Exercise combos are usually dumb. Not these. Try these five combination lifts to set your legs, glutes, core, shoulders, and back on fire.
Combination exercises usually seem stupid to lifters who’ve been around for a while. Why? Because most of them are. But there are some strategies for combining two exercises into one that’ll make them surprisingly good at building muscle.
Let’s take a look at the strategies and the combo exercises you’ve got to try:
If you’re pairing an upper-body lift with a lower-body lift, your legs may lack stimulation. Think about the lunge and bicep curl combo. I sure hope your legs can use heavier weight than your biceps. If so, then putting these exercises together is a poor choice.
Many combinations, like the step-up and press or the single-leg deadlift and row, require too much balance to make them effective for any sort of muscle growth. Most combo moves lack stability, so you’re stuck doing more of a wobbly drill where you can’t contract the muscle hard or focus on feeling it working.
So how can we tell what exercises make good combos?
- They both stimulate the target muscle groups to a high degree.
- They flow nicely from one to the other, so you don’t have to lose proprioceptive control and don’t need an entire room to do it.
- They can be progressively overloaded. A combo move you can’t progress is counterproductive, so stick to ones you know you can get better and stronger with.
This combo hits just about every muscle on the back of the body: lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, glutes, and hamstrings. You’ll feel your lats and rhomboids working during the row, especially when you’re holding at the top and doing the ham curl. That isometric contraction lets you know you’re using the right musculature and eliminates momentum.
You’ll notice your glutes and spinal erectors working to stabilize the whole torso throughout this exercise. Your hamstrings will work to perform a closed-chain leg curl. While you may think the curl looks easy, slow it down, add a slight pause, and you’ll quickly take that thought back.
For an added challenge, try doing 3 rows and 3 curls for 3-4 cycles.
You can do these assisted and unassisted. Either way will smoke the posterior chain! Combine hip extension and knee flexion, which will fire up your glutes, hamstrings, hips, and core.
What you’ll love most about this combo is the constant tension on the working leg. The burn is real, and it really helps your body differentiate between the hinge and lunge to reap the benefits of both. As an added bonus, the metabolic component can be tough and add some serious caloric expenditure.
If you need to increase stability, hang onto a rack for assistance and hold the dumbbell on the same side as your planted leg.
We know the power of isometrics: they’re joint-friendly muscle and strength builders. Try using them with a Bulgarian split squat in a low hold while adding a one-arm overhead press. This will light up your legs, glutes, and shoulders.
Stay grounded in that bottom position while pressing. It’s tougher than it looks. It requires you to brace your whole lower body and core. You’ll be tempted to stand back up, but don’t give in.
The setup is key:
- Try doing this combo using a Viking attachment with two handles. If you have access to one of these, lean forward. This will allow for a better joint angle and prevent the weight from shifting you backward.
- You can also use a dumbbell. Either way, make sure your stride length doesn’t go past 1 to 1.5 times the distance of your shoulder width to eliminate excessive strain on the hips.
- Press explosively overhead and control the eccentric. If you feel yourself rushing your reps or hyperextending your low back to get the weight up, decrease weight. There’s no need to go heavy for this one.
- Aim for 6-10 reps. Anything more will feel more like a marathon, which means you probably won’t want to revisit it.
Isometrics can transform the upper back. These batwing holds improve posture, increase strength, and add width to the back.
Now, add batwing holds to the back extension hold and you’ll see why this is super effective. The double isometric actions help keep you from cheating on either exercise.
This combo forces you to squeeze your glutes and keep your ribs down, reinforcing the work the back extension should be doing for the posterior chain without cheating!
- Hold two small weights in a low back extension position with your torso parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes and keep your ribs down while maintaining full-body tension.
- Bend your arms to the sides and squeeze your upper back as hard as you can for 2-3 seconds.
- Straighten your arms out to a T or make a W-shape and squeeze as hard as you can.
When it comes to building traps, you can’t go wrong with shrugs (or Wendler rows). This row-to-shrug combo will hammer the traps with the different line of pull. Using the attachment shown in the video allows you to lean forward more to get a better angle and contraction for the upper traps.
Make it more challenging by playing with the rep scheme. Try using:
- One row, one shrug
- Two rows, two shrugs
- Three rows, three shrugs
Repeat this process until you hit 5 and 5. To make it even more difficult, add a 2-second pause at the top of each shrug.