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25 Training Tweaks for a Better Workout

Simple modifications to your favorite moves can help you take your workouts up a notch so you get the results you really want.

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25 Training Tweaks for a Better Workout
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Whether you're a veteran in the weight room or still trying to figure out what each piece of equipment is really for, making some small changes to classic moves can yield big benefits. We’ve compiled tweaks for more than two dozen of your favorite exercises, from the deadlift to the dumbbell curl. Try incorporating some of these changes into your workout or making them a regular part of your routine. Either way, you’ll challenge your body in new ways to keep your muscles and your mind engaged.

1. Deadlift

If you want to shift the focus of your deadlift from your booty to your back, start each rep a little higher up. Begin by pulling the bar from power-rack supports that are set at knee level or slightly lower. This will work your lower body a little less and your back a little more.

2. Squat

At the bottom of each rep, sit briefly on a box or a bench before rising. Unlike with a standard squat, where you reverse your downward momentum to upward, begin your ascent each time from a dead stop. This works your lower body in a different manner and may help you stay more upright, placing less stress on your lower back. Box squats can also help you get to hitting a parallel position or just below on standard squats.

3. Leg extension

Point your toes in, so that your shoes touch, to focus more on your outer quads. Point your toes out to target your inner quads. If you don’t have a preference, alternate a set with toes in and a set with toes out.

4. Leg press

Use one leg at a time. Going unilateral forces you to focus more on the muscles of each thigh, and you can achieve a fuller range of motion. Since each side is lifting the load, you need to use only half as much weight to reach fatigue.

5. Front raise

Tense your glutes to lock your lower back and legs and prevent cheating. This is simply the most effective way to stay tight. Near the end of the set, you can progressively loosen the tension on your glutes to squeeze in a few more reps. Note: This technique works with most other standing exercises, including dumbbell curls, side laterals, and overhead presses.

6. Dumbbell curl

Do these as fast as possible, alternating arms, then slow down as you approach failure. Increasing speed is a technique that can be applied to many exercises but it's especially effective with isolation lifts dumbbell curls. This will better stimulate fast- twitch muscle fibers. Try preceding or following this quick exercise with a slow one, such as preacher machine curls, to focus on slow-twitch fibers as well.

7. Cardio

Alternate your treadmill or stationary bike with the StepMill or rower. The StepMill should be low-intensity, and the rowing machine should be high-intensity. Alternating intensity gives you a superior fat burn. And switching things up adds variety, which helps keep you alert and stresses different muscles. When the gym is not crowded, do a circuit through four or more different machines for only a few minutes at a time.

8. Elliptical

Most elliptical machines let you move backward, but all too often we stick with the forward-motion pattern. Going through the motions in reverse better works your hamstrings and glutes. Try alternating both a backward and forward pattern on elliptical days.

9. Barbell curl

Do only the top halves of reps, going from halfway to contraction. This is when the biceps are most activated. Performing seated barbell curls (so each rep begins with the bar hitting your thighs) will make certain you do only upper-half reps.

10. Calf raise

Pause for four seconds at the top of every rep, and contract your calves as hard as possible. Most people never give their lower legs—which are used to low-intensity, high-rep work (like walking!)—the stimulation they need.

11. Leg curl

Throughout every set, flex your toes (as if standing on your tiptoes). This puts your calves in a weakened position by keeping them tensed and, in turn, forces your hamstrings to work harder.

12. Dumbbell shoulder press

Instead of doing standard presses, with your palms facing out, try doing Arnold presses to recruit all three heads of the deltoids. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing body. Extend your arms, rotating palms forward as you press weights overhead. Slowly reverse the motion back to start.

13. Crunch

Hold your arms up as if reaching for the ceiling and slightly forward throughout each rep. Most people put their hands behind their heads, but crunches are already easy enough without tugging to help you get up. By reaching up, you not only stop tugging but also use the weight of your arms as resistance. To make it even harder, hold up a medicine ball or a weight plate.

14. Rope pushdown

At each peak contraction, separate the rope ends as far as possible with your palms facing down. This better targets the lateral heads of the triceps. It also makes you switch from a parallel grip throughout much of the movement to a palms-down grip at contractions, effectively giving you two pushdowns in one. You may need to lighten the weight from your usual load to maximally separate the rope ends at peak contraction.

15. Lying triceps extension

Performing these on an incline bench allows the bar to clear your head, giving you a fuller range of motion.

16. Pulldown

Pull the bar down as fast as you can, then resist its ascent, taking five seconds to return to the starting position. Altering pace can be applied to many exercises. A training partner can also easily apply extra pressure to the bar during the negative reps.

17. Hack squat

Keep your feet under your hips, as if squatting on the floor. Most of us keep our feet forward, which shortens the distance we need to get our thighs parallel to the platform. To target your quads and put them through a greater range of motion, keep your feet under you.

18. Upright row

Hold dumbbells with palms facing your sides, and raise your elbows as high as possible. This better targets your medial deltoids, and it also puts less strain on your wrists. Use a weight you can properly handle, and focus on raising the elbows up and out as you bend your arms.

19. Bench press

Follow each full rep with a half-rep, going only halfway up. The bottom halves of bench press reps work the pecs more than the tops, so doing one-and-a-halves places a greater emphasis on the pecs but also lets you stress your upper body through a full range of motion.

20. Seated wrist curl

Let the bar roll down your palms and into the cradle of your fingers at the start of each rep, then curl it back up into your palm before lifting your entire hand up. This strengthens your grip. Expanding the short wrist curl movement won’t rob much strength from the rest of the lift, so you should do at least some of your wrist curls with these additional “hand curls.”

21. Preacher curl

Use chains. Doing so adds resistance to the top half of the movement, where it is otherwise lost as gravity’s pull lessens. Or just perform preacher curls on a machine with a vertical weight stack, which provides consistent resistance throughout each rep.

22. Overhead barbell press

Take an underhand or a neutral grip. Pressing with your elbows in front of your body instead of flared out to your sides better isolates your front deltoids.

23. Machine crunch

Follow two fast reps with one slow rep. This forces you to stay focused instead of going through a set on autopilot, so it’s especially effective for short-range, high-rep exercises like machine crunches.

24. Rear lateral raise

Keep your arms straight. Technically, this is a reminder for proper form, but bending your arms will let you use more of your back to move the weight, taking the tension off your delts. With that said, you can bend your arms as the set progresses to eke out a few extra reps.

25. Pushup

Explosively push your hands off the floor with each rep, then catch yourself and return immediately to the floor. This plyometric element is a great way of adding a degree of difficulty to a simple exercise.

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