You Need to Get Strong On These 5 Exercises

How to Get Fit, Strong, and Resilient

Get strong and bulletproof your body against injuries with these five neglected exercises. Check 'em out and add a few to your training plan.


Most people want to look great, function at a high level, and avoid injuries. Not too much to ask, yet many lifters avoid exercises that help them with these goals.

Why are these exercises neglected? Well, some are just plain difficult or unfamiliar. Other times, the ol’ ego just gets in the way. But getting strong and resilient requires engaging in movements you might suck at. That’s where the greatest growth occurs.

Don’t be intimidated. These moves should be staples. Here’s the breakdown for each one:

1. Trap Bar Deadlift

I program this lift for most clients in some form or fashion. Compared to the conventional deadlift, the risk vs. reward ratio is reduced, yet we still get the loading capacity and results we’d achieve from lifting conventional off the ground. That includes a strong, stable trunk, a highly developed posterior chain, and a great deal of intermuscular and neuromuscular coordination.

Due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, people are developing chronic low back pain, hip tightness, and whole-body weakness. Most people have weak backs and under-activated glutes and hamstrings, leading to this hip-shortening epidemic.

Even if they train, many lifters neglect training the backs of their bodies. They think loading the back will make things worse. But bodies with weak, underdeveloped posterior chains are highly susceptible to pain and injury.

The trap bar deadlift strengthens basically every muscle in your body, from your feet to your traps. Not only is it a foundational hip hinge movement, but it teaches you how to connect your entire body harmoniously, unlike any other exercise. (The barbell squat is a close second.) This particular deadlift variation places less direct stress on the lower back, giving you the best of both worlds – results and a low likelihood of muscle strains.

For strength, program trap bar deadlifts for low-to-moderate reps:

  • 4 sets of 6 reps
  • 3 sets of 8 reps
  • 5 sets of 5 reps
  • 5 sets of 3 reps

Play with tempo using these rep ranges to keep the intensity under control. For example, use a 5-second eccentric/negative with a dead stop at the bottom for 6-8 reps.

2. Barbell Hip Thrust

The hip thrust has become a staple exercise for serious female lifters thanks to Bret Contreras. Regrettably, this can’t be said for most men. Although high-level coaches use this movement, it’s still rare to see the average “gym bro” add these into his routine. This needs to change.

Male lifters are primarily concerned with getting yoked and looking good with their shirts off. To do this, they need to challenge the body with some decent intensity while prioritizing the big lifts like heavy presses, squats, rows, and deadlifts. Although staples, these lifts are demanding on the CNS and joints. They can lead to nagging pains and fatigue, especially in the low back and knees.

Training the glutes directly with a heavy exercise like the hip thrust is a great way to add some hip extension with much less demand on the entire CNS. And, of course, the hip thrust will build a strong pair of glutes, which is essential to prevent knee and back injuries. And let’s not forget, looking symmetrical also requires having a pair of strong glutes that can hold your jeans up.

The rules: Chin tucked, head forward, feet 12 inches in front of knees, drive hips into extension, tuck the pelvis, maximal squeeze at the top, lower with control.

Try 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps with a 221 tempo, 90 seconds rest between sets.

3. Chin-Up

The chin-up is a fantastic muscle and strength developer, but most people don’t possess the strength to do a lot of them. The chin-up is the purest form of relative upper-body back strength, yet how often do you see them executed with perfect form for reps? If you want to be strong and resilient, it’s time to change that. The chin-up not only lends itself to bigger arms, delts, and back, but it also improves grip strength, trunk integrity, and posture when executed properly.

A solid cue for well-positioned chin-ups is to drive your chest to the bar rather than just reaching your chin to the bar, which often rolls the body forward.

Start by using resistance bands for assistance or playing around with negatives if chin-ups are difficult for you. If you can only do a few bodyweight chin-ups, do more low-rep, high-set training like 5 x 2 or 6 x 3. For intermediate or advanced lifters, simply add weight. Training for heavy fives, triples, or doubles is a fast way to get Viking strong and reduce injury potential.

Regardless of where you’re at right now, getting strong with chin-ups is a smart way to spend your gym time.

4. Heavy Bear Hug Walk

Loaded carries are game-changing. Having a genuinely strong back and trunk is crucial for pain-free performance. One of my go-to carry variations for body resiliency is the bear hug walk. You’ll need some pretty heavy weight to give yourself the effect you’re after, like a sandbag, Atlas stone, or medicine ball.

  • Keep the weight high up on your chest. Hug it tight!
  • Keep your core braced and trunk stable.
  • Keep your mid to upper back slightly locked forward.
  • Keep your head neutral.

Prevent unwanted rotation or movement deviation that places you outside of tight, stable, and connected.

Do 30-yard walks for 4-6 sets on conditioning days or as a unique full-body finisher after a strength workout. Depending on what session they fall on, adjust rest periods:

Conditioning Session: 45 to 60-seconds rest (moderately heavy load)
Strength Session: 90-seconds rest (as heavy as you can lift for 30 yards)

5. Face Pull

The face pull is a simple way to add some upper to mid-back volume (often neglected) and pull the scapula back with less-demanding shoulder volume.

It’s great for shoulder health because it allows you to work through rotation, retraction, and depression of the shoulder blades. This is important: the shoulder is a fairly smart joint that demands more diverse attention, much like the hip.

There are several ways to add these in:

  • As part of your warm-up for pressing exercises: 2 sets x 15 reps
  • As a high-volume isolation finisher: 2-3 sets x 20-30 reps
  • As a strength exercise, use loads that only allow you to get 6-10 challenging reps.

Mix it up for a strong back and healthier shoulders.

11 Likes

I like this list. Particularly, I like that it included a MOVING exercise. So many “greatest hits” lists are all static, ignoring that the human body is a thing that locomotes. If all we’re good at is being strong while standing still, we’re going to get jacked up when we move.

Also dig all the emphasis on pulling. Too many people train the muscles they can see. Meanwhile, a big strong back never goes out of fashion.

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Totally agree. I would add sprinting to the list of things every human seeking fitness should be striving to do well. I see many strong people that look like they’re training for the Special Olympics when they attempt to move fast. Long sprints especially (200m - 400m), are a great general test of fitness, as well as excellent body re-composition tools.

Especially as we age, maintaining the ability to move fast well is really important for health and function, and makes many other tasks feel easier. That said, sprinting is an activity like other explosive movements that should be approached with care and gradual advancement, especially for those of us over 40.

I find it interesting how foreign running fast can feel (and look) when you haven’t done it in a long time, when it’s really the first natural “fitness” movement a child learns. It feels pretty dang good once you can go sub-35 seconds for 200m, though.

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Not trying to be argumentative, but you can kind of combine the first two by just using a regular barbell and doing deadlifts.

Also, love that weighted carries are included as well. I have an old heavy bag I use for this.

I very much agree with this. I am 55 and have been adding more sprinting into my workouts and feel great only thing I would add as an older guy Sprinting as a mature adult is not like sprinting as a teenager. When I was in track in high school and college I used to go “all out” every workout. Now I sprint like I lift. I set “RPE” goals for each workout and I RARELY go over an RPE of 8. Most of the time I sprint in the 6 - 8 range. For Sprinting I say that RPE 8 is about 80% of all out. When I first started Sprinting again about 4 years ago I strained BOTH of my hamstrings I was just pushing it too damn hard. Also I shy away from short work. I do a lot of 200m and 400m sprints. Not many 100ms and I hope to the Lord above I NEVER do another 800m in my life :wink:

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I was with you 80%. Barbell hip thrusts…seriously? If a person is back squatting and deadlifting trap bar, sumo, or conventional I am highly skeptical of what new gainz a person is going to get from that bit of silliness. Other than that loved the article! Especially the chin-up. I think far too many folks do pull-ups and miss what a great exercise the chin-up is for back and lats.

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I am okay with these as long as the reader doesn’t make the inference that pressing weight is not needed to get strong.

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I’m pretty sure you have to work hard to get a kid to STOP bench press these days, haha.

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This is great advice - 80% is usually the figure I throw out as well. I’m 46, and still feel pretty snappy, but I certainly don’t even think about 100% RPE at this age.

I was also a Track & Field athlete in high school and college, but I was a middle distance runner, so our workouts weren’t enjoyable. In high school, I focused on 800m - 3200m, with my strength being 3200m. In college I was 1500m - 5000m, with the 5000m being my specialty. 800m is the hardest event in T&F, IMHO, so I’m totally with you there. And you’d have totally worked me over at 100m. I just never had the raw speed to go under 24-high at 200m and 53s at 400m. Even 800m was near the lower limit of my speed. Good 800m runners can go 49-50s with relative ease, even in high school.

We did a TON of speedwork, though. Typical workouts were 15-20 x 200m in 26-28s with a jog across the infield or 8 x 400m @ 60-62s with 1-2 min rest. Brutal workouts, where you were producing tons of lactic acid. In hindsight, probably not the best protocol for performance at our goal distance.

In college, the volume was way higher, but was more focused on working at race pace, so 70s quarters for me in the 5k. Of course, we did 80+ miles/wk and I was also 129lbs and looked like I just escaped from a North Korean prison camp.

These days, I think you’ve hit the best compromise - no 100m so you’re not tempted to blast the first 20m, and who the hell wants to go over 400m? Though I’d say good general advice is to roll into the first 20-30m, maxing at 80-90% effort, regardless of the distance. Do 1000-2000m of these a couple times a week, and you’ll see a huge change in body comp and overall fitness.

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I like this list. Of course, any short list will leave out some favourites and will be incomplete. Loaded carries, chin-ups and trap deadlifts are great. More people should do pelvic thrusts, there are now Nautilus machines that make these easier and more comfortable and discrete. Our gym also has a climbing machine and it is awesome. In its absence, rope climbing still has many benefits.

Face pulls and Cuban presses remain the best bench warm ups, but for upper back trap shrugs and (Smith or regular) deadlifts, perhaps with the body leaning forward or resting on an incline bench are hard to beat, especially with longer holds.

I also agree sprinting is a good addition. But I think with proper hamstring stretching, even multiple short five second sprints have value, as the goal is to generate impulse and power. If you can do a fast 800m, you are in reasonable shape. As always, managing set/reps and times to hit different systems of energy metabolism is the wise play.

1 Like