There are plenty of good weight and resistance training exercises you can do to get bigger, stronger, and lose body fat. But not all exercises are created equal.
All too often I see people spending too much of their training time doing pretty useless exercises and no where near enough doing the ones that are going to give them the best results.
This is part of an unfortunate trend at the moment among personal trainers and the fitness industry of trying to get all fancy when they shouldn't be. I see people doing all kinds of weird shit on Swiss balls, TRX straps, balancing on bosu balls and wobble boards. Everyone wants to be different and they say that they are "Thinking outside the Box" thinking that doing these circus exercises is going to give them better results. There is a time and place for these kinds of exercises but 95% of the time they are not needed and not as good as the basics.
A quote I like from Mike Boyle is
"THERE IS A BOX FOR A REASON."
Most of these people "thinking outside the box" don't even know what’s in the box to begin with.
Another good one that explains my point is "if you spend too much time learning the tricks of the trade you might not learn the trade"
In other words you should master the basics before you start trying to get into any advanced stuff.
If you want to make the most of your time you spend in the gym then you need to make sure you are choosing the exercises that are going to give you the most bang for your exercise buck.
These 7 movement patterns I've listed below hit all the major muscle groups within the body, and teach the body to move and operate the way it does in everyday life. They are the staples, the bread and butter, the exercises everyone should be doing.
A well designed weight training program will feature one or more of each of these movements and 80% or more of the time they should be performed with free weights not machines.
1 The Squat
Squats train the front and back of the legs, glutes, upper and lower back as well the core. It is a primal movement. That is, a movement that is hard wired into our nervous system and a movement that we can all do as babies without being taught. This is why I think it's so important to include it or a variation in most programs. People don't learn to squat, they have just forgotten how to and need to be re-taught. In third world countries many people spend a lot of time sitting in a low squat position to eat or do chores instead of using chairs. Because of this they have less low back and hip disease compared to populations like ours that spend too much time sitting
2 The Hip Hinge
Hip hinge or the deadlift and its variations is my favourite of all exercises, they train the whole backside of the body (Posterior chain) from your calves all the way up to the back of your neck as well as the core and forearms. The posterior chain muscles are often neglected in most people’s training programs, so doing these helps strengthen those muscles that don't get enough work. It also teaches us the correct way to pick things up with maximum force and safety.
3 Horizontal Push
You'd be hard pressed to find a bloke not doing enough horizontal push exercises which include bench presses, pushup’s, dumbbell press's and the like. They are a great indicator of upper body strength and train the chest, triceps and Anterior Deltoid.
4 Horizontal Pulling exercises
These include barbell rows, dumbbell rows and cable rows and train the upper back musculature and biceps. Most people don't train the upper back muscles enough this along with too much horizontal pressing and a lifestyle where we are too hunched over contributes to poor posture and kyphosis (rounded shoulders). So stand up straight and include extra rowing movements in your programs.
5 The Vertical Push
The Overhead press has lost popularity over the last few decades. It used to be the king of upper body strength exercises even more so than the bench press. This is because until 1972 the overhead press used to be an olympic lift with the the clean and jerk and the snatch. But after it was removed from competition its popularity has dropped. But that doesn't mean its still not a great exercise. Vertical push exercises include dumbbell and barbell overhead presses either seated and standing. You guys who want to improve your bench press, improve your over head and your bench will likely increase as well
6 The Vertical Pull
Vertical pull exercises are ones such as chin ups, pull ups and lat pull downs, and work the lats, biceps and majority of the upper back musculature. They should be a staple in your programs there are plenty of variations you can do to increase difficulty and change things up
7 The Single Leg Exercise
Single leg exercises include all types of lunges and step ups as well as single leg squats and deadlifts. They are great because they help even out strength imbalances between legs, improve mobility in the hips as well as hit stabilizer muscles that don't normally get as much work when doing bilateral exercises (both legs). Also when we are walking or running most of the time we are only on one leg so it makes sense to include some sort of single leg exercise in your program.
Extra 2 groups of exercises you should be doing
These last 2 aren't specific movements but more groups of exercises that I think almost everyone would benefit from including
8 Modified Strongman Training
Modified strong man training includes a large group of exercises and movements that use strong man implements and equipment that are not usually standard fare in the gym, although its rising in popularity and more and more gyms are starting to get on board with strong man training. The main variations strong man exercises (many you might not have even heard of before) are
- Farmers walks
- Sled and prowler pushes and pulls
- Tyre flips
- Log Clean and Press
- Yoke walk
- Atlas Stones
There's so many benefits to strong man training
- It makes you look like a bad ass
- it challenges the body in a very different way to regular straight weight training
- It improves strength, cardiovascular fitness and skill
- Its fun and adds variety
- It does wonders for fat burning and getting lean
- Its probably the best "core" work you could possibly do
- It transfers over to activities you do in everyday life. The only downside is every time a mate needs furniture moved you're the first one they're going to call
To include strong man methods into your training you can have a day devoted to it or just add some into every session doesn't really matter how you do it, just get it in there
9 Corrective and prehab exercises ie. working on your weakness's
Everyone has weakness's and issues that need addressing. I find these exercises the most boring out of the lot and hate doing them. But they prevent injuries and keep you moving smoothly and allow your performance to keep improving. Which types of corrective exercises you should be doing is very individual and you will really need to get an assessment done by a professional. But very broadly the main issues people need to be addressing are
- -Weakness's in stabilizing muscles - rotator cuff, glute medius, vastus medials oblique, scapular retractors, anterior and posterior core.
- -Tissue quality - so doing foam rolling and other self musculofascial release techniques, stretching, getting manual treatment like remedial massage active release technique etc when needed
After the best part of a decade of training, these 7 types of movements still make up the bulk of my training program. And more recently the last 2 groups of exercises have been added and I won't be removing them any time soon. So don't worry if your program doesn't include the latest machine or have a bosu ball in there somewhere. Because the best exercises are usually the ones that have been around the longest.
Repeatedly practice and get stronger at these 7 movements with good technique as well as throwing in some strongman and corrective work and I am sure you will be impressed with the results.