Five Weird Exercise Variations To Shake Up Your Strength Training
Is boredom deterring you from hitting the gym? You’re not alone.
The perfect training plan should strike a balance between enough repetition to master the basic movement patterns (squat, hinge, push, pull, core) and enough variety to keep you interested in training.
You don’t want to do an entirely different workout each time you step into the gym because your body will never adapt and become competent at the new movements. But you also don’t want to do the same 3×10 bench press workout every day – you’ll risk getting bored, burnt out, and injured.
Shake up your routine with these little-known exercise variations. Just remember, stick with them long enough to practice and become competent (4-6 weeks) before trying something new again.
Squat: The Hack Squat
This squat variation looks like a deadlift, but the barbell is held behind your body. This loading pattern places more emphasis on your quads and can be a great replacement for a barbell front/back squat or leg press. This movement can be loaded nice and heavy to build strength in the 3-5 rep range, or used with higher reps and moderate weights to build definition in your legs. (Side note: This demo video is kind of hilarious.)
Hinge: The Jefferson Deadlift
Another lower body exercise with a strange-looking set-up, the Jefferson deadlift requires you to straddle the barbell with one leg ahead of the bar and one leg behind. As you’ll see explained in this video, the Jefferson set-up adds an “anti-rotation” element to the hip hinge pattern. This means your core has to work extra hard to resist rotating from the torso.
Upper body push: Javelin press
No shame, I picked this up from John “Roman” Romaniello when he programmed it for me last year, and I love it.
Similar to a bottoms-up kettlebell press, this pressing variation requires your shoulder musculature to work harder at stabilizing the weight overhead, meaning your rotator cuff muscles will get fired up (this is a good thing!).
Most people experience a discrepancy between how much weight they can press overhead with a stable object like a dumbbell, versus how much weight they can handle with a bottoms-up kettlebell or other unstable objects. This is indicative of weak rotator cuff muscles and can lead to injury down the road if you continue pressing weights overhead that your rotator cuff is unable to stabilize effectively. Including the javelin press is a fun way to correct this muscular imbalance.
The video above features Roman (with exceptional hair) demonstrating an alternating javelin press, but I prefer to complete all reps on one side of my body before switching hands and completing the same number of repetitions on the other side. The alternating version is slightly more advanced. Either way, move slowly and with control. This exercise is more about shoulder stability than showing off how much weight you can throw overhead.
Upper body pull: Bird dog row
Credit to physical therapist Joel Steadman for this compound exercise, which combines the “bird dog” rehab/core drill with a pulling movement to train your back. In the video below, he demonstrates a couple variations of the exercise.
Assume the quadruped position (all fours) and extend the leg on the non-pulling side of your body. Pick up a weight in the opposite hand, and row it up toward your body. Use a light to moderate weight for 10-12 or 15-20 reps. Focus on maintaining a flat back as you row. I always cue my athletes that there’s a glass of their favorite adult beverage resting on their back – no spilling!
Core: Turkish Sit-Ups and/or Turkish Get-Ups
Okay, this last one is a little bit complicated, so it’s best to start with the Turkish Sit Up first. This movement involves stabilizing a weight directly over your shoulder joint while transferring your body weight onto the opposite hand. It’s a great oblique exercise to substitute for boring side bends or Russian twists. Perform these with a moderate weight for moderate (10-12) reps on each side, increasing the weight as you get stronger at the movement. See the video below for the proper technique.
The full version of this movement involves “getting up” to a full standing position from the floor, hence the name “Turkish Get-Up.” There are quite a lot of steps involved, so when coaching this exercise, I always break down the movement into individual pieces for my athletes: the sit up, the bridge/hinge, the half-kneeling position, the lunge, and standing up. Master the “get up” part before learning how to reverse the movement back to the ground. Perform the full get-up in small sets (2-5 reps per side) and increase the weight as you feel comfortable.
StrongFirst is recognized around the world for their movement practice with kettlebells, so this is the best demonstration video to get you started with the full Turkish Get-Up.
Give it the ol’ college try
There you have it, five new movements to add to your training routine to spice things up and keep your workouts fresh. Again, try out each one of these in place of your standard squat, hinge, push, pull, and core exercises. Stick with the new variations for four to six weeks so that you build strength and skill at these new movements. You should find that with a little patience and consistent practice, each of these variations will lead to greater strength at squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and rowing when you return to the more common exercises.