A common pitfall of many training routines is the monotony of exercise selection that inherently occurs after a few weeks. You’ll often hear people purport you should vary your routine periodically to “confuse the muscles”, which is a somewhat sound theory, but many great lifters/bodybuilders thrive off the same core, primary exercises (e.g. exercises like squatting, benching, deadlifting, etc.)
That being said, when it comes time to change things up and add some variety to your supplemental/assistance training (the exercises that support primary movements) there are a few rather underutilized exercises that many trainees could stand to benefit greatly from. I think one of the main reasons these exercises remain obscure to many is that their execution is somewhat technical and people may shy away from learning how to perform them.
Therefore, this article will take a look at 5 supplemental exercises that are suitable for most any gym trainee looking to keep their routine fresh while propelling their strength and performance. These exercises will likely seem very challenging when you first perform them, so don’t try and be He-man to impress all the svelte women you pretend to think are ogling you in the gym; err on the side of caution and go lighter rather than too heavy.
Floor Presses (assists pressing movements)
The floor press is a superb variation of the bench press performed (not surprisingly) while lying supine on the floor. This exercise can be a great changeup from run-of-the-mill accessory bench press exercises like close-grip bench, dips, flyes/pec deck, etc.
Execution (can be performed with barbell or dumbbells):
- Begin by lying on the floor supine in a power rack with the safety pins removed and the bar holders placed about knee level
- Your neck should be about parallel to where the bar is, similar to how you would setup on a normal bench press
- Take a slightly wider grip than you would on normal bench presses and adjust as needed
- Lay your legs flat out along the floor, this forces you to keep your glutes on the ground so you can’t “cheat” the weight up
- Tighten your shoulder blades and press the bar out of the rack similar to how you would begin a normal bench press
- Lower the bar until your elbows touch the floor, pause for a moment, and press the weight back up to the starting position
DB Six-ways (assists pressing movements)
These are a nice variation from the usual side lateral raises, and they are quite a bit more challenging. The movement consists of 6 different motions, all targeting the deltoids (mostly the anterior and medial heads).
Execution (can be done seated or standing):
- With each hand holding a dumbbell setup in position like you would be if you were performing typical DB side laterals (your hands should be pronated throughout the entire movement)
- The first movement is identical to a side lateral, but once you complete that motion keep the dumbbells static in the top position (i.e. your arms should be straight out to your sides)
- Now bring your arms so they are straight out in front of you and again keep the dumbbells static in this top position; this completes the second motion
- Now elevate your arms so they point straight up towards the ceiling, and hold at the top; this completes the third motion
- Now to complete the next three movements, you simply reverse the first three motions you just performed
- Once all six motions have been performed and the DBs are back in the starting position, you have completed one repetition.
Chest-supported DB Rows (assists pulling movements)
Chest supported dumbbell rows are a great way to develop mid to upper back strength and they are easy on your spine. Moreover, these are much harder to “cheat” the weight up with since your body is held static and you can’t use your momentum to swing the weight up.
- Adjust a freestanding bench to about a 45 degree incline, like you would for incline DB presses
- With a pair of dumbbells in hand, face the bench and lean on it with your chest touching where your head would normally be if you were doing DB presses
- While keeping your elbows close to your sides pull the DBs up towards your midsection; squeeze your lats at the top of the motion
- Slowly lower the DBs back to the starting position; this completes the repetition
Glute-ham Raises (assists deadlifts, squats)
Arguably the best assistance exercise for the posterior chain, GHRs are a great way to target weaknesses in the hamstrings and glutes. The best part is they can be done with just your bodyweight, and even that might be too challenging for inexperienced trainees.
- On a GHR apparatus, mount the machine so you’re facing away from the foot/heel pads (i.e. your face will be looking at the ground at the top of the movement)
- With your feet on the platform (and ankles pressing against the rollers) and thighs resting against the leg pads, slowly lower yourself by extending your hamstrings until your body is about parallel with the floor
- Now explode back up the to the starting position by contracting your glutes and hamstrings, this completes one rep
NOTE: If you cannot do a rep with your bodyweight, use a partner to help assist you. You may also use an inflatable exercise ball to help push off of on the concentric portion of the movement.
Bulgarian Split Squats (assists deadlifts, squats)
Bulgarian split squats are sometimes referred to as “skater squats”, essentially the movement is the same as a split-stance squat/lunge but your rear foot will be elevated; this makes the ROM greater and is a great way to target the quads and pelvic area.
Execution (can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells):
- With a bench or other elevated platform placed behind you (and dumbbells in hand or a barbell on your traps), place one of your feet on the bench so the top of your foot rests against the padding.
- Your spacing between your front and rear legs can vary depending on the degree of difficulty you want and preference of which muscles get hit the hardest.
- Now with your front leg, begin the movement by lowering yourself until your back leg’s knee touches (or nearly touches) the floor
- Once you are completely lowered, explode off your front foot back up to a standing position; this completes one repetition.
NOTE: Do not alternate between legs for every rep; do all your left-leg reps at once, rest, then do all the right-leg reps—that completes one set.
So there you have it, if any of the exercises are still unclear you can find many resources on YouTube to help you visualize the movement. Again, start light with these and nail the technique, then move onto more challenging poundages.