Coaches enjoy arguing about exercise variety vs. exercise consistency. Both sides make good points. But if you’ve been weight lifting for a decade or two, you’ve probably found yourself siding with the variety camp.
Maybe you’re getting bored of the big basics, or maybe you’re getting banged up and need some new exercises and methods that spare your joints. Or maybe, just maybe, you think trying challenging new stuff in the gym is kinda fun. That’s okay too. We won’t tattle on you.
Here are five fresh exercises and methods to try out:
Weight Lifting Challenge 1: Gironda 8 x 8 Lateral Raise, Christian Thibaudeau
For optimal shoulder development, you’ll need some direct work for the medial portion of the delts. Lateral raises are best. But here’s the thing: it’s very hard to make them effective.
All forms of lateral raise are inappropriate with methods focusing on creating muscle damage (fairly heavy weights for 5-10 reps).
Why? Because muscle damage is created when you stretch/lengthen the muscle fibers while they’re producing a lot of tension. During lateral/front raises, there’s no tension when the fibers are at their most elongated, thus very little potential for muscle damage.
So you must rely on the metabolic pathway, which means going for the burn, bro. Or, more accurately, going for the accumulation of lactate and hydrogen ions that will lead to the release of growth factors.
Here’s another thing: the bottom third of the lateral raise is essentially tension-less, or has a very low level of tension. So when “going for the burn,” that relaxation point allows some of these metabolites to exit the muscle, making it harder to accumulate enough to get the growth factor release.
Also, you can easily create just enough momentum in that bottom third (without even realizing it) to reduce tension for most of the range of motion.
That’s why it’s hard to make the standard lateral raise effective. But there are ways to improve it. Here’s how to do your reps:
- Don’t bring your arms all the way down. Stop before your reach that bottom third range to keep tension on the delts.
- Perform the concentric/lifting portion fairly slowly (2 seconds up). Focus on flexing the delts, not moving the weight up.
- Think about pushing the weights away from your side as far as possible. The fact that they go up is a side effect of pushing away. Keep your arms straight, no elbow bend.
- Lift the weights until your hands are in line with the shoulder joint and hold that position for a second.
- Lower the weight under control (2 seconds) and stop before your reach the bottom third.
Yes, the weights you’ll use will be lighter. That’s fine. The metabolic pathway isn’t about lifting heavy or even increasing weight. It’s about accumulating as many metabolites as possible. The more it burns, the more effective it is.
Use all those tips and do the Gironda 8×8 with lateral raises. You’ll do 8 sets of 8 reps with a load you’d be able to lift around 12 times. Take very short rest periods between sets. Gironda recommended 15-30 seconds. (At least shoot for 45 seconds until you’re better conditioned.)
You can also adjust the rest periods during the exercise. For example, you can start with 15 seconds of rest between sets. If by set 4 you don’t think 15 seconds will be enough and that you’d fail to get 8 reps on your next set, you can rest up to 30 seconds.
Basically, you want to get your 8 sets of 8 with the same weight with as little rest between sets as possible. Get all your reps in while getting a nasty pump. If it doesn’t burn like crazy by set 3, you aren’t doing it right!
Weight Lifting Challenge 2: Stability Ball Squat, Gareth Sapstead
Squatting with a stability ball up against the wall and having you back up against it is a common exercise prescribed to beginners. It’s relatively stable, and you can gain more depth than most other squat variations.
But, when stability and depth are the selling points of an exercise, shouldn’t it be for everyone? In fact, what makes this a good choice for those folks will make it an equally good exercise for anyone wanting to maximize muscle activation throughout greater active ranges of motion.
Grab some dumbbells or kettlebells to load it. You won’t need much weight if you do them right.
- Have a stability ball against the wall and lean back against it. As you squat down, the ball will travel up your back.
- Your feet will be in front. Experiment to find what feels best. Some do even better with their feet further forward than it shows in the video.
- As you squat upward, continually press back into the ball as if trying to crush it into the wall.
- Chase the quadriceps sensation/tension over maxing-out on weight.
Weight Lifting Challenge 3: Kneeling Oblique Twist, Dan North
The most common mistake made during oblique twists is pushing with your arms instead of using the core. To combat this, imagine your hands are hooks connecting your body to the bar. From there, it’s your core’s job (primarily your obliques) to move the weight and resist rotation. Think “throwing from the hip” instead of pushing with the arms.
Performing from a full-kneeling stance limits any assistance from the legs, making it more challenging than the standing variation.
Weight Lifting Challenge 4: Inverted Row & Push-Up EMOM, Jason Brown
EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute.” Every 60 seconds, do:
- 10 Inverted Rows
- 10 Push-Ups
You’ll accumulate roughly 25-30 seconds of total work if you’re able to do all of this without stopping. That’ll give you 30-35 seconds of rest before the top of the next minute.
Repeat this sequence for as many rounds as you can, but once you’ve reached 10 rounds, stop. This equates to 100 reps per exercise. Not something to scoff at. Now, if you’re unable to make it 10 rounds, no worries. Make a note of where you ended and retest in 4 weeks.
If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and this sequence was easy for you, add difficulty by changing the angle of your inverted row or adding a weight vest.
Weight Lifting Challenge 5: Safety-Bar Calf Raise, Andrew Coates
Few gyms seem to have specialized straight-leg calf machines for standing and donkey raises. Thankfully, more gyms now have specialized bars like Safety Squat bars. We can use one to recreate an effective standing calf raise.
- Find (or create) a platform from which you can do calf raises and set it in a rack.
- Use one hand to hold the loaded bar and use your other to hold the rack for balance.
- Press as high as you can onto your toes (the ball of your foot) and pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Control the descent into the deepest stretch you can create and pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Repeat with strict form to failure.
- Do 3-4 sets of varied rep ranges across different training days.