Posted on: Wednesday, May 6th, 2020
One of the biggest hurdles in getting motivated to work out, no matter where you do it, is figuring out which exercises to take on once you get there. Luckily, though, with the right information, it’s actually pretty easy to put together an effective, full-body training program.
Top priority should be given to functional movements; the ones that help us once the gym doors close behind us, the ones that make our daily activities easier. This is the strength that you can use when you’re working around the house or playing sports, so mastering these types of movements will help you live and move better.
There are only five movement patterns you need to know to be sure you are getting a well-balanced, full-body workout that is functional enough to serve you in all areas of your life. If you choose a couple of exercises that hit each of them, you’ll be ready to rock and roll.
So, what are the five movement patterns you need to master, exactly? They include pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting and stabilizing your core. Each has a multitude of exercises that engage that specific pattern in varying ways, so there is lots of variety to choose from, too. Let’s break ’em down!
Push movements include all exercises that move weight away from your body in relation to your torso during the concentric portion of the movement. In daily life, this movement is used to push open a door or get yourself up off the floor. Doing these types of movements most commonly engage your triceps, chest, quadriceps, and shoulders, making those muscles stronger along the way.
Pushing exercises can be done in a horizontal or vertical plane and, while this part is a little more nuanced, we still want to try to get a variety of each of these into our workout plans. An example of a vertical pushing movement could be a dumbbell press, where you move the weight upward from your shoulders to overhead. A vertical pushing movement could be a bench press, where you move the weight horizontally in relation to your body, which is, in this case, lying parallel with the floor.
Training push muscles without giving equal attention to pull muscles, like our backs and biceps, can lead to muscle imbalances that reduce our ability to move well and increase our likelihood of injury. And because most people do more pushing than pulling already, adding in pull variations is critical to your overall fitness.
Furthermore, because we tend to spend a lot of time hunched over our computers or slouching on the couch, the muscles on the front side of our upper body tend to get tight while the muscles on the backside of our upper bodies become lax and underactive. Making sure that your workout plan integrates a mix of these movements with proper technique can help correct this while improving your posture and shoulder health in a big way.
Pulling movements include exercises that move weight toward your body during the concentric phase. Aside from a strong back, pulling exercises can help improve your grip strength, which translates to an easier time opening jars and carrying heavy groceries. Pulling exercises include pull-ups in the vertical plane and bent-over rows in the horizontal plane.
A strong posterior chain is essential for improving sports performance as well as daily life movements, and that’s precisely what the hinge movement does – it strengthens the muscles in the back of your body, including the large muscles in your back, your glutes and your hamstrings. When this movement is strong, you’ll be in a much better position to bend over to lift a heavy object safely amongst other things.
Hinging means bending at the hip with little-to-no knee movement. These hip-dominant exercises tend to be more of a pulling action, as opposed to a push, except that you should be pushing through your hips to activate your posterior chain. You see this movement in deadlift variations and – done properly – kettlebell swings, too.
No functional training program would be complete without mastering the mother of all lower body exercises: the squat. Squatting involves bending at the knees and hips while maintaining a neutral spine. It primarily engages your quads, adductors and glutes, but definitely integrates many other muscles as well. The glute strengthening power squats hold is particularly important because that can balance the work your quads take on in other activities, like jumping or running, which helps you avoid those nasty muscle imbalances we talked about earlier.
In your day-to-day life, you use squatting movements when you, for example, come up to standing from a very low seat. As opposed to hinging which primarily uses the hips, squats are a knee-dominant movement: the knee is the active lever while moving the weight. Exercises that fit this category include the traditional squat, as well as lunges (a single-leg movement which is knee-dominant in the same way) and leg presses.
The muscles of the core are known as the ‘powerhouse muscles’ for good reason; they provide the solid base upon which all other muscles can work to initiate healthy movement. When we talk about functional movements, the core stabilizing ones are key to your success.
When we say core, most people think about abs, but core muscles actually go way beyond them to include your transverse abdominis (the deepest internal core muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), erector spinae (a set of muscles in your lower back) and the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abdomen). And all of them are equally important when it comes to keeping your core balanced and strong.
The core stabilizing movement you are probably most familiar with is a plank, which most people think of as holding your body in a horizontal position, but you can also stabilize your core vertically, or upright, as well as within dynamic movements. This, then, adds movements like loaded carries (think an overhead dumbbell walk or farmer’s carry) to this list. It can also include anti-rotational movements, like Russian twists and bear crawls, that require you to stabilize through that movement.
To put together a well-balanced program, choose a couple of movements from each category and you’ll have a bomb full-body strength workout in the bag. To mix things up a little more, think about how you could use different implements in each movement: dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells will all have you adapt to a slightly different movement pattern and, therefore, give you a different challenge and outcome.
No weights at home? That’s totally cool, this is your chance to get creative! So long as your body positioning is strong, you can use just about ANYTHING you can find around you. You can also switch up the movements by changing your grip or stance from wide to narrow (or the reverse), doing the movements with a single arm or leg, or changing the tempo or incline (a great addition when you don’t have quite as much weight as you might use at the gym!). Incorporating a challenge in balance where it is safe to do so is also something to work with. There are so many options to keep it fresh and exciting.