Top gym exercises
When it comes to training in the gym most beginners go in thinking, “which exercise will work this body part?” The rationale is based on their own idea that they need to improve that particular bodypart (butt, biceps, triceps) therefore they need to work that particular muscle in isolation. Workouts soon become focused on working on all of the bodyparts you think you need to work on separately.
There are several flaws to approaching things this way, you miss out on a lot of the benefit of doing big movements which include working a large amount of muscle at once which has greater ability to use more energy (calories), and also move more weight, leading to more adaptations (muscular strength or muscle growth). You also miss out on key parts of fitness and athleticism such as stability and power – which will ultimately lead to a better, stronger, leaner physique. Working individual body parts leaves you with a biomechanically (body movement) incomplete workout that can promote injury or dysfunction that may mean time off your training or money spent on physiotherapy or other treatment.
On the flip side there are compound movements – these are movements that use more than one body part, or the movement of the muscles that cross more than one joint. These exercises have a heap of benefits when it comes to strength and health of muscles, bones, joints and movement. However they can be harder to perform and carry more risk.
This is easily overcome with a little research into the subject in your own time. Here are my top compound movements that should be included in every program. With beginner tips and alternatives as well as external links, there is information here but you will still need to practice, possibly get a friend or gym instructor to video you so you can assess your own movement, and research more online about how to improve these movements. They wont become perfect overnight but these need to be the things to focus on when looking to improve these exercises and your body.
Next I will briefly go over the exercises as well as other exercises and mobility work you can look up yoursel
f to put into a mini session or exercise program to help you master the particular exercise. For more detail on the exercises see my other articles here.
Deadlift – One of the most important movements to master. The key part of this mo
vement iswhat is called the hip hinge. A lot of other gym exercises are built from being able to hip hinge correctly – such as squats and bent over rows. This movement integrates your upper and lower body. Most people approach deadlifts like they are primarily upper body movement, wrenching the bar up with their upper body and traps. But the secret is to work primarily in the lower body with your hips and butt.
To make sure that you are
doing this exercise correctly you need your feet shoulder width apart, the bar touching your shins, your hands out
side the legs with room for your knees to push slightly outwards into your a
rms, your hips up high and your body over the bar, slightly further over the bar, with your shoulders rolled back and down and held there, and your chest up.
Some great movements or exercises to prepare for this movement are Seated rocking, dowel/pole deadlift, glute bridge.
There is a good video HERE
Check out my article: How to master the deadlift.
Squats – Arguably the king of all leg exercises, but one of the most difficult to master. Foot placement, hip mobility, hamstring flexibility and depth all contribute to a decent squat. It’s not about how low you can go but going to a just below parallel with good form. Mobility is usually one of the
key things to work on here as you go lower your muscles in your inner thigh or hamstring might be tight and start pulling your pelvis out of alignment, bringing your knees in together or causing you to have a little tail flick. As you can see to the image on the left your feet have to be quite wide and your knees pushing outwards laterally over the toes.
Here are some great stretches and mobility exercises to help you with your squat and here is one of the best videos for explainingsquat form from one of the most respected strength coaches of all time.
link to the video HERE
Preparation exercises: Glute bridge, good morning, Swiss ball squat against wall (to practice your depth going just below parallel), box squat (holding a kettle bell in front).
Check out my article: How to get the perfect squat.
Bench press – A staple for your upper body. When done correctly this exercise utilizes your chest, shoulders, triceps and lats. For this you need to create a slight arch in your back. pushing and tucking your shoulders back down behind your, pinning them into the bench, pushing your butt and your shoulders a little closer together and plant
ing your heels onto the floor.
There is a good video HERE
Bent over row – Don’t forget to work your back! There are several types of bent over
row, overhand or underhand grip. My favorite is the Pendlay row, which is an overhand row set up just like a deadlift. Rolling shoulders away from ears down your back is important here and keeping elbows in quite close to the body. Making sure you are stable through your hips by pushing outward through the knees and squeezing the movement from between your lower shoulder blades.
Mobility that will help – shoulder flossing, scapula stabilization, external rotation.
There is a
good video of the technique HERE
Pull up – This exercise also works your back muscles. Wide and narrow grip are both good. If you can’t pull up your own body weight then start with an assisted pull up machine, use strength bands or get your training partner to push you up either from your knees or on your upper back. When you pull yourself up think of the movement as coming from your back, like the elbows are being drawn down on a str
ing, not your arms moving, shoulders down and back concentrating on the area just above your kidneys. One common mistake is that the movement comes from the trap muscles rather than primarily from other back muscles. If this is happening then the best way to counteract it is to tilt slightly upwards so your head is look back slightly behind the bar you are pullup up to.
It takes years to perfect some of these lifts or movements so remember you should be continually looking to learn and improve how you are doing them, and don’t take the word of just anyone at the gym or even online about how to do them, research, research, research! Looking up video tips on Youtube by searching the name of the exercise and exercises that are related is a great place to start. Also check out my articles (to come) about the major muscle groups of the body and explaining external rotation and the movements in more detail. As well as going into some of these movements in more detail.
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