Last week, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to do a question & answer seminar on Instagram with one of my bodybuilding mentors, John Meadows. During the Q&A, John and I touched on training during the quarantine, and we mentioned how – while it’s not ideal – we have both seen some benefits from being more creative with training.
One of those benefits: coming up with cool new movements that target muscle groups in challenging ways! John is known for this, of course, with all of his band and chain work; and with exercises like Meadows Rows.
Now, those might be more “hardcore” than movements involving bands and bodyweight, but nevertheless, we both agreed that a few movements we’ve been using during quarantine will become staples in our regular training regimen. I’d like to share some of those with you here!
Movement 1: The Weighted Push-Up
When you’re discussing anything related to strength, you have to begin with bodyweight movements. They’re the most basic and fundamental ones we have; and, in fact, some of the oldest forms of purposeful resistance training in the United States focused almost entirely on calisthenics. Clearly, they have huge value for building strength and muscle, as well. Just look at top level gymnasts!
Nevertheless, bodyweight movements are for some reason often shunned by lifters – maybe due to their “primitive” feel or seemingly low potential for progression in age where social media buzz relies on either cutting-edge science or constantly adding more weight to the bar. But I think bodyweight exercises deserve a closer look, and in particular, I want to focus on the weighted push-up.
Some of the strongest strength athletes in the world advocate frequent use of push-ups. Stacey Burr, for example, writes:
“I chose [weighted dips and push-ps] to add to this guide because these are two moves that you can do daily to add in extra upper body work. Is the work glamorous or worthy of Instagram? Maybe not, but I guarantee if you work your way up into adding 100 pushups and 100 dips into your daily routine – your bench will go up. Start doing 10 per day, 2x per day and then work your way up from there.”
Westside Barbell also pushes the push-up pretty hard:
In my opinion, pushups are a fantastic movement for building the chest and triceps, and improving the bench. The trick is to use a full range of motion and to se a sufficiently heavy load. To do so:
- Elevate both hands using a pair of 45s so that you can get an exaggerated stretch at the bottom of the movement.
- Add resistance by placing more 45s on your back.
- Don’t crank out reps: use a slow, controlled tempo and keep your back perfectly flat.
Simple? Yes. Effective? Heck yes!
Movement 2: The Banded Lateral Raise
If you follow me on social media, you know that I have had some recurring shoulder tendonitis, caused by overuse and lack of mobility. It limits my ability to press frequently, and it prevents me from doing some movements – like heavy dumbbell lateral raises – entirely.
An interesting aspect of shoulder pain is how much it’s tied to the wrist and elbow. When these joints are aligned, as in a perfectly-executed bench press, pressure on each one tends to be a bit less. However, in a proper lateral raise, it’s hard to create that alignment unless you hold both dumbbells in a neutral grip. And if you do use a neutral grip, it’s difficult to use much weight at all, as your wrists have to work really hard to maintain that position.
That’s been pretty frustrating for me, because I have a difficult time developing my side and rear delts without laterals. And those are two of – in my opinion – the most underrated muscle groups in both bodybuilding and powerlifting. Well-developed rear delts in particular help create a wider torso appearance and to stabilize the body when back squatting or benching.
Using resistance bands has solved that issue! The bands make the movement easier at the bottom, when the shoulders are at a mechanically disadvantageous position, and harder at the top where they’re stronger. I’ve found that performing high-rep lateral raises using bands has both eliminated my shoulder pain and made the movement itself more effective.
This is the method I use to perform banded laterals:
- First, I use two different micro-mini bands both anchored to the same post or bench, depending on whether I’m performing them seated or standing. I find that using a single band is too challenging for high reps sets.
- And I do recommend high reps for this movement. I will typically perform 4-5 sets of 20-30 reps using only a minute in between sets.
- To really torch my shoulders, I squeeze the top position for a short static contraction on every rep.
My delts are still a lagging muscle group in many aspects, but banded laterals are helping to shore them up quickly.
Movement 3: Barbell Pullover & Press
This is an old-school movement that powerbuilding coach Josh Bryant often recommends. My former and current coaches both love this movement, too! Here’s how John Meadows performs them:
Now, there are a few tweaks I’d recommend here. First, I really like performing these from the floor, setting the barbell down each rep so that you’re starting from a dead-stop. It allows you to control the weight more and makes the movement more challenging. If you go that route, try using 10-pound plates for an extended range of motion so you can really hit the triceps hard.
I also recommend wearing elbow sleeves and wrist wraps. You can go pretty heavy on this movement, but it’s still primarily hitting the triceps, which are a smaller muscle group and prone to overexertion injuries. Using protective equipment is a good way to increase your longevity!
Lastly, for the same reason, I suggest performing this movement for very high reps – sets of 15-20 or even more. That will again lighten the weight you’re able to use and limit risk of injury while still allowing you to push hard.
A Quick Quarantine Workout
You can use all three movements together to create a pretty brutal and effective workout, either for a main session when you don’t have gym access, or a lighter or assistance day when you do!
- 3-Way Banded Laterals: You’re going to perform 10 reps of side laterals, 10 reps of front raises, and 10 reps of bent-forward laterals, all using a pair of micro-mini bands. Perform that as one giant set; rest 90 seconds, and repeat three times for a total of 4 giant sets.
- Weighted Push-up: Start out with bodyweight for a set of 10-20 reps. Then add one plate and perform a set of max reps. Rest 2 minutes, add another plate, and perform another set of max reps. If you can, repeat once more for a third set. If you can do a set with four plates, please write an article on pushups to tell us your secrets.
- Pullover and Press: 3 sets of 20 using a light weight and really squeezing the triceps throughout the entire movement.
You are guaranteed to have a great pump after this session! Enjoy!
Photo by Paul Prescott / shutterstock