The Chest Press, Deadlift and Squat are the most popular exercises in the gym. However, some nagging aches and pains can pop up or maybe you just need some variety to keep training interesting. A little switch between exercises just might be the stimulus your body needs to spark new muscle growth and strength.
Below are my top alternatives for the top exercises you may be doing in the gym.
The incline Bench Press is the most widely used standard for building the upper chest and front of the shoulders. However, having your shoulder blades pinned to a bench with your bodyweight and additional weight that you are lifting, prevents proper scapular motion. This scapular motion is is must for activities involving the shoulder, especially those that are overhead.
Overtime this lack of proper movement of the shoulder can lead to impingement causing increased friction, inflammation, and degeneration of the tendons.
The Landmine Press is a great alternative as a more functional exercise that allows proper movement of the scapula, activates more muscles (especially the core), and allows for a ton of variations being used bi- or uni-laterally, stance (feet shoulder-width, split stance, half-kneeling, double kneeling) or for compound movements (Squat + Press, Lunge + Press, etc.)
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT
The Trap Bar Deadlift is great for all lifters, but can be used for beginners to help them understand proper hinging mechanics.
Most Trap bars have raised handles which allows for a shorter range of motion. This decreases the amount of flexion at the hips and knees and lessens the flexibility and mobility demands at the hips and hamstrings than the conventional deadlift. This will allow taller and less mobile trainees to maintain a flat back.
With this set up it produces less strain on the lower back than conventional deadlifts by preventing hyperextension at the top of the lift. A beginner may use the bar as a counterweight at the top of the lift, leading to hyperextension of the lumbar spine, instead of finishing the lift with the glutes.
Even if you prefer and are experienced with using a straight bar with a traditional deadlift, switching to the Trap Bar in your training for some variety can help with increased muscle growth, and maximize injury prevention by minimizing overuse injuries by using the same set up.
Some would argue that the squat is King of the Gym. However, many people have issues doing it due to lack of mobility in the knees, hips, and shoulders. Also depending on personal goals and issues, the risk to benefit ratio would need to be considered if another exercise would serve to be a better fit.
A great variation is the split squat.
The split squat offers a ton of variation to increase difficulty without necessarily needing to add more weight (like the Bulgarian Split Squat version pictured above). Weight can be held in various positions, the most commonly used is at the sides. Holding resistance at the sides takes compression off the spinal discs that are loaded up during a Barbell Back Squat.
Also by holding the weights to the side is more comfortable on the shoulders for those that lack external rotation in the shoulders in order to hold the bar behind the neck on the upper back. There are specialty bars that would solve this problem as well, but many commercial gyms, in my experience, do not have them.
The split squat is a uni-lateral exercise that will help work out muscle and strength imbalances while challenging and improving your balance, while activating more muscles.
The purpose of this post is not to claim that these exercises are better than the traditional gym standards, but to offer an alternative for variety, another option if issues do arrive that can keep you training rather than taking time off, possibly a better alternative depending on your skill level, and for some, a safer alternative due to orthopedic and/or mobility issues.