This article is the second instalment of my series on the most important exercises you’re not doing. The exercises in the series aren’t necessarily glamorous but they serve a definite purpose – used correctly you will seriously reduce your injury risk, improve your strength and develop your conditioning.
So, onto the most important exercises you’re not doing part 2!
Stiff Legged Deadlifts
The stiff legged deadlift is a variation on the more common Romanian deadlift. Along with the kettlebell swing, this is my go-to exercise for hamstrings, and one I use in the programmes of clients with issues stemming from the posterior chain. The isolation of the muscles of the lower back and hamstrings is what makes this a favourite with me.
The key with this one is to lock out the legs, ensuring you lift the weight under control with a straight back, initiating the lift and controlling the descent with the hamstrings. There is an inherent stretch with this exercise when the weight is on the descent, meaning as with the kettlebell swing there are stretching benefits from the exercise.
As my working life has changed and I now drive more and spend more time at a desk, I make sure I get at least one day where I do a few sets of stiff legged deadlifts – this works with the kettle bell swings to strengthen my posterior chain and reduce my injury risk.
My first use of a thruster was as a young personal trainer in 2004. I wanted an exercise that used a lot of muscle in single movement, so I experimented with a movement that combined a front squat with a shoulder press. The result was an exercise that would push my heart rate to close to 200 after a single heavy set – it was so tough that I started to use it as part of my conditioning programming, under the impression I had developed a new exercise.
When I moved from Cornwall to the north west in 2008, my housemate was an avid CrossFitter, and he wanted to show me an exercise called a ‘Thruster’. Turns out it was exactly the same as my squat and press I had been using for years without realising it was being popularised by CrossFit! It turns out my invention had already been invented!
By using a huge amount of muscle in one go, the thruster is an exercise that will improve your conditioning without you having to do any of the more traditional cardio exercises. To make the exercise good quality, ensure good squat technique, exploding up from the squat by pushing through the heels. The exercise is completed by a good shoulder press, ensuring you don’t allow your back to arch.
Return the bar to the chest to start again.
Weighted Hip Thrusts
In a fitness world obsessed with squatting for glute development, I take a slightly different tack. Where I regard squatting as a fantastic exercise, I don’t think it is the best exercise of all for glute strengthening – I have seen far better results from weighted hip thrusts.
With the glutes being responsible in part for lower back, hip and knee stability, ensuring they are strong is really important. Good strong glutes will help prevent injuries in the joints above and below, as well as helping with strength and power output during exercise and various sports.
The exercise is best performed on your heels. Sitting the weight over the heels prevents you from pushing through your toes, which will have the effect of recruiting the calves and diluting the workload, meaning the target muscles (glutes) will do less of the work and get less of the benefit. To make the exercise harder you can raise your heels using a step and/or increase the load to be lifted.
A beginner version can also be performed, whereby you would use no weight and keep the range of movement lower.
These are the next exercises in the series – as with the last lot, give them a try and see how you get on!