There’s an endless array of odd workout advice out there – but what actually works when you need results? Please enjoy this assemblage of the best moves you’ve never done…
The exercise moves you're not doing, but really, really should.
Sometimes, basics are best. Cheese on toast, a nice solid 4-4-2 formation, saying ‘There he is’ when your friend walks into a restaurant: they’re classics for a reason, and shouldn’t be neglected. And, yes, the same goes for your workouts…usually. Because, while the basics of getting in better shape are well-established – press-ups, squats, simple barbell moves and a bit of running will never go out of fashion – there are times, occasionally, when you have to add a bit of pizzazz, attacking a limb from a different angle or addressing an imbalance with an unusual solution. For those times, then, we’ve assembled a list of the finest off-kilter moves that actually get it done – the ones that might raise an eyebrow in the gym, but will also ensure you’re getting results. Oh, and when you’re refueling, it’s fine to chuck a couple of peppers on your cheese on toast. Sometimes, you can improve on the old classics.
FOR A BIGGER CHEST… THE GYM BALL SQUEEZE
Chest workouts are easy, no? Just whack a load of weight on the bench (bro), then crank out a load of reps once or twice a week until you’re blessed with a set of pecs that you can make dance through a dress shirt, a la Terry Crews. Except! The problem with this is that the pecs are mostly there to ‘adduct’ the arm (ie bring it towards your body, like in a tennis forehand), so by ignoring that movement you’re leaving gains on the table – or possibly taking them completely off the agenda. This move fixes it: it’s nothing but adduction, and also includes a solid wallop of the time-under-tension modern body comp specialists insist is necessary for real growth. Best of all, you can do it at home, on holiday, or in the back of a boring yoga class – basically, anywhere you won’t feel too embarrassed about squeezing the living heck out of a giant inflatable ball.
How to do it: Get an inflatable gym ball that’s big enough for your forearms to be at least
ADD A BIT OF PIZZAZZ, ATTACKING A LIMB FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE
IT’S ALL TOO EASY TO BUILD A BEEFY SET OF PINS WITHOUT EVER WORKING HAMSTRINGS
shoulder-width apart when you grab it between your forearms. Now, with your upper arms parallel to the ground, squeeze as hard as you can – you should feel your pectoral muscles engage, and stay switched on while you hold on for 20 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times with at least 60 seconds of rest between reps. Do this anywhere from twice to five times a week, upping the time of each set by ten seconds each time. By the time you’re squeezing for a full minute, you’ll be giving old TC a run for his money.
FOR HEALTHIER KNEES… LYING HAMSTRING SLIDERS
Pity your poor hamstrings. Squats, done correctly, hammer your quads and glutes (especially if you’ve activated them as above), but it’s all too easy to build a relatively beefy set of pins without ever working your hamstrings. This imbalance can leave your knee ligaments under strain and – over the long term – can lead to a twang or a crunch that leaves you out of action for months. What you need, especially if you aren’t going to the gym regularly, is a way to work your hamstrings in isolation with zero kit.
How to do them: First, you’ll need a set of sliders – bespoke ‘fitness’ slide discs are an option, but a handtowel on a smooth floor works just as well. Lie on your back with your heels on whatever you’ve chosen and your hips off the ground, then slowly allow your feet to glide away from you – before engaging your hamstrings to pull them back in. Yes, it’s tough – start with three sets of four reps, twice a week – and work up.
FOR YOUR CORE… FOAM ROLLER PRESS-UPS
Most people, let’s be honest, do press-ups wrong. Google ‘World Record Press-Up Attempt,’ and try to find a video that isn’t a dude in a bandana flopping around like a beached fish trying to do the worm – except that you won’t, because that video
doesn’t exist. Even in your regular gym, almost everyone half-asses this most humble of gym moves – piking their hips up in the air, letting them sag, or just giving up on their dignity entirely and doing half-reps. It’s a shame, because done correctly, the press-up works your core as hard as your chest and arms, making it a bang-for-your-buck ab-blaster you can do basically anywhere. If only there was a way to keep yourself honest with a bit of kit that’s available almost anywhe… waaait a minute.
How to do it: Start with the entry-level version. Grab a foam roller – the hollowed-out-cylinder kind works best – and assume the press-up position with your toes on top of it, keeping your core braced to stop yourself from collapsing into a heap. From there, do proper press-ups – arms straight at the top, chest to the floor at the bottom, spine straight throughout. The advanced version? Hands on the roller make it much, much tougher.
FOR YOUR SHOULDERS… THE JAVELIN PRESS
Shoulders are infuriating. On the one hand, they demand a decent amount of investment before they start to grow – but on the other, they’re flighty beasts, vulnerable in every direction… and if you give yourself a really spicy rotator cuff injury there’s a good chance you’ll never be the same again. That’s why your shoulder training should emphasise moves that safeguard the ooold shirt-fillers while also challenging them as they’re meant to be used. This move, in which you heft a barbell overhead as if you’re about to throw it like a javelin, does all of the above, while reducing strain on your joints with a ‘neutral’ grip (your palm faces your body) and activating your nervous system to stabilise the wobbling bar. You’ll also benefit from the need to stabilise your core and hips, making you better at a plethora of other moves.
Don’t use it as a strength-builder, but slip it into your warmup to get yourself ready for some heavy shoulder pressing.
How to do it: It’s easiest if you take the barbell out of a rack. Stand side on, brace your glutes and abs to provide a better ‘platform’ for pressing, and drive the bar overhead while gripping it hard to stop it helicoptering around and concussing other gymgoers. Aim for 2-4 reps on each side with an empty bar, and... you know what? Try this one in an almost-empty gym first.
FOR MORE EFFICIENT RUNNING... THE FIRE HYDRANT
Slipping out of the office for a swift 5K is all very well, but if you spend the rest of your day slumped in a chair – or a sofa – it’s a fair bet that you’re suffering from a serious case of what’s known as gluteal amnesia. To self-diagnose, get out of your chair and turn around to face the seat: can you sit down, hip-crease below knee level, without your knees touching the chair? If not, your glute muscles have ‘forgotten’ how to fire, and reminding them to get in on the action’s the fastest way to improve everything from your sprinting to your layups. The good news? The fix only takes a couple of weeks, and is super low effort. The bad? You are going to look like one of Nicki Minaj’s backing dancers for a while.
How to do it: Get on your hands and knees, then bring one knee out directly to your side - yes, like a cartoon dog having at a fire hydrant. Repeat the move slowly 3-5 times on each side - you should feel your glutes ‘switch’ on, but if not, straighten your leg and aim to touch your heel to the floor on each rep while your toes point upward. It’ll be worth the indignity when you slash your PB by half a minute, honestly.
FOR STRONGER POSTURE... THE CHINESE PLANK
You are, of course, aware of the plank, the elbows-on-the-floor ab move that helps promote spinal stiffness and core stability, while simultaneously really, really making you want to stop doing it. But its counterpart, the so-called
‘Chinese’ plank does the same for your back – forcing you to keep your posterior chain (that’s all the muscles down the back of your body) in action and promoting better posture in most moves. Once you’ve got used to holding it, upgrade to doing moves like the dumbbell bench press in the same movement - you’ll look insane, but feel the benefits immediately.
How to do it: You’re going to need to hog a couple of benches for this one. Set them up parallel to each other, then lie down with your shoulderblades on one and heels on the other, keeping your back braced to stay straight. Aim to hold it for 30-60 seconds, either as a finisher to your regular workout or to make up for a day of shameful indolence. You know when you need it.
YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK LIKE ONE OF NICKI MINAJ’S BACKING DANCERS
LYING HAMSTRING SLIDERS
THE GYM BALL SQUEEZE
FOAM ROLLER PRESS-UPS
THE FIRE HYDRANT
THE CHINESE PLANK
THE JAVELIN PRESS