The Major difference makers
There are just some exercises that are just more useful than others when it comes to the average person and their results in general fitness. Not all exercises are created equal in my eyes. I’m going to list and talk about a few of my favorite exercises that I have seen change people dramatically. The exercises I have listed I feel can make someone stable, strong, balanced, flexible, and somewhat conditioned if done properly with the proper schemes.
Obviously all these things are relative, as all things are, and to be held to an impossible standard of objectivity. You aren’t going to become a yogi god overnight just by squatting different rep ranges and cadences, but you will most likely improve your natural range of motion in your hips if you are covering a good range of motion, let alone working on the mobility to improve an actual movement pattern.
Just hanging alone is a stretch through the shoulders that is worth getting into your weekly routine if not daily. Pull ups are a fundamental movement that can save your life if you ever get into a real life cliff hanger. The lats are big proponents in most pulling movements so pull ups are the quickest way to get them fully engaged in pulling motions. If you pull to the chest you benefit from working a bunch of the stabilizing muscles around the spine as well. I find the easiest way to get my people comfortable with pull ups is to just teach them to hang first then to do partial reps even if they are a inch in motion and to gradually have the person do more each time and use the assistance of bands secondarily.
Pull ups also build grip strength very quickly and grip strength is what separates the strong from the weak. No matter how big and strong you are if you do not have a solid grip you will be limited until you get a grip. Pull ups are great for everyone…yes even the overweight. The hang will teach everything even if the pull is a process and once someone can pull themselves up they are on the road to being strong and healthy.
Basic Compound Exercise
It’s an upper compound exercise about equivalent to what the squat is to the lower body. You will be doing a ton of work for one movement which will get your metabolism on the rise quickly and get the benefits of raw strength as well. Doing movements that are more work just burn more calories which just means you have the potential to keep fat off and burn more fat. These types of compound movements just bring your workouts and results to the next level in so many ways.
Push Up Stabilizers
These are a staple for my training with my clients. Push up stabilizers will show you a lot about where someone is at as far as imbalances go and where weakness may be in someones kinetic chain as far as stabilizer strength goes. So this is primarily used as a TVA activation for me, but like I said it will expose much more than TVA weakness if there is any. You can do 100 crunches a day which is great if you want to work that front rectus abdominis area, but if you do not have a strong transverse abdominus then you are not truly strong. This becomes especially true for athletes which is why you will almost never find a true athlete that doesn’t hold this position with relative ease. As far as general population goes it’s a great baseline.
You don’t have to be mentally stable to understand the benefits of physical core stability. Doing a simple stabilizer like this can make the difference once you start to work with the progressions and added resistance protocols that are possible. One sport that comes to mind is wrestling. If you lack TVA endurance then you are pretty much screwed in a sport like wrestling and If you can’t stabilize properly there’s no way you will be moving in any type dynamic stability manner during your sport.
This is at the top of the list of simple effective exercises which is obviously why it’s listed. Get down on the floor and hold an extended push up position and hold it as long as possible. That is the most basic version, but tends to be effective for most of the general population I’ve worked with to begin with. As people get stronger it becomes a little more complex, but not by much which is why I love using this to show people how simple it can be to exercise just using a no brainer isometric hold. You engage the shoulders, triceps, chest, both abdominal walls, hips, glutes, quads….pretty much fully body isometric here that can’t fail.
Ok I’ll try to keep this simple and as short as I can without going off. Squats are pretty much the granddaddy of all exercises in my opinion. I love them as frustrating as they can be at times and utterly exhausting. There are a hundred squat movements and variations which is awesome. A simple bodyweight air squat will go a long way, but when you start loading a bar something magical happens…you grow. If your form is good you will get tremendous results from doing good squats with weight. Obviously this depends on intensity and rep ranges etc as well, but overall squats can change a persons life and I’m sure plenty of you reading this who have squatted on a regular basis are nodding your head agreeing.
Basic yet complex
As simple as it is for some to just sit ass to grass it still may take time to get there if you’re not one of the lucky ones who get good natural full hip mobility. The squat is a fundamental movement for every human. Everyone can and should squat as long as their joints are working properly. It is one of the top exercises for hip explosion and hip extension if not the best which is reason alone to do them. You have a mass of stabilizing muscle tissue throughout your hips, the type of stuff that not only need to move it likes to move so squats are pretty much the answer as far as lower body exercises go. As you go deep into a squat with good form your hips will thank you later in life.
Variety is the spice
One of the best things about squats is there are many version of them and many ways to do them. High Bar Back squat, Front Squat, Single leg squat, Goblet squat, split squat, sissy squat, air squat, frog squat, megaman squats, badonka squat…ok so I made up the last 2, but you get the idea right? There are a ton of different squat variations so it should take a while for anyone to get tired of doing squat variations and styles.
Everyone wants nice legs, but how many people do you see squatting religiously to get them? Chances are very few and the ones that do don’t always do them properly or to a good depth. Squats are the exercise to make your passion if you want the best legs exercise can build. They can hit quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors very nicely. If you eat enough protein and squat like and animal you will get leg growth after some time. It’s all in the consistency. Squatting is a lifetime event it’s no flavor of the month exercise by any means.
Standing Overhead Presses
Pressing in general is a basic important function in any workout routine. The overhead press is a great way to build base strength pushing power and build the core strength to stabilize weight overhead. Strengthening the shoulders should be right behind the priority of strengthening hips and spine. Really every joint serves its own purpose and is almost equal in importance, but shoulders and shoulder strength along with shoulder stability are things that everyone should focus on when doing any upper body movements.
Believe it or not overhead presses can and will strengthen the rotator cuff if done properly. There are a bunch of mobility and stability exercises that should be done to make sure you can do good presses without damaging that tissue if you are including these in your routine regularly. Warming up is a great way to get that area primed up so you decrease risk of injury. If you are the type of person that needs to do 1RM by all means go ahead just know whenever you start pushing your bodies limit you will increase the chance of serious injury, but again warming up and taking precautionary stretching and exercising may decrease those chances. Don’t let rumors and myths of overhead pressing being the devils favorite exercise to mess you up scare you away from one of the better movements to get fast results. Just be smart when doing them.
When doing an overhead press watch what happen through a persons kinetic chain. You will see pretty much every joint have to stabilize and engage heavily. This alone makes it a great movement just for stability. I will sometimes have people hold the lockouts to stabilize which will condition their bodies to not only be able to move the weight , but to hold it correctly. The more we do this the quicker the improvement on the movement. This is a full kinetic chain lift which will do more for you than any seated machine will.
Hanging Knee/Leg Raises
I know not everyone will agree with me here, but I really don’t care. I see Leg and knee raises as a staple. It tells me a lot about how strong someone truly is in their core. Most specifically it will be a real measurement of the strength in the hip flexors as well as the rectus abdominis aka “ the four/six/eight pack” muscle. As enamored as I am by the TVA these muscles are big time for having a good posterior to anterior chain balance. If someone can’t do a simple leg or knee raise from the floor, let alone hanging, that’s a huge red flag for me and tells me we have some work to do in that area.
These muscles are used in so many lift that it becomes crucial to make sure they are strong enough to balance out the bigger more intensive lifts. If not you are only risking bad form and injury. Doing hanging leg raises or toe to bars will help strengthen your abdomen to the point where you will have no problems front squatting bigger weights in no time while maintaining a decent spinal alignment. Most free weight movements that you do will incorporate hip flexor and rectus engagement so don’t dismiss this exercise since it’s pretty much king for these groups.
While abs may be “made in the kitchen” by eating the right amount that works for you hanging leg raises are the exercise to do to get that six pack poppin once you wash away that fat over them. This is a great muscle builder for abs and overall the best bang for your time in the gym. They are hard, but most things worth having are worth working for right? Getting some abs that pop can be a matter of some hanging leg raises every week in your routine. There are all kinds of modifications and variations as well so you shouldn’t get too tired of these bad boys.
Last note on these is grip strength. They will improve grip strength which is always a fantastic bonus for those of us who want a nice firm grip!
The point of this post is not to say this is all you need to do for exercise, it’s just to give some of my insight to exercises that will be sure to improve you all around and get you to the next level if you are not already doing them. I left out a few that I don’t think are quite as important. A huge lift I love, but not always for everyone are deadlifts. If you can work them in with good form great, but I see so many people who shouldn’t be deadlifting without a coach that I don’t think it’s always as beneficial as some make it out to be. I’m comfortable with these exercises because I think you could pretty much use just these and cover most of your bases. Push ups can also go on this list, but those can be added to the stabilizers at any point so it can be a progression into movement there with isometric holds.
I hope you all enjoy my insight and get the benefits of the “Difference makers” when it comes to your workouts.