Thursday, February 28, 2013

Some Exercise I Like, and Why I Like Them

Back Squats

Yeah, yeah, you knew these were going to be on the list. Let's get past that already. A lot of people think of squats as the King of all Lifts. I don't think they're all that great, or that any exercise deserves king status, but back squats are, nonetheless, a very good exercise. The biggest strength of the back squat is also it's biggest weakness (in my books, anyway), and that is that it's a very general exercise. Back squats strengthen just about everything in the body, they help to build muscle all over the place, they have an intense cardiovascular effect, they burn a lot of calories (not as many as people trying to convince women to squat will normally imply, but still a lot)....the downside to being a great general exercise is that general and specific tend to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Squats are good for your quads, but there are specific exercises that are better. Squats are good for your posterior chain, but there are specific exercises that are better. Squats build a strong core, but good core conditioning builds a stronger core. Squats build a good cardiovascular system, but good cardio builds a better cardiovascular system.

Front Squats

The little brother to back squats, front squats are one of those more specific exercises. Front squats are very technical, and as such I have a love-hate relationship with them. Front squats work the quadriceps, core and spinal erectors, and I've found them particularly good for helping me develop use of my stretch-strength reflex for both front and back squats.

Tyre Flips

Where elogance abounds, there probably aren't too many 200kg tyres hanging around. Tyre flips are one of those exercises that really have you getting down and dirty, and bring you in touch with your Neanderthal side. They're a bit like a deadlift which involves pulling, but they also involve a lot of pushing. They'll work the whole body, being very general, and being a lot of fun.

Farmer's Walks

Want some functional fitness? I can think of few exercises that are more functional than farmer's walks (actually, I'm not sure if I can think of anything more functional). You literally just pick up something heavy and carry it. Your upper traps and forearms will get quite the workout.

Dumbbell Bench Press

As someone who's into powerlifting, you'd think I'd go straight for the barbell bench press. But to be honest, if I wasn't into powerlifting, I'm not sure I'd actually bother with the barbell bench press. I've found that dumbbells actually make it much easier for me to focus the load on my pecs, partially because I'm not trying to pull anything apart when doing them, partially because of the range of motion, and partially because...well, just because, okay?

Push Press

The push press is one hell of an upper body ego lift. But don't let that fool you into thinking it isn't a lift worth doing. As a technical point, when I've done push presses, I've gotten more out of them by driving down and exploding up (basically, treating my body like a ball that I'm slamming into the ground and trying to bounce as high as possible) than the seemingly more typical route of "dip and drive." You want to be aggressive on these, which is half the reason why I love them. A lot of people regard push presses as cheating and thus not as effective as strict presses, but on the flip side, past a certain point your legs aren't driving the weight up anymore, which means that from that point onwards, your upper body is getting more work than it could have with strict presses. On the note of slamming balls into the ground....

Medicine Ball Slams (and the like)

Slam them into the floor, slam them into the wall, slam them into the ceiling, I don't care. The important thing is that you throw them and throw them hard. Be as obnoxious as possible. When I do medicine ball slams into the floor, my goal is for the ball to hit the ground so hard that it bounces back up to face level so that I can catch it at its peak height and slam it into the floor again. There are various fitness benefits here, such as power/explosion, core work and cardio, but the main things is just that they're obnoxiously fun.

Glute Bridges

Glute bridges are a great way to overload the glutes. Like seriously. You think squats, deadlifts and lunges are good glute exercises? You mustn't have done any glute bridges. The trick is to try and hyperextend your hips (not your back) by keeping your torso tight and driving your hips as high as they'll go. Pushing your knees apart would be good here, too. Glute bridges give you an epic glute contraction. They also make you look like you're training to be in a porno, so if you're like me and get a kick out of people looking at you weirdly, it's a win-win.

Kettlebell Swings

This is another great opportunity to look like you're training to be a porn star. It's good assistance work for deadlifts, it's good conditioning, and it really helps you bring your hips through to get a great glute contraction.

Seated Row

I'm constantly told by the internetz that barbell rows are better than any other row. My experience says otherwise. I can't really explain why I get a great contraction in my middle and lower traps during seated rows while bent-over rows leave my back feeling confused and untouched, but that's the way it is. Seated rows work my mid-back better than any other exercise I've tried thus far. Besides that, if you're going to be doing a lot of presing, you need to be doing a lot of know, if you like your shoulders.

Bench Pull

Okay, so I'm not a big fan of barbell rows, generally speaking. But this one's a whole lot of fun. Specifically, it's the kind of fun that will result in management politely asking you to please stop that exercise, at least it is if you do it the way I was taught. Now, you could be sensible and gentle, and perform a controlled concentric until the bar lightly touches the underside of the bench, and then lower under control. Or you could do it the way I learned it, which is as a ballistic power exercise. The reason this works as a power exercise is that you have a little more feedback than you would for other exercises on how fast you're moving the weight -- you can tell by how loudly the bar hits the bench. When I was studying my Diploma of Fitness, I did this exercise (and made clients do it, too) in multiple gyms, and never failed to get a high number of bertstares from across the gym.

Weighted Pull Ups

Pull ups are nicer to my wrists and shoulders than chin ups. Weighted pull ups make me feel like I'm one step closer to being able to save a life if I'm ever stranded in the jungle with the beautiful lady of my dreams and we're being chased by a mob of cannibals.


Come on, please. No explanation needed.


  1. Saved yourself at the last minute there. I thought you were going to miss my all time favourite.
    Personally I like anything I find hard work, which is why I end up doing things I find easy on the wrong side of a bosu. Your list shows similar insanity, knew there was a reason I kept coming back here.
    My favourites change constantly, currently they are clean and press with 24kg kettle, because I end up struggling for balance, and dips in suspension trainer because it turns an exercise I could do with weight, dips, into something I can barely do at all. Ironically they are in my least favourite session, I hate bench, but will never stop doing it.

    1. I tried doing dips with gymnastics rings once. Success was a bit out of reach. If I recall correctly, my triceps spared no time in thanking me for the effort. Something I'm considering once I've done my comp in April is to start doing log C+P's.

    2. Oh, and I just remembered one more exercise and edited it in. You might like this.

    3. Dips on suspension I would imagine are almost the same as on rings, though rings would be tougher still. Log lifts are interesting to see. You have definately got advantage over me in terms of kit available, the cost of training at home.

      I get enough silly stares and the only people in my gym are my wife and son. Not done that one, done a similar with dumbbells years ago, one to be very careful with timing and balance.


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