If you’re like me you probably love a fair amount of novelty in your training. This, in my opinion, is a mistake made by many these days though – too much variability and “fluff exercises” can take away from your gains.
It can also cause you to actually learn bad habits and instead of reinforcing good ones.
The fix is focusing on what we know to be true – the 6 Foundational Patterns of Squatting, Hip-Hinging, Push, Pull, Lunge, and Carrying. With that said, there is literally an endless amount of variations that can be derived from those patterns.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Use the 6 foundational movement patterns as the base of your program design
- Vary assistance exercises within those patterns every 2-3 weeks.
- Isolation exercises are still fine, but if you’re not spending time with each of these patterns weekly, you’re leaving gains on the table.
This won’t come as surprise, but I love the box squat namely because it allows us to serve a multitude of purposes such as reinforcing good motor patterns, used as a speed-strength measure or a maximal strength measure, and loading capabilities are lower because we are separating the phases of the lift making them far easier to recover from while still achieving the same great cumulative training effects.
Now, if you’ve mastered the box squat and its variations adding bands pulling from the front will be a ‘nice’ change. Reason being, adding bands from the front or Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) increases the demand on the anterior and your ability to brace through dynamic movement. It also turns an otherwise ‘simple’ movement pattern into more of a stability challenge so you can still reap the same benefits of the box squat while implementing a novel change.
I love trap bar Romanian Deadlift more so than I do the straight bar RDL for hip-hinge work. Reason being, the Trap bar completely changes the position of the load bringing it closer to your center of mass and thus creates a different gravity line as the bar stays closer through range of motion. Because of this, this variation is much more lower-back friendly (anyone with any miles on their body will appreciate this one.)
But the only downside to the RDL for stronger folks is the amount of time it takes for proper ramp-up sets so I prefer to opt for using accomodating resistance in the form of band tension. This allows us to use LESS straight weight and accommodate the strength curve whereby tension increase where I’m strongest and decreases where I’m weakest. As a whole, this provides the same benefits of using straight weight but the wear & tear factor is much less.
The push-up is about as foundational as it gets for a pushing pattern, but often times it’s either forgotten about or bastardized – I’m assuming those that are reading this can do legitimate full range chest to deck push-ups.
So if you’re ready to challenge your push-up pattern look no further than adding resistance and oscillatory motion. By using a “neutral bar” either on a rack or the floor you’ll increase the level of stability requisite. By adding additional loading (in this case with a weight vest) you’ll change the training stimulus and make the push-up less of a pure endurance-based movement.
One caveat though – if you do not have access to a neutral grip bar this same variation can be performed on kettlebells – remember we want the oscillatory motion as part of this challenge so performing a straight push-up with added weight won’t cut it.
Most love a good pull-up and for bodyweight only, the pull-up is the king of all bodyweight movements. To challenge the pull-up we can a fair amount of options like adding additional loading or increasing the grip requirement, but another less orthodox option is using a contrast method.
In this case, we’ll be performing a pull-up with a dumbbell between our feet for 3 reps then releasing the DB and performing 3-5 more strict reps. The contrast of additional weight to bodyweight provides a neuromuscular component allowing you to in essence ‘feel’ like you can perform more strict reps.
The level of difficulty of holding a DB between your feet ads a level of accuracy and demand on the core far greater than a standard loaded dip-belt weighted pull-up.
We’ve talked about a long list of horizontal row variations here, but a new variation you can add as a high-volume finisher (which is a staple in our programming done with bands) can be done with a heavy band using an incline bench.
Set-up up your band in your rack attached to the lowest point. While this variation is challenging, we want to aim for sets of 25+ reps per set to be effective in accumulating 100+ repetitions.
In this case, I’ve also added isometric holds – perform: 10 explosive reps + 10s hold x 3 cycles, but feel free to get creative with this one. If you use a heavy enough band this should sting!
The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) is quite possibly one of the most well-known and highly regarded single-leg exercises. Add a barbell in the front rack position and not only do you have an increased level of difficulty, but you’ve also increased loading capacity vs. holding dumbbells in your hands.
In this case, I’m using a Safety Squat Bar which while it’s not mandatory provides a different challenge than a standard straight bar (the camber of the bar & position in the front rack.)
This variation works well for both speed sets (lighter loads of 3 explosive reps per leg – give it a try before you knock it), submaximal sets of 5-6 reps per leg, or straight hypertrophy work performing 8-12 reps per set.
The loaded carry is an incredibly versatile tool as we know and something we’ve talked about used in both strength & conditioning scenarios here.
Typically I stay away from including the barbell in these articles for logistic’s sake (space it takes up to perform sets), but the Front Rack Carry is not only relatively user-friendly to get into position, but most commercial gyms also have outside areas (especially today amid the COVID pandemic) these days for people to perform such modalities.
In this case, we’ll be using heavier loads for shorter distances used in a strength scheme. 4-6 sets of 20-30 yards will fit the bill. One caveat – I’d recommend holding the barbell with arms crossed (bodybuilder style) as walking in a true front rack position could be uncomfortable and stressful for the forearm extensors.
Varying your training is part of the process of avoiding hitting the proverbial wall, but remember that your 6 foundational movement patterns should have bearing on the direction you take.
Far too often the answer to your aches & pains or your lack of making consistent gains lies right in those patterns – we hear of common ailments such as lower-back pain clearing up when this is done.
The best part is the variability to these patterns can be 100% individualized up or down the pyramid of patterns to match your ability and needs – just because this article highlights some of the more challenging variations does NOT mean you have to necessarily start with those – harder isn’t always ‘better.’