5 Unconventional Exercises That Build Muscle

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The tried and true lifts will always be a staple in a solid program. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, bicep curls, and power cleans are just some of the conventional lifts that build tons of muscle and strength. While you should always keep these types of lifts in your routine, there will be times when you have to look outside the box.

There are plenty of exercises that you may not have tried that produce results. That may be because you are just used to doing the same thing or you just haven’t experienced the wonderful benefits that other lifts can offer.

As creatures of habit, we tend to be apprehensive to try other things in fear that they may not work. I can tell you that these 5 unconventional moves work wonders. If you are stuck in a rut, need some extra motivation, or just want to be challenged with something new, take a look at these moves that you may never have tried. 


Waiter/Suit Case Carry Combo Waiter suitcase carry

Loaded carries have now become a household name in the strength and performance field. But I think that physique athletes need to take a harder look at the loaded carries for muscle growth. Loaded carries, in general, put the body under a great deal of time under tension. Keep in mind that building muscle is all about time under tension. Loaded carries improve overall work capacity and seem to thicken the whole body and add mass to just about every muscle, from the traps to the calves.

Farmer’s carries can get a little mundane; so I like to mix it up a bit. The suitcase/overhead (waiter) carry provides a great mix of muscle building capabilities. The overhead carry helps improve shoulder health and stability while building the shoulders, traps, and upper back. The suitcase carry hits the core, obliques, abs, glutes and forearms. Not to mention the awkward soreness your body will experience from the uneven load that the body will have to accommodate.


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Mixed Grip Chest to Bar Pull-up Mixed grip chest to bar

The standard pull-up is an amazing muscle builder on its own, but it does have some limitations. Those with shoulder issues tend to reduce their range of motion, load, and volume. Your grip can also fail before your back and lats do. Chin-ups are also a classic muscle builder, but don’t hit the lats as much as the pull-up and can bang up the elbows with a lot of reps. The perfect solution is to use a mixed grip (one hand underhand, one hand over hand).

The mixed-grip allows you to hang onto the bar longer, thus increasing the number of reps and weight that you can handle. More time under tension and heavier loads equals more muscle.

You can also increase your range of motion by not being restricted by shoulder mobility and get your chest up to the bar to hit more of your back and shoulder muscles, such as the teres minor and rhomboids.


Duck Stance Deadlifts Duck stance deadlift

This version of the deadlift has been a staple for some the strongest Chinese Olympic lifters in the smaller weight classes. It’s mostly because that’s the way they do their cleans and snatches. Feet close together with their toes pointed out 45 degrees in the starting position.

This variation of the deadlift is much better at building the quadriceps, but less on the glutes. The lower-leg angle allows you to keep the bar closer to the body, because the knees are not in the way, which decreases the involvement of the lower back.

I find these to be very useful for people who are just learning the deadlift, or have a troubled lower-back, but still want to build there quads and pulling strength.


Dumbbell Clean and Press Dumbbell clean and press

The traditional Olympic lifts are incredibly beneficial for any athlete regardless of the goal (power, strength, muscle growth). The one problem that they have is the learning curve for many to do them correctly and the low amount of time under tension. So for those who are looking for an explosive movement using heavy weight and a lot of reps, I like the dumbbell clean and press.

The learning curve is extremely low. You simply hinge forward at the hip with a dumbbell in each hand. Thrust the hips and bring the dumbbells to the rack position, then strict press them above your head. I still would stay around 8-10 reps with this exercise, but trust me that will be plenty. Your forearms, biceps, and shoulders will be screaming by 5 reps if you are using a substantial amount of weight.


Landmine Reverse Lunge to 1-Arm Overhead Press

Landmine press

The landmine apparatus has gained incredible popularity in recent years. It has brought new life to traditional barbell training and provided the industry a great tool to build muscle and strength. If you do not have access to a landmine, no worries. You can simply put a barbell in the corner of a sturdy wall, just like the bodybuilders Golden Era made possible. But you don’t have to just do T-bar rows like Arnold. You can do so much more.

This combo lift provides a whole-body stimulus that hits almost all the major muscle groups. The quads and glutes get hammered from the lunges and your shoulders, traps and triceps get hit with the press. This exercise also hits the core pretty hard. The opposite side core must work hard to stabilize the weight to maintain good posture. I like using this as a full-body finisher at the end of a workout to make sure all muscle fibers get hit.


Time To Get Unconventional 

You don’t need to add variety in your workouts just for the sake of variety. You do need a strategic plan when changing up your program and shouldn’t haphazardly add in exercises. These exercises are perfect to complement the tried and true basics to bring back new life to your physique.