The Art of Doing Weird Exercises

Step, step, step, step, step.  Hinge, squat, push, pull, carry.  A pedal strong, swim stroke.  One rep at a time.  Counting these reps is important, as it allows us to judge our progress as we do more, or sometimes less, over time.

Counting reps is so important in the traditional training scape that it’s become the joke about personal trainers.  Pay $24.99 for that online certification, snag a snazzy clipboard, and you’re ready to go.


It’s the beginning of January, and you know what that means: There are more personal trainers than last year, and there are more people in the gym working on their fitness goals.  This is exercise prime-time: Everyone is back to work after weeks, months, or years.  While we’re focused on setting ourselves with a routine, I implore you:

Try something less routine.  Try something weird.

There are two ongoing issues that most of us have with exercise.  The first, larger issue, is that some folks just don’t do it.  Nothing, nada, zip.  The second issue is that some folks are doing the exact same exercise, day after day.

If you’ve ever been frustrated with the lack of results from not exercising, imagine being frustrated with the lack of results from exercise.  That’s the worst!

Today we’re going to take a lap around the weird exercise rabbit hole to open your mind to some new exercises.  Before we go; I’m going to be the first person to tell you to cut out doing dumb shit in the gym.  Standing on BOSU balls, using a new gadgets and gizmos; stop that nonsense.  We have work to do.

Accordingly, I’ve embarrassed myself with the following exercise to set a baseline.  If it looks remotely like this, maybe it’s an exercise with a limited rate-of-return.

While I want us all to get a little weird, let’s also make sure that we’re owning the basics before we get too weird.  As a general rule, the opposite of our first thought is true.  If you think you’re nailing the basics, I’d stay there a little longer.  If you think you should hold off on the weirdness, get ready to crank it up.

Why get weird?

When I think of “weird” exercises, I think about ones that combine physical and mental complexity.  Exercises that challenge mental and physical coordination.  These exercises are different from your traditional squat, bench press, or treadmill trudgery.  These exercises make us get outside of our heads, get outside of our bodies, and learn to move.

Physically, I love the variety that they provide.  We have minds that thrive on intricacies, and bodies designed for diverse movement, yet we often rely only on the simple approach of, “I pick things up and put them down.”  Sure, that absolutely works, but the world of movement available to us is far deeper than the depth of our squat.  When we can combine our lower body exercises with our upper body exercises, change planes of movement or direction, we open ourselves up to a far richer physical education experience.

Psychologically, I believe there’s some gameplay aspect in learning new moves.  We humans seem to naturally seek both new experiences as well as expertise.  As we’re exposed to and learn new moves, our curiosity becomes control, satisfying both of these needs.  If you watch Daniel Wolpert’s TED talk, controlling diverse movement could be the entire reason behind our cognitive evolution.

When we consider both the physical and mental adventure of new exercises, we happen upon something I’m particularly excited about:

Inbox Zero.

The first time I heard the phrase inbox zero had to be from Mark Fisher.  The general idea, of having an empty or nearly empty e-mail inbox is one that Mark’s excited about, and one that he has taught to the team at MFF.  As a funny aside, the first time Mark explained his strategy to me, I subsequently deleted all of my MFF e-mails, and was furious with the idea.  After sorting out that mishap, I think he’s on to something.

While Inbox Zero is a very real idea in the business world, I come to you with an idea for Inbox Zero in your fitness world.

What if your workout experience was so immersive, rich, and fulfilling that you thought about your inbox zero times during that workout?

I imagine that if you’re doing three sets of 10 split squats and iso dead bugs for 6 months straight, you’re going to get a little bored.  I also imagine that if you’re training consistently but exploring new variations of each of those, there is more mental buy-in as well as more mental mastery.  If your brain power is going to your booty, it’s likely not going to your Blackberry.


How weird should we get?

This is not a trick question, but you know the answer that is coming for you: It’s entirely up to you.  If you spend more of your time sitting at a desk, I’d venture that some weirdness, or a diverse movement experience, will be more of your friend.  Conversely, if you’re a performer on stage or on a field, that may cover the diversity of movement, and getting strong(er) with the basics may be the ticket to success.

Here’s your new split-squat, which we’re using after Mike Robertson introduced it:

Want to take the core control from your deadbug and make it distinctly more difficult? Flip it over for the side kick-through:

Neither of these moves are popular or common so they’re new for almost all of us, and they’re also moves that absolutely require a mind-movement connection.  Embracing new movement challenges allow us to enrich our exercise repertoire in ways that simply aren’t possible when we’re doing few sets of Kettlebell Swings and then foam rolling.

I love me some loose rules, so let’s settle on the good ol’ 80/20 rule.  If 80% of your gym effort is on consistent strong lifts, I’d love for the other 20% to be exploring new exercises that you haven’t done before.  Use those new exercises for several weeks, then move on to another movement experience.  Remember, we’re trying to get better without getting bored.


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