Sunday, July 17, 2011

The 5 Movements No Workout Should Be Without (in my humble little opinion)

I plan my training around three simple concepts. 

"You do, Melody?" you ask, hanging on the edge of your seat.  "Do tell, do tell!"

Well, since you're so eager to know, I'll lay it out for you:

-Do movements that get the most "bang for your buck," i.e. multi-joint, big muscle movements.  These tend to burn the most caloric energy, be the most efficient movements for the highest number of muscles and joints, and-- extremely important to me-- save oodles of time.  I don't know many people who want to spend hours working out in the gym.  I certainly don't. 

-Do movements that help you reach goals and/or enhance your lifestyle.  If you're a golfer who throws out your back every time you swing, that may give you a clue as to what you're going to need to train, and how you're going to need to train it.  If you want to enter physique competitions, your training is going to be much different (and your diet is going to be phenomenally strict).  If you just want to be able to lift your Rottweiller's 50lb. bag of dog food without a problem, well, there's plenty of ways to train for that, too.

-Lift heavy.  If you're not trying to get stronger, lose body fat, or obtain better physical functionality, I guess you can disregard that one.

That having been said, there are a few moves that just about everyone should be doing, no matter what your goals or lifestyle.  These are based off basic human movements (hip hinge, squat/lunge, press, pull, abdominal stabilization).  And, since I know you are foaming at the mouth, wondering what these movements are, here you go:

1)  THE DEADLIFT (hip hinge):  The deadlift is, without a doubt, one of the best exercises I know.  It is an amazing abdominal and lower back workout (more about that here: ), builds power in the hips and glutes, strengthens the upper back and grip,  and is just an all-around badass exercise.  There's a reason a lot of foofy gyms have a "No Deadlifting" rule.  It's noisy.  It's intimidating.  It's badass.  Foofy gyms don't tend to condone much badassity.  Moral of that story:  if you belong to a gym that doesn't let you deadlift, find a new gym.

Now, I get a lot of clients who have been taught to deadlift by doing a sort of toe-touch thing-- legs straight, spine bent, trying to hit the ground with light weights.  This is not a deadlift.  Now this, right here, is a deadlift:

OK, so most of us mere mortals aren't going to do this our first time out.  But you get the idea.  This might be a little more doable:

Kettlebell swings go into the deadlift category.  The swing is simply a ballistic deadlift with a different intention (i.e. to ballisticly swing a heavy object out in front of you as opposed to simply lift it off the ground).  I am personally a huge fan of high-volume swings (I try to do a set of at least 1,000 once a week or more).  This has gotten me into phenomenal cardiovascular condition (running, jumping rope, etc, are no longer a challenge to me, and the 14-mile round trip killer hike I did up Mt. Wilson barely got my heart rate up, although my feet were pretty tired by the end of it), and has significantly improved my strength in many areas. 

2)  THE SQUAT/LUNGE (squat/lunge, duh):  Your leg muscles are the largest muscles in your body, so why not work them the way they were designed to work?

In case you were wondering, this is how you were designed to squat.  Not that half-squatting, don't go below 90 degrees, body at a weird angle thing people tend to do.  Do you see this baby complaining about knee pain?  I didn't think so.
The squat and the lunge are two of the most effective ways I know of to work just about the entire lower body.  Your hips, knees, and ankles all have to work hard, and your midsection does a lot of stabilization as well (especially when you add weight-- in front, in back, overhead, unilateral, etc-- and then we get your upper body involved, too!).   If you're not squatting, you're doing your body a huge disservice.  If your body's dysfunctions keep you from squatting properly, fix 'em and get squatting.

3)  OVERHEAD PRESS (push):  The overhead press is an absolute favorite of mine.  Single hand, double hand, straight presses, jerks, push-presses... all of them build great strength and integrity in the shoulder, arm, and core.  I especially like doing this with kettlebells, as the weight placement pulls you backward, which provides a different stabilization challenge for the ole abs and makes them work harder.

This video is of a push-press, as I am still working on a straight press with the 20KG.  But never fear, it's on its way.  :)

4)  PULLUPS (pull):  The pullup rocks my world.  Part of it is likely because I was a fairly weak kid and could never seem to do them at all until relatively recently.  Now I suspect I might be part monkey.  The pullup strengthens the grip, arms, back, abdominals, and ego.  Once you master that pullup, you start feeling mighty good about yourself.

ABDOMINAL STABILIZATION:  Although the deadlift and pullup are phenomenal ab exercises, I do love to add in some extra stuff.  I do heavy full situps with kettlebells on my chest, hanging leg raises, and also spend a lot of time with the ab wheel, doing rollouts from my toes.

The guy going these in this video is 71 years old and pretty tall and lanky.  So no excuses for you.

Of course, you can also do them from your knees, as the same guy does here:


So there you have it:  my must-have 5 that I believe just about everyone can benefit from.  What do you think?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!


  1. Rock star!
    Great selection and advice. Your bio has a typo though- you couldn't possibly be old enough to have 20 years training experience, unless you starting lifting in the crib.

  2. Great stuff! I need to get a ab wheel....

    BTW: update on the strontium supplement. I started to take it and after 1 month ended up stopping because of huge GI issues it caused. I had the same (bad)luck with trying to take calcium.

  3. Thanks, guys! Steven: Not a typo (it is *almost* 20 years, though). And that is why you're my favorite. ;)

    Diana-- So sorry about the GI issues. What a bummer. You may want to just rely on topical magnesium.