If necessity is the mother of invention, then creativity must be the father. You're now going to learn 5 exercises that are done on several ordinary pieces of training equipment. Here's the kicker: they have nothing to do with the original purpose of the machine they're done on!
Be aware, if you try these, you will probably get some strange looks at the gym. They're extremely effective but definitely unconventional! My philosophy has always been to let results speak for themselves. You'll soon notice the very same people trying the very same exercises they were wondering about!
1. Preacher Bench Seated Dumbell Shoulder Press
If you've never used the Preacher Bench for Shoulder Presses, you're missing out on one of the most effective Shoulder Press variations you can do.
Start by setting the arm pad of the Preacher Bench low. Now sit backwards on the seat (compared to the regular forward Preacher Curl position) with your back pressed against the pad. The top edge of the arm pad should be pressed against the upper section of your lower back.
All you need to do is add a pair of dumbells and you've got a Shoulder Press station that is, in my opinion, better than any single dedicated Shoulder Press station that I've ever used. Here's why:
In a regular Shoulder Press station, the back pad is flat and your upper back is pressed against it. Even if the pad is tilted slightly back at an angle, this leaves the lower back completely unsupported during the movement. This is the biggest downfall of every Shoulder Press station I've tried. The lower back support is sorely lacking, which is not good on an exercise that puts so much pressure on the lower back.
When you use the Preacher Bench, the top of the arm pad pushes directly into the lower back area and the upper back area is completely free. This unique position not only supports the lower back, but allows you to maintain an arch in the lower back as you're doing the exercise. This dramatically decreases the stress on the lower back during the exercise and this, in my experience, can lead to immediate increases in the amount of weight a person can use for the movement!
Not bad...you get a safer movement and the ability to use more weight immediately!
2. Calf Raise Machine Shrugs or Squats
The standing calf raise machine can take the limitation of your grip strength out of the shrug movement instantly. It's easy...set up the machine as usual, step under the pads and stand up. Now, instead of doing calf raises, simply shrug!
You can not only use more weight when you remove your grip as a limiting factor, you can also do many more reps, giving your traps an incredible workout!
But how you do you adapt the standing calf raise machine to do squats? That's easy too...set a bench under the shoulder pads and stand on the bench instead of on the regular foot plates. The only limitation you may face here is range of motion - not all calf raise machines will go that high when you're standing on a bench under them.
You can now do squats without a squat machine and push yourself to the point where you truly can't do another rep. All you have to do is set down the weight when you're done, which is so much easier than re-racking a barbell!
If you're really ambitious, you can use this set-up to do two-leg-up, one-leg-down squat negatives. Push up to the top with two legs then lift one leg off the bench and do a negative rep down on only one leg. This is an excellent way to build strength in the thighs.
3. Seated Bench Press Machine Shoulder Presses
This one will get you some strange looks in the gym - you may have to explain what you're doing to almost everyone who walks by!
Practice getting into position with lighter weight. First, sit in the seat and press the weight to full lockout in the regular bench press. Now, skootch (that's the technical term) your butt up the back pad as you push forward on the handles forcefully. This takes a little practice to get used to so try it a few times with lighter weight, as I mentioned above. Your upper body should be horizontal at this point and your arms extended at the top of a shoulder press position.
Now do shoulder presses in this position. I've found this unique exercise to be more effective for shoulder presses than most shoulder press machines. When you've finished your set, simply slide your butt back down the back pad and lower the weight.
4. Flye Machine or Pec Deck One Arm Rows
The Pec Deck is not just for the chest anymore...you can do an amazing One Arm Row with the Flye or Pec Deck machine that rivals and even beats the dumbell version in many ways.
Stand in front of the Pec Deck or Flye Machine, facing the seat. Take your left hand and grip the outside of the left arm pad/handle. Brace your right hand on the machine frame and brace your right foot on the seat (necessary with heavier weights).
This position mirrors the bottom position of the One Arm Row. Start pulling the left arm pad/handle around slowly, feeling the tension in the back. Pull the arm pad/handle around and back as far as you can, squeeze your back hard for a few seconds then lower the pad/handle slowly.
Don't allow the weights to touch at the bottom, which will release the tension - use this opportunity to get a HUGE stretch on the lats. This bottom position is one of the best Lat stretches I've ever found AND it's done against resistance, making it even more effective for building the lats. Finish the set then repeat with the other arm.
This movement is useful because, in addition to the great stretch, it also completely eliminates lower back stress on the One Arm Row movement. All the tension of the exercise is placed on the upper back. You can also change where on your back the exercise hits by changing where you grip the pad. Grip high on the pad to hit the upper back (teres major and rhomboids) area. Grip lower on the pad to hit the lower lat area.
5. Resisted Crunches on the Lying Leg Curl Machine
This exercise is a killer! Not only is it very effective for the abs when done using regular technique, you can also use it for self-spotted negative training to work the abs extremely hard!
You will be using the Lying Leg Curl Machine for this exercise (it won't work on a Seated or Standing Leg Curl Machine). It will take a little experimentation to get your body position and the pad position comfortable so set it at a very light weight to start with. Set the ankle pads on the shortest notch available. You can move the pads up from there if you need to after you've tried the exercise.
Lie down on your back on the leg curl bench with your head down by the ankle pads. Your head should be at the end of the bench.
Now reach your arms back over your head and place your forearms underneath the ankle pads where you would normally place your feet. From that position, do a crunch, lifting the ankle pads with your arms and keeping your shoulders and elbows locked into position.
This exercise adds resistance to the crunch in an arc over the entire movement from start to finish, unlike when you just hold weight on your chest. It results in an extremely strong contraction in the abs.
I also mentioned that a person could do self-spotted negatives with this exercise. I won't disappoint the gluttons for punishment in the group!
WARNING - This variation should only be attempted by advanced trainers. It puts tremendous tension on the abdominal muscles, which could result in injury to a less-experienced trainer. Even advanced trainers should work up to this exercise slowly.
Here's how to do it:
Set the weight heavier. Instead of crunching with your arms locked, first do a quick pullover-type movement to get the ankle pads to the top of the crunch position then quickly crunch your torso up to the top position and clench your abs for dear life. It takes an explosive movement to get the weight and then your body into the starting position so don't try and do this part slowly.
The weight will immediately start pulling your torso back down. Fight this as hard as you can by actively trying to crunch up as it pulls you down. The tension on the abs is incredible!
You can also execute this by having a partner move the weight up into position and hold it there until you give the word to take the weight yourself.
Give these exercises a try the next time you're in the gym. You may get some strange looks but you'll have the last laugh!
Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of BetterU, Inc. and has been inventing new training techniques and exercises for 17+ years. Nick has written many training books including "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days To Maximum Mass" & "Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss" - to view pictures of several of these exercises in action, click here.