This post deals with the 5 most standard movements that the human body is intended to perform while bearing weight. There are other movements (such as running or swimming) but are not necessarily meant to be performed bearing a heavy load. There are also other weightlifting exercises that work well, but if it is one of these 5 movements, it trumps anything else.
The 5 movements are:
1. Squat (simultaneous extension of the knee and hip joint)
2. Hip hinge (extension of the hip joint with no change or minimal change at the knee)
3. Loaded Carry (holding something heavy)
4. Pull (self explanatory, but must caption this with the fact that powerlifters use the word “pull” as slang for deadlifting; a deadlift is actually a hip hinge and a loaded carry combined)
5. Push (also self explanatory)
If you are a man and your goal is to become as muscular as possible, you absolutely need to be focusing on improving poundage on lifts that fit into one of each of these categories. Here we are, once again talking about indicators of progress.
This post is going to ignore conditioning, and ignore balancing absolute strength indicators off of conditioning/bodyfat % related indicators. This post will be of most use to skinny guys trying to get big, and for those who do not care too much how they look and are trying to become inhumanly strong.
Each of the basic movements is equally important as all the others. Overly focusing on one movement over another frequently leads to joint damage and injury (most often seen with favoring pressing such as dumbell shoulder press and bench press over pulling exercises)
1. Squat- I start with squat for important reasons. For one thing, lifting heavy loads causes the HPTA to produce more testosterone, so if you are a guy and want badass huge shoulders, you have to squat. For females, not only does the preceding statement still apply, but squats are your way to improve your butt.
Here are your squats: Regular barbell back squats, front squats, weighted lunges, bulgarian split squats, machine squats, hacksquats, smith machine squats. Pick one, and focus on improving it. Which exercise works best for you will depend on your unique bodytype, and in general variety is better than sticking with one forever (which is another topic I have written about).
And also: The most common form mistake is allowing the bar to travel anteriorly in front of the knees (Towards face/bellybutton is anterior, towards back of head/butt is posterior). This will cause the “exercised” muscles to be more the upper glutes and spinal erectors, and less the lower (and more powerful) part of the glutes, and the quadriceps. Sometimes correcting this is a matter of going lighter and forcing correct form, sometimes it is a matter of shoulder blade positioning. Typically, if you make sure your biceps are facing up, and your elbows are facing the floor, you will descend into the proper position more easily than if you allow your elbows to flare out to the back.
2. Hip hinge– Here are your basic hip hinges: Deadlift, hangclean, stiff leg deadlift, good mornings, and squats performed with terrible form (last one is true, but also meant as a joke).
Deadlifts are pretty self explanatory. You start with the bar on the ground. You are finished when you are standing upright.
The only area that seems to be of confusion: Bending over with the spine alligned straight, is different from rounding your back. It is ok, and a standard part of the movement to bend over and pick up the bar. The key is that the bend should occur at the hips. Do not allow your spine to curve forward. 9 times out of 10, unlike squatting, which is usually practiced with horrendous form, deadlift form comes naturally to most individuals. In most cases, people are afraid to deadlift because they do not understand the difference between bending forward, and rounding their spine, so they think they are doing something wrong, but they actually aren’t.
Most experienced deadlifters will tell you, it is almost impossible to rep the weight like another exercise, without form breaking, This is why most heavy deadlifting powerlifters take a half second break, let go of the bar, and re-set their feet, in between every repetition. As you can imagine, after descending with the weight after one rep, you rarely finish the repetition in the position shown above. That is the purpose of resetting between repetitions. Deadlifting with a “touch and go” tempo, as far as tapping the bar off the floor and then continuing to rep the weight, usually leads to bad form…. after the first rep.
I would need a separate post to explain how to perform hangcleans and other hip hinge variations. I explained the main form of hip hinge, and I must add, deadlifting is a hip hinge for the lower body, but the fact that the hands are holding the (heavy) weight also makes it a loaded carry.
3. Loaded Carry- This basic movement works the musculature of the upper back, and well as hand and grip strength. Examples are farmers walks (probably the best for upper back develpment), shrugs, deadlifts, and rack deads and deadlift variations.
A lot of the muscle mass in the upper back is there for isometric contractions while simply holding onto heavy weight. If you ever see a guy, with big pecs, huge arms, abs, and a small neck and generally small feminine frame, it is because they are neglecting this basic movement. This is the main thing that builds huge upper back and shoulders. I do not need pictures to explain how to stand while holding something heavy.
4./5. Push/Pull- I am grouping push and pull together because your indicators will be most helpful if you choose antagonistic pushing and pulling exercises. This just means they should be as close to opposites as possible.
Here are your push variations: Bench press, incline bench press, dumbell bench, dumbell shoulder press, military press, dips etc…
Here are your pull variations: barbell rows, leaning back lat pulldowns, dumbell rows, chinups, pullups, upright rows.
Like I said it is best to choose two antagonistic exercises as your indicators… So if you use chinups as your pulling indicator, you should use some form of overhead pressing as your pushing indicator. If you use bench press as your pushing indicator, you should use some form of row as your pull. Likewise, if you use dips as your push, you should use upright rows as your pull. Doing things this way just makes sure your two upper body maximal strength indicators are guaging the strength of the highest % of your total upper body muscle mass.
If an athlete focuses on improving in all 5 of these areas, muscle will be added to every area of the body. Even if you don’t care about leg size (I don’t, personally), you should still be squatting and deadlifting. Heavy lower body exercises lead to increased testosterone, increased testosterone leads to a faster metabolism, and a faster metabolism leads to a six pack. 99% of men in gyms just do push/pull, which is why 30% of their body is well developed.
For female clients who are afraid of becoming large and masculine looking, all the above advice applies, but I tend to intentionally neglect the loaded carry. Women can have very well developed upper bodies and still look feminine and sexy,it is usually just trap and neck development that needs to be avoided. It is a shame that female pro athletes and wrestlers on steroids have scared so many women away from lifting weights, yet any gym I attend, the women with the nicest bodies are lifting, and the women who look the worst are on ellipticals. Think about it….