A bad day in the gym is better than any day outside the gym. It’s an obvious mantra that speaks to the frequency by which most people either:
A) Get injured
B) Become frustrated and quit
C) Can’t figure out how to make their workout plans “feel” better.
Back pain, knee pain, and other injuries sidetrack most people from their normal workout routine and make it seemingly impossible to achieve their fitness goals.
Enter Eric Cressey. During the last 10 years, Eric has repeatedly proven himself as not only one of the smartest coaches in the industry but also someone that understands how to train people for success while minimizing the likelihood of injury. Why just avoid activity when you can still find ways to train pain-free?
If you’ve ever struggled with shoulder pain, squats, deadlifts, the bench press, or any other common exercise problem, these six movements can be substituted into any workout to make you feel better–and help you see better results, too. -AB
6 Exercises That Make You Feel Great
By Eric Cressey
Exercise #1: Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion
The Benefit: Helps you determine if you’re ready for overhead movements like snatches and overhead squats.
This is a drill that just about every one of our new clients has in their initial warm-ups. It’s absolutely essential to be able to get the arms overhead without compensation in the lower back or neck, and this drill both assesses and trains that quality. If you can’t pass this with flying colors, you really aren’t ready for overhead pressing or a host of other exercises that require great overhead shoulder function.
How to do it: Work it in for one set of eight reps in your pre-training warm-ups.
Exercise #2: Walking Spiderman w/Hip Lift & Overhead Reach
The benefit: It prepares your body for any type of activity by blending all of the necessary components of a warmup into one movement.
This is a great catch-all mobility drill that I like to include an “integrate everything” strategy at the end of a warm-up. You train multiple hip mobility qualities and open up your thoracic spine (upper back) on the reaching component of the movement.
How to do it: Make it a staple of your warm-up with five reps per side.
Exercise #3: Wide-Stance Anti-Rotation Chop w/Rope
The Benefit: You won’t find a better core stability exercise than this.
You have to work hard to resist both rotation and extension (arching) of your lower back, and you also build some hip and upper back mobility in the process. What’s not to love?
How to do it: Work this in later in your training sessions for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per side. You can also experiment with doing this from the high or low cable setting to work in some variety.
Exercise #4 Anterior-Loaded Barbell Bulgarian Split Squats
The Benefit: It’s the perfect exercise to help add new muscle mass while keying in on some of the most common weaknesses for most people.
This movement is awesome but be warned: it really sucks to perform. But, as a general rule of thumb, everyone needs a little “suck” in their training programs if they want to make progress. This exercise trains a lot of athletic qualities that can hide as reasons why you don’t become stronger – single-leg strength, core stability, upper body mobility – while still giving you enough loading to put some mass on your lower body.
How to do it: Work this in for sets of 4-8 reps. You can do this early in the session in place of squatting for variety, or if you’re unable to squat because of injuries or mobility restrictions. You can also try it out for higher reps as a first assistance exercise after you squat or deadlift.
Exercise #5: Anderson Front Squats from Pins
The benefit: Squats are still “king,” but if you always do them the same way they can eventually become stale.
One way to shake things up is to squat with a pause at the bottom, whether that’s with a free squat, box squat, or squat from pins, like this:
This can be a great strategy for breaking through a strength plateau if you’re struggling to be fast out of the hole.
How to do it: You won’t move as big a weight as you would if you were doing normal reps without a pause at the bottom, but you can expect great returns on your “training investment” if you do some paused squats for a few weeks, and then return to regular squatting. Just make sure to keep the reps low (below 3 per set).
Exercise #6: Half-Kneeling 1-Arm Landmine Press
The Benefit: This is an awesome upper body exercise to use to “cancel out” some of your bench pressing.
This can be done half-kneeling, tall kneeling, standing, or split-stance, but the coaching cues are largely the same. You see, you want exercises that both keep the shoulder blades stationary (bench press) and those that allow the shoulder blades to rotate freely (push-ups, landmine presses) in your training programs.
How to do it: This is also an excellent drill for those who aren’t quite ready for overhead pressing, but want to get a similar training effect a bit more safely. We’ll usually do these for sets of 4-10 reps, as you can use it as a pure strength exercise or more of an assistance drill.