Whether you were a fixture in the gym for all of 2019 or not, this time of year is inevitably when even the most ardent gym-goers will add in new components to a routine- myself included! As long as you’re being safe with technique, and the exercise you chose properly align with your goals, implementing a few new exercises will be vital to keeping a gym routine fresh. Below, I outline 3 of my absolute favorite and most effective exercises to add in to your 2020 gym routine. These exercises have such wide ranging benefits that they can be incorporated into any training regimen, regardless of the goal!
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Using either a bench or a Split Squat Stand (a Leg Extension/Leg Curl cushion works too!) set yourself up with one foot in front and the other elevated behind. In order to make sure your front foot is in the proper position, you should be able to see your toes through just about the entire range of motion. You also want to make sure that your rear glute stays perfectly above your back knee. If the rear glute kicks back away from your front foot, you wind up cheating the move. Don’t be overly worried about getting your back knee to the ground either. Focus on first getting to 90 degrees, then progress from there. Having a pad as a reference point is a huge help with this! The final point to the RFE Squat is be sure you stand all the way up with the front leg at the top of each rep. By working through a full range of motion, you wind up training your front glute as well!
The first benefit to this move is unequivocally the unilateral component. Training your legs individually ensures that both legs are getting equal work. You will avoid creating a bi-lateral deficit (one side being weaker than the other) and will greatly assist in improving your Back Squat and/or Front Squats as well.
There is also no better exercise than the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat to target your Vastus Medialis (the tear drop on your quad). This muscle is ULTRA important in maintaining knee health (particularly for anyone who runs or plays a sport- even recreationally in a backyard setting). The stronger your VMO is, the better you safeguard yourself against devastating knee injuries such as ACL tears.
If performing a RFE Squat is not right for you at this time, then you simply perform a Split Squat with both feet on the ground. You will still get some of the tremendous benefits of the unilateral component and will also still target your VMO as well.
If you want to up the ante and get a little extra Glute work in, elevate your front foot as well as your rear foot. What this does, is it adds to the range of motion. By getting deeper into your split squat, you now are forced to get yourself up by utilizing your front glute. (This same concept is also seen in a High Step Up). Be careful with this move, because you need to have good quad and hip flexor mobility- otherwise you won’t feel it anywhere but your hip flexors or your back quad. Take your time with the weight as well. Focus more-so on the increase in Range of Motion before you progress too heavy in the weight!
Rope/Band Face Pull
Stand with your feet directly under your hips and put the cable just above eye level. You can either assume a pronated or supinated grip with your hands on the rope (I prefer pronated because I feel it targets the rear delts a little more). Roll your shoulders slightly forward at the bottom of the movement to emphasize a full range of motion through the shoulder capsules. Then, retract the shoulder blades and pull the rope attachment towards your eyes, flaring the elbows out, specifically trying to get the attachment to almost the bridge of your nose. To emphasize the mind/muscle connection, try holding for about a 2 count when you have the attachment all the way in towards your nose. Be sure not to compensate by throwing your chest forward or arching your lower back.
If you have barky shoulders, this is the movement for you! It activates and strengthens muscles that are directly responsible for controlling your shoulders when you press (either horizontally or vertically). The Face Pull is an extremely simple, but effective move that will over time vastly improve your shoulder health-if programmed consistently. Not only will it help ease chronic shoulder pain, it will also safeguard your shoulders in the future.
The Face Pull also has huge benefits for postural alignment as well. Due to the amount of time we spend on a smart phone or seated at a computer desk, our shoulders are naturally anteriorly rotated (hunched forward). By implementing a move such as the Face Pull, you are literally pulling yourself into proper posture, and strengthening muscles that have become extremely under-active due to the smartphone/laptop posture we so often assume.
If performing the Face Pull with a rope attachment causes any discomfort or pain in the shoulders, immediately regress to a band. All the same movement principles apply, the band will simply be less load, but also keeps tension constant. Due to the decrease in load, a band will allow for complete mind muscle connection- you should focus entirely on the squeeze of the shoulder blades as the band is closest to your nose.
The best way to progress a Face Pull is to implement it as a superset, preceding a pressing movement. This method will activate muscles that should be firing as you press-both horizontally (chest pressing) and vertically (shoulder pressing). Again, the focus should be on mind/muscle connection, as opposed to how much weight you are using. Performing a light-medium set of Face Pulls leading into a set of presses is a great way to ensure shoulder health during pressing movements.
Anti-Rotation (Palloff) Press
Stand with your feet just outside shoulder width and your hips square. Put your inside hand on the handle and cover it up with the outside hand. Pull the attachment to your mid-line, then before you do anything else, squeeze your abs as hard as you possibly can- like you’re about to get punched in the stomach! Then, press straight out with your arms perfectly straight and your hips remaining neutral. Depending on your ability, you can hold anywhere from 2-10 seconds for 5-10 reps each side.
I feel that the Anti-Rotation Press is the King of all core movements for a few key reasons. First, it exemplifies the true meaning of “core.” When you perform this movement, you should feel activation in muscles from your shoulders all the way down into your glutes and your adductors. Yes, you will get great abdominal work as well, but you’re also working on your entire core- which includes far more than just your abs.
Secondly, there are 3 planes of motion for human movement- Transverse, Frontal and Sagittal- this is one of only a handful of exercises where you simultaneously are working in all three planes of motion. By resisting the attachment pulling you in toward the pulley, you are working anti-rotationally- which is in the transverse plane. Having the resistance coming from your side (as opposed to in front of you), means you’re also working in the Frontal Plane (you’ll know you’re training in the frontal plane when you feel your adductors burning!). Then finally, by “bracing” your core and squeezing down as hard as you can, you are working in the sagittal plane of motion as well!
Finally, this is an exercise that will work your core without putting stress on your lower back. (If you do feel pain in your lower back, that means you’re lacking glute activation, your hips aren’t square, or you’re working with too much weight) So often core training is neglected because you know that crunches and 6” variations make your back hurt. Thus, starts the vicious circle of: your back hurts because your core is weak- and you don’t want to train your core because the only ab moves you know, hurt your back. If this scenario resonates with you, I urge you to implement the Anti-Rotation Press into your workouts regularly, and you will take the first big step into safely strengthening your core!
The simplest regression with the Anti-Rotation Press is to first drop the weight down. The only reason this exercise would need to be regressed would be if you’re feeling burning sensation in your lower back. This typically only happens if you’re performing the move with too much weight- which would also result in an inability to straighten your arms all the way as well.
If a regression is needed because you do not have access to a cable, then the perfect variation to this move is simply substituting a band for a cable. All the same exercise cues still apply with a band!
Aside from increasing the weight, the other aspect you can tweak to make this move more challenging is your foot placement. For example, by performing this move from a Split Squat position (one foot in front and one foot behind and staying low), you will add in a unilateral balance component that will take the difficulty to the next level.
Be sure you master the standard Anti-Rotation press though, before you start progressing the weight or foot position!
These 3 moves will compliment any goal- muscle building, weight loss, strength building, power development and especially general health. They are functional in nature but can be molded to fit into any training regimen. As always, take the time to learn proper form first, before you start worrying about how much weight you’re doing with any of the above exercises. The underlying biggest benefit to each of these 3 moves is they bulletproof your body against injury to the 3 most vulnerable parts of your body- knees, shoulders and back.
I highly encourage you to consider adding in some or all of the above exercises in order to keep yourself injury free and on a great exercise routine for all of 2020!
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.