The Best Unconventional Moves
by Gareth Sapstead T-Nation
It’s one thing to look like you lift, but it’s another to build a body that commands attention. And no, we’re not talking about the big-chested gorilla that can barely apply his own sunscreen.
We’re talking about the strong posture and physique that looks as good out of clothing as it does in it. Here are six unconventional exercises to complement your aesthetic workouts.
1. Heels-Elevated Cable Squat
In Arnold’s era, raising your heels and doing squats was a useful way to build your quads and get more depth. But in the 90s this heel elevation was considered cheating. Today, it’s all the rage again because, well, they were right in the 70s.
While elevating your heels with the barbell squat can build your quads, cable squats are just as good. They place your quads in better alignment with the direction of the resistance so you can further isolate your quads while unloading your back.
2. Chest-Supported Row with Mini-Band
Your pecs might be popping, but popping pecs don’t look good when your shoulders are hunched over.
To pull your shoulders back and show off those well-built pecs, you’ll need to be working your back more. Not just with any exercises, though, but with more rows and other horizontal pulls.
When your humerus is internally rotated you want to be combating that with more exercises that strengthen in the opposite direction. So think less about pecs, lats, and internal shoulder rotators, and more about mid-traps and external shoulder rotators.
Chest-supported rows are a useful way to hit your mid-traps without fatiguing your lower back. Combining them with a mini-band is an underrated way to further load your shoulder external rotators at the same time. You’ll need these if you’re at a desk, driving, or on your phone all day.
3. 3-Point Landmine Row
This might just be the best back-builder you’ve never tried. Not only do you feel supported enough to go heavy, the thick end of the bar will build your grip and forearms at the same time. If you just want to max out on your rows, then you’ll be forgiven for using some straps for your grip here.
You can also try changing the angle of the row and position of the bench relative to the bar to emphasize different areas of your back. For example, you can row with elbows flaring wide, arcing the row back towards your hip, or anywhere in between.
4. BOSU Cable Crunch
To build dense abs with deeply etched lines, you’ll need to subject them to some hypertrophy training.
Hundreds of bodyweight crunches won’t give you “cut” abs. You need to start adding some weight. A cable is one of your best options.
BOSU cable crunches give you a reason to pick that thing up and start using it. The shape of the BOSU ball allows you to load your rectus abdominis (six-pack muscle) through a greater range of motion.
You can also change the height of the cable to emphasize certain points of the crunch. A lower cable will load your abs in their stretched position more, while a higher cable will emphasize the shortened (squeezed) position at the top of the crunch.
5. Lateral-Resisted Ab Wheel Rollout
Try this for a multi-angled attack on your abs. Rollouts are one of the best exercises for activating your entire mid-section, but this variation will make them even more effective.
Simply attach a band to something stable coming from the side a few feet in front of you. Then loop it around your hand. The band should form about a 90-degree angle with your body when you’re fully rolled out.
The band adds a lateral component where you have to resist it from pulling you sideways. On the way back, there’s also an added resistance, increasing as the ab wheel returns under your shoulders.
Traditionally, ab wheel rollouts are an “anti-extension” exercise where your abs are resisting spinal extension and an anterior tilt of your pelvis. The band adds an “anti-lateral-flexion” component at the bottom. It also loads your spinal flexion as you stretch the band toward you.
6. Plank Leg Extension with Foam Roller
For a well-developed set of wheels, you’ll want to be working the one area of your quads that’ll show in and out of your shorts: that little teardrop muscle just above your knee.
To develop the VMO (vastus medialis oblique) most would use the leg extension machine. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Research shows that the top portion of the leg extension is actually one of the most effective exercises for activating your VMO. But what happens if the leg extension machine is taken and you want to still work on that teardrop?
Just grab a foam roller and do a few sets of plank leg extensions. They work the exact same portion of your quads as the leg extensions, and you can get a good isolated pump while doing them. Bonus: You can also do these at home.
One Last Thing
While big shoulders and pecs, a wide back, and extra crunches might be a part of your routine, don’t forget about the “other” stuff that’ll really make that new physique pop.
Get your shoulders back, don’t forget your legs, and please start adding some weight and different angles to your ab workouts.