The Single Arm Row is my favourite upper body pulling exercise. By having your feet square and 3rd point of contact through your non-working arm, you can create a really stable position to lift heavy weights. It is for everyone, there is only a very low body awareness required to be able to perform this movement safely. You need minimal equipment too, a dumbbell and then something sturdy to lean on and you are good to go. This exercise gets your core working hard to brace and to resist rotation, you will feel it in your oblique’s the next day if you work hard to resist excess rotation. With 3 points of contact for support, you are really able to isolate your big pulling muscles of the back and arms. It will also raise awareness of any side to side deficiencies.
The box jump is a great introductory plyometric and power exercise. It is growing increasingly popular but is often done poorly or with inappropriate and excessive risk. Once you have mastered a bodyweight squat and can control your body through the full range you are able to progress to introductory plyometric like the box jump. The focus should be on controlling the landing before progressing to jumping onto higher boxes. The box jump forces the muscles of the lower body to work together rapidly to develop the force to get you flying into the air. This makes it great for power development, speed of movement and for intermuscular co-ordination (how well your muscles cooperate).
It is easy to cling onto certain ideas and let our biases shape what we do. This is particularly true when it comes to training for strength. We can end up on a very narrow and focused path and if we just take a step back to look at the bigger picture we might notice that we add or exclude certain things which aren’t necessary or even helpful for our original goals.
I’ll share 5 of the things that I see people with the goal of getting stronger clinging on to which are not necessary and sometimes even detrimental.
The more you can dig down into the why of your goal - Why do you want to get stronger?
Why have you chosen these particular lifts to define your strength?
Then the easier it becomes to guide how you go about achieving that. Remember you are individual and you have your own motivations for doing what you do, you can set your own path and don’t have to get stuck to the ideas that others have had before you.
Keep reading to find out 5 of the things you thought where non-negotiable when it comes to get stronger but you might actually be better off without.
The Bench Press is probably the single exercise that most people who have set foot in a gym have performed. That said, it is often done poorly or without much thought. Read on to find out some key tips and to see if it is something that will benefit you. It doesn’t require a great deal of mobility or pre-requisite strength. If you can lift the bar in a control manner for the bench press then you are ready to get started. As it is so effective, it should form a staple movement in just about every gym program. It effectively works the pushing muscles of the upper body and is probably one of the best all round upper body exercises. You can use it to build strong chest, shoulders and triceps and is particularly useful to help build up the strength to do a pushup or to make them feel even easier.
The Bent Over Row is a major upper body pulling compound exercise. It’s easily performed with a barbell the muscles in the upper back like the lats and rhomboids as well as the biceps and forearms. As far as skill goes, this row is pretty simply to get to grips with. The toughest part generally for beginners is simply maintaining and holding the bent over position. When this is the limiting factor, I’d use simpler more supported variations of the row while working on the hip hinge position and strength through the hips and back. Requiring minimal equipment, the Bent Over Row is effective in building a strong back that will serve as your solid base for benching from, will help with developing the strength to bang out those chin-ups you have been working on and will generally strengthen those often neglected and dormant postural muscles of the back.
The Barbell Deadlift is undoubtedly one of the best all-round gym exercises however it gets a bad name as we all know someone who has hurt their back doing it! With a bit of know-how or guidance and some attention to detail you can master your technique and keep making safe, low risk strength gains. It gets your full body working in co-ordination to generate really high force outputs. It effectively trains the lower body, particularly the hamstrings and glutes. It gets your core working hard to keep tight and transfer the force you generate from the ground to the bar. You are normally able to use the most amount of weight so there is the potential to create a huge hormonal stimulus and accelerate the rest of your strength work.
The standing overhead strict barbell press is a major upper body pushing pattern that requires a moderate level of skill and stability to perform. I usually start my clients with simpler movements, including the Half Kneeling DB Press but when they can effectively control their core to keep a neutral spine then we can add in the overhead press from standing. With everything under the barbell when it is overhead, your full body is having to work in co-ordination to perform the overhead press. This movement pattern isn’t really used much in daily living and so ends up being the one everyone says they are weak at! Training this will help bring balance to the shoulders while developing solid upper body strength.
The Half Kneeling DB press is particularly useful because it sets you up in a stable position that really highlights any errors. The lower back is in a more stable position that standing as we have one leg forward and have 3 points of contact to the ground, compared to our normal 2 in standing. It allows you to brace really hard and keep your back in neutral keeping your joints as stacked as possible. It primarily works the shoulders and triceps but the core has to work hard too.
The Lat Pulldown is an upper body compound exercises that targets the pulling muscles of the back and arms. Pretty much every gym has one of these and that means pretty much everyone will have tried it. That means that like the Bench Press it is most often performed poorly or with little thought. The loadable nature of the Pulldown makes it perfect for total beginners as you can put on any weight you like, this overhead pulling motion is normally lacking and is very difficult to train outside of a gym setting unless you can do chin-ups (which very few can!). As the motion exactly replicates the pulling motion for a chin/pullup it is perfect for getting in higher volume muscle and strength work to assist with building towards your first bodyweight pullup.
The kettlebell swing is a great movement for the hips and posterior chain (back of the body). It is very common so we need to understand how to do it and why. It can be a tricky one, it is suitable for beginners if coached in an appropriate setting by someone who knows what they are doing. The fast nature of them movement however makes it a lot more complex than other hip hinge variations and so should only really be utilised once you can confidently perform movements like Romanian deadlift. It is good for power development, getting all of your muscles firing quickly and in co-ordination as well as for conditioning. When you have the intent to move something as quickly as possible, it is very good for power development and very tiring!
Allan Young is a Glasgow based Personal Training who runs Strength Coach Glasgow and is a 4x Scottish Champion Olympic Weightlifter.