I’ve been asked to write a post about this for quite some time now, and I always passed on the idea because I thought it was played out and too simplistic in nature. But a combination of gym frustrations, and hearing about and seeing trainers dropping the ball on a regular basis with some of the most common misconceptions out there, are making me backtrack and put my thoughts out there.
There’s a lot of discrepancy over how to approach training a new client, or how to design a program for yourself. I’m NOT about to scrutinize different trainers’ “styles” – that’s not the point of this. I am going to pass my thoughts on what I believe should belong in ANY good program, if your goal is training for health, general conditioning, strength, or performance (like mobility, range of motion, and joint health). If you want to see progress and unmistakable results from your workouts, these movement patterns belong in your program.
By the way - you’ll notice above I said “movement patterns”. Not “exercises”. I strongly believe in focusing on the movement rather than the actual muscle trained, as doing so will allow the trainee to have a better scope of understanding into how resistance training in a certain pattern can impact the body muscularly, skeletally, and so on.
As far as basic, non-complex movement patterns go, you’re not going to exert much more energy per set than you will during a movement of this nature. Squats (in all their variations) do a trainee well to instill very applicable motor patterns into the body, as well as provide benefits for spine health, cardio, and hormonal release. Whether your goal is to lose fat, build a lot of muscle, become more mobile, or make your joints healthier, a movement of this nature needs to be there. Depending on your goals, you can vary the weight and rep range accordingly, and depending on your abilities, you can vary the type of squat you do. For beginners, I like to recommend the goblet squat as the quickest and easiest way to get better at squatting:
Not a surprise that I added this to the list. Again, in a real-life scenario, we’re bending forward to pick stuff up all the time. Knowing that, our lower back health, and the strength and range of motion of our posterior muscles definitely matters. Whether you’re 17 years old, or 72 years old, the importance of these muscles is HUGE. It doesn’t take a barbell loaded with 400lbs to make these kind of movements effective – even just activating them by going through the motions with a dowel or body bar can have a serious impact on your health. Looking deeper into it, the nature of these moves also encourages many muscle fibers to work at the same time, burning tonnes of calories and exploiting a lot of strength.
Those non-mirror muscles are the bad boys who need the most attention, in my opinion. There’s basically nothing we do on a day to day basis that involves much balanced pulling, and our postural muscles suffer because of it. Because of how skewed the charts are towards how much pushing we do, the muscles on the front of the body can become tight, and can even act on our skeleton, and push our shoulders and spine into a bad posture. That means chronic pain through the yin yang. We need to incorporate these kinds of movements the most in our program, where upper body training is concerned, because they can really “set the tone” for a lot of balance in our body. Plus you’ll look better and stand taller. Who wouldn’t want that?
Health benefits aside, all meatheads who have issues dealing with a plateau in a big pushing exercise can benefit from adding more pulling work to their program too. The added upper back strength can act to stabilize the shoulder and aid in the quest for a stronger push. So, if you want to get stronger at a push, do more pulls!
This comes down to one thing for me – shoulder health. I don’t care about muscle strength or muscular development as much as I do about shoulder health to answer WHY I use these kinds of movements with as many of my clients as possible. Shoulders are one of the most common injury points in the body. They’re made up of the fusion of 3 different bones to create a joint that’s prone to plenty of instability. The joint’s health is very sensitive to the relative balance of strength and flexibility on the muscles that are on either side of the joint. Adding load over the head in the correct place over the spine can strongly affect the shoulder’s ability to stabilize itself in positions it’s not put into generally. Remember, the shoulder’s a ball-and-socket joint, so the overall emphasis should be on its mobility. The better mobility you can give your shoulder girdle, the less prone you’ll be to impingement and other injuries or chronic issues like it.
There’s no better way to improve hip mobility and flexibility while resistance training for strength and even size than using split-stance movements to do it. Most split stance exercises turn into a unilateral work effort, and are deceptively challenging and exploit many weak links in a trainee’s body. They tend to encourage plenty of core activation for stability, and double as a great way to diffuse pain or tension in the lower back. If you’re someone who’s been realizing you can’t squat deep without your back rounding, or you just feel back pain from day to day, or during simple exercise, incorporating more split stance work can be the best thing you’ve done for your body. Whether you’re doing an exercise in a split stance designed to train the lower body (like a split squat), or an exercise in a split stance designed to train the upper body (like a half-kneeling shoulder press), the benefits are many.
Typical core “stability” movements aren’t the worst thing in the world, but being able to hold a straight plank for 5 minutes isn’t a great indicator of abdominal strength or function. Not only is there limited oxygen going to the muscles during an isometric contraction like this, but the translation is weak. Removing one base of support at a time can really challenge the midsection in a much more applicable way. A major function of the core is to resist unwanted movement. To improve core strength, we have to focus in on that capacity when choosing our exercises. My man Tony Gentilcore of www.tonygentilcore.com shows a graet example of the above here:
Nothing too complicated – this is what I focus all my programs around. Each of these subheadings are involved in my or my clients’ workout programs in some capacity. Doesn't matter WHAT the goals are. Focusing on including these to some extent WILL help acheive them. Oh, and before you influx my mailbox with hate mail about why I don’t include corrective training, and smaller exercises to hit weak links, keep in mind, these are the exercises to promote health. Not to correct bad health. When I notice a deficiency in these major patterns, I’ll use specific exercises to bring those movement patterns back in check, however the overall program will always be structured around these patterns. Looking forward to your thoughts, so feel free to comment, especially if you think I forgot something!« back to previous page