There’s no question that the basics of strength training work despite what you may see from time to time on the Internet. The barbell is the ultimate tool for strength and muscle and will continue to work for all who take it seriously. Incorporating the Big 3exercises—the barbell squat, bench and deadlift—along with Olympic lifts should form the backbone of most conditioning and strength workouts. But within these squat, hinge, and press variations are forgotten strength exercises and variations done by old-school strongmen to get even stronger.
You’re saying you have no interest in powerlifting or improving your strength numbers? If you’re looking to add muscle or just to get stronger than you were yesterday, then these five forgotten strength exercises will still benefit your training by helping set the table for building a stronger base for your everyday life in and out of the weightroom.
These moves may appear a bit unusual at first and may garner some strange looks, but if you’re looking for accessory exercises to bust through lifting plateaus, give these five exercises a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.
5 FORGOTTEN STRENGTH EXERCISES
When you’re looking to shore up weakness in your primary moves, or for variety in your accessory training, give one of these five forgotten strength exercises a shot.
The bent press is a unilateral pressing variation made famous by strength pioneers Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and Louis Cyr in the 19th century. This exercise trains your body to handle heavy weights overhead. Think of it as a standing Turkish get-up on steroids.
How to do it
- Clean the kettlebell to the rack position and rotate the foot opposite to the kettlebell at about 45 degrees.
- Press your upper arm into your lat, rotate the arm away from your chest, and rotate your torso with your arm. Think about resting the working elbow on your hip.
- Then twist your torso toward the front while the kettlebell moves behind you. Feel the weight transfer to your legs. Rest the opposite arm on your thigh.
- While looking toward the kettlebell, lockout out your elbow and get underneath it.
- After the arm is extended, stand up.
- Reverse the movement carefully and reset and repeat
*Note: This can be performed with a variety of equipment, including dumbbells and kettlebells (shown here).
How it helps: The bent press improves thoracic mobility and shoulder strength, which has a direct carryover to overhead strength and any sport or activity that demands torso rotation.
Sets & Reps: Three to five sets of 3 to 5 reps on each side early in your training.
This exercise got its name from the lifter who first used them, powerlifting champion Kirk Karwoski. He and his coach Marty Gallagher developed this to improve Kirk’s grip strength, but both soon realized it put slabs of muscle on the upper traps. As a side benefit, it helped crush his deadlift strength numbers.
How to do it:
- Place the barbell at thigh level in a squat rack.
- Grip using a thumbless overhand grip.
- Shrug the weight by only using your traps and lats and pause for a second when you get to your belly button
- Slowly lower the barbell down to the starting position and reset and repeat.
How it helps: If you want to develop a big yoke, this is the exercise for you. Plus, increasing upper back strength and muscle helps keep the barbell close to you when your deadlift and provides a ‘shelf’ for barbell squats.
Sets & Reps: Perform three to four sets of 8 to 12 reps and the end of an upper body session, or choose a weight around 30-40% of your 1RM deadlift and do AMRAP.
The Pendlay row is named after former coach Glenn Pendlay, who lost his battle with cancer a few years back. Pendlay saw a flaw in the bent-over row, and this was his way of fixing it. He came up with this row variation that starts every repetition from a dead stop to increase maximal back strength and explosiveness in your deadlift.
How to do it:
- Set up as you would for a conventional deadlift.
- Hinge and grip the barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip.
- Squeeze your armpits together, and bring your chest up to get your back neutral.
- Then, explosively pull the barbell towards your sternum.
- Return the barbell to the floor and reset and repeat.
How it helps: Spending time in the hinge position wonders for your lower back strength and endurance. If deadlifting slowly from the floor is your weakness, the Pendlay row’s explosive nature will help.
Sets & Reps: This row variation is best performed for strength and power, so performing three to five sets of between 4 to 8 reps works well.
When JM Blakey trained at Westside Barbell and was crushing EVERY bench press record in sight, those who trained with him noticed he was performing a lift they had never seen before. It was a hybrid move, part close-grip bench press, part skull crusher, and total triceps builder. And when they did it, they loved it, and the JM Press was born.
How to do it
- Start the exercise the same way as the close grip bench press, except ensure the barbell is directly above the upper chest. Imagine running a line from the barbell down to the upper pecs.
- Use a narrow grip of around 16 inches apart.
- The elbows are 45 degrees from the body and are kept up the entire time.
- As you bring the barbell towards you, cock the wrist to hold the bar in place.
- Lower the bar down until your forearm touches your bicep. Let the bar roll back about one inch to keep the elbows pointed forward and up. Then press the bar back up.
How it helps: JM presses focus on lockout triceps strength that transfers directly to your bench and overhead press. Due to the shorter ROM, you’ll also go heavier than your usual triceps extension variation.
Sets & Reps: Three to five sets of 4 to 6 reps for strength or two to three sets of 8 to 12 for muscle.
The snatch grip deadlift derives its name from the Olympic lift because it resembles the first part of the snatch movement. The wider grip puts a significant demand on the upper back muscles because they work harder to keep the spine neutral. Plus, this helps improve your grip strength because your hands are away from the shoulders.
How to do it:
- Get your feet underneath the barbell with a wider stance than conventional and angle your feet slightly.
- Hinge down, assume a snatch grip, and ensure the hands are making complete contact with the barbell. You may need to bend your knees a little to lower your hips.
- Squeeze your armpits, get your chest up and drive your feet through the floor.
- Finish with your glutes at lockout, lower to the floor, reset, and repeat.
How it helps: IMO, you cannot get enough upper back strength for the deadlift or any exercise, and this deadlift variation tests this to the max. This variation puts the hips in a lower position, and more oomph is needed for the initial pull, making it a safer option than deficit deadlifts for some lifters.
Sets & Reps: Perform these if you’re slow off the floor, need to improve your grip strength, or are looking for a little variety. Three to five sets of 3 to 6 reps work well.