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December 15, 2020

099 | 5 Most Underestimated Movements for Strength Training

5 most underestimated movements with Annie Miller

Today I plan to share with you 5 underestimated movements, and why I think they are effective AF when used properly.

In 2020, the basics have never been so important when it comes to movement patterns.

You know I am the queen of basics, and have literally always preached that the basics work. They always have, and likely always will.

Let’s dive in.

5 Underestimated Movements:

  • Carries
  • Pull up variations
  • Step ups
  • Deadbug variations – particularly with the upper body demanding tension of some kind
  • Cyclist squats

There are many, many more, but these 5, in my experience working with clients and professionals alike, are underestimated.

Let’s dive into each one and how you can use them in your training or with your clients even if you’re at home, or without a gym.

1.) Carries:

Oh my goodness if you are not picking things up, and walking or marching in place with them, DO IT.

Carries have the potential to do many things for you. Especially because we can load them in various positions [single arm, overhead, back rack, front rack, hugging a med ball, with a barbell, with dumbbells]. Truly almost anything goes here.

By and large, carries strengthen your pillar. They demand that you resist abdominal lateral flexion or rotation.

If you’re holding by your side like a traditional farmer carry, then they can be used for grip strength, as well as pillar strength. It’s highly likely that you’ll also find that carries get your heart rate up. Especially if they are axial loaded. Meaning the spine is loaded. Throw some kettle bells in a front rack position and walk 100 meters. Tell me you’re not winded afterwards.

The constant demand to brace your core, breath, and not drop the weights can be a real challenge. One that is often underused, and underestimated.

The other piece of carries which is underestimated is their massive carryover into your other lifts. Think about movement from a center-out fashion. As in your everything originating from your core. Either the core is stabilizing so that your joints and limbs can effectively move around the core. OR the core is the link, allowing upper and lower to generate power as one unit.

Carries, by nature, have huge potential to help you gain strength, and stability in your other movement patterns.

There are many ways to use carries in your programming or client’s’ programming.

I would definitely suggest carrying once per week. If this is for a specific weakness in your training, then progress it like you would any other lift, either by increasing load or distance carried – being volume.

Or, if you’re just adding in carries for general core work, then have fun and try out different variations per training phase. Dealing with weakness in overhead mobility? Then single arm overhead carries might be your ticket. Completely up to you. But no matter what, if able, give carries a go.

Add them in as part of your movement prep, after your lift as core work, or on an active recovery day.

2.) Pull up variations:

I always laugh when women want toned upper bodies and then I tell them to do pull ups, push ups, and overhead press variations. These big compound movements are truly where you get the most bang for your buck, and a well rounded upper body musculature.

Even if you can’t DO a pull up unassisted, you should be doing some sort of vertical pulling.

That’s why I said “variations” – because you can do assisted, chin ups, eccentric work, three position pull ups, wide pull ups, neutral grip pull ups.

And all work your upper body slightly differently.

If you’re not currently doing some kind of pull up in your programming, (and it’s not because you don’t have access to a pull up bar), I would ask why.

It’s also worth pointing that

  1. Pull ups might be one of the most incorrectly performed exercises I personally see in the gym and
  2. Vertical pulling can have big time positive effects on your PRESSING.

Many of the muscles you’re working with pull ups are the same muscles, either used in pressing OR working as stabilizers while you press. 

We need to be working both pulling and pressing. But as you get stronger with pulling, you may see and feel that effect in your pressing as well.

Next time you do pull ups, focus on initiating the pull by keeping the arms straight but pulling the scapulas into your back pockets and aggressively using your lats all the way from your shoulder joint to your low back. Think “big chest” up to the bar.

Moving on.

3.) Step ups:

These are wildly useful, effective and often underestimated.

Like carries, step ups can be done with just body weight, at various step heights, with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, loaded by your sides, front rack, back rack, so on and so forth.

More often than not, a step up is closest to that of a squatting pattern. Aaaaannnnd it being a single leg exercise is winning.

These can be TRULY a single leg exercise or have some help from the back leg. That’s dependent on your programming, and execution. Neither is better or worse. It just totally depends on the goal.

I love step ups because they reveal and can quickly correct left to right leg strength discrepancies when loaded properly. You’ll find them all over my Built By Annie and 1:1 Programming. ESPECIALLY for at home programming.

I like to use a step that is at least to the knee cap. This ensures that the hip crease is starting below the knee crease, like it would in the bottom of a squat.

You can drive the knee forward with a positive shin angle to further mimic a squat, or keep more of a vertical shin. This is easier from a lower box and in a lateral step up position. So with the box or bench to your side.

Yes, you can also do lateral box step ups, which of course I particularly like using these with a HEAVY eccentric, controlling the lowering portion all the way to the floor.

Do the step ups. Get the gains.

4.) Deadbugs:

Deadbugs are the tits for core work. And if you think dead bugs are easy, you’re likely not doing them right.

My personal favorite dead bug variations are wall dead bugs (with your hands on the wall, arms at about 90 degrees, pressing into the wall, as your legs alternate like a normal dead bug), and with a mini band around your forearms, hands to the ceiling.

A dead bug is simply laying on your back, starting with hands to the ceiling, back pressed into the floor and legs up at 90 degrees with your shins toward the ceiling. Then one leg extends and drops forward the floor at a time. The variations largely come from what the arms are doing. Opposite arm can drop back into shoulder flexion, same arm can drop back, arms can stay put, they can pull on a band, press into a wall, etc etc.

Deadbugs are for your core. End of story. They’re simple, and difficult, and will likely lead to better core awareness, as well as core function in your main lifts like squats, deads, pressing etc.

I suggest adding these as part of your warm up and/or post lift accessory work. It’s hard to do too many dead bugs. In fact I don’t know how possible that even is.

Last but not least, and kind of just for fun…

5.) Cyclist squats:

I used to poopoo on these. Because I saw them as cheating for those who lacked ankle dorsiflexion.

Now, years later, I love them, I use them, and I program them for many of my clients.

As a little side note. If you’re a movement elitist like I used to be, I encourage you to start looking at movements for the specific purpose they might serve. What context is it being used in? Like foods. People often label foods good or bad, vs looking at food, as just that…food.

Look at movement as just…movement first. Then ask questions and look for context.

Okay, cyclist squats.

These are called a multitude of things I am sure, but what I am talking about is heel elevated, narrow stance squats.

Often loaded in a goblet position – db/kb at the chest. Though I have seen world record holder Stefi Cohan do them in a standard high bar back squat position.

You want to make sure however you’re elevating your heels is safe and sturdy.

The knees drive over the toes and the chest largely stays upright. HELLO. QUADS.

These are a functional quad extension, with yes, some hip flexion obviously. Use a slow tempo down, keep a constant tension and tell me your quads aren’t on actual fire.

That is why I think these are so underestimated. You squat far more weight than you’d use with cyclist squats, but its the POSITION that gets you. The narrow stance is different, the elevated heels, with knees over toes is different. And that new stimulus is REAL.

The slower tempo can also tend to get you the cardio department as well. So basically everything is just burning, and it’s great.

I will also note that I wouldn’t necessarily give these to someone with meniscus or cartilage issues, unless they felt fine doing them.

Alright. That’s it! These are my 5 underestimated movements for now. I am sure that will change with time. But it was a fun one to list off heading into the new year. Maybe you’re starting a new program or ramping up for a new phase. Hopefully you either use some of these, or think about what I mentioned here, when you see them in your programming.

Review of the week comes from Awildtribe and says,

“Hi there, long time follower first time caller here! Haha! No really, I’ve been following Annie for a while now and just started listening to the podcast and I’m so pumped! Grateful that someone as successful as Annie would take the time to help others learn how to create their own success too. Thanks so much!”

Remember you need to check the show notes (here) to see if you were review-er of the week, and then keep an eye out to see if you were listener of the month as well. That will be in the show notes and Annie’s Weekly Wrap. You can subscribe to Annie’s Weekly Wrap here!

5 most underestimated movements with Annie Miller

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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