2 Weird Arm Exercises You Should Start Doing

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Weirdass exercises you can start doing today to build muscle and strength

I’ve recently taken on a new batch of coaching clients, and I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t know what the hell I’m talking about when I design their workouts.

While most of my clients have a decent training background, a lot of the programs they’ve done are pretty basic.

Now, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that—you can get great results from basic programming that focuses mostly on compound lifts and bicep curls—but despite the claims of some, that’s not going to work all of your muscles to their fullest potential.

So I’m going to have to get these guys and gals used to some funky new exercises, and because I truly love some of these exercises, I think you’ll get a lot out of them, too. Here two of my favorite arm exercises that I try to work into the programs of my coaching clients as frequently as possible.

The Y-Press

This variation of the overhead press ends up with you looking like a Y—hence the name.  You press your arms out to 45 degrees instead of straight up.  By doing this, you put your arms in a mechanically weaker position; gravity is pulling the weights down, and your arms in the weakened state have to work not to fall out laterally.

(Shout out to my boy Robbie Farlow for the killer demo on this)

This stimulates you in a way that a traditional overhead press doesn’t. Go light here – start with dumbbells so light you’re almost embarrassed, and try 15 reps. While you’re not likely to build huge delts with this exercise, it’s fantastic for shoulder stability in all of your overhead lifts, which can help increase muscular development overall—in the long run. and it’s doubly great as a warm up.

Super Charging Tip: To really activate the itty bitty muscles like the infraspinatus and supraspinatus as stabilizers, hold for 1 second at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position.

The Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl falls under a category of exercises known as “compound-isolation movements.”  This means that one phase of the movement is a compound movement and the other phase is more of an isolation exercise.

I’ve written about CIM’s before, and I think they’ve great for both strength and mass. The first factor to consider is the number of muscles involved. Unless you have some very bizarre strength imbalance, you’ll be able to use much more weight for a compound movement than you could for an isolation movement, assuming that both lifts use the same primary mover.

Another factor that we must take into account is eccentric or negative strength—which can be up 175% greater than concentric strength (although it’s been shown that, generally, eccentric strength is closer to 50-75% greater than concentric strength in most non-elite trainees).

Compound-isolations come as a result of the two above factors. We know that you’re stronger in a compound movement than an isolation movement. We also know that you’re stronger negatively than you are positively. So, in order to put this knowledge to some muscle-building use, we “change it up.”

That is, you perform a compound movement concentrically, and then switch in the middle and execute the eccentric portion of an isolation exercise that relies on the same primary mover. Due the mechanical advantages inherent to each part of the lift, you’ll be able to use a weight that is significantly challenging in both the positive and negative phases of the exercise.

A Zottman curl is a hybrid of a traditional dumbbell curl and a reverse curl.

Here’s a video courtesy of T-Nation:

In the case of the Z-curl, the biceps curl (which is generally considered an isolation exercise) serves as the compound movement—because it involves the biceps, as well as the brachialis and brachioradialis.  The reverse curl mostly focuses on the brachioradialis, or forearm muscle.

Again, you can almost certainly curl more than you can reverse curl—but you can probably lower a great deal of weight in the negative phase of a reverse curl.  A Zottman allows you to do both.

This exercise is a great substitution for just about any biceps exercise, but is really phenomenal for building forearm and grip strength (which, in turn, will allow for greater biceps development).

Super Charging Tip: If you really want to take your arm—especially forearm—growth to the next level, try Zottman’s with FAT GRIPZ on the dumbbells.  Killer!

Okay, so that’s just TWO of the FIVE exercises I have for you.  I wanted to keep this post short and sweet; Check out part two of this blog post right here!

Appendix: Why the Zottman Curl (and Reverse Curl) Works Different Muscles

Sometimes we fitness people can get caught up and just saying what makes one exercise different another rather than explaining why that makes it different. With regards to the Zottman Curl, first we have to think about what distinguishes a biceps curl from a reverse curl: supination and pronation.

The Overlooked Function of the Biceps

If you were to open up an old anatomy textbook and study the functions of the “biceps brachii” as they call it in the textbook, you’d see the obvious one: flex the arm. Then, the second less obvious but still not forgotten function: flex the shoulder (you see this at play in overhead cable variations for your biceps). Then the third: supination of the arm. Supination means to rotate your arm so your palms face up.

In high school human anatomy class, I learned to remember this by imagining supination what you’d have to do to hold a bowl of soup.

The antagonists the biceps, the triceps, help aid in pronation, which is the opposite of supination. But of course, there are more than just your biceps and triceps on your arms. You have your brachialis and your brachioradialis, and you can see where they lie in this photo:

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Without going too deep into the anatomy, these two muscles contract most effectively at different points on the supination-pronation spectrum. An arm exercise that’s a neutral grip like a hammer curl will place more emphasis on the brachialis. A reverse curl (or the latter half of a Zottman curl) will integrate more brachioradialis (lower arms and forearms) in addition to brachialis. It’s all just physics when it comes down to it.

But, that’s why we add exercises like the Z curl into our programs. They hit the arm musculature in different ways and therefore may attack weaknesses and break plateaus. As the old fitness cliché is you have to “keep the body guessing.” Zottman curls are a great way to do that.

Appendix II: The Origins of the Zottman Curl

The Zottman Curl is named after George Zottman, an early 20th-century strongman. Beyond that, I don’t know any details about its origin. But the fact that it was coined after a strongman and not a bodybuilder suggests the move can play a role in strength training programs and strongman programs as well as hypertrophy programs.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

Comments for This Entry

  • kuljit

    awesome job. thank you Roman

    July 18, 2011 at 11:43 am

  • John Romaniello

    Let me know how you like them!

    June 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm

  • John Romaniello

    VERY interesting exercise! I'll have to give that one a shot. Thanks =)

    June 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  • Drew

    Roman, The Zottman has been a staple for me for years. Probably my favorite biceps exercise. Another 'unusual' favorite biceps exercise of mine uses a pull down bar. I lie on a bench with my legs up (preferably anchored against something) and using only my arms, pull the bar down to me. This really nails the peak of the biceps, because at the peak there is no "break" like there usually is in a biceps curl. The weight is still pulling hard when the arms are completely contracted. It's a great way to target the peaks. It's also very useful for doing partial reps on the upper half of the curl because of that lack of a break.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am

  • Bo

    something else to try, nice

    June 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

  • rick watkins

    Both gret exercises, I've used them both. The Z-curl allows you to use heavier weight in the eccentric half of the reverse curl which I like.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm

  • Jeff

    Dude thanks for the info on the z curl gonna try it tomorrow.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm

  • Dave Hollingsworth

    Awesome stuff Roman! I'm including the Z curls in my arm work out now. Thanks!

    June 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm

  • Linda

    I get so FIRED UP when I receive your emails/videos. Keep 'em coming!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm

  • Teresa

    Great exercises. The exercise that I thought was the weirdest was doing a bent over dumb bell row one leg extended out while standing on a flipped over bosu ball. Kind of fun.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm

  • Rick

    Hey Roman, what do you think about adding an unsteady base like a BOSU when doing the Z curls? :)

    June 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  • RN

    John, and anyone else in the fitness industry looking to get fit and gain muscle, you have absolutely got to read the following link. This goes against everything we learned, yet it is totally backed by scientific research and extensive studies on the part of the author.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:48 am

  • Natalie Kita

    Dude! Where's Part 2? (with the 3 more moves you promised in today's email) The link took me back to Part 1 again (which is awesome, don't get me wrong...but I am still waiting for Part 2) ;)

    June 20, 2011 at 10:42 am

  • Heather

    Never done the Z-curl. Thanks for the tip!

    June 20, 2011 at 10:18 am

  • xena

    Hey Roro! This a old blog you are reffering us to man! So the link in your mail of today(june 20th) is not working right! Please hook us up with the good stuff asap! ;)

    June 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

  • Steve

    Love the Y press, I've heard of the zottman curl, but never seen it done, thanks John

    June 19, 2011 at 1:45 am

  • Javier Mery

    The Y press is an awesome exercise that helps a lot with the stabilizers, which is great for swimming=)

    June 18, 2011 at 11:33 pm

  • Rozin

    I know most movements but I've never heard of the Y press. Interesting move. My favourite "unusual" movements are probably all gymnastics moves. I really like planche progressions and L-sits. My favourite non-gymnastic movements are Thor's Hammer and Blackburns. Not many people have heard of either but they always end up finding a place in my workout.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:29 pm

  • Pam

    Finished week one of your Final Phase Fat Loss. I'm in my fifties and looking to build and tone muscle. Woof! That is an awesome program!! Looking forward to see what the next 5 weeks bring!

    June 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

  • Deborah

    I love the concept of doing the Y...its soooo much more "feeling it working" than just going straight cool!!

    June 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

  • Carolyn Swaney

    I'm on the Z curl right now. It looks almost as awesome as your green shorts;). I love them.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

  • Patty

    Good ones....can't wait for the rest!

    June 18, 2011 at 8:30 am

  • Per

    The close grip dumbbell press to skull crusher tricep-combo is one that I do frequently. I.e. press the dumbbells up with elbows close to the body, keep the upper arm fixed once you've locked out and then lower the dumbbells down in the negative part of a skull crusher. Once in the bottom, just bring the upper arm down along the side of the torso and press back up again.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

  • cooky

    yeah, give us more!!!

    June 18, 2011 at 5:29 am

  • hisham

    awesome tips keep em coming

    June 18, 2011 at 4:19 am

  • Kia

    These are great... and ones I will try. I just recently did a Superwoman - very weird.

    June 18, 2011 at 3:24 am

  • Tania

    Excellent - thanks for the tips. BTW, love the fluro green shorts! :)

    June 18, 2011 at 3:08 am

  • Isaac

    I like the Y press Roman.... Thanks for the advice.

    June 18, 2011 at 3:03 am

  • MC

    I've been doing the Y press, thanks for adding more to the repertoire!

    June 18, 2011 at 12:41 am

  • Gerard

    Always fun to shake up the routine

    June 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm

  • Juan

    I like the Turkish getup myself. I feel it works my muscles in a useful way. I am about to leave to work out, and I'll certainly give Y-Presses a shot. Thank you Roman!

    June 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  • Rick

    That Y-Press looks like a nice variation. Keep the unusual exercises coming ... it's good to get some variety to find the best options.

    June 17, 2011 at 9:07 pm

  • Ces

    Did the Y-presses during the Final Phase Fat Loss Program. It really put new challenges to the shoulder workout. Looking forward to trying the Zottman curls. Thanks.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

  • Dianne

    Yes, love these and use them frequently!

    June 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm

  • Shawn

    Awesome! I forgot about Zottman curls....I used to include them in my classes from time to time. Thanks for the reminder :)

    June 17, 2011 at 5:45 pm

  • Harold

    Cool exercises! I shall have to give both a go. I am a big fan of Spiderman jumps. Silly name, but it is basically a modified burpee and is ideal as a punishing last exercise.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm

  • Chris

    Brilliant! I wonder if you can do the Z's with cables. I'm sure you can do the Y's with cables. Z's? Y's? Are we seeing an alphabet theme here? :D Chris

    June 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

  • Mark

    Love Zottman curls, although I think my favorite unusual exercise is chin-up to sternum mostly because it looks badass.

    June 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

  • debbie

    I have 2 small tears in rotator cuff....wondering if I can do the Y press?

    June 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm

  • Marilyn

    I'm hoping the Ypress will help in the strengthening of my shoulder, post surgery.

    June 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

  • Ace

    These are both new to me. Can't wait to give them a try. Thanks!

    June 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  • Lisa

    I've been doing the XtremeFL and I love the Y-press. I have "issues" with both my shoulders and by starting with a fairly light weight, I've increased my shoulder strength quite significantly with this exercise.

    June 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  • steph

    I have tried to see the "abs video" a number of times on a number of e-mails and it never loads. Also when trying to leave the page it is a come on to buy the product. I thought it was an example but it is frustrating to say the least for it not to load!

    June 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm

  • Matt

    Haha already have these in my routine. Good post though, you're body proportions are looking phenomenal from what I can see too

    June 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  • hazool

    loooove the y press just wish my left arm would keep up with the right

    June 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

  • Eric Weinbrenner

    Dude, you're wearing a Brand New shirt in the zottman video, you just instantly gained more respect in my book (not that it was lacking before). Oh and good post!

    June 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm

  • Howard

    I noticed you added the Y-Press, which is one of the exercises in the XFLD. Some of the exercises you have in the workout logs are not in your videos (or make no sense to me). For instance on Strength workout #2, you have as part of a dynamic interlude to do 100 jump squats (50 per leg). I know what a jump squat is, I just don't know how you do them on one leg.

    June 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

  • Frank A

    Cool! The Z-curls are a little more challenging using a PowerStack DB!

    June 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

  • Lou

    Nice Roman, Did the Y press yesterday and look forward to the Z curl next time. What's the X?

    June 17, 2011 at 11:45 am

  • Seth

    Great post Roman! It's always good stimulate those muscles in unique ways! Coming from a physical therapy background, I really like to always incorporate 4-way cable pulls into a shoulder-workout day, 4-ways being: internal rotation (elbow bent to 90 degrees, pinned at side, rotation in transverse plane), external rotation (same), shldr flexion & extension (straight arm). This exercise isolates the important injury-prevention & stability muscles of the rotator cuff. Feels weird doing it at a gym, but after heavy push presses, front and lateral raises, it feels good to work the rotator cuff--even if I can only rep 10-15#!

    June 17, 2011 at 11:42 am

  • George

    Big fan of the Z curl but i fell off my radar for a while. KI am hesitant to try the Y-press due to some shoulder issues resulting from separations and torn rotator cuffs. I would most likely use a weight I am completely embarassed by to start. Thanks for the post

    June 17, 2011 at 11:42 am

  • David

    I will try both of these exercises. Great tips also. Thanks for your blog posts Roman.

    June 17, 2011 at 11:34 am

  • Tony Roe

    Lactic-style Y-presses suck!

    June 17, 2011 at 11:19 am

  • Rick

    As I read your blog, I wonder how much you have forgot and I hope that I'll get to know that much! :)

    June 17, 2011 at 11:14 am

  • Rob

    I'm amped up for the z curls I really need to start working my forearms more

    June 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

  • Tim

    John, Love the Zottman curl. My five favorites are the incline squeeze press, the triple lateral raise, dumbell swing lunge, chin up with knee raise and dumbell curls with back against a wall. Tim

    June 16, 2011 at 9:22 pm

  • RJ

    Cool stuff Roman. What would be a good CIM for Tris? Close-grip bench press while lowering it like a skull-crusher?

    June 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm

  • Seth

    thanks i want to give these a try

    June 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm

  • michele b

    Love seeing new exercise variations! Keeps the body guessing (and the brain from getting bored)! Keep 'em coming!

    June 16, 2011 at 10:12 am

  • Roan

    That Y-press is a killer and makes me feel like a pussy using light weight, but atleast you look cool doing it... When you're not falling down. Those Z-curls are cool. Didn't know they had that name, But I did them some time ago, they are fun and I needed to improve grip and forearm strength for deadlifting and curls! I still do actually but I stepped over to direct forearm training. How much forearm training do you recommend to improve grip and strength?

    June 16, 2011 at 2:41 am

  • Isaac R

    Those Zcurls look intense! Ima add a few sets of those on my next arm specialization day!

    June 16, 2011 at 12:24 am

  • Brian

    I will be adding both of these exercises to my weight training workout right away. Can't wait to see the others.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  • Vinny

    Definitely gonna give the Z-Curl a shot today. I've been looking for a good way to build-up my forearms a bit.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:40 am

  • Ryan Rhodes

    I love the reverse curl so will give the Zottman curl a go. Looks interesting. My other favourite 'unusual' exercises are the bulgarian split squat and 21s (barbell bicep curls where you do 7 half way up, 7 mid way to top, 7 all the way). Also got to love the big compound exercises that are 'unusual' only because no-one in my gym every does them - overhead squat and power clean to name a few.

    June 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

  • Alex Scott

    I like utilizing the cross-over step up. Serves as both a unilateral and transverse plane movement. Tends to be easier on the knees and really targets the glute-med.

    June 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm

  • Ty

    Favorite unusual exercise? The Human Flag. It fits the "is this awesome" selection of exercises.

    June 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  • Paul

    Is any exercise better for getting weird looks at the gym than decline spiderman pushups? Look around right after your done, and you're guaranteed to have some people confused.

    June 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm

  • Fred

    Those should do the trick I figure. I really like variations on the squat. The hardest one I've tried is probably the overhead squat. The weight you can do on that one is just embarrasing in the beginning. But a little humiliation nurtures the soul I hear :)

    June 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

  • Innis

    I have to agree with the Zercher squats, those are great. Im also a huge fan of sled work and while that not very odd in the fitness world, some people give you very odd looks when you are dragging weights.

    June 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

  • mike

    Great post. One of my favorite "unusual" exercises would be the Zercher squat.

    June 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm

  • Shari

    I love funky/awesome exercises! Not familiar with the Z-curl, but have heard of the Y-press. I'm here to learn! :)

    June 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm

  • Tom

    I thought the Lumberjack Press would be a piece of cake.I figure it's just balance and selecting the right amount of weight and hell i am athletic and coordinated!! Wrong. Very tough exercise to conquer.

    June 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm

  • Rashid

    Corn cob pull ups. Lift up then move right and then left back and then back forward. That is one rep. I learned this off P90X

    June 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  • Anastasia

    Wow! Thanks for another great post Roman :) I'm gna try them tomoro in the gym, i had upper body workout scheduled anyway! Wohoo! Can't wait to try them :)

    June 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm

  • Jarrod

    Great start! I love Zottman curls and I'll throw them in with back/biceps tomorrow. What about rope pull through on a cable setup for an unusual exercise? Love the glute ham work, and the stares.

    June 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm

  • Michael Gray

    Hey Roman, I'm a big fan of the Y Press. And yes, holding at the top does have a very different effect! One of my favorite movements to use with clients as a finisher is a thruster/squat thrust/push up/renegade row combo. Start with a pair of DB's in the front squat position and perform a thruster. Then drop down to a push up position as you would do in a squat thrust (but with your feet wide). Do a push up and then row with each arm. Finish the squat thrust. 25 reps of that and they're usually toast!

    June 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm

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