These lifts built slabs of muscle on classic bodybuilders and strongmen. It’s time to dust them off and add them to your training.
Classic bodybuilders and strength athletes possessed an unmatched blend of size, symmetry, and brute strength. History is often the best teacher, particularly with training. Here are five time-tested exercises we need to dust off and put back into our programs.
This exercise epitomizes full-body strength and explosive power. It’ll build the power look: thick traps, boulder shoulders, a meaty back, and muscular legs with a functionally strong core. Use high-rep clean and presses as an auxiliary exercise after your main strength exercise, like a bench press, chin-up, overhead press, or row.
Strongman Sig Klein said men should shoot for 12 reps with two 75-pound dumbbells. Brutal, but a worthwhile challenge if you can improve shoulder mobility enough to do it safely. My recommendation? Do 4 sets with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells in each hand.
- Bend your knees and hinge at your hips to initiate a slight squat position.
- Explosively extend your hips and knees while shrugging your shoulders. Pull the dumbbells upward as you do this, keeping them close to your body.
- Once the dumbbells reach chest level, quickly drop under the weight by bending your knees and rotating your elbows forward. Catch the dumbbells at shoulder height with elbows pointing forward.
- From the catch position, quickly transition into the overhead press by extending your arms and pressing the dumbbells until your arms are fully extended.
This is an old-school exercise popularized by strength legend George Hackenschmidt. It builds world-class power and a thick set of traps. This single-dumbbell variation allows you to train around mobility and stability imbalances between limbs, making it safer than barbell snatches.
You get explosive hip extension plus unilateral overhead strength in a more shoulder-friendly position. As an added benefit, single-arm overhead work forces your quadratus lumborum to kick in (helps with trunk stabilization) and crushes your obliques.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in front of you.
- With the dumbbell between your legs, squat down, brace your core, and explosively extend your hips and knees while pulling the dumbbell off the ground.
- Pull vertically, keeping the dumbbell close to your body. Simultaneously rotate your elbow and forearm so your palm faces upward.
- As the dumbbell reaches its peak height, extend your arm fully overhead, keeping your elbow locked out. Think of using your lower body power and the pull to drive the movement (extending and stabilizing the weight overhead from the power you’ve generated) rather than “pressing.”
- Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position by reversing the snatch motion. As you lower the weight, allow it to swing back between your legs, preparing for the next rep.
Developed by strongman Arthur Saxon in the early 20th century, the windmill is an overlooked exercise that delivers tremendous benefits for strength and mobility.
Most lifters have a host of trouble spots:
- Poor thoracic mobility, especially rotation
- Weak rotator cuffs and crummy shoulder stability
- Poor overhead pressing mechanics and stability
- Tight hamstrings, glutes, and weak obliques
The windmill hammers all these weak points at once while forcing your lats to fully engage overhead – huge in building support for all pressing movements and keeping your shoulders healthy.
When you do a windmill, you’re holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, or human overhead with one arm while pushing your hips back and bending laterally. This unique movement can unbound a tight thoracic spine while building tons of overhead stability, crushing your obliques, lats, and glutes, and boosting stability from head to toe. I treat the windmill as a primer movement done before pressing and overhead work to improve mechanics.
Do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps once or twice weekly before your main strength exercise. You’ll strengthen the stabilizers and promote a functional and injury-resistant physique.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Hold the weight directly overhead.
- Shift your weight onto your left leg and pivot your right foot slightly, about 45 degrees, to create a stable base.
- Slowly begin to hinge at your hips, pushing them out to the left while keeping your right arm extended overhead and your eyes focused on the kettlebell. As you hinge, your torso will naturally tilt to the right.
- Continue to lower your torso, aiming to bring your left hand towards your left foot while maintaining a straight left arm and extending your right arm overhead.
- Keep your eyes focused on the weight overhead to maintain alignment. Keeping your chest open and core engaged is crucial, as is maintaining a straight line from your right hand down to your left foot.
- Once you reach your maximum comfortable range of motion, pause for a moment, then return to the starting position by engaging your core and driving through your left heel to lift your torso back up.
Named after the strongman Charles Jefferson, this is as rare in the gym as a politician’s honest, tell-all press conference. Rather than a typical deadlift performed in the sagittal plane with the bar in front of your torso, the Jefferson deadlift involves straddling the bar between your legs and incorporating some rotation through the spine.
I first used the Jefferson deadlift at the behest of a T Nation contributor and Jefferson deadlift world record holder, David Dellanave, while working through some SI joint pain in my lower back. As Dellanave says, “You get asymmetry, rotation, hip hinging, and heavy loading all in one movement.”
If you struggle with low back pain with conventional deadlifts and want to try something new, the Jefferson deadlift might fit.
- Set up the barbell perpendicular to your body. Position yourself next to the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Straddle the bar. Take a wide stance, stepping over the bar with your right foot. Your left hand will be supinated, and your right hand pronated – a mixed grip. Alternate positions on the second set.
- Bend your knees and hinge at your hips to lower your body and grip the barbell with both hands. Your hands should be positioned inside your legs. You might need to adjust your foot position to find your best leverage point.
- Keep your spine relatively neutral. Due to the straddle position, true neutral spine ain’t happening. Brace hard.
- Push your feet through the floor while pushing your knees out and getting your hips through. No, you don’t smash your gonads unless you’re hung like a horse or have T-Rex arms.
Play around with different foot positions, mixed grip vs. overhand grip, and different rep ranges to find the perfect balance of strength and stability.
The guillotine press is a classic chest-building exercise developed by legendary bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda. It’s designed to hit the pec minor/sternal fibers.
Due to the unique bar path, the Gironda press specifically hammers your chest. By using a wider grip and bringing the barbell down to the neck, you engage the clavicular fibers, creating a visually appealing and well-developed upper chest.
There are potential drawbacks, however. Improperly loading a guillotine press and lowering the weight towards your throat can prove disastrous if shit hits the fan. Start slow, practice the movement, and increase resistance gradually.
The guillotine press can also be stressful on your shoulders due to the wide grip and elbow flare. If you have existing shoulder issues that prevent you from barbell pressing without pain, steer clear.
Use a slow training tempo and own every inch of the rep. Using a Smith machine works exceptionally well with higher rep sets. Try 4 sets of 8-12 reps as a secondary chest exercise.
- Position yourself as you would for a typical bench press. Keep your shins vertical directly underneath your knees. Slightly arch your back. Position your eyes underneath the barbell.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Go wider than your typical bench press grip.
- Keep your butt cheeks pinned to the bench while bringing your chest up to the bar, pulling your shoulders down and back while keeping your elbows flared.
- Lower the barbell down towards your throat, taking a 3-4 second eccentric.
- Continue lowering the bar until it’s about an inch above your throat, then smoothly finish the press. A spotter is highly recommended, especially if you’re aiming for muscular failure.
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