The best way to make big gains is by doing the big compound exercises. They stress more of your body at the same time and force growth on a larger scale than doing isolation exercises. But, there a couple of great lifts that are hardly used anymore and that is a shame.
Due to a lack of popularity in general powerlifting in the U.S., a lot of people have not been exposed to many great exercises that really strengthen the body. Part of the problem is that as gyms become more mainstream and systematic, these advanced exercises are harder to teach by trainers who have never done any serious lifting. But there are some great lifts out there used by strongmen for years that can really be effective. Many are and were used to help with strength, explosion, and flexibility to help in training for main lifts such as the clean & jerk, squat, and deadlift.
But that is no excuse not to learn them and incorporate these gems into your routine!
Swing-Snatch – This exercise is great for any type of athlete or power lifter. The idea is to help with explosive power and utilizes the back, shoulders, traps, hips, and legs. Ideally you will use a kettlebell but a pair of dumbbells can be used as well.
You start standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and the weight on the ground below you. Bending the knees slightly while dropping the hips back, bend down and grasp the weights (keeping your back flat). Pick the weight up slightly and rock back to start your momentum, then pull forward hard using your hips and legs to start accelerating the weight upward in an arc (keeping your arms straight).
As the weight gets to your chin, dip the lower body down into a half-squat to help the weight travel overhead into a firm lock-out position. From there you lower the weight to your shoulders, then waist, before assuming the starting position on the floor.
Push Press – Here is another hardly used exercise after the military press was removed from competitive lifting back in the 70s. The idea is to use a slightly heavier weight than normal for an overhead press but incorporate the hips and legs to start the movement. This allows you to push past the starting point where the triceps are weaker. This is a great way to increase strength in the shoulder girdle and triceps.
You can use a barbell, a smith machine, or dumbbells. Start in the normal military press standing position. Dip the hips and legs into a quarter squat position and explode upward with your legs to start the weight moving up and then finish the lift to lockout using the arms. Try and lower the weight as slowly as possible for an extra negative effect.
Overhead Squat – I highly recommend you try this exercise in a smith machine or cage because it is easy to lose your balance. Basically this exercise is fantastic for helping with balance, coordination, and the flexibility of your lower body. Due to the position of the weight so high over your head, the path of the squat changes slightly which requires compensation.
You start by assuming a normal squat stance. Then you take an extra wide grip on the barbell and press it overhead (or start it in the overhead position). From there you squat down and go deep (not parallel, but glutes-to-ankles). From there explode back up.
The exercise is hard to learn because of balance which is why the smith machine is a good starting point. Also the ankle and hip flexibility need to be trained. However using this exercise translates over well to other exercises as well as sports because of the balance and coordination you need to learn in mastering this exercise.