Updated: Jul 1, 2021
There are a lot of different training methods and ideas out there. Some ground breaking and revolutionary, others, not to much. But one thing that gets over looked a lot now in the fitness industry, is that training doesn't have to be fancy or complicated, is just needs to work. There is nothing wrong with doing whats tried and trusted.
There's a reason that they have been the top methods for so long. In my opinion, there are 5 exercises that I feel should be in nearly everyone's program.
Obviously do the reps and sets that meet your needs depend on what your goals are but these exercises NEED to be in your arsenal. To some more experienced people some of these may seem obvious. But these are so important for beginners and if you're not a beginner and you're not doing these, then you need to start.
For me, this is the number one exercises. If you want to build muscle, get stronger, train your whole body, strengthen your posterior chain (the entire back side of your body and more, then this is the exercise for you.
Deadlifting you work your legs (hamstring mainly), glutes, core and back (a lot of emphasis on lower back but you're using your middle and upper back bracing and at the top when you
lock out). The deadlift is also typically your strongest lift. This is the exercise where you lift the most weight which is what makes it such a a good strength builder as well as great for building muscle.
The great thing about it using some many body parts, is how challenging it. If you have any weaknesses, they're gonna get exposed. It also helps your movement as it is known as a hinging exercise.
This is where you keep you back completely straight and bend at the hips. This is a fundamental movement for life not just the gym.
There are different ways to deadlift too. Traditionally done with a barbell, though it can do done with dumbbells, kettle bells and a hex bar too.
Different variations will train the body slightly differently. For example, Deadlifting with a hex bar is typically kinder on you back than a barbell.
However, it has shown in studies that you get better hamstring activation with a barbell. I would suggest you do whatever one feels most comfortable for you.
A close second to the deadlift. Simply in my opinion because it doesn't target as much upper body. Though a strong upper body is still needed for a strong squat.
However this is the king of lower body exercises. You can't even think of training you lower body without thinking of squats. Targeting almost every muscle in your legs and hips, you core is incredibly
important too and a strong upper body is needed to support the weight, regardless of what squat variation you are doing.
It is also another great exercise for finding weaknesses and imbalances. It will highlight everything from a weak foot arch, to lack for hip rotation, to poor poor mobility and any hip and pelvis issues.
Any problems in any of these areas and your squat will be affected. It is one of the exercise I use the most to see where clients have issues and where you need to focus our attention to make sure they get the most out of the exercise.
Just like the deadlift, there are multiple variations. The most common squat for building strength and muscle is the back squat. This is where the barbell rest on the upper back. Another variation is the front squat.
Typically used more with athletes. Although there is a lot of mobility involved in this and is an advanced movement.
An alternative is the goblet squat. This is where you hold a dumbbell or kettle bell like a goblet in front of your chest while you perform a squat. Great for beginners once they mover on from an air squat.
There is a lot of core engagement and the weight usually helps people balance. It's a great way to introduce load lightly to provide some resistance as you progress.
3. Bench Press
Every gym rats favourite exercise. In any gym in the world you can see groups of guys (and girls too) gathered round in the free weight area fighting for a bench to perform this exercise.
Every young gym goer as spent way too much time training their chest bench pressing and not enough time focusing on other lifts.
Because of this, it can get a bad rap. However, this is an amazing upper body exercise and one of the best pushing exercises you can do. Focusing on your pecs, anterior shoulder and tricep, it targets all the muscles used to push.
Typically done with a barbell. Great for building strength and muscle. Although it can also be done with dumbbells (or kettle bells but much less common).
The great thing about this is that it is unilaterally. So each side works independently. Great for spotting weaknesses as it is very common to favour one side more than the other. Benching with a barbell could hide this so doing it with dumbbells gives you a chance to even it out more.
4. Pull Ups/Chin Ups
Pull ups and chin ups are great exercises. I usually just say pull ups which refers to and over head grip, while a chin up uses an under hand grip.
But the principle of the exercise is the same. In this, we are targeting the whole back with emphasis in the lats and the rhomboids, biceps and the core gets very over looked in pull ups. People typically push their chest out at the top to get more of a squeeze in the back muscles as they contract. But it is also usually done at the expense of curling the lower back and having no ab engagement at all.
But if done right you work nearly every major muscle from the waist up. One big issue with it is, it's not easy. Really not easy. The vast majority of people won't be able to do a pull up. Not a good one at least anyway and probably not more than one. But it definitely is worth working in and building up to be able to do.
Ways for training is to loop a resistance band over the bar and pull you knee or foot in the band so the band will aid you on the way up.
Another is to jump and pull at the same time to get up and then focus on lowering your body down slowly with control.
These are not just the best methods to learn how to do pull ups, but also great if you plateau and want to get your reps up.
5. Over Head Press
Over head pressing is the number one shoulder exercise. Also known as a military press. There is a lot of focus on different ways of doing different types of raises and the different angles to do them at. Using your shoulders to push gets over looked.
When you actually think about, your shoulders aren't that big or strong. They are quite small compared to other muscle groups and not used under load in day to day life the way other muscles are. This is way that a lot of people are naturally quite weak here.
I see it a lot with clients. Not just the shoulder strength but tying in bracing your core too and it's something at most people struggle with.
I like to get people to do this standing as I feel the brace of your core is very important and it can get over looked when doing it seated. When doing an over head press, you should be squeezing your glutes and keeping your core rock solid so that you don't extent your spine as you press over head.
Once you press you should also go into full over head extension meaning there should be a straight (or relatively straight) line from the bar in your hands, through to your shoulders, through a natural spine, through your hips, knees and to your ankles.
I common error if you lack over head extension is to have you arm forward slightly which means the weight is forwards slightly.
This falls under same idea as the bench press as this is a vertical press instead of horizontal press. Barbells are usually used. Again, same as the bench press, great for strength and building muscle. But again, there is a very good chance that one side will be stronger than the other.
And with shoulders being that bit more obvious, you'll definitely notice a weaker side. Same as the bench press, this is were dumbbells or kettle bells are great for the same reason.
Not pressing with a fixed object like a barbell, allows each side to work in it's own. This means that if one side is weaker, it can catch up with the other side.
Now these aren't the only important exercises. Of course there are more and no doubt I'll make another list covering more. The exercises covered are all compound exercises which means that they use multiple muscle groups at once which is how your body is designed to work. Your body should be working as a whole unit and recruiting as much muscles as possible to complete the task. If you are going for strength, building muscle, over all performance and anything else that involves movement with resistance, these need to be included.