What you’ve done to build muscle in the past won’t necessarily keep working in the future. Of course basic lifts like the squat, bench press, and pullup will always have a place in your workouts, but adding a few new lifts to your repertoire can open up a world of new gains, reduce your risk for injury, and allow you to train hard when heavy weights or more conventional exercises just aren’t an option. You’re about to discover my seven favorite exercises for fast results.
How to do it: Sit on an adjustable bench with the back raised holding a dumbbell in each hand. Perform a lateral raise, bringing the weights out 90 degrees to your sides. From there, move your arms straight out in front of you. Now raise them overhead. From here, reverse the order of motions: Lower the weights back down in front of you, out to the sides, and then back down to your sides.
Benefits: This lift, which I learned from national-level bodybuilder (and Men’s Fitness contributor) John Meadows, allows you to work the deltoids completely and with a very light weight
Prescription: Aim for two to three sets of 8–12 reps
When to do it: First in your workout, before squats or deadlifts
How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor and rest your heels on Valslides (valslide.com), furniture sliders, or paper plates—any disc that can slide easily along the floor. Brace your abs and drive your heels into the floor so your hips come up into the air. From there, bend your knees as in a machine leg curl and draw the sliders toward your butt. Keep your hips elevated.
Benefits: Sliding leg curls are low-impact and warm up your whole lower body. They’re especially good for strengthening the hamstrings, which are weak on nearly every lifter. Every lower-body workout in my Truth About Strength Training book features the sliding leg curl.
Prescription: Go for three to four sets of as many reps as you can
When to do it: After bench presses, or mid-way through your chest workout
How to do it: Suspend your body over parallel bars and, keeping your elbows locked, allow your shoulder blades to come together as you lower your body closer to the floor. You’ll feel a slight stretch in your pecs. Now spread your shoulders and push your body upward again. The movement is slight, but you’ll feel your pecs working.
Benefits: This kind of dip works the pec minor, the smaller pec muscle that lies under the pec major. You can’t target it well with conventional chest exercises, but it contributes significantly to the overall size and shape of your chest.
Prescription: Do three to four sets of 8–12 reps after you’ve completed any bench pressing. Try stretching your pecs between sets to encourage even more blood flow to the area.
When to do it: At the end of an upper-body workout or first in an arm workout
How to do it: Hold a dumbbell in one hand in front of your body and turn your palm to face you (so your thumb is facing the midline of your body). Curl the weight up as in a normal hammer curl, but now it’s arcing in front of and across your body.
Benefits: This curl variation specifically targets the brachialis, a cylinder-shaped muscle that lies in between your biceps and triceps. When it gets bigger, it makes the whole arm look wider and thicker.
Body part worked: Abs, coreWhen to do it: First in your workout if your core is weak; last in your workout if your goal is maximum strengthHow to do it: Get into a plank position with your forearms on the floor and your feet on Valslides (valslide.com), furniture sliders, or even a towel (if you’re on a waxed, wooden floor). Brace your abs and push your arms into the floor so that you slide backward a few inches—until you feel your body is about to lose tension. Then pull yourself forward again. Each rep looks like a sawing motion.Benefits: The bodysaw works the entire core and is safer for your lower back than any situp or crunch variationPrescription: Three sets of as many reps as possible10 Reasons You're Not Building Muscle >>>
High-Cable Rope Row
Body part worked: lats, mid back
When to do it: Near the end of your back workout or upper-body day
How to do it: Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station and grasp an end in each hand. Stand back and bend your hips back (keep your lower back arched) until your arms are extended over your head. Your weight should be back on your heels to counterbalance you and you should feel a stretch in your lats. Pull the rope toward your belly and allow your torso to come up a bit as you row. You’ll finish with the handle at your sternum.
Benefits: The combination of a pulldown and rowing movement works the back in two planes of motion. It also gives you a good stretch in the lats, which are typically tight from sitting in front of a computer. If you can’t do chinups and you’re bored of lat pulldowns (which I often am), high-cable rope rows are a good alternative.
Prescription: Three sets of 10–15 reps
For a 12-week workout program that includes all these exercises and more, pick up The Truth About Strength Training by Men’s Fitness training director Sean Hyson. It’s on sale this week at truthaboutstrengthtraining.com