Legendary golden age bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger relied on basic, bread-and-butter exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, dip, and of course, the Arnold press to get strong and build world-changing physiques. Since their heyday, these exercises have become contemporary staples in strength and bodybuilding routines everywhere.
If these exercises are in your routine, congratulations—you're making Arnold proud! However, as long as you're not trading out heavy compound movements for some weak-ass exercise, it's a good idea to occasionally alter your exercise selection to prevent stagnation and encourage continued adaptation.
Because I like to try new things, but don't want to compromise my strength gains, I've taken to putting some new twists on classic exercises. In my eyes, classic exercises are a little like classic songs: The originals will always be great, but an occasional remix can be awesome, especially if it's done well.
That's why I've taken five classic exercises and made them even more challenging. My approach has always been a willingness to try anything. I know that if I don't try something crazy, I'm not going to get crazy results. Try these exercise variations, up the ante, and get to work!1
Original Arnold Press
Remix Incline Arnold Press
This exercise is my own unique twist on the Arnold press, a great movement created by the legend himself. On its own, the Arnold press hits every part of the shoulder, but I added a twist to make it more of a chest movement to help my bench press.
Instead of doing the Arnold press sitting completely upright, I lie back a little on an incline bench. Combined with the Arnold press movement pattern, this slight lean-back engages my pecs more than an upright press. Because more and bigger muscles are involved in this variation, I can use more weight. The incline Arnold press has helped me get over some stubborn bench-press plateaus time and time again. It's also a great twist on regular incline dumbbell presses because it challenges your stability and teaches you how to use power and explosion to get out of the hole.2
Remix Deadlift With Bands
Ever since I got to know famed Westside Barbell founder Louie Simmons and his coaching techniques, I've been using bands with great success. Bands are a great method for adding intensity to any movement. I especially like using them on the deadlift.
For most people, the hardest part of hitting a deadlift is finishing it. If you struggle with the lockout portion of the lift, bands can play a big part in assisting you.
Bands are tough because they can make the initial pull feel impossible, so you have to focus on being explosive off the ground or the bands will eat you up. As the bar rises, the resistance just gets more intense, helping you focus on really locking out at the top. Using bands has been a huge help for me. My deadlift numbers have increased dramatically as I've gotten better at lifting with them.3
Remix Pause squat
If there's any exercise that screams "classic," it's definitely the squat. I've squatted for over 500 days in a row now. I'll tell you what—squatting that often just makes me love the exercise more.
Putting a pause at the bottom of your front or back squats is a great way to challenge the stability of your hips, core, and entire lower body. It's also an incredible way to build explosiveness in the movement, a key factor in increasing your squat numbers.
You can implement a variety of pause variations into your squat sets. You can do a quick 1-second pause with a heavy weight, 3-second pauses, 5-second pauses, or even 10-, 20-, or 30-second pauses. Apply some or all of these pause variations into your squat training and it won't be long before you see the benefits.
Remix Seated muscle-up with medicine ball
I've always liked how Arnold did dips. He would drop low enough to get a great stretch, and he concentrated on squeezing his chest and triceps. Because of this, I like to think of weighted muscle-ups as really hard dips.
Start from a seated position and put a medicine ball between your legs. Then, try to pull your chest up to the rings and thrust your torso forward through them. Once you're in that position, extend your elbows like you're locking out a dip.
Not only is this movement difficult on its own, but adding a 20-pound medicine ball will make it even more challenging, and of course, more beneficial. Your shoulders, core, and triceps will all feel the difficulty.
This remix does take some practice to master, so start light and work your way up.5
Original Bench Press
Remix 28-Method Bench Press
The 28 Method is a great way to add extra intensity to pretty much any movement, but in this case, it really takes the bench press to another level. If you feel like your bench-press progress has stalled, try 28s to restart your benchin' engine.
The bench press might be your favorite movement now, but after doing a few sets of 7 regular reps, 7 slow reps, 7 quarter-reps from the bottom, and 7 quarter-reps from the top, you'll definitely be cursing it.
This combination of rep styles turns the bench press into an absolute burner, giving you an unbelievable pump in the process. You won't be able to use much weight—trust me on this—but it's a great method to finish off your chest workout.
What's your favorite gym remix?
Now that you know some of my favorite ways to make classic exercises even harder, I want to know some of yours! Hit me up in the comments section below and tell me how you remix.