The Most Underrated Exercises
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
This is the full-length version of Dr. Seedman's contribution to an article that was originally featured on Men's Fitness
You probably rotate through an arsenal of tried-and-true moves in the gym you know you should absolutely be doing: bench press, squat, deadlift, pullups, dips, etc. But then there are plenty of other moves you probably know about but can't be bothered to do—whether it's because they're awkward, not as appealing as one of the impressive moves above, or simply a variation you've never taken the time to perfect. Well, today is the day you break out of your comfort zone and put your body through something a little less predictable.
In this article, Dr. Seedman details three underrated moves every trainee, whether beginner or advanced, should be performing consistently for optimal strength and size gains.
The pullover movement is an often-times underrated and neglected mass building movement. This exercise was a staple of many old school bodybuilders including the likes of Arnold Schwarzeneger and for good reason - it worked. The pullover movement is analogues to an upper body squat as it targets a majority of the muscles in the upper torso including the lats, triceps, chest, shoulders, upper back, and core. There are numerous variations of this movement including dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and cables.
To perform the movement simple lay on a bench while holding the weight in your hands and extend your arms overhead and behind you, moving predominately at the shoulder with little if any movement occurring from the elbow joint. Think about bringing the weight as far in back of you as possible while keeping the arms relatively straight. A slight elbow bend is acceptable and in fact advisable however that elbow position should be kept constant throughout. As you pull the weight back to the starting position approximately above the chest, focus on using your lats and chest not just your triceps.
Expect to feel the abs working overtime as this movement is not only an upper body movement but also ant-extension core drill. In essence you’ll be forced to resist excessive arch and extension in your lumbar spine by keeping the core tight and braced throughout the movement. If you want to add in additional core activation as well as force the movement to be stricter and more locked in, try perform pullovers with an isometric leg raise by holding the legs up 6-12 inches above the height of your torso while keeping them straight throughout.
Heavy Barbell Stationary Lunge A.K.A Split Squats
Most lifters incorporate lunges as finishing movement at the end of lower body workout using higher reps and lighter loads. In addition the most common method of performing lunges is in a walking or marching fashion. Unfortunately these protocols represent the least effective way to perform lunges not only for injury prevention but for maximizing strength and muscle growth.
To fully exploit the benefits of lunges you’ll want to use them as one of primary lower body lifts by going heavy and performing them in a stationary or split squat fashion in a squat rack. This allows the lifter to use heavier weights in a safe and effective manner while slowing the movement down and working on technique in a systematic and controlled fashion - something that’s difficult to do with walking lunges. In fact if you have proper muscle function, movement mechanics, and lower body development, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be capable of handling approximately 50% of your 1RM squat for sets of 3-5 repetitions on stationary barbell lunges and split squats.
Besides triggering incredible levels of functional strength and hypertrophy throughout your entire lower body including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves you’ll also be addressing aspects of mobility, stability, and symmetry as each leg will be forced to work individually and equally. In fact if you do have asymmetries and muscular imbalances having the ability to slow the movement down and use a controlled lifting tempo will do wonders for eliminating these issues. In contrast the fast and sloppy mechanics typically associated with walking lunges tends to be very detrimental for movement mechanics and just as deleterious for muscle growth. To perform these simple assume the top of a lunge position by placing one leg several feet in front of the other. Slowly lower yourself into the bottom of a lunge, pause, the powerfully but smoothly drive the weight back to the top. Repeat this sequence of the desired number of repetitions before repeating this on the other leg.
Deadlifts have long been considered one of the most effective strength and mass building movements there is not only for a few muscle groups but for the entire body. Unfortunately most individuals lack the mobility, joint stability, motor control, postural alignment, form, and lifting mechanics to properly perform deadlifts from the floor. As a result many lifters suffer serious injuries throughout the body particularly the low back as a result of faulty technique and improper deadlift mechanics. Rather than foregoing the movement altogether the key is to modify it in such a way that you enhance the benefits while eliminating the key negatives that make it a high risk movement. Enter rack pulls!!!
Rack pulls are essentially a partial deadlift where the lifter sets the safety pins in the squat cage at approximately knee height and perform deadlifts with a reduced range of motion rather than from the floor. Besides taking strain off the low back, these are exponentially easier to master in terms of form and mechanics and as a result can be loaded much heavier with far less risk for injury. Because of the heavier loading allowed on this movement, the levels of functional strength and hypertrophy gained throughout the traps, lats, upper back, low back glutes, hamstrings, neck muscles, forearms, shoulders, spinal stabilizers, and other smaller muscle is unparalleled. They key is to hinge at the hips rather than squatting down with the knees.
In other words stick the butt out, push the knees back posteriorly, towards the wall in back of you, keep the bar close to your body, maintain a neutral arch with a tight core, and drive with your hips as you pull the weight from the floor. Retrace your path by controlling the negative motion and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.