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