Whether you’re just starting out or have been grinding in the gym for years, there are a few movements that everyone must do to burn fat, build lean muscle, and have real world strength
While you can do other stuff, these movements are going to get you to where you want to go the fastest. And since most of you who read my blog are busy professionals, moms and dads, or just have a million other things going on, time is important.
“The squat is the perfect analogy for life. it’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.” – Unknown
The squat is one of the most basic human movement patterns.3 year olds can do squats with perfect form. While it seems to be hated by doctors for being bad for your knees, nothing could be further from the truth.
Squats, when done properly, will improve knee stability and strength which means you’re LESS likely to have injured knees.
Squats use more muscles than almost any other exercise. Your upper body and core have to stabilize the weight during the entire movement, and your legs
You don’t have to do barbell back squats though. In fact, if you’re just starting out, you probably shouldn’t do back squats.
Kettlebell or dumbbell goblet squats are a perfect alternative to the back squat for anyone just starting out.
This goes up there right with the squat as a fundamental movement, but also one that’s hated by so many professionals.
In a basic sense, all you’re doing is picking something up off the ground.
The hate is not deserved because we do deadlifts literally everyday when you have to pick something up off the ground.
Just like the squat, the deadlift works the legs as the muscles that move the weight, but your core and upper body have to stabilize the weight to successfully and safely pull the weight off the ground.
You end up using almost every muscle in your body when deadlifting, making it a great exercise for fat loss, building muscle, or just getting back in shape.
Now, you can hurt yourself, just like any exercise, so make sure you set up properly.
Like the squat, you don’t have to start with the barbell. Starting with a kettlebell or trap bar is recommended for those just starting out.
If you don’t have great mobility, that’s okay. You can work on Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) instead since you don’t have to go all the way to the ground and still get most of the benefits of a regular deadlift.
Most lists would put “bench press” here. I love the bench press, it’s one of my favorite exercises I’ve done weekly for the past fifteen years.
But that doesn’t mean you have to bench press. In fact, any pushing movement can work here like floor press, overhead presses, or push ups.
The key here is to pick one that you really want to improve, you can still do the others but as accessory lifts to improve the main lift.
If you really want to improve your push ups, use that as your primary push movement for the week. If you want to improve your bench, do that as the primary movement.
Pressing movements work your pecs, shoulders, and triceps (to varying degrees depending on what you choose).
The opposite of the push and it doesn’t get much love. Most people focus only on “mirror muscles” like quads, pecs, shoulders, and arms. You need to do pulling movements to balance out the pressing movements you do, otherwise you’re going to get hurt, stay weak, and look funny.
Also, the muscles of the back are large and can burn a ton of calories if your goal is fat loss.
The muscles in your back are important to keep your joints healthy and to stabilize the other movements we already discussed (squat, deadlift, and pushing).
So, what are pulling movements? Pull ups, pulldowns, and rows.
Now, before everyone jumps on the pull up train, you want to make sure you have a balance between “vertical” pulling like chin ups and lat pulldowns and “horizontal” pulling like rows.
Now, generally these movements are a little “safer” so they don’t get as much hate.
If you’re starting out, it might be awhile before you can do a chin or pull up. That’s okay. Start with single arm rows, inverted rows, and assisted chin ups or lat pulldowns.
A note on pull ups: you need to either be lean or freakishly strong to be able to do a pull up. If you have a goal of losing weight and doing a pull up, focus on the weight loss goal first.
Outside of a crossfit gym or World’s Strongest Man competitions, you don’t see carries in commercial gyms. That’s unfortunate.
This is a movement you do almost everyday. Carry groceries inside? That’s a farmers carry.
Kid fell asleep and you need to take them to their bed? That’s a goblet carry.
Carries are by far one of the most functional exercises you can be doing each week.
Carries will work almost every muscle in your body to varying degrees. Farmer carries work your grip and leg strength. Suitcase carries challenge your core and balance. Goblet carries work you core and upper body more.
These can be done heavy for a short distance for building muscle and strength. Or you can go lighter for a longer distance or time to work cardio and fat loss.
If you’re just starting out, the basics are all you need. Farmer carry, suitcase carry, and goblet carry.
If you’ve been working out for awhile, then crosswalk, bottom-up, and marches are other ways to challenge yourself beyond just going heavier.
No matter your goals, your level of fitness, or how old you are, these five movements should be in your workout program if you want to fast track your results. Like stated above, you don’t have to use the barbell for any of these movements, kettlebells and dumbbells are perfect if you’re just starting out, have some injuries, or are worried about getting hurt.
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