Typically, you’ll find the same old well-known exercises to be the backbone of most training programs.
Because they work.
While common exercises (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, rows, chin-ups, etc.) should be at the center of any quality training program, there are other less common exercises that can upgrade your workout and boost results.
These exercises have been around for some time, but they’re not as well known and not typically in most training programs. Try incorporating them into your workout to add some physical and mental variety. Both your body and mind will thank you.
1. Tall Kneeling Kettlebell Halo
It’s widely accepted that your core’s main purpose is to prevent excess motion about the hips and trunk. For this reason, exercises like planks, side planks and bird dogs have become staples in many programs. But there is one other exercise that many forget about: The tall kneeling kettlebell halo.
This move challenges your core to not only prevent the lumbar spine from overextending (aching of the low back), but also from rotating because the kettlebell travels around your head. Check out the example in the video below:
Start from the tall kneeling position (both knees down and sitting tall). Bring the kettlebell in front of your face in the bottoms-up position. Imagine pulling a zipper up toward your ribcage to engage your core and prevent the low back from arching and the trunk from rotating as you bring the kettlebell all the way around the head. Reverse directions to complete the rep. The goal of the exercise is to prevent motion from occurring as the kettlebell is rotated around the head.
2. Shoulders-Elevated Dumbbell Chest Press (From Bridge)
With the common dumbbell chest press, you are lying flat on a bench. To take the challenge up a notch and demand more from the core as well as the hips, give the shoulders-elevated dumbbell chest press a try.
Start with your shoulders on a flat bench. Engage your abs by pulling your zipper up toward your rib cage to prevent the hips from tipping anteriorly. Bring a pair of dumbbells up to your shoulders and bridge your hips off the ground by driving through your heels and squeezing your glutes.
Keeping a solid bridge position, press the dumbbells toward the ceiling. Lower the dumbbells slowly, reverse directions and press the dumbbells toward the ceiling again. Repeat for reps as you continue to squeeze the glutes, engage the core and keep the body from moving.
3. Single-Leg Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Horizontal rowing (upper-back work) and single-leg stability are two key components to a well-rounded training program. Put them together and you have a big bang-for-your-buck exercise.
Using a flat bench or plyo box, place one hand on the bench and sit your hips back into an athletic position. Lift the leg on the same side as the hand on the bench and extend the leg back as if you were trying to touch your heel to the wall behind you.
Keep the abs engaged to prevent the body from rotating, the upper back from rounding or the lower back from arching as you row a dumbbell with the free hand. Focus on bringing the shoulder blade across the back, and do not allow the shoulder to tip forward or the elbow to finish too far behind the body at the top of the row. Repeat for reps before switching hand and leg position to complete the other side.
4. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Bench Press
Creating more stability at the shoulder joint and forcing you to hone your technique are two key benefits to bottoms-up kettlebell work. Try this bottoms-up press to add a new level of challenge and variety to your benching.
Start lying on a flat bench. Keep you abs engaged to feel yourself pressing your low back flat to the bench. Using a kettlebell in the bottoms-up position (the belly of the kettlebell will be toward the ceiling) start with the kettlebell just outside the chest and just below the shoulder.
Press the kettlebell toward the ceiling and hold the top position for a second count. Slowly lower the kettlebell back to the starting position while focusing on keeping your grip tight and preventing the belly of the kettlebell from falling. Repeat for reps and switch sides. And remember: You will have to start lighter for this than you would a typical dumbbell or kettlebell bench press!
5. Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Angled Barbell Press
Overhead pressing is a great option for many individuals, but some of us may not have the necessary mobility or stability at the shoulder to safely go overhead right away (or ever). To help increase the mobility and stability of the shoulder as well as challenge the core and improve pressing strength, give this less common exercise a try.
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Start from a half-kneeling position with a barbell in the angled position (one end will be in the corner of a wall or other secure location, or you can use a landmine setup). With the arm of the downside knee holding the end of the barbell at shoulder height, engage your abs to prevent your low back from arching throughout the exercise.
Push the barbell away from your body, focusing on keeping the body still and elbow in line with the shoulder. Be sure to bring the shoulder blade up and tip it back with the press to prevent impingement at the top. Slowly lower the barbell to the starting position and repeat for reps before switching both the hand and leg position.
6. Angled Barbell Reverse Lunge to Press
A great combo exercise that can work the entire body with one movement, the angled barbell reverse lunge to press is an uncommon exercise that deserves more attention.
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Using a barbell in the angled position, grab the end of the barbell with one hand and hold it at shoulder height. Keep the abs engaged to prevent the hips from tipping forward as you step back with the leg on the same side as the barbell. Do not allow the moving leg to cross the midline of the body, and keep the front-leg knee out to prevent any inward collapsing.
Drive through the heel of the front leg to “pull” yourself up to the starting position. As you approach the standing position, begin to press the barbell away from the body using some of the momentum from the lunge. Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position and repeat for reps.
Remember to keep the abs engaged the entire time and use the same pressing mechanics as you would for the half-kneeling single-arm angled barbell press.
7. Single-Leg Single-Arm Dumbbell RDL to Row
Another great combo exercise, the single-leg single-arm dumbbell Romanian deadlift to row challenges overall stability as well as single-leg and upper-back strength.
Begin with a dumbbell in one hand. Keep the abs engaged and hinge at the hips bringing the leg on the same side as the dumbbell back to a fully extended position. Focus on keeping the hips from rotating, the back straight and the moving leg long and strong. Hold the bottom position so there is a straight line from the top of the head to the bottom of the up-leg heel.
Next, perform a single-arm row as you prevent the body from rotating. The row should occur as the shoulder blade moves toward the spine. Slowly lower the dumbbell and return to a standing position by driving through the down-leg heel and pulling yourself back up using the hamstring and glute of the down leg. Repeat for reps and switch sides.
8. Single-Leg Stability-Ball Leg Curl
When the hip is extended and the knee is flexed under tension, the hamstrings are in full use. When you can really work the hamstrings as well as challenge core stability, you have a great exercise.
Start by lying flat on the floor with your feet on a stability ball. Keep the abs engaged and prevent the lower back from arching as you curl the ball toward your body by driving your heels into the ball and bending your knees. Bridge the hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes. Keep the abs engaged and glutes contracted as you slowly raise one leg off of the ball. Next, roll the ball away from the body so that the working leg is straight and the hips are still elevated.
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Drive through your heel and roll the ball back toward the body, using the hamstrings to “curl” the ball toward you. Repeat for reps as you continue to prevent any hip rotation or low-back overextension (overarching) throughout the exercise.
Sometimes all it takes is a little more variety to shake up your training routine just enough to spur better results and keep your mind fresh. Try adding a few of these uncommon exercises to your training program, and have fun while you get closer to your fitness and performance goals.
Kyle Arsenault, CSCS, is a strength and conditioning coach, human-performance specialist and author. Kyle uses his extensive knowledge to create performance-enhancement programs for top fitness athletes as well as his online clients. Connect with Kyle on his website, Facebook and Twitter.