The most popular movements to build absolute strength are the barbell squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press. With these exercises, the barbell moves in a relatively straight line for you to build more size and strength. But these are not the only exercises you should be doing in fact there a whole list of neglected strength exercises that you should be doing to get stronger.
Because it is easy to fall in love with the progress you’ll make with these exercises, lifters neglect other movements that will help them build size and strength and improve their performance with the exercises previously mentioned. Here 7 experienced coaches share their favorite neglected strength exercises for better strength so you can improve yours.
Ready to get stronger? Then let’s dive in.
Top Neglected Strength Exercises
Kettlebell Cleans Exercise
Raphael Konforti is the senior director of fitness for YouFit Gyms.
One of the most underutilized exercises to build full body strength is the kettlebell clean. The clean utilizes the hip complex, and this joint produces the most power and strength. It is the power center of the body.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: It’s typically underutilized because it doesn’t directly target one muscle group. That’s how you know it’s a real strength exercise. Quality cleans are more technical and require more coordination than a lot of exercises.
- Benefits: Strength is about synchrony throughout the whole body and clean will train that. I prefer using kettlebells over barbells because it puts more emphasis on form over weight.
- How to do it: Take a shoulder-width stance with the feet hip-width apart. Grip both kettlebells so that palms are facing away from each other. Drive down through the heels while extending the hips forward. Carry the momentum through the arms, using the arms to guide the kettlebells up. Just before the kettlebells reach shoulder height pull the elbows underneath and into the rib cage. With control, lower the kettlebells back to the starting position. Pause between each rep or perform them unbroken.
- Sets & reps: 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps early in your training when you are fresh.
Andrew Heming, MS, CSCS, is a former college strength and conditioning coach.
When most people think of carries, they think of farmer’s walks. But farmer’s walks share something in common with all the other traditional gym exercises – they are balanced, and symmetrical and give you nice handles to hold. But this rarely happens outside of the gym and to build real-world strength, it pays to get awkward.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: Because a lot of lifters (excluding strongmen) don’t think outside the box when it comes to building real-world strength.
- Benefits: Odd objects are big, bulky, challenging to hold, and awkward to carry. They force high total-body tension and head-to-toe stability. Awkward carries are your ticket to building the kind of real-life strength and work capacity that will get you accused of growing up on a farm.
- How to do it: Get creative and see what you can find for carries. Some excellent options include:
- Kegs (filled with water or sand as you get stronger)
- Sandbags (homemade from duffle bags or official fitness ones)
If you have none of those, you can even get creative with carrying a dumbbell and look for a variety of ways to carry objects such as Zercher carry, 1-shoulder, in front, bear hug, etc.
Look for a long open lane for carrying and don’t try to rush your carries. You will increase your strength & stability while decreasing your risk of injury if you walk with control.
- Sets & reps: For strength: 2-4 sets, 10-20 yards, rest 3-4 minutes between sets. Go heavy and focus on weight progression at most training sessions. Work Capacity: 4-10 sets, 20-50 yards, and rest 2 minutes between sets. Start with lower volume and gradually increase volume with more sets and/or longer distances.
Allan Bacon, Ph.D., is a former dental surgeon now an online personal trainer who specializes in training powerlifters and body composition clients.
The Yates row is a barbell row variation focused on loading the lats as much as possible while minimizing assistance from the rhomboids and upper back musculature.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: The Yates row tends to be overshadowed by the standard barbell row, which is certainly a solid movement but tends to target the lats, and in particular the lower lats much less effectively than the Yates row.
- Benefits: The Yates row is particularly effective at targeting the lats for both growing size and building earth-shattering back strength.
- How to do it: Set your feet roughly under your hips and use an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Then set your back to a 45-degree angle to the floor or slightly more upright. Focus on pulling through the elbows, bringing the bar into your lower abdomen area. Take every set to the point of form failure.
- Sets & reps: 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps are solid general programming recommendations.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift Exercise
Gareth Sapstead, MSc CSCS is a strength coach, writer, and the official trainer for BBC studios.
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) are often considered an essential exercise when it comes to building posterior chain strength—glutes, hamstrings, and low back. But, as RDLs have increased in popularity, especially among physical athletes, stiff-legged deadlifts have seemingly been forgotten.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: Stiff-leg deadlifts have largely been neglected due to a lack of understanding of what they are. What they are not is an RDL simply performed off the floor—since RDLs should be started from the top and initiated with the eccentric phase first. Instead, stiff-legged deadlifts are essentially high-hipped deadlifts off the floor. Plus, many avoid stiff-legged deadlifts because the bar path places you at a mechanical disadvantage resulting in less weight being lifted in comparison to RDLs.
- Benefits: With stiff-legged deadlifts, you’re better able to challenge your glutes and hamstrings without requiring as much load on the bar as with RDLs. A recent study showed greater muscle activation in the gluteus maximus using stiff-legged deadlifts as compared to RDLs. (Coratella et al, 2022)
- Stiff-legged deadlifts are by no means “better” than RDLs, but they do offer a useful alternative for those looking to build their posterior chain strength, as well as for physique athletes who are trying to build size in their glutes and “outer” hamstrings.
- How to do it: Start with the bar on the floor and over your lower laces. The bar may be elevated further off the floor if required using some deadlifting blocks or bumper plates. Feet are facing forward and about hip-width apart or narrower. Bend over to grab the bar, attempting to keep your hips as high as possible and your eyes should be looking at the floor and neck aligned with the rest of your spine. Lift the bar using your glutes and hamstrings. Lower down by bending at the hips. Don’t push your hips back. The bar should stay in front and away from your body.
- Sets & reps: Stiff-leg deadlifts work well as a primary or secondary exercise and in the 8-15 repetition range. For example, 3 sets of 15 reps, or 4-5 sets of 8 reps, depending on other factors within your training program.
Plate Curl Exercise
Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., is a metabolism fitness professional, strength coach, and educator who specializes in tailoring nutrition to a client’s needs
Want to increase hand, wrist, and thumb strength all with a standard piece of equipment you can find in any gym? I present to you, the plate curl
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: Many do some closed-hand (crush) grip strength which is important, but most negate training the hands in an extended position and the wrist. The wrist is the connection between your hands and your arms, and if it is weak, it is costing you performance and muscle.
- Benefits: The benefit is the plate curl puts high stress on your wrist as it has to stabilize the load as it moves through space and the hands are in an extended position also. Plus, it is auto-correcting in that if your wrist can’t support the load, you will not be able to complete the rep.
- How to do it: Open your hand and set a standard plate on top of your hand and wrap your thumb around it. Spread your fingers out on the back side of the plate evenly on both sides of the hole. It will be easier to do a cross-body plate curl with your elbow stabilized into your hip. Start at the top and lower the weight under control all the way down and back up. A bit of momentum is fine but work to keep your wrist straight.
- Sets & reps: I like adding it twice a week to start towards the end of your training session on a full-body or lower-body day since it can be tiring at first. Work to hit 5-10 solid reps, but a few triples or doubles on occasion is fine.
Quadruped Adductor Slide
Chris Cooper is a strength coach and writer at Nerd Fitness.
When we think of training our lower body, common exercises like squats and deadlifts pop into mind because those are the big ones that work our hamstrings, glutes, and quads. One muscle group that we tend to not give as much attention to is the adductors.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind deal. Although a lot of lower body exercises train the adductors in concert with other lower body muscles, isolating the adductors will improve the health and performance of your hips.
- Benefits: Isolating and strengthening the adductors improves hip stabilization and hip mobility for better performance with your lower body exercises.
- How to do it: Have a resistance band anchored to the side of you while you are down on all fours, Place the slider underneath the knee closest to the anchor point and band just above the knee. Slide your knee towards the anchor point while shifting your body weight to the same side. Once you feel a stretch, drive your knees together, reset and repeat and do the other side.
- Set & reps: Use as a warm-up exercise for reps of 10 or as an accessory exercise later in your workouts for reps of 10 or more between strength exercises.
Neck Plank Deep Neck Flexor Activator
Dr. Bo Babenko, is a physical therapist and strength coach who specializes in strengthening the mind, body, and soul.
I have seen many athletic folks show up with neck pain that sometimes also sends symptoms down the arms. As we become even more bound to virtual work and mobile phones, our necks are paying a big price. “Strengthening” the neck, especially the deep neck flexors such as the multifidus muscle becomes important.
- Why you feel it’s neglected strength exercise: I don’t see a lot of folks doing neck work, short of that weird Joe Rogan head contraption. Because strengthening the neck is hardly ever thought of and it can require some precision and nuance that most practitioners and athletes rarely have time for.
- Benefits: This can avoid potential issues and injuries to the neck. And with the rise in phones etc., we probably need 10 times more neck work than ever to undo the postural chicanery.
- How to do it: Tuck your chin and press your tongue on the roof of your mouth or back of your teeth firmly. Then rotate your head a few degrees so the back of your head is only an inch or two off the floor and your chin is moving toward your chest then try to hold this for 45+ seconds.
- Sets & reps: Work up to 45 seconds as part of your warmup.