Changing your exercise routine is a great way to keep workouts fresh and challenge the body.
Not allowing yourself to get comfortable helps you find "new" muscles to work or provides new mental and balance challenges.
One change that's easy to make -- but often overlooked -- is the grip you use when lifting.
By simply changing the way you hold weights or bars, you can change your workout. Another option is to substitute cable handles for those with different shapes or for ropes.
By doing this one simple change, you can tweak muscles and get more definition since you are challenging the body on a neuromuscular level.
In 1992, a research project in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics studied how three different bar diameters affected neuromuscular strength. Researchers compared three different handles and the reactions it caused in weightlifters. They tracked the information using an EMG -- short for "electromyography" -- machine, which records the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles.
Researchers found that the smallest handle elicited the greatest maximal voluntary contraction and the lowest neuromuscular activation on the EMG machine. The largest handle caused the greatest neuromuscular response and the smallest maximal voluntary contraction. Further studies support the idea that bigger bars cause larger reactions.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should ditch all exercises for an Olympic bar. In everyday life, the things we grasp vary in size, so your workout should reflect that.
If you want to experiment with new grips and positioning, try the one-armed row. It's one of my favorite exercises because it is simple to perform and awesome for the back.
Here's how to do it:
• Set up: Add weight to one end of a standard Olympic bar. If necessary, secure the other end by placing it in a corner or against a wall to keep it from sliding.
• Stance: Stand to one side of the bar. Then bend over and grasp the handle just above the weight. Use a kind of "baseball stance," with legs slightly bent.
• Move: Row the bar up toward your chest. Keep the back neutral. Don't let it round.
• Variations: Add more variety by making some of the rows a slow, moderate pace and others fast and explosive.
This exercise not only gives you a new way to row and develop back muscles, it's also practical because it mimics the motion we use when we pick things up off the ground.