In my article “smashing through plateaus” I explained that varying your routine is the key to avoiding plateaus. Plateaus are, essentially, a side effect of going into the gym and doing the same thing for too long of a period. The human body adapts to stimulus…. but eventually… the body will have done all of the adapting it can do, without creating a severe structural imbalance resulting in joint problems.
Many clients are shocked to find out, that busting their bench press plateau, has nothing to do with benching (and sometimes nothing to do with pressing). Sometimes it is neutral grip front dumbell raises, for their underdeveloped anterior deltoid, sometimes it is pulldown or pullovers for their weak serratus anterior or lats. Anyways, here are some frequently overlooked exercises for major muscle groups. I am not going to explain them; if you are reading this, you are on a computer, and I encourage the reader to utilize a website, called “youtube”, you may have heard of it 🙂
There are stars ***** next to the exercises I feel most effective, and sometimes those that are most overlooked. Take particular note of these exercises, and try to rotate them into your routine at some point.
We’ll go from the ground up
Standing calf raise machine
seated calf raise machine
weightless (one leg) calf raises of flat ground
weightless (one leg) calf raise with toes elevated (off ledge)
*jumping rope (surprisingly effective)
jogging with a weighted vest
More of a “pre-hab” exercise, working this muscle will prevent shin splints. It is the muscle that works the opposite movement of the calves, and the muscle is located on the shins. No matter how many clients I tell to do this exercise, nobody listens (because it has no direct impact on physical appearance)… Then they cry and whine about not being able to run because of shin splints.
*Toe raises- Stand, leaning on a wall, with your feet anywhere from 12 to 36 inches out from the wall. Raise your toes up off the ground, hold for a second, and then relax, and repeat. (If it is too light, move the feet outward, if it is too heavy, move the feet towards the wall you are leaning on).
*front squat (best for the vmo(rookie translation: the quadricep “teardrop” toward the inside of the kneecap))
leg press with narrow foot position
*leg press with feet low on plate
*bulgarian split squats with high degree of knee flexion
(Leg extensions are not listed because closed chain movements are a)not healthy for knee extension and b)not effective for building large quads…. If you want “pump” get on the stairmaster after your legs workout is over, you will receive more pump than you will ever get on the leg extension machine, and more pump=more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (rookie translation:growth))
hamstrings (knee flexors, which are the majority of the hamstrings):
*lying leg curls
*seated leg curls
Note that it is very important to include isolation exercises that work out “knee flexion” (going from straight to bent knee) in your workout. Why? Because the knee flexors are untouched in the standard compound movements such as squat and leg press (all of which the knee goes from bent to straight aka “extension”)… Yet knee flexion is an essential part of basic movements such as running (the finishing of a stride once the foot has made ground contact is knee flexion). Hamstrings tend to be an underdeveloped bodypart because of this. When non-scientific bodybuilding “literature” says that squats work the hamstrings, they are referring to the hamstrings that are involved in hip extention, which if I’m not mistaken is 2 of 7 hamstrings. Thus knee flexion is untouched, except as a stabilizer in these lifts. This muscular imbalance and neglect of the hamstrings, combined with extreme strength levels, is why you see so many NFL players limp off the field, with torn hammies.
Hamstrings (hip extensor hamstrings):
*Stiff leg deadlift with posterior pelvic tilt (rookie translation: Stiff leg deadlift while sticking your ass out as much as possible)
*Stiff leg deadlift off a box
Etc, Etc, standard compound movements.
Lower back hyperextensions
*bulgarian split squats
all squat variations (1/4 squat, 1/2 squat, slow tempo squat, dynamic effort (explosive) squats)
If you are going to overemphasize one muscle in the entire human body, make it the glutes. It is the largest, strongest muscle in the body, and the joint it works is capable of an extreme range of motion. Lifters most often neglect the “hyperextension” of the hip joint. They work extension (from bent, to neutral (standing)) but neglect the range of motion that is worked by running AFTER the foot makes ground contact. This is why the two starred exercises are bulgarian split squat (one legged squat guarantees the overloaded muscle will be the legs, never the core or cns) and glute bridge (because this works the untouched range of motion in the gluteus that squat movements do not work). A lot of weightlifters experience lower back pain when jogging, and it is because they have overworked hip extension (squats) and usually COMPLETELY neglected hip hyperextension (glute bridges, sled drags, sprints). Thus, their bodies compensate by rounding the lower back, tilting the pelvis anteriorly, and placing the load on the spine, rather than the hips, to compensate for structural imbalance.
*hanging upside down sit-ups
The thing to keep in mind is the abs are a muscle like any other, if you find yourself doing 30+ reps, hoping to build a six pack, remember that you are doing the same thing as lifting little pink dumbells for 70 reps to build big biceps. Spot reduction (exercising a certain area of the body to burn fat in that area) is a myth, so keep the ab workouts as heavy as everything else, or no adaptation (changes) to the physique will occur.
Obliques (The “side abs” and “V-cut”)
Weighted side bends
weighted side bends on hyperextension machine
Spinal Erectors (low back):
stiff leg deadlifts
any deadlift or hyperextension variation.
*Wide grip pulldowns
narrow grip pulldowns
pullups (supinated grip)
*pullups (neutral grip)
*behind the neck press
dumbell shoulder press
dumbell rows (lower traps)
barbell rows (lower traps)
Chest (pectoralis major):
all of the above with dumbells
all of the above with altered hand orientation and/or grip
cable crossovers with altered cable height/angle, and/or altered hand orientation
machine pec flyes
*cable bench press
Anterior Deltoid (front delt):
*Neutral grip bench press
*Neutral grip military press
*neutral grip front dumbell raise
any pressing movements
*supinated grip lateral raises
*lateral raises from low pulley machine
behind the neck press
All lateral raise machines and variations
*Close grip bench press
*neutral grip bench press
*1/2 bench press (with extra weight, obviously)
ANY pressing movement
Closed chain movements such as tricep extensions are not healthy for the elbow joint, nor are they necessary for building huge triceps. Tricep extensions can be utilized, but just understand that I chose not to list them because they are unhealthy for the elbows, and more importantly, inneffective.
*pullups (or pullups on the pull-down machine)
ANY pulling movement
ANY curling variation
Strengthening the wrist flexors/extensors:
Wrist curls (for the flexors)
Reverse wrist curls (for the extensors)
Holding heavy objects (ie, deadlifting, without straps)
With this list of exercises, and a routine that rotates every 6 weeks to 4 months, you should easily have enough movements to avoid hitting plateaus for the next 1 to 3 years, and build an impressive, aesthetic, balanced physique.