5 Exercises to Never Take Out of Your Program

TAGS: Tricep Pressdowns, Single-Leg Variations, Face Pulls, matt mills, pull-ups, GHR, injury prevention

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If you are a strength competitor, as in a powerlifter or strongman, I feel there are a few exercises you can always benefit from. In my experience, both in my training and in my clients, I've seen certain exercises always yield benefits. Some of these exercises are more specific, while others are not. If you are a powerlifter, I don't think you should squat, bench, and deadlift year-round with a barbell. The best time to get a bar off your back would be right after a meet, for example. Benching with different types of bars is a must to make sure you can avoid overuse injuries. I've seen too many injuries caused by just doing the same repetitive movement of the big three, week after week.


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The five exercises I have chosen will not cause these overuse injuries as the heavy compound movements can. I'm all about rotating a variety of exercises, but I have seen with these you can train them once or even twice a week to keep getting stronger AND PREVENT injuries.

1. Face Pulls

If you want to build a bigger, stronger upper back, then you have to do face pulls, and do them often. This is an exercise you can do at least once per week and still see great results. I would recommend anyone who has poor posture from sitting all day do these on every upper body session. My favorite way of doing them is with a rope using a cable stack. However, if you do not have access to one, then using a band works well too. I would recommend if you are using a band to hold the contraction for a second to make it more difficult. I find using a band is much easier than a cable stack.

2. Single-Leg Variations

I wrote variations here because there are so many single-leg exercises to choose from, and they are all important to do.  Fix your imbalances, get stronger one leg at a time, and you will be stronger on both legs.  There’s a lot to choose from, but my absolute favorite is the Bulgarian split squat.  Take a single-leg squat stand, and place a box squat pad inside to put your knee down to.  I prefer to use dumbbells here, but and SSB bar works well too.  Other exercises that I’ll use for single leg work are lunge variations, pistol squats to a box, and one of my favorite hamstring and glute builders: the single-leg deadlift.  These exercises are avoided so often because they are just flat out hard.  Also, a lot of people are terrible on one leg.  This comes down to the old saying that you have to do what you suck at.  If you can’t balance doing a Bulgarian split squat with no weight then you need to work on it.  I guarantee your lifts will go up, just be sure to check your ego at the door.  In the video below, you can see I’m getting a little fancy using a suspension strap to make it much more difficult.

3. Pull-ups

Pull-ups can be another humbling exercise for a lot of the big boys out there. Most settle for the lat pulldown and call it a day. Lat pulldowns are great, and they are actually another exercise I almost always have in my program. However, pull-ups are far more difficult and work more muscles. I have noticed when I am at a higher bodyweight, pull-ups become much more difficult, but I never stop doing them. If you have difficulty, use a band to get you started with a few. As you improve, use less band support until you can do a few on your own. Now don't just do pull-ups with an overhand grip. I mainly stick with neutral grip pull-ups as they as the most comfortable on my shoulders. I will do chin-ups with an underhand grip, but only on an angled bar. I feel doing chin-ups on a straight bar forces you into supination that can cause elbow problems for some people. If you are advanced at pull-ups, weighted is always a good choice, but one of my favorites is the Hercules pull-up. Pull up all the way and hold for two seconds, go down and hold halfway for two seconds, then down to the stretched position.

Also, for those of you thinking you are too big to do pull-ups, here's pro strongman Wes Claborne knocking out pull-ups like nothing, weighing over 350 pounds.

4. Tricep Pressdowns

Tricep pressdowns are something I start with for every tricep workout. I've been lifting heavy for quite some time now and have some arthritis in both elbows. Starting with barbell extensions will cause a lot of pain for me, so I grease the groove with lots of pressdowns. What I love about pressdowns is most people can do them pain-free, and there's a wide variety of handles you can use. If you know anything about my gym, it's that I collect all kinds of different barbells and cable attachments. If you are limited, then changing from a V bar, rope, and single handle will do just fine. Personally, my favorite to use is the 3-Tier Tricep Ladder attachment.

5. GHR

The glute ham raise is the king of building hamstrings. This is an exercise I can honestly say I have never taken out of my program since first getting one at my gym. Nothing else will work your hamstrings from top to bottom like the GHR. It's an exercise you can easily do twice a week on both your squat and deadlift days. Also, I like to use these on days my knees are aching more than usual. Do a few light sets to get the blood flowing, and your squats will feel much better. Rep ranges can vary here. I've done weighted sets of five with a SSB bar on my back and high rep sets of 20 with a band.

If you have any exercises you just can't live without, drop a comment below with what you think I should add.

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