50 Impossible Exercises You Can’t Do
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Sometimes it’s fun to do the impossible. This mantra is particularly true of physical accomplishments that either require tremendous strength, stability, motor control, balance, focus, or all the above.
Over the years I’ve posted some pretty crazy exercises many of which are quite challenging and can only be performed once you’ve truly learned to master your body mechanics. With that said here are 50 brutally tough exercises you’ve likely never done and probably can’t.
Note: Many of these exercises aren’t movements that need to be included in one’s routine on a consistent basis. Most of them represent unique challenges that also happen to expose a variety of weaknesses, compensation patterns, imbalances, energy leaks, and dysfunctional movement patterns. With that said, most of these exercises have a variety of benefits that when periodically implemented into one’s routine can actually help correct and address these aforementioned issues. However, focusing on mastering the basics particularly with eccentric isometrics is the true key to successfully completing these movements. Once you’re capable of crushing each of these challenges it’s safe to assume you’ve mastered your body mechanics.
The Hardest Chest Press You Can’t Do: Bottoms Up Chest Press with Plates & Eccentric Isometrics
The very first article I ever published on T-Nation 5 years ago discussed the benefits of using plates for bottoms up exercises. Read more in full article here . Since that time I’ve had an incredible amount of feedback from advanced lifters across the globe telling me just how tricky these movements are and how even after months of practicing they still struggle with them. Men should be capable of hitting 45’s for several perfectly dialed in eccentric isometrics just as I show here and ladies should be able to crush 35’s. The leg raise is optional but definitely increases the demands to the entire body particularly the core and abs.
Just remember it’s not the weight that makes these so difficult but the height of the plates that progressively increases as you move up in weight. Simply put, 35’s are exponentially harder than 25’s and 45’s are exponentially more challenging than 35’s. And just in case you were wondering yes, you’ll need to clean them and squat down to the bench unless of course you want to cheat your way through by having a spotter hand them to you.
The Hardest Plank You’ve Never Tried
Including a variety of core exercise into your routine that address both anti-extension and anti-rotation forces is critical not only for maximizing your core and abdominal strength but also your functionality and joint health. I consistently like to include single arm variations of planks as well as single leg planks as these emphasize the anti-rotation component. Once the athlete becomes more advanced I’ll also include quadruped planks and bird dog planks where the athletes supports themselves on the opposite arm and leg.
In addition, I periodically incorporate the stability ball into planks to emphasize motor control, balance, and core stability. With that said if you’re looking for an insanely difficult core exercise, look no further than this brutally challenging quadruped ball plank as demonstrated by two of my awesome clients Leslie Petch and Ben Lai.
If you have a weakness in any portion of your body from head to toe or simply lack motor control, proper postural alignment, or harbor any significant level of muscle dysfunction these will truly be impossible. In addition, most athletes will find they have one side that’s more dialed in than the other further highlighting the need to assess and analyze where the activation deficit is coming from. Besides acting as a great diagnostic tool that exposes a variety of issues, these absolutely crush the entire core and lumbopelvic hip complex not to mention the shoulder stabilizers and foot and ankle complex. If you can dial these in for several consecutive repetitions of 5-10 second holds on each rep, it’s safe to say that you’ve achieved a level of muscle function and core stability that few individuals have ever attained.
Single Leg Swings
The single leg swing is not only one of the most effective drills for exposing and correcting a number of lower body issues but it also represents one of the most challenging movements you’ll ever attempt.
Besides targeting strength, mobility, stability, balance, motor control, posture, breathing, power, symmetrical loading, and coordination throughout the entire body, the feet and ankles will be required to function optimally. In fact, any pronation, supination, or general weakness in the foot and ankle complex will result in the lifter immediately losing his or her balance.
Impossible Chest Press
I’m not exaggerating when I say this, the plank row chest press is not only the most challenging chest press I’ve ever performed it’s also one of the most difficult exercises I’ve ever attempted period. It’s for this reason I nicknamed it the “Impossible Chest Press” as the level of brutality is through the roof. Furthermore this represents the epitome of full body activation.
When combined with a bottoms up protocol these also target just about every biomotor capability in existence including full body stability, motor control, postural alignment, mobility, symmetry, rotary stability, lumbopelvic hip control, foot and ankle activation, shoulder stabilization, core activation, and t-spine mobility. Read more about the details and technique cues for this movement here.
The Impossible Renegade Row: Bird Dog Foam Roller Renegade Row
If you’re looking for the ultimate core challenge that also happens to tax the daylights out of your shoulder stabilizers and lumbopelvic hip complex, this bird dog renegade row with one foot on a foam roller is brutally diffiuclt.
Just make sure you’ve mastered the basic renegade row using my Complete Renegade Row Guide before attempting these.
Single Arm Barbell Snatch
Looking for an Olympic lifting challenge. Try the single arm barbell snatch with at least 1/3 of your bodyweight as one of my awesome NFL athletes Vantrell McMillan shows here with 115 lbs. Although it’s not something I use on a frequent basis, periodically programming unstable variations of Olympic lifts as well as other power movements such as single arm as well as single leg variations helps expose and address energy leaks, instability, lack of motor control, and areas of dysfunction you might not find otherwise.
Once you return to more traditional Olympic lifts and power drills this can transfer to enhanced stability, motor control, and improved lifting mechanics. As a rule of thumb, if you’re technically sound on your Olympic lifts as well as have a solid foundation of movement and body mechanics, you should be able to handle 50% of the weight you typically handle for hang snatches. If the number is substantially less, you may need to improve your hip mechanics, shoulder stability, core strength, body alignment, and proprioception.
Single Leg Stability Ball Hand Clap Pushup
Ready for a brutal explosive upper body challenge? Try this single leg stability ball hand clap pushup as so perfectly demonstrated by my awesome bodybuilding athlete Ben Lai. I also recommend performing these in a slight deconstructed fashion as Ben shows in the video rather than in a continuous fashion. That’s because this allows the athlete to break the movement down by honing in on their mechanics & maximizing their motor control. Yes performing these in a deconstructed fashion (with various pauses) requires more effort and overall physical exertion however it actually serves to lock the athlete in and improve their stability. In fact, you might find it impossible to perform this advanced drill unless you perform it exactly in this fashion.
Besides representing an advanced full body exercise that both exposes and addresses power, strength, stability, foot & ankle mechanics, core strength, symmetry, body alignment, and overall movement mechanics, this is also one of the more challenging drills you’ll ever perform. Additionally it provides almost immediate feedback about how symmetrical your upper body pressing mechanics are. If you have a tendency to favor one side more than the other or have a weakness on either side of your core and lumbopelvic hip complex you’ll find it impossible to successfully complete these.
Now, many of you likely won’t be able to perform this drill from the get-go and will require other regressions. With that said here’s a great regression/progression scheme for hand-clap pushups. Hand clap pushups with hands on bench (eventually progressing to single leg) - hand clap pushups on floor - single leg hand claps on floor - feet elevated on bench - feet on stability ball hand clap pushups - single leg on stability hand clap pushups (shown in this video) - then eventually no arms and no legs hand clap pushups.
Single Arm Planking Renegade Row on Stability Ball
As if single arm planks with your forearm on a stability ball aren’t tough enough, this renegade row variation with your feet elevated as shown by my awesome client Leslie Petch is about as difficult as it gets.
Performing renegade rows on the stability ball not only requires incredibly smooth mechanics and precise rowing technique but it also crushes the core musculature more so than most ab exercises you’ll ever attempt. The level of motor control, full body stability, and intramuscular tension from head to toe is difficult to replicate with any other variation.
The forearm version targets the core and abdominals slightly more whereas the hand version targets the shoulder stabilizers to a greater extent. However both are incredibly challenging.
The Blindfold Lunge Test with 100% Bodyweight
If you’re looking for what may be the gold standard for determining whether or not you’ve mastered your lower body mechanics including, strength, balance, mobility, stability, symmetry, and motor control, the eyes closed/blindfold lunge test is it.
Eventually you should be capable of performing at least 100% of your bodyweight during eyes closed lunges (a 200 pound individual would use100 pound dumbbells or 200 pound barbell). In addition these should be done under barefoot or minimalist conditions while simultaneously pausing at the bottom (1-3 inches from the floor) in an eccentric isometric fashion. Learn more about mastering your lunge mechanics here.
The Impossible Ab Rollout
Here I have MLB pro baseball athlete Austin Meadows performing what may be one of the most difficult core exercises in existence, the single arm barbell quadruped plank ab rollout also known as the impossible ab rollout. Austin rarely struggles with any exercise but this definitely gave him a run for his money. This is essentially a mini rollout as it’s literally impossible to perform this with more than 6 inches of ROM.
Additionally it’s an anti-extension and rotary stability exercise combined into a brutal & unstable single arm plank. With that said the level of core and ab activation as well as recruitment from literally every muscle in the body from head to toe is insane. If there’s a weak link anywhere in the body including shoulder instability, asymmetry, lumbopelvic hip control, posture alignment, etc. this exercise will definitely expose it. See 50 other crazy ab rollout variations here.
The Impossible Glute Bridge
I nicknamed this exercise the “impossible glute bridge” as it is without a doubt the single most difficult glute bridge variation you’ll ever attempt. If the individual has even the slightest misalignment anywhere in the spine, hips, knees, ankles, and or feet, the foam roller will roll out laterally.
Not until the lifter perfectly centrates and aligns every joint segment in their lower body, as my awesome athlete Ben Lai does, will this movement become feasible. This also ensures activation of smaller stabilizers around the hips and shins that are normally neglected. Learn more about fixing your glute bridge and hip thrusts here.
The Ultimate Pushups Challenge
Looking for the ultimate pushup challenge? Try this single leg eccentric isometric stability ball pushup with hands on small kettlebells (10 lbs) as shown here by my awesome client & national level figure competitor Leslie Petch.
Besides annihilating the chest, triceps, shoulders, core, and musculature of the lumbopelvic hip complex, these also help expose and address any weak link throughout the kinetic chain (including the feet and ankles). In fact, if there is any weakness, area of dysfunction, postural misalignment, or movement aberration, these will be impossible to perform. Learn more about proper pushup mechanics here.
Trap Bar Dips
Dips are one of the best functional strength and mass builders for the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Unfortunately, most individuals perform them incorrectly and end up doing more harm to their shoulders joints, neck, pectoral tendons, and elbows than anything else. However, by performing dips on the trap bar, the lifter is literally required to hone in their mechanics and perform them with near perfect technique.
Besides being the most challenging dip variations you’ll ever attempt, here are 5 reasons why performing dips on the trap bar are so effective. Read more here.
If the 3 previous trap bar dip variations weren’t difficult enough for you, these chaos variations are sure to fit the bill.
Single Leg Stability Ball Launching Pushup
When it comes to force production and force absorption, most athletes have difficulty maintaining proper body alignment and joint stability.
The single leg stability ball launching pushup shown by NFL athlete Julian Williams represents the ultimate diagnostic tool for examining whether or not you’re producing and absorbing force in an efficient manner particularly as it relates to the upper body, core, and lumbopelvic hip complex.
Stride Simulated Lunge Jumps on Stability Ball
While the drill performed by NFL athlete Bryce Canady may not look too difficult this may be one of the most deceptively challenging lower body explosive movements in existence.
Additionally it’s a great drill for improving your stride mechanics & sprinting form while simultaneously learning how to harness your power not to mention your jumping and landing mechanics. Learn more about mastering your jumping and landing mechanics here.
Impossible Side Windmill Planks
The side windmill plank is one of the best core and full body stabilization drills in existence. If you’re looking for 6 brutally challenging variations, you’ll want to give these a go.
Learn more about mastering your side windmill planks including regressions, progressions, form cues, and protocols here.
The Ultimate Test of Stability & Muscle Function
I’m always a bit hesitant to ever suggest there’s such a thing as the ultimate test for physical performance, however this single leg bottoms up chest press on a stability ball may be as close as it gets.
Literally if there is any weak link, asymmetry, misalignment, postural deviation, shoulder instability, core weakness, foot and ankle dysfunction, lumbopelvic hip issues, or energy leaks anywhere throughout the kinetic chain, these won’t happen. The eccentric isometric protocol further helps expose weakness as the pause requires the lifter to lock in every muscle from head to toe. Men should be able to use 30 lb kettlebells as I show here and women should be able to use 20’s.
Hanging Band Trap Bar Protocol
The hanging band protocol is one of my favorite training techniques as it requires unbelievably strict body mechanics and truly epitomizes what it takes to master your form and movement.
When applied to the trap bar the level of difficulty is exponentially more challenging as demonstrated in these variations. Learn more here.
Nordic Hamstring Curl
When it comes to assessing overall strength throughout the posterior chain, few exercises are as demanding and revealing as the non-assisted Nordic hamstring curl as my NFL athlete Marquell Beckwith shows here.
Start off with eccentric only variations then gradually progress by seeing if you can perform both the eccentric and concentric without any assistance.
Most intermediate and advanced athletes can perform pullups. However, very few can perform them correctly.
Fortunately these 4 chaos pullups represent the ultimate equalizer for determining whether or not you’re using excessive momentum, kipping, or form deviations as they expose just about any technique aberration and dysfunction you may have particularly in the upper body and core. Read more about chaos pullups here.
Squatting Chest Press
This is another one that might not look exceptionally difficult however these are inordinately brutal and challenging. I assure you that literally every muscle from head to toe will be firing with near maximal effort to lock these in. In fact, after each set not only will you likely be seeing pink elephants but you probably will have a difficult time determining whether your chest, core, or quads are more exhausted.
Think of this as a total body pressing exercise that also happens to work the upper body pressing musculature. And yes, similar to all the variations previously shown, the eccentric isometric represents the ultimate test not to mention the best method for cleaning up your mechanics. Read more about unique cable chest presses here.
Eyes Closed Overhead BOSU Ball Squat
Before your write the BOSU ball off as a fitness gimmick, it’s one of the best foot and ankle training devices in existence. With that said if you’re looking for a full body test of motor control and balance that also taxes the daylights out of the foot and ankle complex, look no further than this eyes closed squat.
This may be the single most difficult squat variation you’ve ever tried. Learn more about foot and ankle training here.
Wall Renegade Row
The wall renegade row truly takes renegade rows and all core exercises to a whole new level as the level of physical strength, core stability, and mental focus required to successfully complete these is almost inhuman.
The Most Frustrating Plank Ever
Here’s one of my NFL athletes Jerel Worthy demonstrating a core exercise that is exponentially more challenging than it looks and may be the single most frustrating plank in existence.
The longitudinal trap bar protocol is one of my favorite methods that I use on a number of exercises including deadlifts, squats, rows, chest presses, pullups, inverted rows, lunges, RDL’s, overhead presses, dips, pushups, jumps and more. When applied to single leg planks not only are you addressing anti-rotation and rotary stability but you’re also working on elements of symmetrical loading. As an added bonus it requires unbelievably high levels of foot and ankle stabilization and proper alignment as even the slightest deviation in the lower extremity will make it nearly impossible to stabilize the movement. Read more about the longitudinal trap bar method here.
The Most Challenging Bench Press Ever
Over the years I’ve highlighted a variety of unique training methods. It’s important to note that these should never take the place of the basic foundational movements. However, periodically incorporating some of these unique methods can help improve motor control and wake up new muscle fibers. With that said you can also combine many of the variations I’ve recently laid out to further increase the difficulty and create a novel training stimulus. Here’s an example of an advanced bench press variation I’m performing that incorporates 6 of my favorite training methods. This includes, 1) eccentric isometric protocol, 2) trap bar press, 3) hanging band technique, 4) reverse grip/bottoms up, 5) hollow body leg raise, and 6) head off positioning.
Chaos Renegade Rows
Renegade rows are some of the most brutally demanding full body movements. When combined with the chaos band method the level of difficulty goes through the roof as the lifter is required to use incredibly strict form and dial in every muscle from head to toe.
The Ultimate Overhead Press Test
Looking for a method to test your overhead pressing mechanics and see whether or not you’re as dialed in as you think? Try this single leg overhead bottoms up press with bumper plates as even the slightest deviation in form and activation patterns anywhere up the kinetic chain will make it impossible to successfully complete these.
The Most Intense Squat You’ve Never Done
Although initially something I developed as a diagnostic tool to test and assess squat mechanics, the no hands barbell squat actually has multiple benefits when periodically implemented into one’s training routine. Read more here.
The Most Brutal Chest Press Ever
While this particular chest press may not be quite as “impossible” as some of the other movements shown in this article, they’re brutally difficult and intense as the level of intramuscular tension and effort required to complete these is unusually high.
Single Leg Squat with Hanging Band Technique
While the single leg squat isn’t necessarily an “impossible” exercise when combined with the hanging band technique it definitely fits the criteria as the level of mental focus and full body motor control needed to dial these in is exceptional to say the least. Read more about the hanging band technique here.
Javelin Chest Press with Hollow Body Leg Raise
The hollow body chest press when performed in a unilateral pressing fashion requires incredible amounts of core strength to resist rotation. Add in the javelin chest press protocol as I have NFL athlete Jarius Wynn doing here and you’ve got yourself one of the most brutal chest presses there is.
Single Leg Glute Ham Raise Rows
Looking for that ultimate test of posterior chain strength? Look no further than this single leg glute ham raise row.
And yes these are as brutal as they look. Read more about mastering your rows here.
Chaos Copenhagen Plank
The Copenhagen plank is an incredible core exercise that also taxes the adductors and inner thighs.
When combined with the chaos band method it’s also one of the most challenging core drills there is. Learn more about the Copenhagen Plank here.
The Impossible Plank
I know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t look so tough right??? Not so fast!
This is perhaps the single most challenging plank exercise I’ve ever tried. Although the forearm version demonstrated by Leslie is a bit more feasible, whichever variation you chose, you’ll be in for a rude awakening as these requires the lifter to dial in every muscle in their body from head to toe and focus their mind like a Samurai warrior.
Chinese Plank Chaos Chest Press
The Chinese plank chest press is one of my go-to variations for improving posture during horizontal pressing mechanics.
When combined with the chaos method particularly the single leg variation, the effects are quite incredible as the level of difficulty is through the roof. Learn more about the Chinese Plank chest press here.
Double Barbell Hanging Band Method
Yes these are a bit crazy however the isolateral barbell hanging band protocol may be one of the most advanced and difficult training techniques in existence.
It’s also one of the most eye-opening as they’ll expose just about any weakness and energy leak you may or may not have been aware of. Read more here.
The Impossible Single Leg RDL
The Single Leg RDL is one of the most effective movements not only for crushing the entire posterior chain but also for addressing stability, balance, mobility, postural alignment, and full body motor control.
When performed under eyes closed conditions it also exposes just about any and every energy leak and area of dysfunction throughout the kinetic chain. Read more the single leg hip hinge here.
Single Arm Single Leg Inverted Row
The inverted row is an incredible upper back and postural movement. The single arm single leg version just happens to be one of the most difficult rowing variations you’ll ever attempt as the levels of anti-rotation, upper back strength, coordination, core stabilization, and full body motor control needed to complete these is inordinately high.
Just as the name implies, chaos dips take bodyweight training to another level as the lifter is forced to use incredibly slow eccentric isometrics in order to minimize instability and control the movement.
Just make sure you’ve mastered the traditional variation first as these could be potentially disastrous if you’re physically unprepared. Read more about chaos bodyweight movements here.
Bottoms Up Explosive Kettlebell Pushups
Explosive pushups are a great way to work on upper body power output. Unfortunately most lifters present various forms of movement dysfunction and technique aberrations when performing them as it’s quite easy to get away with improper form. This is where a movement such as explosive launching pushups on small kettlebells performed by NFL athlete Marcellis Branch can be so effective.
Essentially it forces the lifter to clean up their pushup mechanics while also reinforcing the idea of producing and absorbing high level forces in a biomechanically sound position. In other words every bit of force has to be transmitted perfectly vertically into the kettlebells. Any mismatch of force vectors which represents energy leaks and wasted force output and you’re sure to crash.
The All-In-One Renegade Row
Three of my favorite core exercises include the renegade row, bear crawl plank position, and quadruped bird dog position.
When combined together, these produce some of the most brutally intense core activation drills you’ve ever attempted as there’s literally no room for error. Learn more about bear craw movements here.
The Ultimate Bottoms Up Chest Press
Bottoms up chest presses are some of the most effective movements for targeting the upper body musculature while also improving stability and motor control.
By performing these in a t-bench, half-body-off, single arm, single leg, position as my professional baseball player Parker Meadows does here, not only do these crush the entire body but they also expose a variety of weaknesses throughout the kinetic chain.
Rotational Barbell Movements
Single arm barbell drills requires incredible strength, kinesthetic awareness, and full body stability.
However, the rotational barbell method takes the concepts multiple steps further as the level of difficulty as well as muscle activation and mental fortitude are incredibly high. Just be prepared to focus your mind like a master Jedi. Read more here.
Single Arm Plank Rollout
Two of my favorite core exercise are the single arm plank and ab rollout. When combined together these annihilate the core more so than just about any ab exercise you can think of. Once you have mastered these it’s safe to say you’ve not only built a bulletproof core but you’ve probably eliminated a majority of your imbalances and muscle dysfunctions from head to toe. Read more about ab rollouts here.
IMPOSSIBLE RING Pushups and Rows!!!
Here I have one of my awesome clients and national level NPC figure competitor Leslie Petch performing what truly may be 2 of the most impossible exercises you’ve never tried. That’s right, I know what you’re thinking, ring pushups and ring inverted rows with your feet on a stability ball, how hard can those be? Think again!!!!!! These are insanely difficult.
And no it doesn’t count if you squeeze and anchor your inner legs to the outside of the ball (adduction squeezing method) or have your shins on the ball. You have to have the balls of your feet on top of the ball (not the sides) for the pushups and only the heels on top of the ball for the inverted rows. Also if you’re truly a master of your movement you’ll be able to perform these in an eccentric isometric fashion without wavering as Leslie does here.
Think you have what it takes? Let me know but I’ll likely be waiting a while to get shoutouts on these as the number of failed attempts is likely to be enormous with only a select few having the capability to successfully complete these.
Bottoms Up Plate Pushups
I’m not going to lie, these are without a doubt the most risky of all the exercises in this article.
In fact I would almost recommend not attempting these unless of course you’re ready to demonstrate your mastery of your body mechanics and movement. Read more about proper pushup form here .