Ego-lifters beware! These are not show-off lifts. You likely won’t lift massive amounts of weight on any of these exercises. However, while the weight lifted may not be all that impressive, the gains you make from incorporating these movements into your routine certainly will be. These movements will challenge you, while effectively working your entire body. Please note that the exercises listed below are not a singular, complete workout. Rather, they are individual components that can be added to your existing workout routine.
Number 5: Face Pulls
Why you should be doing them: It is said that bodybuilding contests are won and lost from the rear. Many bodybuilders prefer to focus on chest, shoulders, biceps, and the front of their bodies, neglecting their back. This is a problem that translates to most lifters overall. Rear deltoids (the back of the shoulder) are a lacking area for a lot of people. Face pulls are perfect for isolating them, providing a more isolated alternative to the classic rear delt flye.
How to do them: To perform a face pull, set up a cable machine with a rope attachment. Raise the pulley to about shoulder level, with some preferring to go one notch higher or lower. Each position will emphasize different muscle fibers. Grasp the rope with your thumbs facing up, and back up so that the weight will not slam when your arms are fully extended. Set yourself in a solid base and pull the rope above your forehead. It is similar to a row, however you really want to keep your shoulders back and pull the rope up. Otherwise, you will allow your back or traps to get involved taking the stress off of the rear delt.
Number 4: Preacher Curls
Why you should be doing them: Preacher curls are actually done by a decent amount of people, however, they are still significantly underutilized. Preacher curls are essential for building the peak of the biceps. They provide a unique opportunity to curl a decent amount of weight, while still isolating the peak of the muscle. The preacher bench prevents any subconscious cheating or swinging that may occur, forcing you to keep good form.
How to do them: To perform a preacher curl, sit on a preacher bench, setting your elbows on the pad. Grasp the weight (typically a barbell or an EZ bar) with a neutral grip, and dig your elbows into the pad. Curl the weight up, really squeezing the bicep. On the way down, lower the weight as much as possible without locking out your elbow. Repeat for reps! Remember, this is not an exercise that requires a lot of weight. It is an isolation movement that outs the full weight of the load on your bicep, so you will do significantly less than you would on a standard barbell curl.
Tips and twists: Different grips will emphasize different heads of the biceps. For example, a slightly wider grip will emphasize the short (inner) head of the bicep, while a closer grip will emphasize the long (outer) bicep head. For some extra isolation, preacher curls can be performed with a single arm, using a dumbbell instead. For some extra involvement of the long biceps head, twist your pinky finger upwards as you curl. If the preacher bench is taken in your gym, or you are simply looking to change it up try using an incline bench. Set it to a relatively high slope and stand behind it grasping a dumbbell in one arm. Dig your elbow into the bench and curl away!
Number 3: Farmer’s Carry
Why you should be doing them: Farmer’s carries are one of the best exercises for full-body muscular development. They simultaneously work your grip strength, core, traps, legs, calves, and entire posterior chain (the back side of your body) all at once. Grip strength can be a huge issue for many athletes, including myself, wishing to break plateaus on dead lifts, as well as most other pulling movements. How many times have you been hitting a set of curls or rows when your grip simply gives out? Your back and biceps were hanging in there fine, but you can’t continue to push them because of your weak grip. Farmer’s carries are a great solution to issues with grip strength. Carries will also brutalize your core, working it harder than sit-ups and crunches ever could. Your core will be working in overdrive throughout this entire exercise, constantly having to stay tight. This long time under tension (TUT) will stimulate your muscle into growth in size, shape, and strength. Your traps will remain tight in the same manner, with the increased TUT working them hard. Your legs and calves will also be dying after this exercise. Remember those long walks to school as a kid? Your legs were probably killing you from dragging that heavy backpack all the way there! This is a lot like that, except the backpack is now a heavy set of weights and you’re up for the challenge. This tension all over your body will keep your entire posterior chain tight, strengthening your lower back a well.
How to do them: Simply pick up some weights and walk. I’m serious! Farmers carries are as simple as picking up a pair of weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells), keeping your core tight, and walking! Distance and weight will vary depending on your own personal fitness level as well as your goals.
Tips and Twists: There are many variations of farmer’s carries that can be added to your repertoire. One such twist that is essential for abdominal and oblique development is the suitcase carry. To perform this exercise simply grab a heavy weight in one hand and walk forwards while trying to keep upright. Keep your core tight and don’t slouch or lean! If you want to really challenge your legs, traps, and core with this exercise but your grip is limiting you, try using a pair of lifting straps! This way, you can challenge yourself to the fullest. Of course, grip strength is important too, so try to incorporate another grip exercise as well.
Number 2: Lunges
Why you should be doing them: Many of us avoid lunges for one simple reason: they hurt. However, this pain isn’t one that will cause injury, it’s just a little bit of discomfort caused by the stress being placed on the muscles. This is good! It will lead to muscle growth and development. Lunges will cause a burn in your quads, hamstrings, and calves like no other, but it will be worth it I promise. Lunges will brutalize your legs in ways that other exercises simply cannot do.
How to do them: Lunges can be performed with a barbell across your back, or while holding a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells. Take a step forwards with one leg and lower your back knee to the ground. Some people prefer to touch their knee while other stop just above the ground. Regardless, NEVER REST YOU KNEE ON THE GROUND. You want to keep tension on the muscles as long as possible. Then bring your rear leg up, and repeat for reps.
Tips and Twists: Some people prefer to do their lunges walking, while other do them in place. If space constraints are an issue in your gym, lunges in place may be a superior option. If you are looking for a change, try reverse lunges. For reverse lunges, you simply step back and lower your rear knee to the ground. Then return to the starting position and repeat for reps.
Number 1: Front Squats
Why you should be doing them: Front squats are one of the most important, yet underused exercises for quad, calve, and abdominal development. Yes, you read that right, this exercise works your abs too. Front squats are great for quad development because they truly isolate your quads far more than regular squats ever could. Almost all of the weight rests on your quads, causing them to work extra hard. Your calves will take quite the beating as well, pushing hard from the bottom of the lift. Your abs must remain tight throughout the exercise. With that much weight on the front side of your body, your abs will work hard to keep you stable and upright. Front squats will work your quads, calves and core like no other, but keep in mind that you will likely use significantly less weight than you will on normal barbell squats due to the increased load on your quads.
How to do them: A front squat is typically performed with grip A (as seen above), however, this can be very hard on your wrists. Until you are accustomed to the exercise, it will probably hurt your wrists. If this is the case, try using grip B! I typically use grip B, but am slowly working towards grip A. Remember, either way the same amount of stress is put on your quads. The grip for this exercise is largely just preference. Once you are holding the bar, un-rack it and squat away. Be sure to keep as upright as possible, keeping your abs tight. Note that keeping the weight balanced on your shoulders can be difficult to get used to, but it is essential to the lift. You are NOT carrying the bar with your hands, or balancing it on your neck. Your hands are simply there to keep the bar in place, on your shoulders.
Thanks for reading, and please try out some of these lifts for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading,