I am not the only member of the revolution, thus for the spread of ideas to continue we must have others contribute! This article is by Scott Carter, Revolution Community member, and is an in-depth guest post on how to get stronger without the big movements.
Want to get strong, but don’t like moving big weights? Maybe you want to get strong and lift big weights, but you’re not comfortable doing compound movements that are found in most strength programs (squat, deadlift, press). Lucky for you, I know a few tricks that can turn normal body weight movements into the core lifts of your strength training program.
Many popular strength and conditioning programs revolve around the squat. Unfortunately the squat is a complex lift. The squat can be intimidating for beginners and difficult to master for intermediate lifters. Not to mention the fact that traditional back squats can be troublesome for anyone with past back and/or shoulder injuries. The list goes on and on when it comes to difficulties involving the squat.
Enter the rear foot elevated split squat. Normally this lift is prescribed as an assistance lift in a strength program. Typically lifters will perform sets anywhere from 5-15 reps. If a lifter has never done this form of split squat before, then often times their body weight alone is enough resistance to complete the number of required reps in the set. However, I believe for someone who is looking for a safe and less complex way to break into the squat game, the rear foot elevated split squat can be used as a core lift in their strength program. Watch the video below for an example of how to do the rear foot elevated split squat.
Now let’s look at the rear foot elevated split squat with added range of motion. By adding additional range of motion to the split squat a lifter can make the exercise more challenging. Paired with additional external load from holding dumbbells by your side and you have yourself a core lift for any strength program.
Instead of loading tons of weight onto your back, a lifter can hold moderately light dumbbells and use their own body weight to make the exercise difficult. Holding 20 lbs. dumbbells in your hands sounds much more appealing to a beginner than putting hundreds of pounds of weight on your back. Next time you’re looking to train legs, give these variations a try.
When asked what lift trainers would choose if they could only do one lift for the rest of their lives and most would respond with the deadlift. Personally I would have to agree. There are many ways to spin the deadlift so that it emphasizes different parts of the body. From deficit deadlifts to heavy rack pulls and even trap bar deads, they’re all deadly, and they all have a massive training effect. However, if you’re like I was when I first started training, then reading those last few sentences made you a little uneasy.
See, when I first started lifting I didn’t like the idea of lifting below 5 reps. Going heavy was uncomfortable at first. So seeing “deadlift 3×5” written in my program made me squirm. Rightfully so, I had very weak hamstrings and glutes. Loading up the barbell and picking it up off the ground made my spine feel like it was going to shoot through my lower back. So, while you muster up the courage to start deadlifting (and work on hip and thoracic spine mobility), you can try these lifts as your main hip dominant exercises.
Say hello to the hip thrust. A couple things I love about the hip thrust are; they don’t require any external load to be difficult, it’s easy to learn, and it’s simple to increase the difficulty of the exercise without adding external load. The trainer who popularized the hip thrust is Bret Contrerasm and he has a very good instructional video on the hip thrust. Watch below.
Now, for trainees who find the hip thrust too easy with just body weight, but do not want to dive right into loaded thrusts, I have a solution for you. Actually two solutions. Option one; you can do the lift using your body weight and only one leg. I like this option because it trains each leg individually. Option two; you can increase the range of motion of the lift by elevating your feet. This way the glutes have to go through a greater range of motion in the bottom phase of the lift.
Instead of jumping right into the deadlift, give the hip thrust a try. Try one, two, or all three ways I’ve laid out in order to strengthen your posterior chain and be ready for the deadlift.
Ahh, the mythical bench press. I remember weight lifting for football in high school and the ONLY lift that we cared about was the bench press. Actually, this attitude carried on well into my college days. I remember my first workouts after I graduated from high school. They literally consisted of two styles of bench pressing, one ab workout, and then pick-up basketball games. Talk about a balanced workout (note the sarcasm). Anyways back to the point, I think the bench press can be an excellent chest and tricep lift. However, I don’t believe it’s right for everyone and more importantly I don’t think beginning lifters, with very little strength, deserve to be under the bar.
The push-up. I know what you’re thinking “what is this high school PE?” Let me assure you, if performed correctly, many people reading this may not be able to complete a set of 10. Watch the video below and take note of the following things that make this push-up technically correct.
- Core is tight.
- Spine is in a straight line. Notice how the hips aren’t sagging, the upper back isn’t rounded, and the head is down.
- The scapula is retracted once the push-up begins, in other words the shoulder blades are back and down.
- The first thing to touch the ground is the chest.
- In the bottom position the spine remains aligned.
- The “push” is an explosive move from the ground.
- Finally, the rep isn’t finished till the push-up is fully locked out.
- No stopping ¾ of the way up.
Now that we’ve established how to do a correct push-up, assuming you can perform multiple sets of multiple reps; let’s move onto making these more difficult. Personally, I like using push-up handles. On top of adding range of motion to the lift, I like the added benefit of the neutral grip position. I think they feel much better for anyone who has shoulder issues. Finally, and my favorite, are feet elevated push-ups while using push-up handles. This version incorporates all the bells and whistles. Added range of motion from the push-up handles and added resistance from elevating your feet onto a bench. Watch he video below of some well executed feet elevated push-ups with done with handles.
Add those into your strength program rather than bench pressing and you won’t be sorry.
Originally I included barbell rows as part of this article, but barbell rows are not really part of the ‘Big 3”. Also, there are many rowing alternatives that are similar to the barbell row. However, for those of us who sometimes have low back issues or prefer body weight movements, I give you the inverted row.
The inverted row can be done with suspension straps, on a smith machine, or even with a bar placed in a power rack. I like using the inverted row as an accessory lift and I love using versions of the inverted row on off days to get a little extra work done.
If you’re strong in the inverted row, but still want to make this into a core lift for your strength program there are many ways to make the movement more difficult. Such as elevating your feet, adding weight to your torso, using thick grips, or doing one arm rows. Watch the video below to see just how advanced of a movement inverted rows can be.
While I approve each one of the exercises I just listed, I do believe some version of the big three can, and will, be beneficial in your strength and conditioning program. The lifts listed previously are great for beginners, especially for building strength and prepping the body for the big compound movements. However, once you’re ready, the big three compound movements have incredible potential for lifters of all ages and experience levels. It’s up to you to determine when it’s appropriate to insert them into your program.
About Scott Carter
Got a question for Scott? You can find him in the forums @scarter2 (you can @mention people in the forums).
Born and raised in a small town in California. Scott graduated with his bachelors and quickly became a staff engineer at a structural engineering firm. Along with working full time, Scott loves spending his time with his family, friends, and pursuing Jesus Christ.
As a varsity high school quarterback and shortstop, Scott always had a passion for not only sports, but also staying physically active. As his days of organized sports ended, so began his favorite hobby of researching and implementing all things related to strength and condition. In particular Scott took a special interest in training for strength and improving his mobility and quality of movement. As he approaches his wedding date, April 20th 2012, Scott awaits the quickly approaching next chapter of his life. (Stay tuned for Scott’s construction of a garage gym inside a small apartment bedroom)