If you've been around for long enough, you know that I'm all about SIMPLE. I'm a big believer in the KISS principle. The simpler, the better. And the best thing is that most simple things tend to be very effective as well.
So if you're someone who's new to strength training and wants to learn how to put together a simple, effective workout, with minimal equipment and confusion, this is the post for you!
Before I get into the exercises that should be a staple in your workouts, I want to state that these exercises and this format is one that I follow closely when designing workouts for my 1:1 personal training clients. I might not use the same exercises each time, but I do use close variations of, for example, a lunge, so we can continue to build single leg strength and stability, but changing stuff up to keep the client engaged and to introduce a new stimulus.
This format isn't the end-all, be-all of workouts. You can tweak it and change up whatever you want. It's up to you. But it is a good starting place and a guide on how to design a full body workout to gain and improve strength.
So here are the five basic movements you should make a staple in each full body strength training workout
The squat movement is a staple strength movement. And no matter who you are, you should be doing some form of a squat movement. You may not have to be doing barbell squats - there are a hundred variations to choose from, from goblet squats to assisted box squats.
Why you need to be squatting: Bilateral lower body strength is ESSENTIAL to improved function, athletic performance, and longevity. You use your legs every single day and if you can't keep them strong enough to serve you, then your ability to perform everyday tasks and independence becomes limited.
Lunges are your unilateral lower body exercises, meaning that you use predominantly one leg when you do them. Lunges are great to build strength in your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip and knee stabilizers. Single leg work is also essential to ensure that imbalances are being addresses; we all have one stronger side than the other which wants to take over when we do bilateral movements, so we need to make sure that we are working both sides equally.
Why you need to be lunging: Single leg strength is HUGELY important to improve everyday tasks, athletic performance, and longevity. Improved single leg strength helps with motor patterns, managing injury risk, and balance, just to name a few things. Think about walking; you take one step at a time. Each step is with a single leg. Having enough single leg strength is so crucial to make sure you can do something as minute as walking for as long as you can.
You've guessed it - another essential movement pattern that relates to health, performance, and longevity! I also do find the hinge to be extremely effective for a lot of people's aesthetic goals, particuarly those who want to grow their glutes and hamstrings. Hinging motions are also great for people who suffer from low back stiffness/general pain (with caution, of course)!
Why you need to be hinging: A) to learn proper mechanics and avoid injury with excessive over-flexion of the lumbar spine and B) understand and differentiate between hip flexion and lumbar flexion, creating more body awareness. The hip hinge is so fundamental because it's the base of a lot of exercises (squats, kettlebell swings, burpees, etc.) Without understanding proper hip hinge mechanics, it may cause you to move too much through your low back, which can cause pain/injury.
A "push" could refer to a lower or an upper body movement (if we are getting technical), but for clarity, I'm just going to be referring to upper body pushing movements here.
Why push? Upper body strength is essential for (yes, again) everyday tasks, health, and longevity. If you aren't strong enough in your upper body, it can be an annoying limiting factor in a lot of movements and activities. Plus, if you fall down, you have to use your upper body to push yourself back up. So naturally, you'd want to keep yourself strong enough to do that!
Why you need to push: Not only do you need strong pushing muscles to get yourself up off the ground, but you also need to have strong pushing muscles for shoulder health. A lot of people suffer from shoulder pain because of muscle imbalances or just weakness in general, especially if they are doing activities that load the shoulder joint (example: pitching a baseball, hitting a volleyball). If you don't have sufficient strength to overcome the amount of force you put behind each pitch or each swing, that can lead to injury as well as limiting your performance.
If you have a push, you need a pull as well. Why? Well, shoulder health is one reason. For every push, you need a pull. For every internal rotation of the shoulder joint you need an external rotation. Remember, work everything evenly!
Upper body pulling motions not only help you keep your shoulders healthy, but they help improve your posture, improve back strength, and help you with everyday tasks. Having a strong back helps you lift heavy objects.
So there you have your five basic movement patterns you should include in your workouts, especially if you are new to lifting and need a template to follow.
Remember, keep it simple! You don't have to find a wild squat variation to do with each workout. Stick to the same, basic squat movement. Practice it. Master it. Get stronger at it; each time you workout, try and use a slightly heavier weight than last time. The same goes for your lunging, hinging, pushing, and pulling.
Progression doesn't mean a different exercise every workout. Progression can be measured in simple progressive overload, meaning you make the same exercise harder by adding load, increasing time under tension, or doing more repetitions. If your goals are to get stronger and build muscle, I highly suggest you add load.
Also check out this post on this topic on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/p/CHqMncdAFPJ/
About the Author
Laura Su, BS Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Powerlifter, Entreprenuer
I'm just a girl who fell in love with movement in high school and now wants to bring the freedom that exercise brings to everyone else.
I started working out with the desire to look a certain way but eventually found the sense of accomplishment and clarity that training for performance brought. Now I want to help everyone, especially women, to learn how to train and eat for their health and performance and realize that when you do that, the looks you desire are simply a positive side effect.
In my spare time, I enjoy powerlifting, horseback riding, sleeping, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I hope you enjoy my posts and keep reading along!