It’s pretty easy to get in to the gym and immediately feel overwhelmed and unsure of which exercises to include in your routine. I’m a fan of getting the most bang for my buck in terms of works outs, which is why I always include natural human movement patterns that will provide me with the best overall strength results. The movements below are crucial to an effective strength training program as they mimic how we move in everyday life. Think of it this way – how often do you perform a bicep curl on a daily basis? Probably not very much. However, I can think of multiple scenarios where I have to perform the movements below, such as squatting to sit in a chair, hinging to pick something up from the floor, or twisting my torso to check my blind spot. If you’re not sure of anything else, use weights in the gym that allow you to complete the movements below and you’ll be well on your way to building a strong and functional physique.
You get serious bang for your buck with this exercise as it targets our largest muscle groups, like the quads, hams, glutes, calves. It also forces core activation for trunk stability, creating a synergistic environment in the body for muscular coordination and serious overall strength gains
Although squats are a great booty building exercise, the primary muscles worked are actually the quads. Working the quads along with your hamstrings and glutes during the squat is crucial to spiking metabolism (yay, more food!), burning body fat, and protecting your lower back from injury. And let’s not forget to mention the side effect of building killer legs.
Another thing to mention is that people get too caught up in the “ass to grass” mentality. Our bodies work like levers, and not everyone has the “ideal” squatters body, with a longer torso and shorter legs (I won’t get into the anatomy, but trust me on this one). I personally have daddy long longs and a virtually non-existent torso, so my “levers” are technically not Grade A squatting material; though they do allow me to pretty much deadlift the equivalent of a house 😉 The key is to test different squat variations to find the perfect squat for YOU based on your body type, mobility, and fitness level.
Examples: Sumo squat, barbell front squat, loop banded squat
This is probably the most important exercise to do to protect your lower back from injury (more than 80% of people will experience lower back pain in their life), so this movement should really be taken seriously!
This hinge is a powerhouse for your posterior chain, and will assist developing core strength (yes, this move will help you build abs!). Getting strong in this movement pattern will also provide protection from injuries to vulnerable areas like your knee joints. And as an added bonus, you’ll develop buns of steel you will develop buns of steel strong enough to crack a walnut 😉
All this to say, hip hinges will basically unlock your dormant superhero powers…just PLEASE, for the love of God, do not round your back while doing this exercise (unless you like trips to the ER). A neutral spine is key!
Examples: Dead lifts, rack pulls
THE LUNGE/SINGLE LEG WORK
It is crucial to incorporate single leg movements into your fitness program to build better balance and muscular symmetry. We all have a dominant side, meaning that when we complete some of these two-legged exercises like the squat or leg press, our dominant leg will often take on the brunt of the weight without us even realizing it. The lunge will flesh out any muscular weaknesses and force your muscles to grow evenly so that you don’t end up with a hulk-y dominant leg and a chicken leg on the other side. PLUS, the instability of the exercise will force you into some additional core work to keep you upright and stable throughout the exercise
Examples: split squats, forward lunge, legs curls on machine (one at a time)
A lot of exercises in this movement pattern have been popularized in fitness culture, especially for men (think push ups and bench press). That being said, “Push” movements are truly foundational and should be incorporated in everyone’s fitness protocol as they can strengthen major muscle groups in your body, such as your chest and core (are you seeing a pattern yet with these movements and core strength, aka abs?!)
Although push ups and chest presses and some of the more popular upper body push movements, don’t forget to include overhead presses using dumb bells, barbells, or resistance bands. Additionally, the lunge and squat outlined above, are excellent lower body push exercises
Do you want a bulletproof back? Shapely shoulders? Or the ability to pull yourself back up after dangling off the edge of a cliff? (I literally think about that scenario all the time when I’m working on my pull up… hey, you never know what situation you could find yourself in!)
That being said, upper and lower body pull movements can strengthen your entire posterior chain and core, which is crucial to maintaining good posture and staying injury free. One tip that is common in the fitness community is to “pull” more than you “push”. This is because modern life creates more of a hunched, closed posture, while pull exercises open us up by strengthening the muscles in our back. This pulls our shoulders back and maintains a more desireable upright posture. Lower body pulling exercises include hinging movements like deadlifts as mentioned above.
Examples: pull ups, back rows, deadlifts
No, not the dance, although I’m sure that’s fun too. I’m talking about trunk rotations that work your obliques and strengthen your entire core. Twist movements will foster deep abdominal strength, which will protect you from injury, improve athletic performance, and make all of the other major movements that much easier to complete. Try to incorporate exercises like Russian twists or wood chops as part of your fitness routine to master this movement pattern!