There is no single exercise that needs to be included in every strength training program. Every person has their own unique capabilities and restrictions that will require different variations for different exercises.
So how do you program your own exercise routine?
Build a foundation in fundamental movement patterns. Focusing on movements instead of specific exercises allows you to choose variations that fit your body, skill set, and goals while staying pain free and gaining strength that translates into the movement of normal life.
Perfecting these movement patterns is the key to forging a strong and resilient body that is primed for the task of moving you through the rest of your life.
Only 6 movements, too simple right? Head into any gym and you’ll see these movement patterns butchered and performed differently by nearly everyone there. But, master the basics and there are limitless variations to challenge your strength, stability, and control.
The squat is the king of the lower body movements, and you do it multiple times a day. Every time you sit down or stand up you’re performing a squat, so yeah its important! Here are some simple cues to improve your squat mechanics:
Keep your feet straight with your feet, knees, and hips in near alignment.
Push your weight through the outsides of your feet while your toes grip the floor to maintain a proper arch in your foot.
Tuck your hips and brace your abs to avoid excessive arching through the low back.
Pull your shoulders back to keep the lats activated and the upper back from rounding.
Tuck your chin to maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom.
Your hips and knees should move at the same speed.
Your squat should be performed to a depth of 90 degrees in the knee, at which you should also see a 90-degree angle in your ankles and hips.
The hip hinge is one of the toughest movement patterns to master because we’re used to flexing through our spine versus moving the hips when we bend down to pick things up. We also spend so much time sitting that its tough to activate our glutes and get them to fire correctly. These things make the hip hinge an essential movement pattern to correct posture and stay injury and pain free.
Knees should bend slightly, and hips should move backwards as you bend over.
Lats should stay engaged and chin tucked to maintain a neutral spine.
Instead of trying to stand up straight, think about driving your hips forward by squeezing your glutes.
If you ever walk around, climb hills, or go up the stairs, then you perform a variation of a lunge. The lunge has similar mechanics to the squat, except they are performed unilaterally (one leg at a time). Here are some common mistakes and corrections to master the lunge.
Don’t keep your torso overly upright, there should be a slight bend in the hips and forward lean.
Keep your weight centered between your stance, don’t let your hips shift too much towards the front foot and allow your knee to drift over your toes.
Lats and core should be engaged to maintain a neutral spine throughout.
Both feet should nearly be in line, don’t take an overly wide stance.
Don’t allow the knee to sag in, keep your foot and knee in alignment.
Pushing is the most overused movement pattern in most exercise programs. Everyone loves to bench press and push-ups are a great way to build functional body strength, right? Unfortunately, modern posture has reduced most of our thoracic (mid to upper spine) and scapular (shoulder blades) mobility. We just don’t realize it because the shoulder joint itself is so mobile. But moving the shoulder joint without the shoulder blades for stability is what causes most shoulder injuries and shoulder pain is reported by 70% of people and runs over $50 billion dollars in US healthcare costs every year! So, let’s get this movement right.
The core should stay braced throughout the movement to avoid overarching through the low back.
When you push, the lats should be engaged, and the shoulder blades should protract.
IMPORTANT: During the eccentric phase, the lats should remain engaged and the shoulder blades should retract and depress. Not doing this will allow the elbow to pass beyond the torso and is a surefire way to cause shoulder pain!
The pull is just the opposite of the push. The importance of moving the shoulder blades along with the shoulder is equally as important during pulling as it is during pushing. The most common mistake when pulling is only moving the shoulder joint. You can easily spot this mistake if the elbow ends up behind the torso and the shoulder joint points forward instead of vertical.
Often, we forget that we need to be able to move weight through space. Whether you’re carrying groceries, loading the trunk of your car, or dunking a basketball, your performance will suffer if you don’t train your core in standing or while walking. Lifting and carrying heavy objects will help you avoid postural and core dysfunction and offset the damage of sitting and staring down at your phone and computer all day. Here are some cues to improve your carries:
Keep your shoulders back, elbows slightly bent, and your lats engaged.
Keep your core tight and avoid leaning when you take steps.
You can see how integral these movement patterns are in everyday life and why it’s so important to strengthen and master them. When you create your next workout routine, don’t program exercises, program movements.
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