Transform these classic exercises with simple changes

July 12, 2014

Have you ever seen the movie "Transformers"? You know, the one about the machines that quickly change to something else right before your eyes? Well, here is my version of four well-known exercises that can instantly transform to isolating different muscles if you make small changes in form; this will shock your body into new progress. Give them a try, and you might be surprised at the results.

Dips for chest

Ask the average person what muscles dips target and they’ll tell you triceps, but with a small modification, dips can be a great way to develop the lower chest. Deep chest dips were a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger many years ago when he was training for the Mr. Olympia contest, but today people forget dips can be valuable exercises in the arsenal for advanced chest development. To transform a regular tricep dip to a great chest movement, lean forward into the dip bars as you descend into the negative portion of the exercise and go much lower than 90 degrees until you feel an intense stretch in the lower pecs. Then contract the lower chest and slowly return to the starting position, putting most of the pressure on the lower chest.

Squats for hamstrings and glutes

Squats are most commonly known as great exercises to develop the quad muscles in the front of the leg, but how you perform them can shift the emphasis to the glutes and hamstrings. The trick is how low you go during the negative portion of the exercise. If you want to concentrate on building strongly developed quads, use a narrow to shoulder-width stance, pause at 90 degrees and then ascend back to the starting position but don’t lock out, keeping the pressure on the four muscles that make up the front of the leg. If you want to target the hamstrings and butt, just go deeper - 2 to 3 inches below parallel - until you feel the hamstrings and glutes stretch and contract; then return to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Upright rows for traps

This exercise can be a great way to work the shoulders, but a simple change in hand grip can transfer the pressure to the trapezius muscles. A normal upright row has a 12- to 14-inch spread between the hands depending on the width of your torso, but if you use a close grip with your hands spread 1 to 3 inches apart, this exercise becomes a great way to isolate the traps. To perform this exercise, grip a bar in both hands with an overhand grip, hands 1 to 3 inches apart, and pull the bar up the front of your body with your elbows slightly angled toward the ceiling.

Push-ups for triceps

Push-ups have always been a great way to develop the chest and are traditionally done with your hands at shoulders' width and your elbows pointing away from your body, but if you want to make them into a great tricep exercise, position your hands directly underneath your chest with the index finger and thumb of each hand touching each other, They should be planted firmly on the floor so they resemble the shape of a diamond. Start from the top of the push-up position with your arms extended and slowly descend until your chest touches your hands; then press back to the starting position. You will quickly notice that triceps do most of the work.

So if you’re looking for ways to shock your body, try incorporating these classic moves but transform them to different muscles by following the directions above.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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