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The Secret Exercise Trick for Getting a Strong and Toned Physique

Here's how making simple mechanical tweaks to your favorite moves can help you achieve a better physique.

If you're looking to get a stronger, more toned physique, one of the biggest hurdles you'll face is the dreaded strength plateau. This happens when you've been grinding at the same training program week-in and week-out, and you soon find that your progress comes to a halt. After all, if you're training the same amount of time, and doing the same form of training at roughly the same intensity, weights, and reps, you'll stop progressing.

Now, there are certainly worse things you can be doing—such as not working out at all—but if you're looking to jazz up your routine, break through that strength plateau, and finally achieve the powerful muscles and lean, toned physique you've always wanted, I'd advise you to consider some small and basic changes to the mechanics of your favorite exercises. I'm not talking about doing anything crazy here. I'm talking about simply tweaking your grip or foot positions.

Believe it or not, making these small adjustments will go a long way in ensuring that recruit more of your muscles to work harder under the same movement patterns you're used to, which allows you to get stronger and build more muscle. Bonus: Even if you're new to exercising, you can give these a try and enjoy the results. Here I demonstrate four terrific examples of putting this thinking into action. So read on, and for more exercise routines to try, don't miss the 3 Workouts Proven to Change Your Body Shape.

Change Your Grip with the Neutral Grip Chinup (x 6-8 reps)

neutral grip chinup
Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.

Most people either use the pronated or supinated grip when performing chin-ups. (In layperson's terms, that means your first is either pointed forward, like a "fight the power" fist, or reversed backward, like a boxer guarding his face.) However, I love the neutral grip, also known as the parallel grip. This hand position allows you to target your lats more, and also really works your forearms and biceps.

Start by grabbing the parallel bars with the palms facing each other and get into a full hang. Leaning slightly back, pull yourself up to the bar by driving with your elbows. As you come up, reach with your chest (not your chin) and squeeze your back hard at the top. Resist on the way down until you're back into a full hang before performing another rep. And for more great workout advice, see why Science Says This Is the Single Best Abs Exercise You Can Do.

Change Your Grip with the Close-Grip Bench Press (x 6-8 reps)

2 close grip bench press

Instead of the regular bench press hand position, move them closer together to where your thumbs are at the knurling part of the bar.

Now, the close grip targets your triceps more and has a longer range of motion. If you want strong and toned triceps, this is a good version to incorporate into your program.

Start the exercise with the narrower grip. Pull the bar out and set your shoulder blades back and down into the bench. Lower the bar under control until it touches your chest, then press it back up, flexing your triceps hard at the top before performing another rep.

Change Your Foot Position with the B-Stance Hip Thrust (x 6-8 reps each leg)

3 b-stance hip thrust
Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.

The B-stance, or the staggered stance, is a great variation for the hip thrust. By having one foot forward, it places more stress on the back leg and glute, making it almost a single leg movement.

You start by setting up the barbell (or dumbbell) on your lap and having one foot forward at about 90 degrees and the other one slightly in front of you. With the foot out in front, raise your toe up so the tension is in the heel. Keeping your core tight and chin slightly tucked, drive through the heels of both legs, squeezing your glutes hard at the top of the motion.

Perform all of your prescribed reps in this position before switching to balance out the other side.

Change Your Foot Position with the Sumo Deadlift (x 5-6 reps)

4 sumo deadlift

The sumo deadlift, when compared to the conventional deadlift, uses a wider foot stance with the toes pointed out and hands between the legs. This targets the adductors (inner thighs), glutes, and quads, while being less stressful on your lower back.

To perform the sumo deadlift, start by setting your feet outside of your shoulders with the toes pointed out. Keeping your chest tall, squat down and grip the bar between the legs. With your core tight and lats pulled down, lift the bar off the ground, squeezing your glutes hard at the top. Lower the bar back down to the ground, and get tight with your setup again before performing another rep.

In order to get stronger and more toned, you need to continue forcing your body to adapt to new stressors. By changing the foot and hand positions of some of your exercises, you can improve your strength and get toned. And for more great exercise tips you can use, see here for The 30-Second Trick for Losing More Weight While Walking.

Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
Tim Liu, CSCS, is an online fitness and nutrition coach based in Los Angeles Read more about Tim