OLD SCHOOL EXERCISES – 15 BEST EXERCISES YOU SHOULD BE DOING
1. Lying Lateral Raises
Serge Nubret was the pioneer of this great exercise and many of the old-school bodybuilders started using it right away. The old school bodybuilders like Arnold liked to hit the delts from all angles to make them grow. Although standing lateral raises are the exercise you’ll find most bodybuilders doing when they want to target the middle deltoid head, Arnold and others also did a variation by lying on a bench.
I personally recommend performing the different variations of each exercise often. For example, if you train your deltoids twice a week, make sure you’re utilizing all of the different variations for example by doing lying side laterals on one day, and regular standing lateral raises the other.
This way, you’re giving the muscle a slightly different form of stimulation and also making sure you don’t get bored with your training. Doing the lateral raise in a lying position forces the middle delt to work very hard through the entire range of motion, and the bench position reduces body English to make the muscle work ever harder. As you do these, make sure you’re not going all the way up with your arm so that you’re pointing the dumbbell straight to the ceiling, but stop few inches before that to keep the tension on the side delt at all times. If you go all the way up, you’re basically resting.
Training TIP: You can even ditch the regular side laterals for a couple of weeks and focus on making progress
2. The Forearm Roller
One of the old school exercises develops big forearms is the forearm roller without a doubt. There’s no other exercise that targets the upper forearms like this one!
The wrist roller is by far the best exercise for developing forearm size and strength. It is to your forearms what barbell squats are to your legs, if not better. There’s simply no substitute for this exercise, and if you don’t have access to one you can easily make one for around five bucks. If you’re not blessed with naturally big forearms like most of us aren’t, this should be one of the ”must do” exercises. Most start off very humbled by the wrist roller and are lucky to use 10-15 pounds or less, but with consistency and applying gradual overload it’s possible to work up to some impressive weights and impressive forearms!
Training TIP: My recommendation is to train your forearms at least three times a week for maximum development. Training them once a week will do nothing. You have to put in the work.
3. Cross Bench Pullovers
Cross bench pullovers is where you lie across a bench with your middle back to shoulders supported by it and pull a dumbbell from the floor over your head in a big sweeping, arcing movement. These expand the ribcage but they also work the pecs, lats and even the triceps. Though this exercise has been almost completely forgotten, don’t ignore it.
This was one of Arnold’s favourite old school exercises. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me and you too. The dumbbell pullover hits both chest and back, but in my personal experience, it hits the lats way more than the chest. Because it hits both chest and back, people aren’t sure where to fit it into their routines, so they simply leave it out. My advice is to just do it on a back day. Pullovers also develop the serratus muscle which is usually forgotten. Having well-developed serratus will give you a great look.
Training TIP: When you’re performing these, really focus on getting a deep stretch on the lats. Super setting these with cable pullovers will give you an amazing pump. The bench pullovers will give you more of the stretch, while the cable pullovers focus more on the squeeze or contraction. A great finisher for the back is to do 3-4 supersets with these two phenomenal exercises.
4. Concentration Curls /hanging arm
Arnold considered one-arm concentration curls to be the ultimate movement for adding peak to the biceps. Although the shape of one’s biceps is largely determined by genetics, concentration curls do target the outer head of the biceps, which is the one that creates arm height when flexed. When doing these, focus on turning your pinky finger outward to get the maximum contraction. This amazing old exercise from “old school exercises” can be performed in a variety of ways, so which one you choose depends on your personal preference. The basic movement “old school exercises” requires bending at the waist with a dumbbell held in one hand hanging below your shoulder. Without moving your upper arm, curl the dumbbell to your shoulder, squeeze the biceps hard at the top of the movement and lower it again in a smooth, controlled manner.
Training TIP: For some of your bicep workouts, ditch the regular exercises and use this great exercise to gain some size to your guns.
5. Wide Grip Chins
Most people have forgotten about wide-grip chins and only do lat pull-downs. Back in the day Arnold, Franco, Ken Waller all used to do them religiously.
One of the best ways to develop wide lats is to do weighted wide grip chins and to continuously get stronger at them, performing more and more reps with a heavier weight each week.
Give this a try: always begin your back workouts with weighted wide grip chins for a month or two and aim to do more reps with the same weight every time, progressively getting stronger and adding the poundage.
A great way to get maximal muscle stimulation out of wide grip chins is to get a friend to help you perform 2-5 more reps after you’ve reached failure.
Training TIP: Get your friend to assist you up, and then lower down slowly for 4-5 seconds, and repeat for about 5 repetitions. This is one of the best ways to widen your lats. Give it a try.
6. T-bar Rows
The T-bar rows are great for giving you a big stretch in your lats—more so than doing straight barbell rows.
There’s something about the range of motion of T-bar rows that gives your lats excellent stimulation, and a great squeeze and stretch.
If you don’t have a T-bar row machine at your gym, you can can jam one end of an olympic bar into a corner of the room and use a V-bar handle that is usually used with lat pull-downs to perform the exercise.
Training TIP: Avoid doing these after deadlifts because your lower back will be too stimulated to really get anything out of the reps. T-bar rows require a lot of lower back, specially when going heavy.
7. One-arm Dumbbell Row
This is an exercise you can really feel if you do it right. You get that deep stretch at the bottom and the nice contraction in the lat at the top. But if your focus is on going super-heavy you’re not going get the full effectiveness out of this movement. I recommend switching back and forth with this and barbell rows for maximum muscle growth. Remember to not go as heavy as you can, but to use a lighter weight which is still heavy, but not the maximum weight you can handle. This is in my opinion far superior exercise to barbell rows because of the full range of motion and the awesome squeeze. If you’re training back twice a week, do these on the first and then barbell rows on the second back session.
Also, the reason why you can get a great stretch and contraction is that you’re performing the exercise one arm at the time while using the other one as support. This is why barbell rows fall behind in the effectiveness.
Training TIP: Try to avoid pulling the dumbbell straight upward. Instead, pull the dumbbell like you’re igniting a lawn mover. Pull it toward your waist, not your chest.
8. Cross-chest Dumbbell Tricep Extension
Lie back on a bench holding a dumbbell in one hand. Push it straight over your shoulder “old school exercises” as if you were going to do a one-arm extension, but instead of bringing the dumbbell down next to your ear, lower it to your opposite pec.
It’s a variation on the traditional one-arm extension, but it’s really good.
Try these after you’ve done your regular tricep work to really stimulate the tri’s properly.
Training TIP: Make sure to fully extend your arm on the top part of the movement and flex the tricep hard.
9. EZ-Curl Lying Tricep Extension
This isn’t so much a forgotten exercise as a technique the great Bill Pearl used to do that no-one does. It’s like “21’s”, but for triceps.
Here’s how you do it.
You lie down and do eight reps of extensions bringing the bar behind your head. Then without stopping you do another 8 reps bringing the bar to your forehead. Then you immediately go to 8 pushouts—basically, close-grip bench presses with the elbows held close to the body. This will totally fatigue your triceps. This is also a great finisher for the triceps.
Training TIP: Pick a week and hit your triceps 4-6 times that week by always adding this exercise to your sessions.
This will stimulate your triceps in a completely new way, and add some muscle to your arms.
10. Push-up Variation
Push-ups are a really underutilized exercise that should be used more often. But I’m not talking about just regular push-ups done separately.
Here’s an awesome chest finished I want you to try:
- Superset flat bench dumbbell flyes with decline pushups.
- Put your feet up on a bench and then use those low wooden boxes—maybe 4″ tall— or those stepper boxes.
- Use these to get that extra stretch at the bottom.
- This is a killer—really pumps up the pecs. Four sets of 8-12 reps are done this way burns your chest out pretty well.
- Doing this kind of advanced techniques and really pushing yourself to the limit while doing it really stimulates new growth on the chest muscles.
Give it a try.
Training TIP: Use this kind of advanced techniques more often to switch things up and to give your muscles new kind of stimulus.
11. Sissy Squats
When you perform the sissy squat correctly, the burn and the pump is amazing.
The best way to perform sissy squats in my experience is to use the hack squat machine with a slight variation. What you need to do is to get some kind of steel block or something that you can put under your heels on the hack squat feet platform.
Have your feet a little bit closer than shoulder-width apart, point your toes slightly outward, and put the block under your heels so that you’re in a similar position as when you’re standing on your toes. Then perform the exercise the same way as if you’re doing regular hack squats. This will create an incredible stretch on your quads, which you can’t get with any other exercise.
Really focus on going all the way down so that you feel the stretch on your quads.
This exercise is something that you don’t see a lot of people doing. And I wonder why…It’s amazing.
Training TIP: Superset the smith machine sissy squats with regular sissy squats (regular sissy squats: like Tom Platz is doing in that picture.
12. Barbell Cheat Curls
These were Arnold’s favourite for building those massive biceps.
He once stated: “The cheating barbell curl stands alone for building mass.”
Here’s the key… you’re not cheating just to use more weight. Anybody can fling heavy weights around…the key here is to use the small cheating movement to put MORE tension on the biceps.
Basically, you’re cheating to make the biceps work HARDER, not to make the exercise easier just so you can put bigger plates on the barbell.
Ego lifting is not what we’re looking for here.
We’re only going SLIGHTLY heavier than normal and we’re only using a small bit of body movement to help move the weight. The Barbell Cheat Curl is NOT a license to thrust your hips around like you’re trying to a ring a doorbell with your hip bone. (Arnold in that picture is bending way too much. Don’t mimic him on this one).
Training TIP: Continual progression on the barbell cheat curls will make your arms grow at a decent rate.
My recommendation is to begin your bicep workouts with this exercise and stick to it for a while.
13. Incline Dumbbell Curls
Incline dumbbell curls were also one of Arnold’s favourite bicep exercises. Probably because this exercise ensures a massive stretch on the biceps like no other.
Set the incline bench to an angle of about 45 degrees to ensure maximum stretch throughout the biceps. I recommend doing these in the alternate fashion. Some people like to do these both arms at the same time, but I think this decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. When you do these both arms at the same time, it’s difficult to focus on squeezing the biceps, and the exercise loses it’s effectiveness. Also, make sure to go all the way down to get maximum stretch on the biceps.
Training TIP: To increase the effectiveness of this exercise, I recommend to go really slow on the way down.
14. Seated Cable Row
One of Arnold’s ( Old School Exercises ) favourite back exercises for overall back development was the seated cable row.
This exercise blasts the entire lat area and helps to develop huge thickness, especially in the lower-lat region when using a close-grip handle.
As you can see in the picture, Arnold like’d to get a massive stretch in the lats by going that far with the range of motion. This is one of the benefits of seated cable rows, you get a stretch like no other if you go all the way down and let the weight pull your lats.
If you take a look at that second picture, you can see the squeezing part of the movement. An important thing to remember here is to force your chest out when pulling the V-bar toward your lower abdominals.
The Maximum Stimulation Technique: this is a great technique that absolutely destroys your back if you do it right.
Here’s how to do it.
Start out by picking a relatively heavy weight that you can perform 6 reps with. The goal is to use a heavy weight and really go for the maximum stretch at the bottom. You can even use a little momentum on the last 2 reps.
Then immediately perform a dropset by lowering the weight by around 50%. Shoot for 6-8 more reps with the decreased poundage.
And this time your goal is to really focus on the squeeze during the contrensic portion of the movement.
Perform a total of 8 sets. 4 initial sets with the heavy weight, and 4 sets with the decreased poundage.
This is a killer technique that will make your lats thick in no time flat. Give it a shot!
Training TIP: Stick your chest out as far as you can and try to hold the contraction for a second with each rep. This makes the exercise much more effective.
15. Military Press Variation
John Grimek was an American bodybuilder and weightlifter active in the 1930s and 1940s. Throughout his career, he carried the nicknames “The Monarch of Muscledom” and “The Glow.”
Besides his bodybuilding exploits, in which he was never defeated, Grimek also represented the United States in weightlifting at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. In 1948, at 38 years of age, Grimek defeated Steve Reeves at the NABBA Mr. Universe contest in London. This dude was a total beast.
Here’s a breakdown of an overhead pressing routine Grimek recommended 55 years ago:
Start with a weight you can strict press 5 or 6 times with ease to warm up.
Then move up to 75% of your best press and perform it 3 times.
- Continue increasing in 5-10 pound jumps, performing singles until your daily limit has been reached.
- Now add 20 pounds to the bar and perform 2-3 push presses.
- Continue adding weight in 5-10 pound jumps.
- Upon reaching a weight you can no longer push press, unrack the weight and do a static hold until you can’t sustain it any longer. Repeat this once.
Training TIP: Use a belt when going heavy on overhead presses to protect your back.