Exercises That WORK

Post by Mark Ehnis

Calf raises, smith machine benching, pec deck flyes, inner/outer thigh machine…are these the types of exercises in your program? If so, you need to ask yourself why. Any exercise you add to your program must serve a purpose or it needs to go. There are thousands of exercises to choose from so it can get confusing on what to add and what to leave out. Beware of choosing exercises just because you saw the biggest guy in the gym doing it or you saw it in a magazine.
Now, where do we begin? You should always start your workout with at least one main strength movement. This a compound lift, training multiple muscle groups at the same time. In my programs it’s always a bench variation, squat variation, or deadlift variation- in essence, “the big 3” according to powerlifting and strength terms. These movements (I’d also add in overhead pressing movements) are the greatest movements you can do in the weight room for strength and mass gains. Add in some bodyweight and strongman exercises and you have yourself a nice little day at the gym.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite variations of these exercises that will help add some variety to your program. These exercises are awesome to get the most out of your time in the gym- the biggest “bang” for your buck as they say in the strength industry. Too many times people get stuck doing the same stuff and need to mix it up, so use this list as a starting point. You can switch variations every 1-3 weeks depending on your strength levels- if you’re stronger you can switch more frequently, if not, stick with an exercise for 3 weeks before you switch. Some of these variations require special equipment so I suggest you get creative and use what you have available to you, or you find a gym that has it…oh yeah, all these variations (and then some) can be done at PowerStrength ;).
The Squat
*Used with regular barbell, safety squat bar, and bands or chains
  • Free Squats
  • Box Squats- back and front squat variations
  • Front Squats
  • Barbell Zercher Squats
  • Goblet Squats- with Kettlebell or Dumbbell
  • Bulgarian Split-Squats
  • Sandbag Squats- front and offset 
NFL Linemen, Cameron Bradfield performing Squats with the Safety Squat Bar

The Bench Press
*Used with regular barbell, Thick bar, Swiss bar, and bands/chains- vary hand placement for dumbbell benching
  • Flat Barbell Bench
  • Incline Barbell Bench (vary inclines)
  • Close-grip Barbell Bench
  • Pin Press/Rack Lockouts
  • Board Presses
  • Floor Press- barbell or dumbbell
  • Dumbbell Flat Bench
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench
  • Alternating Dumbbell bench
  • 1-arm Dumbbell Bench
NFL Linemen Jared Veldheer and Cam Bradfield benching with the Swiss Bar

The Deadlift
  • Conventional Deadlift- regular barbell or thick bar
  • Sumo Deadlift
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Rack Pulls or Elevated Deadlifts
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift- on 1 leg or both legs 

*Adding in 1-arm Dumbbell Rows here because they are great for building up the upper back to aide in the lockout of the deadlift- plus it’s always a must to do more back work

The Press
  • Standing Barbell Press- regular barbell or thick bar
  • Seated Barbell Press (Military Press)
  • Swiss Bar Press- standing or seated
  • Dumbbell Press- standing or seated
  • 1-arm Dumbbell/Kettlebell Press
  • Clean and Press- barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag

Bodyweight Exercises
  • Single-leg Squats/Pistol Squats
  • Wall Squats/Bodyweight Squats (squats performed facing the wall)
  • Handwalks and Bear Crawls
  • Glute bridges/Supine Hip Thrusts
  • Lunge variations- walking, reverse, forward, lateral
  • Recline Rows (aka fat man pull-ups, inverted row, bodyweight row, horizontal row)
  • Rope Climbs
  • Push-ups- weighted, with bands/chains, feet elevated, hands elevated, barbell, hands staggered, diamond, 1-arm, suspended
  • Chin-ups/Pull-ups- weighted, mix grips, L-sit, various grip attachments
  • Dips- weighted or un-weighted
PSTS Record Holder, Pat Oliver performs various rope climbs

Strongman Exercises (or what we do with our strongman/outdoor equipment)
  • Tire Flips
  • Tire Battles
  • Sledgehammer Swings
  • Farmers Walks
  • Zercher Walks
  • Sled Drags/sprints-forwards, backwards, lateral
  • Prowler Pushes
  • Sled Rows with thick rope
  • Rock/Sandbag Carry
  • Sprint/Carry Medley (Ex: perform a backward and forward sled sprint then immediately pick-up the rock/sandbag and carry it) 

Other– exercises your should be doing but don’t fit into the categories above
  • Glute Ham Raises
  • Kettlebell/Dumbbell Swings
  • Reverse Hyperextensions
  • 45-degree Back Raises
  • Barbell/Dumbbell/Kettlebell Row- 1- arm or both
  • Reverse Lunges- barbell or dumbbell
  • Step-ups- barbell or dumbbell
  • Shrugs- barbell or dumbbell
  • Jumps- box, vertical, broad, hurdle, weighted
  • Band Pull-a-parts
  • Abs- Ab wheel/Bar rollouts, Hanging leg/knee raises
  • Grip- thick bar holds, hex holds, plate pinching, wrist roller, heavy dumbbell holds

This is a large list of excellent exercises- and I know, there are some not on this list. You have plenty to choose from so if you’ve been doing an exercise not on this list then I highly recommend you re-evaluate its effectiveness. Again, these are the exercises you want to be doing if you want your body and athletic performance to improve. So ditch the concentration curls and triceps kickbacks and get ready to be awesome and achieve REAL results.