• Joshua Li

Need a Break From The Big Lifts? Try These


Barbell Bench Press Alternatives

Flat, incline and decline barbell bench pressing are my favoured chest exercises as I can go as heavy possible whilst keeping the movement under control. The downside of heavy barbell pressing will the possibility of getting an injury from having too much stress going through your shoulder joint. Whenever I have been through a phase of heavy barbell pressing and start feeling a few niggles, I choose to sub in the following exercises:

1. Dumbbell Bench Pressing

Dumbbell bench press variations won’t allow you to lift the heaviest loads, but, they do help stimulate your chest effectively in other ways. Due to the nature of dumbbell pressing, you can take the movement through a greater range of motion. The greater range of motion will mean you gain a better stretch at the bottom, recruiting more muscle fibers. Unlike the barbell, the dumbbells will also allow you to get a deeper contraction at the top of the movement.

2. BB Floor Press

If you do have slight pain in your shoulders, then back off the regular barbell pressing and try floor pressing. Floor presses won’t recruit the most muscle, but it will help you get better at bench pressing. The most testing part of a barbell bench press is the middle to end of the movement. This part of the strength curve can be worked on using floor presses, by getting progressively stronger from the mid-point to the top of the movement.

To perform a floor press, simply set a bar up on the rack around 25 inches from the ground. Lay on the ground facing up, and grab the bar as per usual and drive hard from that static position at the bottom.

Barbell Squat Alternatives

Barbell squatting is rightfully known to be the best exercise for lower body development. Just like other compound lifts, they take their toll on your body and your joints will need a break. When I feel issues in my knees, that is a sign to tell me to back off on the heavy squatting and to add in some alternatives. Here are my suggestions:

1. Smith Machine Squats

I like to revert to machines to take a break from free weights. The smith machine is in a fixed, stable position, making the movement slightly easier to perform, but still allowing you to load on some decent weight. Due to the machine dictating where you are driving the weight, I feel as if I can slow the tempo down and feel the tension on the working muscles more effectively.

2. Bulgarian Split Squats

Using a lower load, a Bulgarian split squat will be friendly on your spine and knees. This movement puts a great amount of tension through your quads and for your glutes.

To perform it, elevate your back leg onto a bench, take two dumbbells, and perform a split squat. Remember to keep your chest up and get full range on the way down.

Deadlift Alternatives

I have never loved deadlifts. I am fully aware of the benefits of this multi-joint exercise, especially for posterior chain development. I have always been cautious of my back due to issues from my rugby days. Instead of conventional deadlifts I incorporate the following exercises:

1. Rack Deadlifts

The start point of a rack deadlift is from your knees, not the ground. Almost all lower back injuries from deadlifts come from the first part of the movement, whilst picking the weight up from the ground. The higher starting position ensures your spine is nice and straight and in a much safer, stronger position.

2. Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar allows a centered pulling position which prevents rounding of your lower back. Clients find using a trap bar more natural and they still get the benefits of a multi-joint movement. Using a trap bar, you are in greater control of the movement, especially on the eccentric (lowering of the weight). This controlled lowering allows you to feel the tension on the working muscles (predominantly quads) in your lower body, as well as keeping your back safe position.

Every clients physique is unique and exercises will not work for everyone equally. If body composition is your goal you need to find exercises that stimulate your muscles effectively and reduce the risk of injury. As trainers who have been in this industry for many years, we see clients of all shapes and sizes. From a quick assessment, we can tell what exercises clients can and can’t do and create their programmes accordingly. We look to incorporate regressions of the big lifts and gradually get you to the position where you can perform these bigger, more complex lifts effectively and safely.

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