First-timers in the gym often experience uncertainty as to how they should start, structure, and organize their workouts, as a myriad of machines and weights are generally available.
Online, the same dilemma exists, with thousands of websites focusing on fitness and health variations, such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, running, and CrossFit. Where to begin? Well, there are specific movements that stimulate all of the major muscle groups in the body and serve as the foundation for many other well-known exercises.
Sean Toy, a certified personal trainer from Boston, MA, who holds certifications in sports nutrition and corrective exercise, outlines the five fundamental body movements and how to properly incorporate them into your routine.
Squats can be a complex movement, but, when executed correctly, they are tremendously effective, Sean Toy says. There are several variations to this movement, like the goblet squat, sumo squat, and front squat, the key is to find the best squat for you. Our bodies are composed of different bone lengths which lead to everyone moving a little differently. The most important thing is to find a squat you can do correctly and get better at it week after week adding a few reps or pounds to the bar. Here’s how you will achieve a barbell back squat form through your motions: first, stand with the bar resting on your upper-back and your feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart; screw your feet into the ground and create a solid base, this will turn on your glutes and stop knee collapse; create intra abdominal pressure by breathing into your abdomen and engaging your core muscles; initiate the movement at the hips-push your hips back imagine you have a lasso around your waist pulling you back; slowly lower till your hip joint is in line with your knee; return to an upright position by keeping your knees out and maintaining a consistent consistent torso angle; then, at the top reset, rebrace your core creating intra abdominal pressure and engaging your core again and repeat.
A hinge exercise is performed by following a few simple rules, according to Sean Toy: kicking the hips back, leaning the torso forward, and maintaining a neutral spine angle, pressing the floor away from you rather than pulling off the ground. When trainers say “hinge pattern” they really mean deadlifts but with a less scary connotation. Deadlifts get a bad wrap because people associate them with back pain; however, they are the motion trainers prescribe to their clients to build their lower back to prevent back pain. Kettlebell deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, or Romanian deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts are the most common deadlift variations prescribed in training programming because they help to build the posterior chain that consists of the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Before attempting a deadlift, experiment the hinge movement with a dowel. Follow these steps: Stand with your feet marginally shoulder-width apart and have your toes slightly pointed forward; with the dowel vertically on your back, grab one end with your right hand near the curve of your neck and the other end with your left hand in the small of your back (the dowel should be touching the back of your head, your upper back and the area where your lower back meets your tailbone); next, push your hips back as you hinge forward at the hips, keeping the dowel in contact with the three previously discussed points; lower your torso to a midway point between vertical and parallel to the floor, pause, and hold a slight bend in your knees during each movement; finally, tighten your glutes and push the hips forward and the floor away from you until you reach the starting position.
A lunge is a great movement to work on unilateral (single leg) leg strength. Typically lunges are prescribed after a larger bilateral (double leg) motion in order to create balance and stability in your legs individually. Lunges target your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings; the emphasis of which muscles will be targeted is dependent on your torso angle and the type of lunge being executed. A personal favorite of Sean’s is the reverse lunge. It allows you to get the benefits of a forward lunge while keeping your shin angle more perpendicular to the floor. Which is a great variation for people with cranky knees.
The push pattern is a favorite amongst most guys in the gym. There are a few tips to make sure you are doing this correctly. The most common variations of the push pattern are a barbell bench press or a dumbbell bench press. When pressing it is important to utilize your upper back to stabilize your shoulder blades. Think about having a packed scapula or squeeze your shoulder blades together and press them down towards your back pockets. This will engage your lats as well allowing you to stabilize your shoulder joint to allow for a more powerful and pain-free press. The next common mistake is “dancing feet” when pressing you often see people pick their feet up or kick their hips too high and have their backside leave the bench. You want to make sure that your feet are placed firmly on the ground. The best way to engage your legs and get proper leg drive is to drive your heels into the ground and try to push your toes out of the front of your shoes. This will allow you to turn on both your glutes and quads which will make for a more powerful press.
The pulling pattern is arguably the most important of the upper body for long-term shoulder health. The pull is commonly overlooked or underworked by beginners because you don’t normally see these muscles in the mirror. When working out a proper program has a 3:1 ratio pull to press. Meaning you are pulling three times more in total volume than you are pressing. Pulling motion involves pulling a weight toward your body or your body towards your hands, Sean Toy notes. You can opt for a vertical or horizontal movement, deciding on a pull-up or dumbbell row, for example. It is important to find the correct pulling patterns for you. If you have shoulder injuries then the vertical pull may not be the best option unless using a neutral grip. One of the best rowing variations is a Meadows Row. Tuck a barbell into a corner or place it into a Landmine and load the bar with the desired weight. Setting up in a staggered stance you want to kick your right leg back if you are working your right arm to allow the barbell to move unobstructed as you row. Bend forward at the torso to get your upper body as parallel to the floor as possible; usually, 45 degrees or less is the sweet spot. Row the weight up between your last rib and your pelvis to engage your lat muscles optimally This unilateral exercise allows you to create balance and stability by using one arm and being unsupported which engages your core so it’s a two for one!
Programming and Periodization (Put it all together)
Following a structured program is the most important part of getting results in the gym notes Sean Toy. People commonly will come into the gym and think “what should I do today?” That is like showing up to a presentation without preparing– it won’t go very well. You want to structure your workouts around what your specific goals are. If it’s to gain weight in muscle or lose bodyfat you want to enter the gym looking to perform better in your workout than the day before. If it’s one more rep or one more pound moved it’s important to follow a program and make progress. Sean Toy utilizes Progressive Overload to build up his client’s strength over the course of 4-8 weeks before making major changes to the programming. Once a structure is created one easy way to achieve progressive overload is to add reps week to week in order to continue to challenge the body. Week 1- 4 sets of 8 reps – Week- 2 4 sets of 10 reps Week 3- 4 sets of 12 reps Week 4- 4 sets of 15 reps. This is the most basic form of periodization and is a linear model. Typically with new clients something this simple can work to get results! As your training age goes up (the amount of time you are seriously working out in the gym) the more complex your training plan gets. Here is a sample of a three times a week program for beginners:
Plank 4 sets of 30 seconds
Goblet Squat 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Row 4 sets of 12 reps per arm
Reverse Lunge 4 sets of 8 reps per leg
Pallof Press (Anti Rotation) 4 sets of 12 reps
Trap Bar Deadlift 4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Press 4 sets of 8 reps
Seated Row 4 sets of 12 reps
Hollow Body Hold 4 sets of 20 seconds
Conventional Barbell Deadlift 4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 sets of 8 reps
TRX Facepull 4 sets of 12 reps
Sean Toy Co-Founded LEVO which specializes in programming for clients virtually all over the world. If you have any questions about how to structure your workout or to get to your fitness goals quickly and safely reach out to Sean at [email protected]
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes