3 Sneaky Tough Exercise Variations to Help You Pack On Mass

Small modifications can lead to big gains!

One of the biggest pitfalls of hypertrophy training is a simple one: a lot of the time, it’s straight-up boring. While compound movements like squats and deadlifts will always be challenging enough to require a lifter’s full attention just to ensure proper execution (let alone lifting hundreds of pounds), the same can’t be said for things like dumbbell curls. As a result, it’s easy to find yourself falling into the trap of mindless cranking out rep after rep of the same movement week in and week out.

Of course, that’s not ideal: to get the most out of training, you must be fully present in the gym for each and every set and rep. Now, I strongly believe that the way to achieve that mindset involves discipline and motivation, but hey – we’re all human. Some days you’re just not feeling it; maybe you had a tough time at work or got in a fight with your significant other. In those situations, it can be helpful to mix things up to force yourself to pay attention to the task at hand. That’s where unconventional movements can make a big difference.

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Trying to get fired up for legs today while dealing with this cold. In the old days I’d grab a magazine and would be ready to roll in an article or two. These days I tend to look through IG for some heavy videos by guys like @dustyhanshaw08 @trainedbyjp @shawnssmith87 @phdeadlift or whatever powerlifter happens to be deep in meet prep and posting videos. What do you guys do to get motivated on days where you need an extra kick? Also, we’re still leaving the presale discount open thanks to the bad ass turn out so far for myoplasmic.com. Thanks so much everyone! For anyone else interested, check out the link in my bio for a lifetime discount to the new members site @phdeadlift and I have been working on. Each month includes a new training and diet program, along with videos, articles and deathwish training challenges for a chance at prizes #troponinnutrition #prepcoach #contestprep #musclementor #bodybuilding #contestprepcoach #prepcoach #contestprep #strong #elitefts #kalamazookeeper #bodybuildingcoach #indianbodybuilding #musclemotivation #elitefts #npc #npcbodybuilding #shredded #nutrition #carbcycling #criticalmass #criticalmasstraining #criticalmassworkout #criticalmassbook #justinharris #troponin #criticalmassnutrition #myoplasmic

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If you’re a strength athlete focused on building an incredible physique, those unconventional movements become even more important. Oftentimes, focusing exclusively on compound movements can result in some smaller muscle groups – shoulders and arms, for example – lagging behind the bigger ones. Targeting those neglected areas in just the right way can make a big difference in your results.

So, that’s why it’s important to not stick to the bread and butter all of the time. When you’re ready to try something new, though, it can be difficult to figure out what that “something new” should be. It requires creativity, and that’s where my coach, Justin Harris, comes in.

Justin’s been a part of the powerbuilding scene for a long time, and he’s one of the lifters I looked up to the most when I first started out. He’s finished in the top 3 in national-level bodybuilding shows, totaled well over 2000 pounds in powerlifting meets, and – maybe most of all – he’s really freaking smart. Here are three movements Justin has programmed into my training that we’d like to share with everyone – either as inspiration for finding magic movements of your own, or to supplement an existing program. Enjoy!

1. Troponin Extensions

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Here’s a tricep movement that really helped my lockout on bench when I was powerlifting. I usually see it performed with both arms across the body, but I have some muscle/nerve damage on my left side so I liked to do them single armed so I could make sure I was giving the proper emphasis to my left arm. This is videoed through the mirror so this is my left arm. I’m running into pressing strength issues with that arm again so I think I’ll start incorporating this movement more ————————————————— ~Follow the link in bio for training programs and ebooks. ~Diet plans at https://www.troponinnutrition.com/diet-plans #troponinnutrition #prepcoach #contestprep #musclementor #bodybuilding #contestprepcoach #prepcoach #contestprep #strong #elitefts #kalamazookeeper #bodybuildingcoach #musclemotivation #elitefts #npc #npcbodybuilding #shredded #nutrition #carbcycling

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This is a great movement for targeting the outer head of the triceps, which will give it a more “rounded” appearance, and help your bench lockout at the same time – a double win! They’re pretty easy to perform, too:

  • Set a cable machine at shoulder height with no handle.
  • Holding the end of the cable, extend your arm away from your body while keeping your scapula retracted (to prevent straining your shoulder).
  • Flex hard at the end range of motion, and slowly return to the starting position.  
  • You can “lean” into the cable at the start of the motion to really get a great stretch in the triceps.

I like very high reps for this – think 20 or more. That creates a wicked pump, but if you prefer, you’ll find that you can go surprisingly heavy on this movement without any elbow or shoulder discomfort (when performed properly).

2. Way-Lean-Forward Rows

I love a good seated row, but many lifters have a tendency to “cheat” by involving a good amount of lower back in the movement. Leaning way forward helps to prevent that, and allows you to get a massive stretch in the lats at the end of the range of motion. Note that while Justin prefers to use a rope handle, he’s also a pretty tall dude – shorter guys and girls, like myself, might have better luck with a regular handle. Try both and see which fits you best.

My favorite way to perform this movement is part of a mechanical drop set, where you change positions during a set to allow for more repetitions. Try this:

  • Start out with a moderate weight – something you could hit for a set of 10-12 in the way-lean-forward position.
  • Crank out a set to near failure with perfect technique.  Leave one or two reps in the tank, but no more than that!
  • Without putting the handle down, straighten your back so that you’re in a regular seated row position, and continue to perform reps to failure.
  • If you’re really a masochist, you can add a third layer where you lean back and intentionally use a little more lower back to force out another rep or two at the end.

Be warned: this is brutal, but performed correctly, the lat pump is unreal!

3. Leg Superset of Death

Okay, this isn’t a new movement – but it’s more than worth mentioning, as it’s the single most brutal and effective combo I’ve ever done in the gym.

Here’s the deal: you’ve got three round of 20 reps on leg extension superset with 10 reps on any squat variation. Each set is to absolute muscular failure, with no more than about 10-20 seconds between leg extensions and squats. Don’t worry about how long you rest between supersets – that will probably depend on how much time you spend puking after each one.

Done properly, you shouldn’t need anything else for superlative quad development and squatting strength…but few will have the fortitude to push through this one. Challenge yourself to get it done at least once a month!

I hope these “magic” movements help add some extra pop into your training sessions!

Feature image from @troponin_nutrition Instagram page. 

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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