In the weight room, it’s easy to get accustomed to the same old routine. Even in the search for variety, most guys rely on mixing around their go-to moves or substitute for some variation. But the truth is, to shock your muscles into bigger, better development and scare plateaus away, you've got to introduce your body to exercises its not used to seeing and feeling. Here are 5 you've probably never used, but should.
1. Cobra pulldowns
Why you should do it: The cobra pulldown is a great way to get your lats through a larger range of motion than a regular pulldown. Because of where the hand rests in the start position (almost directly above the head), your lats have to contract from a much more lengthened position.
How to do it: Position an incline bench slightly in front of a cable pulley. Kneel sideways on the seat and lean the side of your torso against the top, using your anchor arm to hook over the top of the bench. "Unlock" the shoulder blade of your outside, working arm. Stretch it up and grab the handle. Next, set your shoulder down and pull through your lat, remembering to keep your elbow in line with your wrist and not behind it. At the finish position, squeeze your lats. Use a 20x1 tempo. (Lower for 2 seconds, squeeze for 1 at the bottom, don't rest at the relaxed position.) This exercise doesn't require you to set the pin at the bottom of the stack for you to really feel the reps, so we recommend using high-rep sets.
2. Kettlebell preacher curl
Why you should do it: A kettlebell for biceps curls is a great idea, and when it comes to preachers, they become even more effective. Since the kettlebell is on a handle, most of the load rests below your hand. As you curl the weight, your biceps can stay fully contracted for more of the lift without becoming inactive at the top. Compare this to a regular barbell or dumbbell and you’ll notice the load has no effect on your biceps when fully curled at the top of the lift. This new shift means you're optimizing the length-tension ratio by changing the position of the actual load.
How to do it: Grasp a the cannonball end of the kettlebll in your palm (not the handle), then curl.
Expert tip: Squeeze the weight up through your pinky finger as you pull to ensure you’re using your biceps fully. Also, try to keep a slight break in your wrist in order to minimize the use of your forearms.
3. Barbell Z press
Why you should do it: A Z press is a great way to expose virtually any weakness in your minor muscle groups that can hold you back during big lifts. This simultaneously challenges the mobility of your hip flexors, the extension of your mid back, your shoulder rotation, low-back stiffness, hamstring flexibility, and abdominal strength.
How to do it: Sit on your butt with straight knees and no back support. Simply perform a standard barbell shoulder press with good technique, while maintaining proper, upright posture the entire time. This exercise can also be performed with a dumbbell (unilaterally) to double as a great stability exercise for your obliques.
4. Zercher squats
Why you should do it: The Zercher squat involves much more abdominal and lower back stimulation, without as much compressional forces on the spine due to the placement of the bar. The Front load can also promote a deeper depth, which can train you to have a better-quality back squat in the long run.
How to do it: Set up a bar in the squat cage at waist level. Position yourself so the bar is loaded right in the crook of your arms. Link your fingers and make sure your knuckles point to the ceiling. Set your feet just outside shoulder width and maintain an arch in your low back. Slowly lower yourself to the bottom position while maintaining an upright torso and keep the bar close to your body. Fire your glutes and abs hard, then return to the starting position. Don’t expect to use the same weight you back squat or front squat in this exercise. It won’t take much to hit the muscles hard.
5. Eccentric glute hamstring raises
Why you should do it: The Eccentric GHR taps into the negative strength of your hamstrings. That means a new way to pack muscle onto your wheels using only your bodyweight to do it. Since your hamstrings have so many fast-twitch muscle fibers, this technique is even more effective for strength gains.
How to do it: From a kneeling position on the floor, secure your heels (not your Achilles tendons) under anything sturdy enough to handle your weight. Make sure you’re as comfortable as you can get. Maintain a tall posture and “fall” forward. Now the catch is to slow your rate of descent as much as possible; the longer you can make it take to reach the floor, the better. Break your fall with your hands (in a pushup position) and assist yourself back up to the beginning position. Do no more than 8 reps per set; this is a tough one.
Putting these key exercises to practice can make a world of difference to your program and your results. If you’re not feeling a “challenge” from your workouts on a day to day basis, there needs to be a change. Don’t fall asleep on your progress. Do the right thing, and your body will thank you for it in the long run.