It's satisfying to go into the weight room and rip out sets of your favorite exercises. Who wouldn't prefer performing exercises that are comfortable and relatively easy, as opposed to those that are unfamiliar, difficult and challenging? But do you really think doing the same old same old will maximize your strength gains?
Actually, staying in your exercise comfort zone impedes training progress. That's why elite athletes, like Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, build strength using a variety of exercises.
When performing the same exercise week after week, you fail to continually challenge your body. Your muscles and nervous system gradually become familiar with the movements and workload, which effectively limits size and strength development as well as your brain's capacity to fully activate each muscle.
Avoid these pitfalls by varying your exercise routine. Perform alternate exercises that target the same muscle groups from different positions, with different loads and through different movement patterns. These place your muscles at varied angles or target them from a different joint, which strengthens muscle fibers that may have been idle during other exercises. Also, your brain-to-muscle connection (a major contributor to your strength) is enhanced, because your nervous system must adapt to the various power requirements needed to complete different exercises.
When you add variety to your training program, the different exercise techniques effectively train your muscles to produce power in every position you experience during competition. Regardless of your sport, you'll be able to employ your full repertoire of strength moves to dominate opponents.
Vary your lower body routine with the following exercises, which strengthen the quads, hamstrings and glutes with different angles and movement patterns.
- Assume athletic stance with bar resting on shoulders
- Take large step backward into lunge position, with weight on front heel
- Keeping front knee behind toes, lower until back knee almost touches ground
- Drive forward into start position; perform rep on opposite leg
- Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 3-4x8 each leg
Benefits: Engages two types of contractions in the quads and glutes that are important for total muscle strength. This single-leg movement also develops stabilizer muscles that are important for balance.
- Assume athletic stance, holding dumbbells just above knees with palms facing body
- Keeping core tight, back flat and feet flat on floor, bend at waist and lower dumbbells down front of leg as far as flexibility allows
- Forcefully contract hamstrings and glutes to rise to start position
- Repeat for specified reps
Benefits: Activates and strengthens hamstrings and glutes from the hips in similar fashion to how these speed muscles generate power.
Dumbbell Squat Jumps
- Holding lightweight dumbbells at sides, assume athletic stance with feet slightly wider than shoulder width
- Lower into squat position, then explosively jump as high as possible
- Land softly in Squat position and immediately perform again
- Repeat for specified reps
Benefits: Forgoes the heavy weight of a traditional squat, enabling a quick and powerful triple extension of the legs to propel the body into the air, which builds explosive speed and strength.
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