Do you have favorite exercises? Why are they your favorites? My favorite exercises seem to combine athletic training with aesthetic training. My long-term goals have been to build power and speed, while maintaining an “X” frame. The “X” frame can be described as having broad shoulders, small waist, and strong muscular legs. Generally, I tend to prefer free weights, as they allow for a wide range of motion. This can help you adjust the movement to really target the intended muscle. Here are my top 5 exercises, in no particular order:
Squats and their variations: this big compound movement should be a staple in everyone’s training. But, I’m not just talking about traditional back squats. I love landmine squats, Bulgarian split squats, and rack squats. Choose the variations that best fit your goals and training. For example, if you’re not competing in powerlifting, the traditional back squat isn’t necessary (especially if you have back or knee problems). Opt for variations that allow you to build strength without injuring yourself. Landmine squats take pressure off the spine, and encourage proper form and alignment. They also work the core and shoulders. Bulgarian split squats help to improve right to left symmetry, and can minimize injury due to imbalance. Strengthening muscles through unilateral training can increase overall strength too! Rack squats focus on just the last 1/3rd of the range of motion. This directly translates into jumping power, as it’s the right amount of upper leg flexion before taking off. Front squats, sumo squats, hack squats, and split squats are other common variations worth trying.
Nordic Curls: this body weight exercise has been shown to increase hamstring strength, size, and decrease incidences of injury. I prefer the Nordic curl to a machine because I have the ability to adjust the resistance at any point in the exercise. It also works the eccentric or negative portion of the movement, which has been shown to increase strength. To do a Nordic curl, wedge your feet under a machine or have someone hold your ankles. Using your knees as the hinge, slowly lower your upper body to the ground. Use your arms to push yourself back to the starting position, while pulling yourself up with your hamstrings. I like doing 3 AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets.
High incline press: this directly relates to shot put strength and power, and also builds the upper pectoral muscles. When we lean down, the upper pecs are one of the first places to lose mass. It’s easy for a competitor to look “stringy” if they haven’t developed the upper pecs. To perform this exercise, set the bench one to two pegs higher than the standard incline. Dumbbells are great, as they allow unilateral and bilateral reps. Try to focus on using just the pecs, and not the shoulders.
Military press: shoulders can be trained for power and for hypertrophy. In my years of training, I have found that shoulders need a variety of exercises, movements, and rep ranges. For heavy pressing, I love using the military press machine. Dumbbells can be tricky without a spotter, and even with a spotter, they require the use of stabilizer muscles. Heavier movements can be done on machines, while lighter movements can be done with free weights, cables, or the bar. I try to not only vary rep ranges, but also vary my grips and grip widths. Shoulder and back width is key for creating the “X” frame, and military press is a great exercise for building a superhero-like body!
T-bar row: this exercise works on adding strength and width to the back. It can be performed unilaterally or bilaterally. Rather than loading up the 45 lb. plates, try using smaller plates, as this will give you a longer range of motion and better “squeeze” at the top. I try to go as heavy as possible, while still maintaining good form. As soon as form starts to suffer and momentum kicks in, the exercise is not as effective. Try standing more upright to hit higher on the back, and bending over more to hit the lower lats.
No matter what workout I’m doing, I rely on BetaTOR to help me get those last tough reps. I have been able to maintain my strength, even as I lean down.
Thank you for reading – until next time, train hard, y’all!
- Erin Stern, 2x Ms. Figure Olympia