There comes a point in one's lifting life that you begin to look at regressed versions of major exercises as a waste of time and innappropriate for your current abilities and goals.
It's like hating mild salsa, just because you can handle eating a whole haberno pepper.
You can't skip over the essentials just because you feel that you are always ready to get after it!
As a full time trainer who coaches 120-145 sessions any given month I spend a lot of time coaching basic movements. Add in a group exercise class that holds thirty to forty individuals twice a week and you'll discover that I'm spending a lot of time finding progressions and regressions of the major movements.
I don't like to see any exercise as a regression; however, rather I simply view it as it's own thing...meant to be mastered.
In my opinion, once you change the forces, levers, and contact points of any given exercise it becomes a new one altogether. Even something like doing pushups on your knees requires mastery of its own set of cues.
These next 5 movements are ones that I coach nearly every day with beginners, intermediates, and more recently, advanced clients. I've even added them back into my own program, which has already contributed a few noticeable positive adaptations. Subtle tweaks and an intensified focus on quality make any of these exercise outstanding, no matter how advanced you may be.
1. Goblet Squat
The first loaded progression of the bilateral squat in a large majority of trainers' bag of exercises. Front loading the body with a singular dumbbell that is held at collarbone level by both hands with vertical forearms allows for a squat-newbie to learn a lot of crucial information about a correct, and loaded, squat pattern.
In short: Shoulders back-and-down, chest up, weight-on-the-heels, knees out, and eyes neutral. Depending on skill level of the coach...you could also extend into belly breathing, "turning the floor", and other advanced cues.
The goblet squat is great.
Why would an advanced lifter want to use it? Two reasons actually.
Firstly, the goblet squat is just as effective at RE-TEACHING the squat pattern as it is at teaching it in the first place. Often times it is easy to get caught up in the great-plate-race and focus only on the barbell back squat. Our desire to boost performance and increase the numbers we generate can cause us to forego proper form.
Things such as core position, shoulder packing, and even equal force distribution between the feet can fall to the wayside when you have a shit-ton of weight on your back and you are trying your hardest to not cuddle with it on the floor.
The goblet squat can slow things down and allow the trainee to focus more on movement quality.
Secondly, it can be used for a serious intensity booster. One of my favorite exercises after I'm done deadlifting is the elongated goblet squat. The emphasis here is to increase time under tension by slowing the descent and ascent of the squat. Aiming for a solid five seconds in both directions (for 10 total) with a weight that is not too heavy, but certainly not light will make you feel like you are cooking fajitas on your quads.
2. The Push up
Simply put, guys want big pecs and have been convinced by the muscle magazines that the only way to get them is to bench big. So, somewhere in our journey to benching three plates us guys suddenly forget that pushups rock socks too.
I know I did.
In fact, it wasn't until I became a trainer, and especially once I started teaching a group class that is floor based, that I started utilizing the push up on a daily basis.
BroLogic: Chicks dig pecs. Must bench for pecs. Bros dig big benches. Must only bench heavy.
Let's shred that thought and focus on why the push up is amazing. Which I wrote about and you can read more about, as well as how to do a perfect one!
It is an exercise in chest, tricep and shoulder strength for certain. Yet, maybe more beneficial is its function as an active plank. When done correctly a push up should make your abs, glutes, and even back muscles burn. Full activation that derives from active feet, tight contraction of the glutes, and engaging the lats makes the push up a true full body exercise.
Add in the fact that you can add weight, elevation, or variations such as the spider man, plyometric, push-jacks, and so many more...it should always have a place in a training program.
The advanced lifter should be looking for these ways to increase the intensity of the pushup. An increased emphasis on perfect repetitions can be challenging in its own right. In fact, here is the challenge:
Do 100 PERFECT push ups for time.
That is all.
3. The Step-Up
Many of trainers march clients to a plyometric box to perform step-ups early in training programs. The logic is sound: Develop the ability to execute force production through the heel unilaterally, which should translate to an improved ability to do so once the bilateral squat is introduced.
Further down the road the step up can have load added to it, or even a contralateral knee/arm drive to promote sprint quality. No matter where you are in your training program one fact can be stated about step-ups; assuming of course, that the appropriate intensity is chosen for the individual doing them...
Your glutes and hamstrings will catch fire. Like...Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games fire.
Especially if the box is high enough...
For advanced trainees the step up, like the goblet squat, can function as a corrective agent that identifies and ultimately aids in fixing a left-right imbalance. Obviously we can continue to increase load applied to the exercise, but what is often overlooked is the placement of the resistance.
A personal favorite of mine is a lateral step up while maintaining a static resistance in the hands at chest level and full extension of the arms. Think of it as the love child of a step up and anti-rotation exercise.
Hamstring and glute development is always critical for the health and performance of the body. Performing single leg work enhances this by working the ab/adductors, piriformis, and many other small muscles groups in the hips and legs. Core Activation, bracing, and stabilization is a must.
4. The Lying Leg Raise
The lying leg raise is a fundamental abdominal exercise in my professional opinion. Not only does it work the rectus abdominals, but when done correctly it engages the transverse abdominals and obliques.
Many beginners struggle with arching their lower backs and push the focus of the exercise into their spine. This where mastering the ability to lift the chest, and flatten the lumbar spine on the floor becomes important. When done correctly you'll suddenly feel as though your abs turned into a block of concrete. From top to bottom the abdominals become engaged, and even the obliques and serratus anterior decided to come to work that day.
For an advanced lifter the lying leg raise may seem trivial when compared to cooler, more resisted movements such as captains chair, or free-hanging raises from a pull up bar. Yet, if we back the exercise down to its roots we find that the goal is maximizing activation, not repetitions, or resistance, or wow-factor.
Advanced exercise folk can progress the movement into a V-hold, and L-sit, and the above mentioned exercises in which gravity becomes a greater factor. Or, like the goblet squat, focus on time per repetition. If you suddenly slow down to the point where it takes eight to ten seconds to complete a rep as opposed to flailing your legs around like a dolphin, then you'll likely feel like are hosting a bonfire on your abdomen.
The emphasis is on a perfect spine, and maximum squeeze on your abs. To quote Next Top Trainer Andy Speer, "Make lemonade on that shit".
5. High Incline Walking
Wait...am I suggesting low-slow cardio? Oh God, I must have hit my head.
No no, as many of my clients will attest I am a huge fan of a singular low-slow cardio day per week, most especially, if it happens on a treadmill jacked up real high.
Tony Gentilcore, a trainer I respect very much, wrote an excellent article about the recovery of cardiovascular exercise right here.
I'm going to encourage you to click and read it for much of the science behind it's validity in an industry that has previously treated it like the devil. I'm not going to dive into the science on this blog because much of it would be rehashing Tony's material, and given the relative newness of his work...that would just be disrespectful.
A summary though is as follows:
For ALL exercise abilities, a high incline walk can aid in boosting cardiovascular function, aid in weight loss, and promote recovery from harder bouts of exercise.
Yet, for the advanced lifter there is one more benefit that goes above and beyond. Force Generation out of the major posterior muscles for a longer period of time. Simply put, the glutes and hamstrings have become accustomed to short, powerful bouts of force production. Suddenly, you make them produce moderately high amounts of force for a long period of time.
It is possible to get hypertrophy from this. Don't believe me? Look at professional cyclists. They are operating on four wheels even if you only see them balancing on two. Same goes for elite climbers. Incline essentially acts as resistance, which subjects the muscles to a stimuli. Stimuli require a response.
All of the above exercises are typically found in a beginners program. Yet, when approached appropriately can still be aggressive enough for even the most advanced of goals. Keep bending bars, cleaning and snatching, sprinting and dipping, of course. But, don't forget that all bricks are created equal when you look at the side of a wall.