Over the years I’ve tried many exercises, I’ve always had a curious mind and loved to change things up. My early Youtube videos will show you that (you can one below). The closer I get to that 10 year mark of lifting I’m stripping out a lot of excess movements and focusing on the bare essentials that you need for GAINS. Here are my 7 favourite exercises.
Having fun with variations –
Nothing quite screams LEG DAY at you like pause squats. The main issues for most people here would be to actually get down into ‘the hole’ (a deep squat position) and pause. Most beginners tend to avoid the deep position be it because of fear or mobility restrictions. So for that reason I’d probably say it’s intermediate and advanced level friendly (4 years training plus).
I’ve only started doing pause squats probably for just over a year. The increased control I feel both in the front and back variations has been the main reason I feel they’re amazing. You really need to keep positions well and generate a lot of power out of the hole to stand back up which is probably why weightlifters regularly do them too.
My tip: push through the entire foot to generate power to stand up. This means 3 connection points: the heel, the big toe and the little toe.
Back days should start with or include a bodyweight exercise. Period. Whether it’s chin-ups, pull-ups or even inverted rows. The back muscles in their entirety are for pulling, and I’d argue there’s nothing more important than being able to pull your own weight. No pun intended (actually whenever somebody says that, they purposefully add a pun).
I prefer these to pull-ups with a wider grip because I, and you, get more range of motion through the chin-up. We get a full contraction of the lats and the muscles of the scapula.
I’ve done pull-ups all my training life and only recently started to really focus on chin-ups with the weighted option. I’m currently up to sets of 5 reps with 36kg attached, loving the gains.
My tip: Grip the bar as tight as you can to eliminate any possibility of forearms giving up first and focus on getting your chest to the bar. A good pointer is to get the point you touch the bar to on a bench press – to the bar on a chin-up. You should feel muscles engaging which you never thought you had.
Only people in weightlifting or Crossfit circles will know this one. It’s sometimes called the full clean. Basic aim is to get the bar from the floor to your clavicle safely and quickly but with the inclusion of a squat. You might have seen weightlifters at the olympics sinking under the bar and squatting up to stand up, that’s what this is.
It takes guts to dive right in, timing, co-ordination, power, grip, legs, a strong core… I could go on. It’s a very intricate move and I don’t hesitate in saying it’s more advanced gym goers. Hell even most advanced gym goers will struggle.
My tip: Start light and get the timing right off your hips, don’t be surprised if you’re using less weight on the squat clean than a normal power clean at first. But the squat technique will eventually build you up to cleaning more weight than you’ve ever done before. ‘Grip the shit out of the bar’ also. lol.
This is something I’ve always loved! An exercise which can be done very quickly (in as little as a few minutes) which works a large portions of the muscles on you body and generates maximum power.
I recently bought a 36kg kettlebell simply for the swings and cleans too and will be making an attempt to do some daily. This one is for the glutes, because they never made a song about a small butt.
It builds the posterior chain, generally most people’s weakness and will crossover to more deadlift strength. There was a study which found an explosive movement practiced before a strength move increased strength by 5%. That means clap push ups before bench press and kettlebell swings before deadlifts.
My tip: This one is all about hip extension, use your glutes as a pivot point and lock out the hips fast. That is what should send the kettlebell to eye level and not your shoulders. A lot of people make the mistake of doing a semi squat and then throwing it up with shoulders.
Plate Lateral Raises
This is also a move I recently started (do you see a trend emerging here)?
I picked it up from Lu Xiaojun (77kg weightlifter). The guy has monstrous shoulders and he swore by this exercise. I tried it once and was hooked. I’ve always struggled to feel my shoulders in standard dumbbell lateral raises, I just don’t respond to it too well. I’ve tried bent elbow, straight-arm, slightly bent over and a whole load of different variations but then I found the plate!
I loved it instantly. Because it’s awkward to grip and you need to rotate it all the way up above your head it worked all kinds of fibres. I keep the speed slow and I use bumper plates gripping from the hole in the middle (where the bar inserts). I perform these as if tipping buckets so there’s some rotations in the wrist.
My tip: Lose your ego with shoulder raises, you will be humbled by this exercise done with a tempo of 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down with only a 5kg plate. Oh and use a bumper plate if you have one available, the weight is spread out more making it harder.
This is one I’ve actually been doing for a while. It came to me through ‘squat everyday’ and Cory Gregory suggested it as a wind down tool. He started something amazing called #LungeUniversity where the only accessory work to heavy daily squats he would do were 1 Mile of walking lunges whilst listening to a podcast / audiobook. I was sold straight away. Workout time plus education time.
I complete 200-400m of lunges 4 times per week (because 1 mile was just SO hard) alongside my squat everyday routine and my legs seemed to blow up. Great feeling in glutes and quads after them too.
My tip: you don’t have to go crazy with these like above. But you should end all leg workouts or at least include a lunging movement. I prefer walking bodyweight for higher reps than loading up with dumbbells etc. Keep an end goal in sight and focus on it until you reach it (having a track or some empty lane space in your gym will help a bunch).
You didn’t think I was going to forget the king of lifts did you? I’ve loved the deadlift ever since I first did it in 6th form in the academy gym with 130kg! Admittedly in recent years I’ve focused a lot more on bringing up my squats and have lost some of the love for the deadlift but the numbers are back on the rise and I’m feeling good. The deadlift will work the entire posterior chain from your neck all the way down to your calves as well as forearms, some bicep, core region and quads too!
Any weights routine without the deadlift I feel is already at a disadvantage. It would take at least 4 exercises to mimic the effects of the deadlift and even then you’d be missing out on a basic human movement – lifting something from the floor.
My best is 220kg weighing 76kg at a local strongman competition back in 2012. It wasn’t the best form but you can see the video here.
My tips: Place the bar over the mid-foot, bend down in a stiff leg deadlift fashion, grip as tight as you can with your chin tucked into your chest and sit back and begin to pull. I really advise you reset the weight and yourself on the floor at each rep, you should never do touch and go if you can help it. Also bring your hips to meet the bar, don’t lean back to complete the rep, this is a tough cue to address in writing, I’ll do a video demonstration soon. Oh and always use overhand grip. Only switch up to alternate grip or hook grip when you need it, chalk will help loads too.
So there you have it, to be honest there isn’t an exercise that I really hate but these ones I love in particular and will always add them into any routine I do.