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It’s common to see the big bang for your buck exercises performed at the gym—you know, bench presses, squats, deadlifts and more bench presses—but to ensure long-term success and consistent training, you have to mix it up with some uncommon moves.
To help you reach your goals of increasing your strength and putting on size, address potential problems that arise from living a sedentary lifestyle by adding these not-so-common exercises to your program*:
*Note: Add these exercises into your warm-up or place them in between exercises while you’re “resting” (it’s called active rest). Perform the recommended number of reps/sets.
The Bretzelle, named after its creator, RKC instructor and trainer Brett Jones, combats the sitting posture by working on thoracic spine mobility and hip flexor range of motion.
How to Do It: Lay on your left side. Flex your right hip and bring your top knee toward your chest. Grab and hold your thigh with your left hand. Bend your left knee and bring your foot toward your butt. Grab your left ankle with your right hand. Bring your top knee closer to your chest and move your bottom knee further behind you while bringing your ankle as close to your butt as possible (to stretch your quadriceps). Hold your top leg tightly and keep your top knee close to the ground. Turn your top shoulder toward the floor rotating as much as possible in your upper back while not moving your pelvis.
Hold this pose for 5-seconds. Return to the side lying position and repeat. Perform 8-12 per side for 3-5 sets in every workout (you can’t do this exercise enough!).
A rounded upper back also wreaks havoc on your shoulder range of motion. Try this: round your back as much as you can. Now, try to raise your arm over your head—it just doesn’t go up there! To obtain the “full” range of motion, it’s very common to lean backward—this gives the illusion of a full range of motion overhead press. This compresses your lower spine and can result in an injury down the road. As strength and conditioning coach Tony Gentilcore says, you need to earn the right to overhead press.
Also, with the rounded upper back posture, the upper back muscles (scapular retractors and stabilizers) are lengthened. This can result in what’s known as stretch-weakness, which results in muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns.
The Wall Slide is a great exercise to address these issues. It challenges your ability to extend your thoracic spine, while bringing your shoulders backward into a more anatomically correct position. It also works on dynamic shoulder flexibility while strengthening your rotator cuff and scapular rotators and stabilizers.
How to Do It: Lean back onto a wall with your hips and shoulders touching. It’s common for your lower back to arch during this exercise, which rotates your pelvis forward. If your pelvis was a bucket of water, ensure no water spills out of the front or back by leveling your pelvis. The arch in your lower back should be small, just enough to pass a flat hand through. Brace your abs to maintain this posture. Place your arms on the wall alongside your head with your palms out. Press your arms into the wall and slide them up and down. Your arms should not lift off the wall during the exercise. Keep your abs braced throughout the exercise and keep your hips on the wall at all times. Perform 15 controlled reps for 3-5 sets.
The Dynamic Blackburn is another great exercise to work on shoulder range of motion and scapular rotator and stabilizer strength. This is a great variation to perform on alternating days to the Wall Slide.
How to Do It: Lay over an exercise ball on your stomach with your toes touching the ground and roughly a 90-degree angle at your hips. Dig your knees into the ball, pinching the ball in between your thighs and stomach. This activates the hip flexors and helps stabilizes your spine. Tuck in your chin and bring your hands behind you, just above your hips with your palms facing outward, as if you were about to get handcuffed. Bring your shoulders downward toward your hips and slightly squeeze them together. Now, bring your arms out to your side and rotate to a thumb-up position as you pass shoulder level. Continue bringing your arms upward until you have formed the letter Y. Hold for 3 seconds and reverse the sequence. Perform 8-12 reps for 3-5 sets.
Your glutes can also be affected by sitting too much. Known as gluteal amnesia, they tend to become weak and dormant. Do this uncommon exercise in your lower body workout to specifically strengthen the junk in your trunk.
How to Do It: Sit in front of an exercise bench with one foot on the floor close to your butt. Dig your upper back into the side of the exercise bench. Drive your foot through the floor to lift your hips upward. Your upper back should pivot onto the bench as your body forms a tabletop. Hold this high bridge for 5-seconds. Lower your hips back down and pivot your back on the edge of the bench again. Perform 8-10 reps per side for 3-5 sets.
As stated earlier, with the constant sitting posture, the hip flexors and quadriceps can tighten up. The rear foot elevated EQI Hip Flexor Stretch with Overhead Reach address this hip tightness but also challenges active thoracic spine extension and shoulder range of motion. It’s a difficult stretch, but if you can tough it out, it will be worth it in the end.
How to Do It: Stand a lunge length away from an exercise bench. Place the top of your shoe on the edge of the bench. Reach your arms overhead and brace your abs to keep a neutral spine (don’t lean back!). Lower yourself into a lunge, achieving a 90-degree angle at your front knee. Keep your arms overhead and abs braced. Breath throughout the stretch and hold this position for 60-seconds (seriously; see I told you it was difficult!). As you fatigue, your body will slowly sink closer to the ground. It’s imperative to keep your form as you fatigue. The stretch will become greater as you sink lower toward the ground. Your rear knee should not touch the ground at all during this exercise. Perform 3 times per leg every lower body workout.