There are some well known staple movements in every gym, the Bench Press, The Shoulder Press, The Deadlift and The Squat. While I am a believer in all of those exercises and regularly practice all those lifts, focusing solely on them can be monotonous. So here are 3 variations to mix up your routine and develop your strength and physique further. 
 
There were some criteria that I had to check off before deciding my final 3 exercises, these were: 
Compatibility with mainstream gyms 
While all the variations I looked at were viable here at Peak Performance, I had to make sure that these lifts or a version of them could be performed in any gym anywhere 
Carryover to the main lift 
Although this article is suggesting you swap out the main lifts with these variations, a carryover of strength when you move back to them is still important. 
‘Bang for your Buck’ 
A phrase used a lot, but some exercises that I looked at would have been great as accessory work, but as a main compound movement in your sessions, just didn’t stand up. 
 

Exercise no. 1 The floor press 

We all know what 90% of men’s chest days look like. Flat bench, Incline bench, either with dumbbells or barbell, then some flyes and maybe some extra dips or press ups. Many pecking orders throughout time have been established based upon the 1, 3 or 5 rep max of guys’ bench presses. However there are many groups of men who simply abandon the bench press, instead favouring the dumbbell or machine versions, purely because of the stress it places on the shoulders and rotator cuff, but also because they can’t feel the bench working the chest enough. 
 
So what is the floor press? It is an upper body press that allows you to move heavy weights without putting unnecessary stress on the shoulders. Negating the use of any leg drive, it places a lot of workload on the triceps and chest, allowing you to really feel the work being done in each rep. It will also help with the mid and lockout portion of your bench press, usually the portion of the lift that most people struggle with. 
 
Start lying flat on the floor, find your position. Meaning, shoulder blades pinched together, upper back tight and legs flat on the floor. Your feet can start up, but this could encourage a leg drive, and with this lift, all egos are left at the door. 
 
If you can, find someone to lift off the bar for you, getting that upper back tight with shoulder blades pinched can be redundant if you then loosen off having to unrack the bar yourself. This isn’t asking someone to the school dance, just pick the nearest person and get a lift off! However if your pride dictates you must do it alone, opt to pull the bar off the ‘J’ hooks, not press it off. The pulling of the bar towards you will maintain that tightness in the back you are looking for. From here actively pull the bar as if rowing until your elbows are flat to the floor, again no ego lifting here, use a weight you can control, keep the elbows tucked in to at least 45 degrees, excessive elbow flair again can put unnecessary stress on the joints. Allow for a full pause at the bottom position then explosively press the bar, making sure the wrist elbow and bar are aligned, until you reach extension. Suck in another lung of air and repeat the process. 
 
As for sets and reps, try switching in the floor press for the bench as your major strength movement for the session. So reps in the 3-5 rep range work well here, start with 3 sets and work up from there. Enjoy healthy shoulders, massive arms and a strong chest moving forward! 
 
 
 

Exercise no. 2 Behind the neck shoulder press 

Over the years this exercise has earned a terribly poor reputation. The apparent destroyer of shoulders has supposedly resulted in hundreds if not thousands of victims. However this version of the shoulder press is the most complete version of all the lifts. The normal press with a barbell from in front of the neck uses more front deltoid than anything else. Whereas the behind the neck press causes a much larger contraction in the lateral and rear deltoids. So while the normal press is great for building big front delts, as a complete shoulder builder, it is second to its evil twin the behind the neck press. 
 
The problems caused by this movement are due to one issue, lack of initial mobility in the shoulders. This is usually caused by excessive bench pressing, causing ‘shoulder forward’ posture, or by people with huge pectorals and massive anterior delts. So, if you have healthy shoulders with good mobility, this exercise will cause you no issues at all. If your mobility is poor however, you won’t be able to complete the behind the neck press. 
 
Start in the squat rack; set up as if you were going to perform back squats, hands just outside the shoulders, feet and hips underneath the bar, chest proud and head facing forwards, keeping a nice neutral spine. 
 
Unrack the bar. In comparison to what your squatting this weight should be pretty light, but maintain the tightness like you would do when squatting. This is crucial to keeping the body in position when pressing the bar overhead. Keep your chest up, rotate your elbows so they are directly under the bar then press upwards. Try not to lean too far forward with your head, the bar won’t hit you! Squeeze your abs, thighs, and glutes, making sure your body is tight and secure. 
 
Once you reach lockout, reverse the movement. Do this by pulling your elbows straight down, keeping them in line with the centre of your body, bringing the bar as deep as you can. I recommend going down to at least the bottom of the ears. 
 
Sets and reps wise, if your shoulder mobility is good, there is no reason why you can’t do this in the 3-5 rep range. However I would suggest using this is as an accessory movement to begin with, sticking in the 6-12 rep range. Again start with 3 sets, and as you become more confident move towards 4-6. 
 
 
 

Exercise no. 3 The trap bar deadlift 

If tomorrow you were forced to only choose one exercise to train for the rest of your days, what would you choose? The Trap Bar deadlift would be very close to, if not the only exercise, I would choose. It has all the benefits of deadlifting and squatting but with none of the major setbacks. It provides all the necessary strength and muscle building benefits that is easier on the knees than the squat, and easier on the lower back than the deadlift. 
 
If building your lower body with the minimal amount of fuss is your thing, then look no further. Plus, use the trap bar for 6 weeks, and discover a new level of size and muscularity in the upper back that you haven’t seen for some time, if ever! 
 
So just because I’m raving about it, why should you use this version of the deadlift? Let’s start with the fact that using this movement over the straight bar deadlift significantly reduces the sheering force on the lumbar spine and hips. Plus for a good percentage of you, getting into the correct position to deadlift properly with hips low, back straight is almost impossible, especially if you are in the large population of people who sit at a desk all day, continually practicing lumbar flexion and posterior pelvic tilt (Leaning over in a hunched position while your bum stays where it is). The positioning of the handles allows you to keep the position we want and let you sit back into your lift, meaning it’s easier to maintain the form we are looking for. 
 
To set up for the lift, first step inside the bar, feet hip to shoulder distance apart, toes pointing forward. Make sure at this point that you are stood with your feet equally spaced between the front and back of the bar; we want the load to be moved up in line with the midline of the body. Grab the handles squeezing tightly with your middle fingers, elbows should be facing backwards to fix the shoulders in position. From here squat down maintain your natural arch in the lower back. To move the bar concentrate on driving your feet into the floor, knees straightening and your hips coming forward, once you reach lockout, squeeze your glutes and abs to finish the movement, before reversing and controlling the decent. 
 
How to use these in your workouts? Well, you could use them as a replacement for either the squat or deadlift if you feel that you want to remove the loading on the spine. Here at Peak Performance we use them a lot with Burton RFC players in season, when we want to get some quality lower body strength work done without squatting. Gain, depending on your goals, you can use them as maximal strength work in the 3-5 rep range, as accessory work in the 6-12 rep range. You can also use them with a very light weight to perform Trap bar jumps, which will help with improving power in the lower body. Again sets of around 4-6 with a light load is ideal here. 
 
 
Have you tried these exercises? Or do you think that there is an exercise that was missed off here? Let us know! 
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