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Five exercises we recommend for everyone

There are five exercise types we recommend for everyone. If you are a current or former client of ours, you know these types of movements well.

  1. Any squat-for lower body function

  2. Any hip hinge-for posterior chain function, bottom dominant

  3. Any overhead press-shoulder, arm, and pec development (minor emphasis on pecs)

  4. Upper-body posterior chain movement-neck to waist dominant (band pull-apart, etc.)

  5. Cardio-cardio help and overall fitness

The reason for including the above movement types is they work the overall body and its systems. Performed with various rep and set schemes, as well as using modification such as super-setting or circuiting, these movements provide a full body workout that can work strength, power, hypertrophy, muscular endurance, conditioning, and cardio fitness. At the same time, when properly utilized, the exercises help improve mobility across all planes.

All people should be able to perform some variation of these exercises. Some people may say these exercises are dangerous for certain groups, such as older people. That is not the truth. While any exercise can be dangerous if performed in an incorrect fashion, the included movements are safe when utilized properly, even for older individuals. The caveat here is an elderly person may need to use lighter load, use lower intensity, or modify the movement, but this could be said about out-of-shape younger persons. The age of the person does not determine the safety of the exercise or if a person should complete it. The condition—that is, the fitness of the person—determines what a person can and should do. Still, in almost every circumstance, a person should be able to complete some version of the above movements, even if it is a significantly modified version with no external load.

If the condition of any client is such that he or she cannot perform the standard full-range version of a movement, a modification will be made. If possible, modifying the ideal movement with an easier movement will be the course of action. For example, if a client cannot perform a deadlift from the ground, a modification might be to have him or her start from the knees while using a light bar or rod.

Examples of each movement might be:

  1. Barbell back squat—place a barbell in a power rack or other safety stops; step under the bar placing it on the backside of your body somewhere between the upper trapezius muscles and posterior deltoids; step out from the safety steps; squat until the hip flexor reaches the same height as the top of the knee; squat up to return to the start position; repeat or return the bar to the safety stops

  2. Barbell deadlift—place a loaded barbell on the ground; standing with feet about shoulder width apart with the bar a few inches from the shins, squat down and grab the bar with an over-under grip, being sure to maintain a neutral (straight) spine position and straight arms; starting with the bar touching the shins, stand up with bar, keeping it tight to the body (very close or lightly touching); once you reach full extension (standing straight up) lower the bar to the starting position, following the same path as the ascent; repeat or leave bar on ground

  3. Military press—place a barbell in a power rack or other safety stops; grab the bar with an outside of shoulder width hand position; step under the bar allowing it to rotate as you do, placing it on the front side of your body, across the anterior deltoids and collarbone (the anterior deltoids should hold the weight); press the weight overhead; return the weight to the start position; repeat or return the bar to the safety stops

  4. Bent lateral raise—pick up dumbbells; hold dumbbells at side of body, palms in; bend at knees and hips, allowing back to reach a 45- to 60-degree angle relative to the ground, with a neutral spine position; lift dumbbells upward and away from side, with a slight backward trajectory; return the weight to the start position in a controlled manner; repeat or place dumbbells on ground

  5. Running—put one foot in front of the other quickly…We're kidding! There’s more to it than that, but the exact stride and foot strike pattern for individuals varies greatly and is beyond the scope of this writing.

Depending on what you are capable of and what your training environment is, be creative. If you are not sure what to do, perform research.

Here are example variations for each category.

  1. Squat—body weight squat, body weight single leg squat, body weight chair squat, body weight box squat, or weighted versions of any of these exercises using a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or bands. Again, be creative based on your ability and training environment. Read this blog to find out more about the the importance of the squat to lower-body strength and mobility.

  2. Hip hinge—body weight single leg deadlift, band deadlift, dumbbell deadlift, glute bridge, kettlebell swing, cable pull through, and many more. This blog will help you understand how the hip hinge helps fitness and everyday living.

  3. Overhead press—milk jug overhead press, band overhead press, dumbbell overhead press, pike press, handstand push-up, jerk, and many more. If you want to know more about why the overhead press is essential to upper-body strength, read this blog.

  4. Upper-body posterior chain movement—ring row, dumbbell back fly, machine back fly, standing dumbbell row, standing cable row, milk jug row, and many more. Check out this video for an example pairing of exercises.

  5. Cardio—walk, run, cycle, stair climb, or swim outside or on a machine. There are many other options. This blog will help you put together your running program.

There is nothing stopping you from getting fitter except you. Begin working those movements in your week, and if done with enough frequency and intensity relative to what you can do, you will become fitter.

Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA. 

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