10 Hardest Exercises to Build Strength – Garage Strength

10 Hardest Exercises to Build Strength

Building your strength and building muscle in the gym doesn’t have to be boring! Trying to achieve your goals isn’t going to be an easy ride and it might get stale along the way if you keep doing the same old workouts. 

The gym is meant to be a challenge; a proving ground that you can use to build confidence in yourself over time. By doing hard workouts and hard exercises, you can show yourself what you are capable mentally and physically. Whether it is focusing on a weakness in your physique or trying to improve your performance for a specific sport, hard exercises are going to help you tackle future challenges. 

We have assembled a list of 10 of the hardest lower body, upper body, back, and ab exercises to help you become a beast in the gym. 


Hardest Lower Body Exercises

Hardest Upper Body Exercises
Hardest Back Exercises
Hardest Ab Exercises
Should You Be Doing These Exercises?

Hardest Lower Body Exercises

Your lower body is home to the biggest, most powerful muscles in your body. So why not give your legs an extra push to get more strength and size? Here are the hardest lower body exercises that we love to do at Garage Strength.

Front Loaded Single Leg Squats

The front loaded single leg squat is more than just a lower body exercise that will light up your posterior chain. This exercise is also going to work on improving your core while helping you build explosive power in each leg. 

To do the front loaded single leg squat, you’ll need a single leg squat stand, foam balance pad, and obviously the weight that you’re lifting. If you do not have a single leg squat stand or balance bad, you can substitute them with a bench to elevate your back leg and any cushion-like mat so your front knee can land. 

You are going to hold the bar in the same front rack position as you would hold a front squat. Keep your chest high and focus on keeping your trunk stable as you explode through the movement. Do these for 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps while increasing the weight each time. 

Nordic Hamstring Pull

One of the hardest hamstring exercises that you can do is the nordic hamstring pull. This is going to be a movement where focusing on a controlled descent and explosive contraction is going to make doing a high number of reps very difficult. 

The nordic hamstring pull might be something you have seen a lot of football and baseball players doing on social media as part of their accessory training. That’s because it is great for establishing speed in the posterior chain and activating those fast twitch muscle fibers. 

Since this exercise is so challenging there are plenty of ways to modify it for if you are a beginner or just doing general training. You can attach a band behind you to help control your body weight on the way down to really focus on the slow eccentric. You can also use your hands or a bench to push off at the bottom of the movement as your hamstrings and lower back start to fatigue. 

Some key cues to focus on during this exercise are to keep a straight back and keep the chest high as you descend. With the nordic hamstring curl, we recommend doing 5 sets of 4 to 7 reps. 

Praying Mantis Lunge

The praying mantis lunge is a great, hard exercise for people that don’t have a lot of time to spend at the gym. This exercise is going to focus on putting a lot of time under tension on the legs. It can even be done at home in your living room if you can’t make it to the gym.

The idea is similar to walking lunges except that you will not come to a full standing position at the end of each lunge. You will stay hinged at the hips throughout the movement and continuously move throughout each set. Do half the reps lunging forward and then the second half going backward in the deep lunge position. 

Since we are not loading any weight for this exercise, we are going to do a lot of volume. We recommend doing 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps on each leg. In addition to the praying mantis lunge, you can include jump lunges for 3 sets of 5 each leg between the sets. The jump lunges will get the heart rate up to work on your aerobic capacity while the praying mantis lunge will make you feel that burn with time under tension. 

Zombie Squat

That last challenging lower body exercise is going to be the zombie squat. Zombie squats are harder than a traditional front squat because it emphasizes a focus on perfect positions, technical coordination, and strength in the core. 

Instead of a traditional front rack position, the bar is going to lay across your collarbone while your arms extend forward in front of you. By removing the hands from holding the bar throughout the exercise, this is going to force you to focus on keeping the entire back and core tight and maintain that upright posture. If there is any breakdown in your form or rounding in your upper back, the bar will immediately start to drift forward and cause you to fail the lift. But the benefit of this no-hands front rack position will allow the squat to be slightly easier on the knees. 

The whole goal of a zombie squat is to make sure we hit a full range of motion and the heels stay flat on the ground, while keeping our string in a straight line the whole time. Start with just the bar or even a dowel rod to work on technique before going up in weight.

As you practice more and more, you’ll notice that your front squats and cleans will shoot up because you can do heavier weight with better form. The recommended rep scheme is 5 sets of 4 to 7 reps. 

Hardest Upper Body Exercises

Everyone loves a good bicep pump and hammering pressing movements to really push the weight. Instead of your traditional bis, chest, and tris workout, we have some other creative alternatives to make your upper body workout a little more challenging. 

Alternating Incline Dumbbell Press

A great intermediate upper body exercise for general fitness as well as athletes is going to be the alternating incline dumbbell press. This incline press variation is going to help you get bigger, stronger, and more coordinated. 

To start, get on your incline bench and bring both dumbbells to your shoulders which will be your starting position. Then one at a time, press each dumbbell straight up and bring it back down in a controlled manner before starting the next rep with the other arm.

The reason you want to be controlling the weight and not rushing to complete the reps is because this is going to work your core too. As you press, you’ll need to brace extra to keep stable on the bench. You’ll also need to brace on the way down before pressing with the other arm. 

The alternating incline dumbbell press is a great exercise to create that time under tension, a massive pump in your shoulders, and strengthen stability in the upper body. Use 5 sets of 9 reps on each side as part of your next upper body workout. 

Pennsylvania Press

The Pennsylvania press is a more advanced exercise that is going to target your hips, abs, and upper body for a full body workout. Yes, this exercise might seem slightly technical and complicated, but it transfers very well to over exercises and sports. 

If you are a beginner and want to try this exercise out, we recommend starting with some light dumbbells before using a bar. This way you can get a feel for the movement while building that stability in your core to move up to the barbell. 

You are going to be kneeling for this exercise, so you will want to use a foam balance pad or some kind of cushion under your knees. That starting position will be in a straight kneeling position with the bar at our collarbone like we are about to military press. 

You will then hinge at the hips, pushing your butt to your heels, while keeping your torso upright in a straight line. As soon as your butt touches your heels, shoot the hips forward and explode the weight up with your arms similar to a push press. 

You will then hinge at the hips, pushing your butt to your heels, while keeping your torso upright in a straight line. As soon as your butt touches your heels, shoot the hips forward and explode the weight up with your arms similar to a push press. 

Hardest Back Exercises

We’ve talked about lower body, we’ve talked about upper body, but what about the back? Working on your back and working on your pull is a major aspect of improving in the gym. These are the hardest back exercises you can do to build strength. 


Did you really think we were going to skip deadlift on a list of the hardest exercises you can do? An exercise that has stood the test of time and been one of the few exercises that is a great indicator of absolute strength is going to be the deadlift

Why is the deadlift hard? Because pulling an insane amount of weight from a dead stop with good technique is HARD. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a deadlift. You could lose your grip, have weak hamstrings that are not strong enough to fully lock out, or your back might round a lot because of a lack of core strength.

The cue that we want to focus on is a completely tight back. You want your back to start and end in the same position. This is an indicator of core strength and proper bracing. Rep ranges will vary depending on your personal goals. If you are doing deadlift for fitness and a generally stronger back, do sets of 8 to 12 reps. If you are chasing after absolute strength and want to test a maximum deadlift PR, work in rep ranges between 1 to 3 reps throughout your training. 

Weighted Neutral Grip Pull Ups

The other back exercise that makes our list of hardest exercises to build strength are weighted neutral grip pull ups. This movement is going to target your lats, biceps, forearms, and even core. Core!? That’s right, I’ll show you why in a second. 

With the neutral grip pull ups, you want to have a hollow body position. This way that when you put a weight on your feet, it stays in place as you complete your reps. Although, we know that not everyone can do a pull up. 

If you cannot do a pull up, you can substitute in neutral grip on a lat pulldown machine or even a seated row. Regardless of the variation you do, try to squeeze as hard as you can at the top of the movement and control the eccentric movement. We recommend doing 3 sets of 17-20 reps to get a massive pump in your back and arms. 

Hardest Ab Exercises

We’ve been talking this whole entire time about exercises that include the core and that work the core. A lot of these exercises also need you to have a strong core beforehand. SO let’s take a look at some hard exercises that will isolate your abs and give you that rock solid core.

Walking Rower Planks

Walking rower planks are a form of active planks that will force you to keep your core tight while in motion. A lot of gyms will have rowing machines available, even gyms like Planet Fitness and Gold’s. 

To do a walking rower plank, find a rowing machine and get into a plank position at the back end of the machine. As you face behind the machine, place your feet onto the seat of the rower.

Then use your hands to walk forward until the seat is at the edge of the rower. After getting to the end, walk your hands backward while keeping your feet on the seat and keeping the core tight. Continue to walk your hands back and forth until you complete your set. Not only will you fire up your entire core, you will improve your shoulder stability as you walk with your hands.

You can use a timer to track how long to walk for and we recommend completing 4 1-minute intervals of walking on your hands.

Ironklad Abs

The final exercise to complete our list is going to be a popular weightlifting ab workout called the ironklad abs. 

Ironklad abs are going to isolate your abs and help strengthen the lower back muscles. 

The basic version of this movement is to lay on your back on a bench while holding onto the sides of the bench above next to your head. You will then bring your knees to your chest and in the same motion, extend them vertically into the air. 

To finish the movement, control both legs down to a horizontal position while keeping them straight during the whole descent. To make this exercise more difficult you can add a light dumbbell to hold in between your feet. Focus on pressing that lower back into the bench while you bring the legs down from the crunch.

This core strengthening exercise is going to work the entire length of the abs as you reverse crunch and then control the legs down. A set structure we recommend is 3 sets of 12 to 17 controlled reps. 

Should You Be Doing These Exercises?

Every single one of these exercises has a specific purpose and should be done to help mix up your training regimen. Regardless of if you are working out for general fitness or you are an athlete trying to improve performance, you need to start light and understand each movement. Once you have mastered the technique and understand the purposes of an exercise, then you can increase the weight and start building your overall strength.

If you want to continue to build strength and add more lifts into your workouts, never stop exploring different exercises that will help you reach your personal goals. If you want to see how we train our athletes, sign up for the Peak Strength app to get custom programming specific to your goals. 


In this blog, we looked at the 3 basic forms of endurance-based training. We also went into depth about mitochondrial functionality. In addition, we provided four protocols that can be used today to improve overall endurance. Give it a go, let us know how it goes, and comment below!  

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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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