How many exercises do your workouts include? No doubt, we need to hit muscles from different angles in order to stimulate them as much as possible for their development. Most exercises train the muscles in the same motions we do every day. And in a nutshell, those motions can be broken down into three groups – pulling, pushing, and hip extension.
This means that most exercises can be broken down into these same groups too. If you perform compound pulling, pushing, and hip extension exercises, your muscles will work in the most natural way. This also means that these movement groups are all it takes to get fit and build muscle.
Don’t get us wrong, isolation movements are certainly useful, especially when you need to break the plateaus. And there are a lot of exercises that fall under the three groups, but in this article, we’ll cover 8 most fundamental of them. If you do these exercises or their variations, you will stay fit.
#1 Push-Ups and Dumbbell/Barbell Press
Push up is the basic pushing move and if you start anywhere to begin building muscle, it’s here. Do the correct full push-up in controlled movements, add variations such as decline, weight, unstable surface, and other technique variations to make it more difficult as you go. Always keep in mind that you can make your muscles work much harder if you do slow and correct form repetitions, don’t spring back up, and don’t use momentum. Push-ups are great no matter your level of fitness.
Dumbbell and barbell presses work your chest more and your core less but if you need more emphasis on the chest muscles, this is a go-to exercise. Generally speaking, dumbbells are better for presses as they allow your shoulders to move more freely which helps avoid injury, but a barbell allows you to increase weight gradually.
One of the best full-body exercises overall is pull-ups. They’re perfect to train your vertical pull, which involves arms, shoulders, and back muscles. It’s a difficult exercise as it is but you can add weight to increase the difficulty too.
#3 Overhead Press
To train your vertical push you can do hand-standing push-ups or more realistically, overhead dumbbell presses. It’s a great exercise to train your shoulders and it’s easy to pick up heavier dumbbells as you go. As you perform this movement you can engage your core and a little bit of hip extension by bending your knees a little and pushing your weight up. For a full range of motion, lift a single dumbbell at a time and alternate your hands.
Whether you do dumbbell or barbell rows this is the movement to train your horizontal pull. Pull ups are great but this is a different range of motion that affects your muscles in a different way and has to be addressed in your workouts.
Hip extension is the third basic movement that affects your legs and lower back. Strong hips can prevent knee injuries and strong glutes will save your lower back. So even if you don’t lift heavy things off the ground much in your life, you will benefit not only from nice legs and that’s enough reason not to skip a leg day.
Squats, free and weighted are the number one exercise to train your hip extension. The form is just as important here so make sure you keep your spine straight and push your butt back, thrust your hips forward as you stand up. It’s that much more important doing barbell squats.
Deadlift is a great strength exercise and will train your hip extension strength. The human body is designed to lift heavy things so it’s important to train yourself for it, even if you won’t lift anything heavy in your daily life. It will help you stay fit and build muscle, it will develop a strong core and your overall strength.
Start with lower weights, such as kettlebells before you jump on heavy barbells, and make sure to use the correct form. Just as you do squats, keep your spine straight, butt back, your bodyweight on your heels, and thrust your hips forward as you lift the weight, don’t lift with your arms.
For the full range of motion, do lunges. They will help strengthen your leg joints and hips, not to mention the obvious which is that this is the exact motion you do as you walk, run, climb the stairs, etc. As you advance, take weights in your hands and continue with walking lunges.
#8 Kettlebell Swings
The final, and often overlooked exercise that trains a very important movement, is the ability to accelerate weight. Weight swings develop explosive strength and athletic power. The exercise is performed by starting in a slight squat position with the weight between your legs and thrusting the weight forward and upward by extending your hips. Don’t use hands to move the weight, the power generated to thrust the weight comes from the hips.
So how do you workout using all of these moves? I suggest splitting each of the three movements (push, pull, hip extension) into different days and performing movements related to it that day. Use any workout techniques you know and like, feel free to add any isolation moves too (such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, or your favorite machines), but these 3 basic movements are the most important.
For example, you could do each exercise with variations in drop sets:
- Dumbbell press until failure
- Decline push-ups until failure
- Simple push-ups until failure
- Overhead dumbbell press until failure
- Overhead push press until failure
- Pike push-ups until failure
Or do them in sets of 8 reps. The technique, while it matters, is not the key point that I want to share with this article. It’s the importance of the basic movements that you need to do to be fit and build muscle.