Too often, we get excited seeing some “new versions” of exercises or Instagram that seem to grab our attention. Before you know it, you are rolling around on the floor like a worm or juggling circus acts with dumbbells or maybe even find yourself injured. It doesn’t have to be that way, and quite honestly, some of the more common variants of everyday exercises still have better options.
The simple fact that some of these versions may be too complex for the everyday gym user and, and that you can perform the same movement with something less technical.
Exercises That Need Swapped
1. The Barbell Snatch
The is an Olympic lift that is very difficult to master. The technique and muscle synergies required are usually more than what most can handle. Add this into Met-Cons and circuits and you are waiting for a disaster to happen.
Use Dumbbell snatches instead! They are straightforward to teach and allow for more fatigue during sets, while also helping develop explosive power. As a bonus, your shoulders will be much happier!
Why push a vertical bodyweight pulling exercise if you have options like the bent-over row?
Now, I am not saying pull-ups are bad, but so many people are unable to showcase the required upper back strength to do them. That is where kipping pull-ups and other momentum-based movements start making their way in, and with no real benefit.
You are better off isolating with direct arm work than kipping pull-ups if strength is your goal. You are far better off sticking to the basics like horizontal rows, inverted rows, and even landmine rows!
As a gym owner, I see so many variations here that it is done poorly due to dozens of reasons stemming from a genetic disposition to reduced joint mobility. Everyone can have a different squat, but that doesn’t mean there are more useful variations to help each person. Added to this list would be overhead squats. They are not very useful unless you are an Olympic lifter. If you are looking to build lower body strength doing them, good luck. The limiting factor of the weight being overhead creates lower body progressive overload much more challenging to accomplish. Over the years as a trainer, I see more people UN-able to perform versus those with the ability, which makes it not as easy to teach compared to other variations listed below.
Such as the box squat! It serves as a great teaching tool for how the body should descend, boost strength with the ability to load far more than one would with other variations, and prime target areas where many clients are weak, such as the glutes and hips, and hamstrings!
If bars are out of the question, try goblet squats or landmine squats! Both are my favorites! Goblet squats allow your core to work more effectively, and the weight makes it easier for clients to grasp the movement since it acts as a counterbalance.
4. The Conventional Deadlift
Is it needed for lower body strength? Is it a high risk, low reward movement? The conventional deadlift is NOT the only way to build lower body strength.
Take the sumo deadlift, for example. The bar is closer to the body, making it much safer for the lower back. You also can target the glutes, adductors, and hips more, which is a far better trade-off, which is why it is commonly related to the box squat.
5. Barbell Conditioning
These workouts are very common among our adolescent to early adult gym users. Yet, injuries related to bar work have nearly tripled as well, so to say they are effective cannot be set in place without knowing the risk.
Sure, nothing beats the grasp of air you get from doing high rep deadlifts, cleans, and thrusters, but if getting your heart rate up is the only goal…you are far better off with something like sled pushes!
They provide a unilateral component to your training, but they also help by not having eccentric stress, which is primarily the reason for muscle damage and stress. So you can recover better and get your heart rate hoping!
My favorite reason to include them is for group fun! Nothing beats some sled relays to get yourself excited, motivated, and…well…drained for a fun finisher.
6. The “only bilateral work” Trap
This one is not really “replacing”, but just noting how important it is to include single leg work in your programs. I have seen so many lifters over the years squat massive amounts of weight but put them on one leg, and they shutter and shake more than the shake weights back in the day!
Unilateral work has its place in EVERY program, and it can genuinely help fix balance and overactive areas.
My go-to is the Bulgarian split squat! They will boost lower body strength while incorporating some balance and proprioceptive control. My passing test: Getting 20 reps unbroken with 50% of your body weight on each leg.
7. Barbell Overhead Work
In today’s world, there are already WAY too many of us with shoulder issues, poor posture displays, and lack of upper back work. Adding more overhead work into your training plans can be a setup for disaster, especially if you are using bars!
I find it much safer and easier to teach the same theories using dumbbells, like push presses.
Instead of the barbell, try using dumbbells. Remember Force = Mass x Acceleration….so the faster you move them, the more force you can produce.
As a bonus, your shoulders won’t wake up the next day, acting as if you took a marathon bear crawl.
8. Rebound Box Jumps
Suppose you are trying to use them for conditioning and find yourself doing something with much less risk! There are plenty of options! The Assault Bike, rower, ski erg, kettlebell swings, to name a few.
Eliminate the chance of a soft tissue or shin injury and stop jumping off boxes. Focus on creating a killer elastic countermovement, getting as high as possible on your jump instead of jumping up and down with no purpose.
I am not saying handstands do not work, but overhead carries can be a better option. They are a great way to build your delts while also boosting core engagement and even aerobic capacity.
Most of my clients do not like the feeling of being inverted, nor do their heads. The overhead carry can be a kick-butt way to build a well-rounded shoulder truly.
Like box jumps, there are better options if your goal is to get your heart rate up! I rarely see them done right. It takes a lot of upper body strength to be able to do them, so it becomes dangerous to see people flopping on the ground like a whale smashing their shoulders on the floor explosively only to get back up as quickly as possible.