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It’s bound to happen. After training every bodypart once or twice a week over the course of many months, and subsequently many years, you’re going to get a little bored with your basic exercises. Barbell and dumbbell presses, rows, squats and curls are great – and by all means, keep doing them – but at some point, you need something different that’ll not only keep your brain stimulated, but will also spark additional muscle growth. What you need from time to time are some new exercises. And since we imagine most of you have tried damn near every variation of every lift you can think of, we decided to come up with a handful of others.
Truth be told, this is the third time we’ve offered up “Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of” (the last time was a while back), but we just never get tired of trying to come up with creative moves for you – in this case, one new exercise for each major muscle group. We also never tire of helping you build more muscle. So introduce some novelty into your training with these seven ideas we’re betting you’ve never imagined.
Muscle group: Chest (specifically the upper/inner pecs)
When to do it: As the last exercise of your chest workout
Why to do it: This move is great when you can’t do low-pulley cable crossovers because the station is being hogged by some guy who can’t stare enough at his bi’s while doing high-cable curls, or if you train at home and don’t have a pulley apparatus. It will work the upper and inner pecs, which show off nicely in a V-neck shirt. Trust us, the ladies will notice.
How to do it: Grasp a stationary object (like the vertical support of a power rack or a pole) with one hand. Keep your feet near the support apparatus and straighten your arm to lean away from it at about a 45-degree angle; grasp a dumbbell in your opposite hand with that arm perpendicular to the floor. Keeping just a slight bend in your elbow, lift the weight in an arc toward your opposite shoulder. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.
Parting advice: Be sure to use a relatively light weight. Keep the reps high (in the 10-15 range) and hold for a few seconds at the top of each rep while squeezing your working-side pec.
Muscle group: Shoulders (specifically the front and middle deltoids)
When to do it: Toward the start of your delts workout, after a sufficient warm-up.
Why to do it: This version of the upright row will help you in few specific ways. First, because you’re lying down, you’re able to remove momentum from the move, forcing all the focus to the delts. This not only allows better deltoid stimulation, but if you have low back issues that prevent you from doing standard upright rows, this move is for you.
How to do it: Attach a lat bar to the cable on a seated row machine. Take a wide, pronated grip on the bar and lie down. With your feet on the foot rests, bend your knees to help unload the pressure on your low back. Keeping the bar very close to your torso, pull upward until the bar reaches shoulder level. Concentrate on bringing your elbows high. Hold at the top before slowly lowering to the start position.
Parting Advice: As you fatigue, you can allow the bar to rest on your quads, which will allow you to take your sets past failure. For instance, do these rest-pause style. Choose a weight that causes you to fail around 5-6 reps, but do only 2 or 3, resting the bar on your quads for 10-15 seconds before starting again and repeat.
Muscle group: Back (specifically the upper lats and middle traps)
When to do it: Early in your workout, after doing barbell or dumbbell rows
Why to do it: This rowing variation places maximal stretch on the lats because each arm crosses your body. It also targets the upper lats better than other one-arm rows, promoting added width. Plus, the different line of pull will hit muscle fibers you didn’t even know existed.
How to do it: Stand with your left side facing a cable station with a D-handle attached to the low-pulley cable. Lean forward so your torso is parallel to the floor and grasp the handle with your right hand. Pull the handle toward your right pec, keeping your upper arm as close to perpendicular to your body as possible, and squeeze your lats and traps at the top. Return to the start so your right arm crosses your body and the handle is near your left shoulder. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.
Parting advice: If the pulley station you’re using has a hand-rest bar, grasp it with your nonworking hand for support. Use heavy weight and low reps (6-8) to build mass.
Muscle group: Biceps (specifically the long head)
When to do it: Toward the end of your biceps workout, after doing barbell and/or dumbbell curls
Why to do it: This version of the cable curl mimics the incline dumbbell curl because your arms are behind your back. It emphasizes the long head of the biceps, which forms the biceps peak. Unlike with dumbbells, where tension diminishes at the top of the curl, this version maintains continuous tension all the way through, even at the top, to provide the most effective means of building the biceps peak.
How to do it: Stand a foot or two from a low-pulley cable station, facing awayfrom it with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and your right heel aligned with the pulley. With your right hand, grasp a D-handle with an underhand grip and allow your arm to extend behind you at about a 30-degree angle from your torso. Keeping your upper arm fixed, curl the handle toward your shoulder. Hold the contraction at the top for a count before slowly returning to the start. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.
Parting advice: If stability is a problem, try a staggered stance. Use light weight and high reps (10-15) to build quality mass and definition.
Muscle group: Triceps (specifically the lateral head)
When to do it: Late in your triceps workout after doing free-weight exercises and regular pressdowns
Why to do it: This exercise is similar to bench dips, except that it allows you an easier way to adjust the weight.
How to do it: Stand facing away from a cable pressdown station (or other overhead pulley station) with a long, straight bar attached to the high-pulley cable. Reach behind you and grasp the bar with an underhand grip at about waist level. Press the bar down behind you to full arm extension and squeeze your tri’s as hard as possible. Slowly return to the start until your elbows form about 90-degree angles and face behind you as much as possible, as opposed to at your sides. Repeat for reps.
Parting advice: If possible, have a spotter help you get the bar to the right height. If you train alone, use a piece of chain to extend the handle down. Use light weights and high reps (10-15) to build quality mass and separation, and to avoid placing too much stress on the shoulders.
Muscle group: Legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes)
When to do it: Late in your leg workout, after squats and leg presses
Why to do it: Free-weight one-leg squats provide resistance only vertically, which means the resistance isn’t placed optimally on the leg muscles at some points in the range of motion. The cable one-leg squat, on the other hand, provides continuous tension on the legs throughout the range of motion, as the cable’s line of pull mimics the motion of your body (both vertical and horizontal movement).
How to do it: Stand facing away from a low-pulley cable station with a D-handle attached. Grasp the handle with your left hand and get into the bottom position of a lunge, with your right foot forward and left foot back so your left knee is close to the floor and your right knee is bent about 90 degrees. Using your right leg, push up to a standing position. Pause briefly, then slowly lower back to the start. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.
Parting advice: Your nonworking leg should only guide the movement and help maintain your balance; make sure you do all the work with your lead leg. Use light weight and high reps (10-15) to build quality mass and separation.
Muscle group: Abs (upper abs, lower abs, obliques)
When to do it: Because this exercise is so demanding, perform it as the first, or only, move in your ab workout.
Why to do it: This variation of the crunch works all areas of the abdominals. If you’re short on time or just don’t feel like doing multiple ab moves, this exercise will provide great bang for your buck, so to speak.
How to do it: Lie faceup on the floor, feet flat, knees bent and about 4-6 inches apart. Lightly cup your hands behind your head, then follow these eight steps, holding each contraction for one second at the top and returning to the start position between steps: 1) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to just outside your left hip; 2) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the outside of your left knee; 3) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the top of your left knee; 4) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the inside of your left knee; 5) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the inside of your right knee; 6) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the top of your right knee; 7) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee; 8) Slowly crunch up to bring your left elbow to just outside your right hip. Switch sides and repeat to complete one rep.
Parting advice: Exhale forcefully at the top of each rep and hold for a second as you forcefully contract your abs. Keep the positive and negative portions of each rep very slow for maximal muscle recruitment. Don’t worry about counting reps; just take each set to failure, completing 2-3 sets per workout.
Work each of the aforementioned seven exercises into your existing bodypart-specific routines or create a novel full-body workout using only these seven moves, as follows:
|Cable One-Leg Squat||3-4||10-15|
|Leaning One-Arm Dumbbell Flye||3-4||10-15|
|Cross-Body Cable Row||3-4||6-8|
|Behind-the-Neck Rack Press||3-4||6-8|
|Behind-the-Back Cable Curl||3||10-15|
|Crunch Around the Clock||2-3||to failure|