5 Uncommon Exercises That Give You Great Bang For Your Buck

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Exercise selection is all about return on investment or bang for your buck. Time is scarce for most people when it comes to training so we therefore need to use that time to our best effect. This will prevent us from unnecessary time wasted and allow us to be more efficient. Generally speaking, this will mean focusing on compound lifts which refer to exercises that use more than one joint in the body.  For example, a lunge provides motion through the ankle, knee and hip whereas a bicep curl only provides motion through the elbow. The latter is known as an isolation movement. Isolation movements have their place but they should be used sparingly. Here are five cornerstone exercises, most of us can benefit from.

Front Squat

It’s well known that the traditional back squat is a good staple for many people but a front squat can be just as effective, if not more. This is because a well performed front squat has more emphasis on the quadriceps, the muscles at the front of the thighs and it also allows us to keep more upright in the movement, avoiding the common error of too much forward lean which unnecessarily aggravates the hamstrings. Front squats also allow us to develop some much needed flexibility in the wrists and shoulders due to the requirements in the way we need to hold the bar which makes them a great go to, if you don’t have all the time in the world to train.

Front Squat

Pendlay Row

Bent over rows are a good exercise if you can do them but a lot of beginners struggle to get into the hip hinge position to really benefit from them. They also struggle to control the weights to a proper range of motion, with a common error being letting the shoulders droop. Instead, the Pendlay Row variation could be a strong alternative as this really forces us to keep our back straight and work to an effective range because we have to reset the weight on the floor on every rep.

This allows us to ensure we have time to reinforce proper technique and breathing mechanics, as well as giving us the opportunity to work through an effective range of motion. There is a slight risk here if you are inflexible through the lower back and hips but this may be able to be fixed through proper mobilisation and dynamic stretch preparation as part of your warm up.

Pendlay Row
Photo: wikihow.com

Split Leg Romanian Deadlift

The traditional deadlift is a solid choice for most goals but it does not come without risks. A lot of people struggle to pick this movement up properly and therefore have a higher injury risk. A split leg variation removes some of that risk by allowing for a more manageable range of motion. It also allows us to emphasis one legs posterior chain (the muscles at the back of the body that create something called triple extension.

This is when the ankles, knees and hips extend fully at the top of a movement. The split leg variation will let us account of imbalances in the two legs which, if corrected will allow us to perform stronger two leg variations. A lot of people have a weak posterior chain so proper, deep work in these areas will likely be a benefit regardless of who we are.

Split leg RDL
Photo: oxygenmag.com

Towel Grip Pull-ups

Pull-ups are an excellent staple if you can do them. There are also many ways to progress them on, once you have mastered the basics. One of these progressions is the towel grip pull-up which is a little unorthodox because, well… you need a towel.

What this exercise does, is emphasis forearm strength. This is important because many people struggle with weak (comparatively) or under developed forearms which subsequently lets them down on other key lifts, especially for pulling movements like rows or deadlifts. For a lot of people, the forearm is the first place that lets them down when it comes to achieving personal bests. They are a very hard alternative to the exercise so a lower rep range with emphasis on proper form is key. You may even want to play around with pause rep or isometric variations for endurance.

Towel pullup
Photo: www.fitfatherproject.com

Overhead Squats

Another squat variation but this one is not for the faint hearted. This squat variation will give you the best bang for your buck but it is also the hardest to perform. The movement requires a barbell to be in a movement which is the same as the top range of a shoulder press but instead of pressing for reps, you need to be able to sustain the position isometrically throughout the whole set.

You will also need a large range of flexibility to be able to adopt the correct squatting positions throughout the ankles, knees, hips, spine and shoulders. It would be safe to say that more than 90% of gym goers cannot perform this movement properly as they don’t have the desired range available. For those who do have it, there are fewer, if any exercises that give you more bang for your buck because it requires every muscle in your body to work in tandem whilst under tension.

Overhead Squat
Photo: games.crossfit.com

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My names Christian Roach. I’m the Education Director for Redefining Fitness. We run fitness qualifications across the UK and help aspiring personal trainers to become qualified and build a successful business after graduation. With our personalised and flexible approach to teaching state of the art industry content we believe in improving industry standards, leaving our graduates inspired to be the best fitness professional they can be.


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