Strength training is where exercise can get tricky and where knowledge is key. Knowledge on exercise should be a continuing journey and never just a one-book destination. These are the movements I feel should form the cornerstone of every routine (however, this is all dependent on your present condition and injury history.) Here is a list of the exercises I feel are most important and a brief explanation of why they make the cut. These movements are so critical that entire books have been written on many of them.
Barring an injury which would preclude you from them, I highly recommend everyone to add these to their routine. Most of my clients work out with resistance two or three times per week, for as little as 30 minutes at a time. Those who really put their nose to the grindstone yield fantastic results and suffer no excess wear and tear on their joints. In the 20-plus years I have been around weights, I have learned that less is oftentimes better. You just have to choose the right things to spend your time and energy on.
The deadlift is king in my book. It's incredible for building a strong and powerful posterior core (the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors) as well as increasing grip strength and strengthening your lats and even your frontal core. My tip is to bring the weight (kettlebell, barbell, medicine ball etc) as close to the midline (center of gravity) as possible. If you are using a barbell, you would have the bar uncomfortably against your shins. Keep your back flat! This exercise gets a bad rep because most people do it wrong. Have a pro show you the real way and enjoy the benefits of a rock solid posterior core capable of lifting serious weight. Strength gains come very quickly with the deadlift, but please remember it is technique, not weight, that makes this possible.
No list of great exercises would exempt the squat, and for good reason. It works. It is another excellent exercise for the hamstrings and glutes, however there is significantly more quadricep recruitment compared to the deadlift. I suggest, as always, a full and deep range of motion. If you are new to the squat, try doing a deep squat and just holding yourself in the lowest portion of the squat. Keep your eyes across the horizon or slightly up. Keep your chest out and your back flat or slightly arched. Hold for as long as you can and end the set as soon as your perfect form is compromised. Record how long your best hold is. Three minutes is an exceptional score.
Most people have no idea how much of an incredible frontal core exercise the push up is. You may think of it as an arm or a chest exercise, however the frontal core is heavily recruited on this one. If you arch your lower back while doing pushups then your frontal core is likely weak. Try engaging your abs and keeping your back as flat as possible as you do your reps. If your back arches, end the set and rest. Record your maximum number of perfect low repetitions and strive always to beat it!
When rowing, think reaching out in front of you and pulling something in towards your chest. There are so many great variations of the row, but for this one we will use the seated low cable variant. The key to a great row is to keep your shoulders down and once the handle is pulled in -- your scapula will be retracted fully with a slight pause in this full contraction. Due to the fact that this exercise works muscles you cannot see, I suggest you focus intently in your mind on the muscles of the mid back-- the middle trapezius especially. When you pull the attachment in, squeeze!
If you want a powerful looking upper body and seriously jacked up arms, the pull up is your friend. If you can't do them, grab one of those big rubber bands at your gym, loop it around the bar and then place your foot in it. Use good form for as long as you can. Rest, and then do more. Be patient. I've had some clients that took a looong time to get this one. But the wait is well worth it! And ladies, if you get yourself strong enough to do a pull up, you have just entered into a fraternity (or sorority, if you will) of very few. The good news is, I have never seen so many gals crushing the pull ups as I do now. Their arms look great and their backs do too! Do pull ups!
Next week we will go over my love affair for the Clean and the Jerk. Until then, I hope you've gotten some food for thought. Get a professional to help you with these and then implement them. These exercises and all their variations are really all you need. Everything else is just icing on the cake! And too much icing is no bueno!
Follow Clay Burwell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ClayHPNYC