – exercises that are often overlooked by many trainees and coaches. We recently shared with you five such exercises. Let’s look at five more:
# 1. Face Pulls. This exercise gives you a lot of “bang for your buck” in terms of helping your posture and keeping your shoulders healthy. In addition to working the rhomboids and middle trapezius (which help adduct the shoulder), at the finish of the movement you perform an external rotation of the shoulder that works the infraspinatus and teres minor. Because so many of us spend so much time sitting and perhaps performing too many bench presses, we often develop a structural imbalance that causes round shoulders. Face pulls are one exercise to help correct this imbalance.
#2. Single-Leg, Eccentric Leg Curl (2 up, 1 down). During leg curls the hamstrings function as a fast-twitch muscle group, and as such respond well to low reps and heavy weights. Because fewer motor units contract during an eccentric contraction (in which a muscle lengthens while producing tension), eccentric leg curls are particularly effective for training the hamstrings. With this variation, you lift the weight with both legs and then lower with one leg. Performing this type of unilateral work also enhances your concentration because you are only working one side of your body.
#3. 45-Degree Back Extension with Barbell, Snatch Grip. Because gravity exerts its effects downward (towards earth’s center) rather than horizontally, you achieve the highest level of resistance during a back extension when your torso is parallel to the floor. However, you can change the resistance curve by performing the exercise on a 45-degree incline back extension bench. In this incline version you will feel more resistance at the start of the movement, unlike in the flat version, where you will feel the most resistance at the finish. The advantage of performing this exercise with a barbell and using a snatch grip, as opposed to a regular grip, is that you increase the range of motion of the exercise.
#4. Hex Bar Deadlift with Shoulder Shrug. When you perform a deadlift with a straight barbell the resistance is held in front of the legs, but with a hex bar (or trap bar) the lift is performed with the center of the barbell in line with the hips. This difference in body position requires more effort from the erector spinae to perform the lift compared to using the hex bar. As such, compared to the straight bar deadlift, the hex bar deadlift should be regarded more as a flexor exercise than as an extensor exercise. In other works, this means the hex bar works the quads more effectively than a straight bar deadlift. To add even more value to the exercise, finish off the hex bar deadlift with a few sets of shoulder shrugs to building bigger and stronger traps.
#5. Wood Chop Exercise with Cables. Although basic multi-joint exercises such as squats and deadlifts will strongly develop the abdominals muscles, it’s a good idea to occasionally perform some exercises for the obliques to correct structural imbalances caused by lifestyle or sport specific training. The muscle fibers of the obliques are arranged in a primarily diagonal alignment, not transverse to the trunk. Wood chop exercises, using high and low cables, train the obliques in two natural movement patterns called negative torsion (rotation coupled with extension) and positive torsion (rotation coupled with flexion). When performing wood chop exercises, for best results move your hips and shoulders in unison.
In the early days of the Iron Game many of these exercises were not possible due to limitations in equipment, but that’s not the case today. Give these five unique exercises a try and see what they can do for you.