These exercises will challenge you in a whole new way, fill in strength gaps and fix imbalances. Check ’em out.
The big basic exercises build size and strength, but just doing the basics could leave you with strength gaps and imbalances. Plus, not everyone is built for those exercises. Here are some of the best alternatives and add-on exercises.
Some people think the goblet squat is only for beginners or injured people, or it’s only useful for light weights and high reps. But given the benefits, you should use it as a primary lift. The drawback? It’s hard to load heavy because getting a 100-pound-plus dumbbell into the goblet position is tricky. Here’s how to do it:
- Place the dumbbell vertically on a flat bench.
- Stand perpendicular to the bench and get into a deep squat.
- Place the palms of your hands on both sides of the “bell” part, not the handle. Then pull it off the bench and toward your midline.
- Do your reps. When finished, squat down and place the dumbbell back on the bench.
A heavy goblet squat roasts your core and loads up the quads like crazy. It’s easy to hit depth since the weight acts as a counterbalance. It builds upper body strength while at the same time forcing the upper back into extension, keeping the low back safe. And it’s easy to bail – just drop the weight.
2. Cat Cow Row
Chances are, your back-focused days involve barbell and dumbbell rows, pulldowns, and cable rows. This is fine if you have plenty of scapular mobility and you’re doing them right. Many lifters aren’t and don’t. So swap one of your go-to back exercises for this row. It’ll build your lats along with your abs.
- Grab the handle and scoot as far back on the bench as possible.
- Pull your upper body toward the pulley.
- Tuck your chin and elongate your spine, allowing the shoulder blades to elevate and spread.
- Breathing out, lift the chin and the chest while leading with the elbows to pull the handle toward your sternum.
- Pause for a brief second before going into the next rep.
This variation is awesome for spinal decompression while strengthening the abs and low back. It’s more like a seated lat pulldown because of the path of the elbows. Throw this in as a finisher.
Swap out the standard dumbbell row for this. It’ll also help decompress your spine. Spinal decompression strategies should be a staple.
- Set up for a single-arm cable row.
- To create space, place the foot on the ground on the side you’ll pull with.
- Instead of starting with square shoulders, rotate toward the pulley. Lead with the shoulder and elbow to rotate back to square and pull the elbow to the side.
This variation taps into more lat engagement by increasing the range of motion while involving the obliques and other abdominal muscles.
This one is wildly underrated. Do it the right way and it places a ton of tension on the glutes. The key is to extend the time under tension. Most people just bob up and down like dolphins at a Sea World show. Don’t do that.
Honestly, the back extension is a lame tool for training the low back. The low back is basically made of connective tissue and your quadratus lumborum (QL) – the deepest abdominal muscle. Training it outside of a physical therapy setting doesn’t make sense. You’ll get more bang for your buck using the back extension for glutes.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start in a hanging position with your feet close together.
- To initiate the lift, squeeze your glutes and press your pelvis into the pads. Drive the pelvis forward to facilitate the upward movement of your torso.
- Keep tension on the glutes the entire time.
Forget about adding weight for a bit and slow your tempo down. You should be feeling a massive amount of tension in the glutes. Try three sets using a very slow tempo and hold the isometric at the top of the last rep for 30 seconds. You’ll feel your abs kick in as your glutes tremble to exhaustion.
Still doing the standard, two-handed kettlebell swing? Replace it with this.
This is considered a PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) pattern. It helps you work on poor posture while still getting the benefit of cardio and abdominal strength gains from kettlebell swings.
PNF strengthens the body through diagonal patterns, often referred to as D1 and D2 patterns. The diagonal movements associated with PNF involve multiple joints through various planes of motion. These patterns incorporate rotational movements of the extremities and core stability (1).
Why not just do the standard two-handed swing? Because it keeps your shoulders internally rotated throughout the whole movement. This eliminates that problem.
This version allows you to use the PNF D2 shoulder flexion by turning the thumb of the swing arm down at the bottom of the swing and turning the thumb up at the top of the swing. It improves your shoulder health, posture, and strength.