Category Archives: Valslide flyes

Knee-Friendly Quad Builders

Knee-Friendly Quad Builders
As much as a beastly set of quads can really set you apart from the chest and arms crowd, training the quads hard and heavy can be problematic. Many of the best quad exercises put a lot of stress on the knees, hence their “knee dominant” classification.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’ve got healthy knees, but if you don’t, well, your quest to build tree trunks for quads will be an uphill battle.
You essentially have three choices:
Option 1: Ignore your knee pain and train through it. Better yet, just get some knee wraps and wrap em’ up as tight as possible. Buy your ibuprofen in bulk from Costco. You won’t feel a thing. Woot!
I’m kidding. Having gone this route many times before, I can tell you it’s a losing proposition.  It may seem cool at the time, and some of your lifting buddies might say you’re “hardcore,” but when you’re hobbling around and struggling to go up and down stairs, it’s not so cool.
Option 2: Stop training your quads altogether and resign yourself to a lifetime of sweatpants and chicken legs. I mean, let’s be honest, by the time someone of the opposite sex sees your quads, you should have already sealed the deal.
Again, I’m kidding.
Option 3: Get creative and find ways to blast your quads without hurting your knees.
That sounds best to me, so let’s roll with that. Here are some exercises to help.

1. Landmine Reverse Lunges

Landmine reverse lunges are a great knee-friendly alternative to regular lunges, or even regular reverse lunges.
Start by putting one end of a barbell in the landmine unit and holding the other end in your left hand, 1-2 inches in front of your thigh. Keeping your chest up, take a big step back with your left leg while simultaneously reaching your left arm slightly forward.
In the bottom position, your left hand should be approximately in line with your right shin. From there, push through the heel of the right foot and return to the start position.
Repeat with your other leg.
It should look like this:

The barbell functions as a counterbalance, allowing you to take a much bigger step back than what would normally be possible with traditional loading methods, thereby encouraging you to maintain a completely vertical tibia, which in turn helps take stress off the knee joint.
If you try keeping a vertical shin in a standard lunge or reverse lunge using standard loading methods, it’s extremely difficult to execute. Using the landmine, it’s no problem at all.
Moreover, this variation provides offset contralateral loading, which increases glute recruitment and helps to build hip, core, and pelvic stability while also developing grip strength (since you’re forced to hold the thick part of the barbell).
I don’t recommend loading the bar up with too much weight because it can be tricky to handle heavy loads so far out in front of your body, and you don’t want to risk a lower back injury. This is a tough exercise to begin with so you probably won’t need a lot of external resistance anyway, but if you do, try adding a weighted vest.

2. Valslide Landmine Reverse Lunges

Knee-Friendly Quad Builders
To make landmine reverse lunges even more knee-friendly, try adding in Valslides or a slideboard for the reverse lunges.
Do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion and focus on keeping your weight on the heel of the working leg as you slide back as far as you can go, all without losing your balance or having your chest collapse forward.
When you reach the bottom position, think about pulling through the glute of the front leg rather than pushing with the quad. Don’t worry, your quads will still get plenty of work.
Here’s what it looks like in action:

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the shin of the front leg hardly moves at all during the set and the tibia stays completely vertical throughout. Being that our goal is to deload the knee, that’s a good thing.
If you continue watching, you’ll also notice that I’m able to slide  back; much farther back than you can step in a regular reverse lunge and even a little farther back than you can go in a landmine reverse lunge without the slide pad.
Along with making for one hell of a hip flexor stretch, this encourages a posterior weight shift to take pressure off the knee of the front working leg. Better still, it also limits knee flexion in the rear leg, which again is great for folks suffering from knee pain – sometimes the rear leg experiences pain during lunges when forced to bend excessively and absorb the impact of stepping backwards.

3. Rear Foot (Slightly) Elevated Split Squats

Rear foot elevated split squats (RFESS), a.k.a. Bulgarian split squats, are one of my absolute favorite exercises for building the quads. That said, they aren’t always tolerated well by those suffering from knee pain.
Sometimes the pain is in the front leg, which can usually be cleared up by taking a longer stride and focusing on keeping as much of a vertical tibia as possible.
Interestingly enough, most complaints of knee pain during this exercise are usually related to pain in the rear leg. If that’s the case, the issue can often be ameliorated simply by not elevating the rear leg quite so high.
Most of the time you’ll see RFESS done using a standard weight bench, which depending on the manufacturer is typically somewhere between 17-19 inches. While that height is fine for most people, those experiencing knee pain in the rear leg should try using a 9-12 inch box instead and see if that helps.
Make sure to plantarflex the rear ankle and set up “laces down” on the box to avoid pushing through your toes. Do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion and focus on keeping your weight on the heel of the front foot, like so:

With the shorter box you can clearly see that knee flexion of the rear leg is dramatically reduced as compared to doing them on a full-sized bench. In that regard, it’s very similar to doing a regular split squat with the back leg on the floor.
I like split squats too as a teaching tool, but I don’t like loading them heavy because there’s a strong tendency to cheat and use the back leg too much as the weights get heavier.
I’d much prefer to progress to a RFESS with laces down and just limit the height of the box if need be, focusing on keeping the majority of the weight on the front leg.
Make sure you’re stretching and foam rolling your quads and hip flexors too, as that should also help a lot. In time you should be able to go back to using a full size bench, but until you can do so completely pain-free, don’t push it.

4. Eccentric One-Leg Squats

Knee-Friendly Quad Builders
I’d always thought of eccentric single-leg squats as an effective learning progression to work towards full single-leg squats (which it is), but I learned from Mike Boyle that it can also be a fantastic alternative exercise for individuals dealing with knee pain. After trying it out extensively, I think it works well in both scenarios.
To do them, simply lower down to a parallel box on one leg and come back up on two legs:

The key here is to control the eccentric portion of the rep and not just free-fall down to the box. If you’re unable to control it, raise the height of the box until you can and then slowly increase the depth over time.
If you’re new to single-leg squats and just can’t seem to get the hang of them, try doing these to a standard bench using 5-pound dumbbells in your hands to serve as a counterbalance.
[Insert Pic Ben Single Leg]
Once you can do five reps with 4-5 second eccentrics, you should be all set to do full single-leg squats.
If you’re more advanced and can already do single-leg squats but find they irritate your knees, the eccentric-only version may allow you to do them pain-free. Using a box allows you to sit back farther and keep a more vertical tibia than doing them without the box.
I’m using a front squat grip in the video above because I’ve done these for a long time and have progressed quite a bit in weight, but I recommend starting by holding 5-10 pound dumbbells in your hands and raising them straight-out to shoulder level as you descend. Having your arms out in front helps tremendously with balance so do it that way first until you’re completely comfortable and need to add more load.

5. Deadlifts

Knee-Friendly Quad Builders
You know those people that say a deadlift is just a squat with the weight in your hands and cue you to get your butt way down low before you pull? As someone who loves to deadlift – and deadlift heavy – that advice always used to annoy me because it’s clearly not the best way to pull heavy weights.
I also think it can be dangerous to pull in this manner because almost every time I see someone set up for a near-maximal deadlift with their hips too low, they almost invariably shoot up before the bar breaks the floor and the person ends up rounding his lower back something awful.
So if your goal is to move as much weight as possible, a low hip position isn’t the best way to go.
But this article isn’t about the best way to deadlift as much weight as possible. We’re talking about working the quads here, and if that’s the goal, a lower hip position deadlift where you try to visualize squatting the weight up can be a pretty damn good exercise that’s much more knee-friendly than squatting.
Start by getting your butt down and your chest up with your weight on your heels. As you break the bar off the floor, it’s imperative that the hips and shoulders stay in sync in order to protect your back and keep the stress on your legs.
You’re going to have to drop the weights significantly to do this correctly. I’d even start with 30-40% of what you think you can deadlift normally as you adjust to the new technique. It’s important to be strict with these, both for the health of your back, and to make sure the stress stays on the quads.
I know that seems extremely light, but if you’re doing it right, your quads will feel it. You don’t have to stay super light forever and your numbers should climb quickly, but don’t add weight at the expense of form. The devil is in the details with these.
From time to time I also like to do them from a slight deficit to increase the range of motion. If doing so causes you knee pain, or you don’t have the requisite mobility to get that low with a flat back, avoid pulling from a deficit and just pull from the floor.
My favorite stance is what I’d call “semi-sumo” with my feet slightly wider than shoulder width. If you remove the bar from the equation and just look at the movement, this really looks more like a parallel squat.

You can also pull conventional, but I think the low hip conventional deadlift can be a bit riskier on the lower back, and I don’t feel it quite as much in my quads. Interestingly, I actually pull weight more conventional style than I do sumo, but sumo just feels better. If you choose to pull conventional, be extra careful not to let the hips shoot up as you initiate the pull.

If you’re lucky enough to have a trap bar at your gym, that’s another option too. I like the trap bar a lot, but I find that when my knees are bothering me it can be problematic, so keep that in mind.

Experiment with all the different variations and find what you like best.

6. Reverse Sled Drags

Reverse sled drags have been my biggest staple quad exercise for the past eight months and I’ve managed to add some muscle to my legs, despite not doing a ton of other heavy “quad” work. I’m certainly not advocating ditching all heavy lifting in favor of sled drags, but I do think it’s a great way to finish your lower body workouts, or even as a standalone on days when your knees just aren’t up for the task.
I’m not talking about taking a leisurely stroll at the end of the workout, though. In order for the sled drags to be a viable way to build muscle, you’ve got to push them (or pull them, rather) hard, just like you would any strength exercise. If you aren’t hating life while you’re pulling, you ain’t doing it right.
I’m hesitant to give specific recommendations on how to implement sled work because so much of it depends on the surface you’re pulling on and the space you have available.
As a point of reference, I’ve pulled up to 1,100 pounds on one indoor turf surface I use. On another outdoor turf surface, I top out around 650 pounds, and when I pull on rubber I struggle with 300 pounds. Don’t worry about the amount of weight you use – just worry about increasing that number over time.
Distance will vary depending on your space limitations. If possible, start with heavy drags of about 25-30 yards each. Start with four trips and gradually work up to 6-8 trips.
If that’s not specific enough for you, here’s a good general rule: go as heavy as you think you can go – plus a little bit – for as far as you think you can go (plus a little bit).
I’m not saying to get reckless, and you obviously need to exercise a certain degree of caution, but too many people wuss out at the slightest sign of a quad burn. Sorry, there’s no way to get around that – but the cool thing about sleds is that while they burn like hell while you’re doing them, they won’t leave you too sore the next day, so remind yourself of that while you’re pulling.
You need to push past your comfort zone to get results, but that goes for just about anything worth doing in life.

Closing Words

If knee pain has kept you from training your quads like you know you should, or the current exercises you’re doing are making your knees bark at the moon, give some of this stuff a shot and see how it goes.
And it should go without saying, but if any exercise hurts, stop doing it. Don’t try to be a hero.
Lastly, these exercises aren’t just for those of us with bad knees, nor do you have to wait until you have bad knees to start doing knee-friendly training. Even if your knees are feeling good at the moment, it might still be wise to sprinkle some of these exercises into your program to give your knees a little break so they stay healthy for the long haul.
It may require a little bit of imagination to find exercises that don’t hurt, but one way or another, almost anyone can build a set of wheels they can be proud of if you’re willing to put in the work.
Remember, friends don’t let friends skip leg day.

6 Primo Pressing Permutations

6 Primo Pressing Permutations
For some, upper body pressing begins and ends with the bench press and the overhead press.
That’s cool, and those are definitely great exercises, but I like more variety than that. I like to rotate exercises periodically to avoid repetitive overuse injuries, keep the shoulders happy, give the muscles a different stimulus, and perhaps most importantly, stave off boredom.
If you’re like me and enjoy a change from time to time, here are six pressing permutations to try.

1. Landmine One-Arm Floor Press

The one-arm dumbbell floor press is one of my favorite pushing exercises and it’s been a staple in my routine for the past couple years. While it’s ostensibly an upper body exercise for the chest, shoulders, and triceps, try it and you’ll quickly realize that it’s a full body exercise that requires total body tension to maintain a stable base of support.
It’s also a great shoulder-friendly alternative for people who might experience pain with full range of motion pressing, or those with lower extremity injuries that preclude them from pushing through their feet.
The problem, however, is that as you get stronger, it can be tricky to hoist heavy dumbbells into position (and back down onto the floor again) when you’re training by yourself. Furthermore, unless you’re blessed to train in a gym with extremely heavy dumbbells, it won’t be long before you’ve maxed them out.
Sure you can add reps to a point, but continually using the same weight will inevitably result in a plateau that feels like your own personal version of Groundhog Day. That gets old, fast.
Enter the landmine floor press.
The landmine allows for greater loading potential, and because the barbell is already elevated off the ground, it’s much easier and safer to get in and out of position. With a simple self-spot from the non-working arm, you should be all set. Like so:

The angled barbell still lets you press with the same range of motion as a regular floor press (i.e., until your triceps touches the floor) and it also allows for a neutral grip, which is easier on the shoulders. Moreover, some folks will find that the thicker handle helps to relieve stress on the elbows, which is an added bonus.
You’ll have to play around a little bit at first to figure out how close to set up in relation to the bar, so start very light and experiment with different body positions until it feels comfortable. Once you get that squared away though, it shouldn’t be long before you’re crushing some serious weight.
If you don’t have a specific device to secure the barbell, place it carefully in a corner with a heavy dumbbell over the tip to keep it in place.

2. Valslide flyes

6 Primo Pressing Permutations
I used to think I’d never find an exercise that smoked my chest more than ring flyes.
Then I tried flyes using the Valslides. (If you don’t have Valslides, furniture sliders will work well too.)

It’s the same idea as ring flyes, only with the added element of friction to ensure that your pecs hate you even more. When you’re using the rings, the eccentric part of the rep is the hardest, but if you can pull that off without doing the famed Ring Dip Face Plant (easier said than done, I might add), the concentric isn’t that bad because the built-up tension of the rings helps bring you back in.
You don’t get that assistance with the Valslides. You have to actively push out on the eccentric and pull back in on the concentric, making both parts of the rep suck equally as bad. Fact is, the concentric is probably even harder than the eccentric.
While it may seem innocuous, it’s really an extremely advanced exercise, so don’t just jump right into it without proper preparation. Doing so will inevitably lead to either a shoulder injury or the aforementioned face plant, neither of which you want.
Start by doing partial flyes where you only extend your arms out a little bit and progress to full flyes over time. Even with full flyes though, you still want to keep a slight bend in your elbows to protect your shoulders and keep the tension on your chest.
You may also want to start from your knees. Seriously. Laugh all you want, but you probably won’t be laughing once you try them.
Be advised that the difficulty of this exercise will vary greatly depending on the surface you’re using, so be sure to take that into consideration. It can be anywhere from very difficult on a smoother floor to downright brutal and almost impossible on a rougher surface. A thin carpet works best, making this a great exercise to do at home or while you’re traveling.
Quick word of caution: This exercise may not jive well with folks with certain shoulder pathologies. If you find it causes any pain (other than a smoked chest), stop doing it and pick something else. That really goes for any exercise though.

3. Valslide Push-up/Fly Combo

This one is similar to the above exercise, only one arm performs a push-up while the other arm performs a fly.
If you’re having trouble picturing how it should look from that wonderfully in-depth description, see the video below:

Usually adding a unilateral component makes an exercise harder, but in this case, it makes it a bit easier from a pressing standpoint since the arm doing the push-up is supporting the majority of the load where the lever arm is shorter. Still, while it might be easier, it’s far from easy, especially when you factor in the friction of the Valslides.
If you do this exercise on the rings, it’s essentially a modified one-arm pushup where the goal is to put as little weight as possible on the outstretched arm, merely using it to counter the rotational demands. With the Valslides, however, the pec of the reaching arm gets worked quite a bit as you push your arm out and then pull it back in.
That arm movement also introduces a huge anti-rotational component as you fight to stabilize your torso and avoid twisting, making it one heck of a core exercise. Fact is, if you choose to put this in your training program, you might try to include it as a core exercise to kill two birds with one stone and get in some additional upper body work while you’re at it.

4. Giant Cambered Bar Overhead Press

Like the name suggests, this is an overhead press with the giant cambered bar, which makes for a pretty wild ride.

Be prepared to drop the weight quite a bit from what you can normally overhead press with the barbell, especially at first as you adjust to the instability of the bar that comes from the plates swinging around. Your numbers should increase as your shoulder and core stability improves though, and when you go back to using the barbell, it’ll feel substantially easier.
I also like this variation because it reflexively teaches good form. You can hear all the standard cues about bracing your core, squeezing your glutes, using your lats, and not pressing out in front of your body, but put the cambered bar in your hands and you’ll quickly figure that stuff out automatically.
Or else you’ll get dominated. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5. Staggered Stance Landmine Press

6 Primo Pressing Permutations
Overhead pressing with the landmine is an awesome alternative for those that can’t do the traditional overhead press (a.k.a. the standing military press) for whatever reason.
The most common reason for people nixing the overhead press is shoulder troubles of some sort. This might be the result of a previous injury, or it could just stem from a lack of shoulder and/or thoracic mobility that makes going straight over head problematic (for more on that, read this article.
Regardless of the reason for the shoulder pain, switching to the landmine for overhead work will usually be better tolerated, both because of the angle of the press – it’s more like an incline press than an overhead press – and because it allows for a neutral grip.
For others, the chief complaint with overhead pressing may be low back pain, as there’s a tendency to lean back and hyperextend at the lumbar spine, which can spell trouble under heavy loads. This may simply be a matter of tightening up the form and increasing core strength, but for those with serious lower back issues or disk pathologies, it’s probably wise to switch to the landmine press as there’s less risk of hyperextending since you’re pressing out in front of you.
That said, just because it’s easier on the joints, don’t think for a second that it’s an easy exercise or that it’s just for injured folks. These will humble anyone that tries them.
They can be done many different ways, but my favorite is using a staggered stance and stepping into each rep explosively to help create momentum, similar to a push press.

Doing the exercise this way requires total body coordination where everything moves in synch. Sometimes I’ll do the reps dynamically with lighter weights and higher reps, and other times I’ll go heavier and pause between reps.
Before you start using momentum, though, it’s best to first master the strict press using a symmetrical stance. You can also do it half-kneeling (one knee) or tall-kneeling (both knees).
Pick your poison. They’re all good.

6. “Bottoms Up” One-Arm Kettlebell Press

6 Primo Pressing Permutations
If you thought the giant cambered bar and landmine presses were tough, wait until you try these.
Any time I’m feeling good about myself in the gym, I can always count on these to bring me back down and make me feel like a huge wuss.
When you find something in your training that you suck at though, that’s usually a sign you should be doing more of it.
Going “bottoms up” helps build tremendous shoulder and core stability while placing an emphasis on grip strength.
Starting in a half-kneeling position helps build hip and pelvic stability while also reinforcing the notion of maintaining full body tension as you press because you’ll quickly lose control of the ‘bell if you don’t. It’s also one hell of a hip flexor stretch and core exercise that trains anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion all at once. Talk about a big bang for your buck.
Here’s what it looks like in action:

If you don’t have access to kettlebells, you can get a similar training effect holding a hex dumbbell vertically. These will absolutely fry your forearms.

Check your ego at the door before trying these because they’ll require you to use a lot less weight than you’re accustomed to with regular pressing work. That’s fine. Try not to think of it so much as a strength exercise (though you should still try to increase the load over time), but more as a stability exercise to help increase your strength on your regular presses as you shore up your weak links.
Another cool thing about “bottoms up” work is that while it leaves you with a huge pump in your shoulders and forearms (you know what Arnold says about the pump, right?), it doesn’t leave you sore the next day, so it shouldn’t interfere as much with subsequent upper body workouts.
You can implement them in your program in any number of ways, but I like to do them once a week on a separate day from my heavier pressing work. Often I’ll even just tack on a few sets at the end of a lower body workout for some supplemental pressing work that won’t impede recovery too much.

That’s a Wrap

There’s no need to overhaul your current program if it’s working well for you, but if you’re sputtering a bit or just sick of the same old stuff, adding some of these exercises may help get you pressing on to new heights in your training.

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