If you're looking for maximum results in minimal time, weightlifting is your best option. Strength training improves your athletic performance, increases strength and bone-mineral density, accelerates fat loss and builds muscle. The problem is that if you do the same workout with the same sets, reps and exercises for an extended period of time, you'll stop seeing results. Why? Your body has adapted to that routine at that weight and needs an extra challenge to shake it from its plateau. If your training has stagnated, you need to change up your routine to jump-start your continued results. The following is an intense workout that will "hurt so good," by bringing some (hopefully) unfamiliar (or at least underutilized) exercises together for a total-body workout that will restart your progress in the gym. Do all of the exercises in order. For the A/B exercises listed, perform these as a superset, meaning one exercise right after the other. Rest in between different supersets.
EXERCISE 1: Barbell Front Squat
This is a great lower-body exercise to challenge your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs and even upper back. By holding the barbell on top of your shoulders in front of your body instead of behind it, you're forced to recruit the abs to stabilize the load and keep upright. Plus, the anteriorly loaded front squat places a greater challenge on the quadriceps due to bar placement. HOW TO DO IT: Load a barbell with 75 to 80 percent of what you would use for a back squat. Keeping your elbows high, descend deep into a squat. Take three to four seconds to lower the weight, then accelerate to a tall, fully extended position as fast as you can for each rep without locking your knees. SETS AND REPS: Perform five sets of eight reps with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets. The short rest period will increase muscular and metabolic stress, two big markers for muscular hypertrophy, according to Brad Schoenfeld in Mechanisms of Hypertrophy.
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SUPERSET 2a: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
The incline dumbbell bench press changes the angle of the typical bench press, hitting upper portions of the chest that are often neglected during flat pressing variations. Adding in dumbbells allows for greater adduction of the arms across the body and greater pectoralis major activation than a standard barbell bench press. HOW TO DO IT: On a bench inclined to 45 degrees, grab two dumbbells and hold them out in front of you at shoulder level. For a count of two, slowly lower the dumbbells down to your chest, pause for a count of two, and then push the dumbbells out again for another two to three seconds until your arms are extended straight. SETS AND REPS: Perform four sets of eight reps with 60 seconds between supersets with the dumbbell chest-supported row (see next slide). These shorter rest periods cause more soreness and require more subsequent recovery.
SUPERSET 2b: Dumbbell Chest-Supported Row
Having a strong back to hold good posture is essential for performance and long-term health. The chest-supported row is an awesome exercise to strengthen the trapezius and rhomboids in the middle of your upper back. Because of today's largely sedentary work culture and resulting hunched-over posture, the dumbbell chest-supported row is the ultimate weapon to strengthen the muscles primarily responsible for keeping your chest up and shoulders back. HOW TO DO IT: To wake up those dormant postural muscles, sit facing a bench inclined to 45 degrees with a dumbbell in each hand. For a count of two, pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your chest, pause for a count of two seconds, and then lower the dumbbells for another two to three seconds until your arms are extended out straight. The slow tempo and longer eccentric phase (lowering) will improve muscular recruitment and break down more muscle fibers. SETS AND REPS: Perform four sets of eight reps with 60 seconds between supersets with the incline dumbbell bench press (see previous slide).
SUPERSET 3a: Bulgarian Split Squat
Single-leg exercises like the Bulgarian split squat not only improve single-leg strength, but they also incorporate muscles of the hips and trunk to improve single-leg stability. In most cases, single-leg exercises eliminate the weakest link in lower-body exercises -- the lower back -- reducing the chance of compressive and shear-stress injuries on the lower back. These kinds of exercises also allow for greater range of motion and, subsequently, greater muscle activation of the hamstrings, glutes and quads as compared with most bilateral barbell exercises. HOW TO DO IT: Elevate your rear leg on a bench while holding a pair of dumbbells at your side. Keep your front leg eight to 12 inches in front of your hips with your heel flat on the floor. Drop your hips toward the ground, allowing both knees to bend into a modified lunge position. Stand back up tall, fully extending the front leg. SETS AND REPS: Take three seconds to go down, pause for one second at the bottom of the rep, and then stand up in two seconds. Perform three sets of 12 on each leg. Switch legs, and then move to the second exercise in the superset after 30 seconds (see next slide).
SUPERSET 3b: Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
This single-arm exercise gives your upper body a great proprioceptive and stability challenge by requiring your triceps and deltoids to press overhead. Plus, having the weight on only one side provides an antirotational, antilateral flexion stability challenge, targeting more of your core. It builds upper-body strength while teaching you how to properly press with a stable midline as compared with your typical bilateral press. HOW TO DO IT: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and one dumbbell held over your shoulder. Press overhead, pause at the top, then lower back down with control. Perform all reps before repeating on the opposite arm. SETS AND REPS: Perform three sets of 12 on each arm. Switch arms, and then move to the first exercise in the superset after 30 seconds (see previous slide).
Related: 12 Exercise Swaps to Help You Break Through a Plateau
SUPERSET 4a: Romanian Deadlift
Strong hamstrings that work together with a stable core are vital to your athleticism and physique. This exercise does builds both. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a barbell with both hands at hip level with the feet shoulder-width apart. While keeping the shoulders retracted, push your hips back into a hinge position as lower the barbell. When the barbell reach just below the base of the knee, push your hips forward and return to a tall, standing position and squeeze your glutes. Take five seconds down and five seconds up with a two-second pause while squeezing your glutes. Perform of two sets of 10 reps. Move immediately to the next exercise in the superset (see next slide).
SUPERSET 4b: Preacher Curl
Biceps curls are great for building your arms, but most lifters have done them so often they hardly reap any of the benefits. Enter the preacher curl. By letting your arms hang over an incline bench, the biceps are stressed at a different angle than with a standard curl. Combine that with flexing the elbow joint at a mechanical disadvantage and you have an exercise that will create lot of micro-tears within muscle fibers, resulting in soreness. HOW TO DO IT: Kneel at the back of an incline bench press at 45 degrees, holding a barbell with both hands. With the arms fully extended down to start, curl the barbell up toward your chest using your biceps. Pause before fully extending the elbows, again using your biceps. SETS AND REPS: Take five seconds to straighten your elbows fully, and then curl back up and repeat for a total of two sets of eight reps. Move immediately to the next exercise in the superset (see previous slide).
SUPERSET 5a: Standing Rotational Chop
The standing rotational chop increases core strength and stability, which is essential to all training programs. HOW TO DO IT: Start with a cable machine at your side with a rope attachment pulled all the way through one end. Then, holding the rope with your top arm fully extended, diagonally pull the rope across your body until the bottom arm is fully extended at roughly hip height. Return to starting position. SETS AND REPS: Perform three sets of eight on each side. Switch sides, then move to the second exercise in the superset after 30 seconds (see next slide).
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SUPERSET 5b: Side Lunge
Life isn't just a forward-to-backward event. You need the ability to move laterally, and the side lunge helps you do just that. This variation on a familiar exercise will hammer your adductors and abductors (inner and outer thigh muscles) to improve mobility, strength and overall athleticism. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a double-wide stance with feet well outside shoulder width. Push your hips back and sit back to the right, lunging to your right side, before returning to a standing position with your hips fully extended. Repeat on the left side and return to standing. That's one rep on each side. SETS AND REPS: Perform three sets of six reps in each direction. Switch legs, and then move to the first exercise in the superset after 30 seconds (see previous slide).
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What Do YOU Think?
And that's it! Sometimes you need a change of pace during your workout. This combination of exercises with slow tempos and short rest periods will challenge even the most seasoned lifters to conquer plateaus and provide some soreness to boot. So what do you think? Will you give this workout a try (or have you already)? Which exercises did you like? Which contributed the most to any day-after soreness you experienced? Let us know your thoughts, suggestions and stories in the comments section below!
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