Today I was cruising through the Twitterverse chatting with people about fitness, and offering some help wherever I can because, well, that's something I like to do.
There seemed to be a lot of people who want to start going to the gym and getting in shape, but they just have no idea what to do.
This, of course, deters them from ever going and that means they aren't crushing their goals. I like to see people crush their goals, so I decided to put this guideline together called 'What to do when you don't know what to do'.
Below you will see a list of movements and several variations of each one. You will learn not only how to do the movements, but also how to put them together to create a very solid workout plan. When you don't know where to start, this is where you should start.
This turned out about 10x longer than I anticipated, so take your time going through it.
Please, contact me if you have any more questions.
Here we go.
The Basic Movements
Regardless of your personal fitness goal, you can't go wrong with the basic movements and their variations. Whether your goal is fat loss, strength and muscle gain, athletic performance or general health, the basic movements are the perfect place to start, and the best tools you can use to build up your base of strength and conditioning.
Disclaimer: This information is meant to help a lot of people, and everyone has their own physical and health related limitations, so be sure you are cleared by a doctor before taking on a workout routine. Also, being that this is a general guideline for most people, some tweaks and changes may need to be made to the program in order to make it work safely for you. Consult a professional if you need help (just message me).
Alright let's get into the good stuff. Below are a list of the basic movements that you will include in your routines. I will provide several variations of each exercise so you can start with the easiest progressions, and as your strength, skill and conditioning improves, progress to the more difficult progressions.
Here's the list:
During your workout, I recommend starting with just 1-2 sets of each exercise (first time workout soreness is no joke!) and take your time to really learn and practice the movements. Remember to do only one variation of each exercise per workout.
During each set, do between 10-15 repetitions. If you can only do a few, that's OK! Start with that and go from there.
If you're really unsure about your form, ask a professional at your gym. Another option is to take a video of yourself and hit me with it on Twitter. I will be more than happy to help you with your form. @MitchHeaslip
The Big Daddy of them all. This is an exercise that will more than likely always be a cornerstone in your routine. Whether you want to get big, small, lean, or jacked, the squat is going to deliver. This movement effectively hits your glutes (butt muscles), quadriceps (thigh muscles, front of the leg), hamstrings (thigh muscles, back of the leg), and also calls on the low back muscles (spinal erectors) and abs for some support.
The first variation is going to be a body weight box squat, as shown below: (BIG shout out to Fitocracy for the excellent video demo, check them out at www.fitocracy.com )
Some major keys to note here in the video:
The next variation includes some added resistance for an extra challenging aspect. This is called the Goblet Squat, and here is how it is done:
You'll notice in this video the basic form of the squat hasn't changed from the original body weight box squat, only here I'm holding a weight under my chin, and I don't have a box to sit back on.
I'm partial to the goblet squat because the weight in front of the body teaches you to keep your chest up while you sit back with your hips.
Finally, we have the barbell back squat. This is the last squat variation I am going to include in this article, but there are many more for you to learn about. These will provide some variety though, and you will NEVER outgrow the back squat. Here is a demo:
I happen to place the barbell high up on my back, and this is just personal preference. You will need to play around and find your favorite bar position. Many people prefer to have the bar lower, just above their shoulder blades. Regardless of your bar placement, the following things need to be considered when setting up for a barbell back squat:
The lunge, much like the squat, hits the entire lower body hard and effectively. It also has some added benefits. The lunge is a single leg exercise, which creates balance in your lower body, it helps prevent injuries, and will help build balance and develops the glutes. This isn't just a big plus for aesthetic reasons (lookin' good), it also builds proper hip function for better movement quality in everyday life. This will also help you prevent low back pain and knee issues.
First up, my favorite.
The reverse lunge earned its name because of the step backwards you take during the movement. I like the reverse lunge because it takes a ton of the pressure off the knee that you find in a forward lunge, and is a really great movement for the glutes. Here's what it looks like:
I may be using dumbbells in the video, but these work just fine with your own body weight. As far as form goes, all the same rules of the squat apply:
The next variation is the step-up. OK it isn't a lunge, but it is a single leg exercise that hits the same muscles as the lunge. Here is what a step-up looks like:
The same rules of form apply to the step up as they do with the other lower body movements. Keep the chest up, weight on the front heel, an push the hips back as you descend to the bottom of the movement. Be sure to drive off the forward leg, and try not to jump off the back leg.
The final variation for today is called the Bulgarian split squat. This is a challenging move, regarding both balance and conditioning. Here is what a split squat looks like:
As you can see there are similarities to the squat and lunge. The chest stays up, hips are pushed back as I descend, the weight is on my front foot (the heel) and my shoulders are pulled back.
The big difference with this exercise is the back foot. It's elevated on a bench, and this shifts a TON of the tension to the glutes. Learn this movement with your body weight only, and as you progress you can add some weight in the form of dumbbells.
Bend (Hip Hinge)
For most people, this is the toughest movement to learn. This just isn't a pattern we use in everyday life. I'm not saying we shouldn't be using it, but we don't. Our movements get a little lazy and we basically remove our hips from the equation, so when we call on them to do some work in the gym, the have no idea what to do.
The following exercises will fix that, but be sure to practice them before adding much/any weight. Your low back is at risk with poor form during these movements, but I'll show you how to do them safely.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
This move is going to hit your hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors (low back muscles) very effectively. Here is what it looks like:
You will notice some similarities to the squat and lunge regarding the upper body posture.
Th next and final variation of the bend I am going to include today is the barbell stiff leg deadlift. This is very similar to the dumbbell version, only using the barbell the weight is forced to stay in front of the body, and you can load it up as heavy as you can safely handle.
Here is a demo:
Aside from the fact you're using a barbell instead of two dumbbells, the movement is pretty much identical. Both of these are amazing movements for developing hip strength and power, building up the glutes, hamstrings and strengthening the low back muscles.
The critical point regarding form is that you keep your chest up as you push your hips back. This will keep your spine in a neutral position, not allowing it to round forward. That forward rounding is a very risky position for the spine, and you need to avoid that.
There are many, many more hip hinge exercise variations, and eventually we can get into that. But for now, use these two to build up your strength and skill in this exercise.
Pressing exercise come in a HUGE variety of forms, but we're going to cover the first few you should get to know. The first one being the mighty push up. Here is a push up done on the toes. But remember, the same movement can be done on your knees if you aren't strong enough ye to do them on your toes (you will be soon though).
Here is what a push up should look like:
Here are a few points to consider.
The push up is going to hit your triceps (back of the arm), deltoids (shoulders), and pectoral muscles (pecs, chest muscles). It also has the added benefit of including some solid abdominal work, and they are also a great movement for improving shoulder health and function.
There's a reason these have been around longer than time itself. They are a great exercise.
The next pressing movement is going to be a dumbbell press. In this case, an incline dumbbell press. This exercise can be done at a variety of angles, but we're going to use a 35-45 degree angle for this demo. Here is what it looks like:
This exercise will hit a similar set of muscles as the push up, only the angle of the bench shifts the tension upward. With the incline dumbbell press, you're going to strengthen the upper chest and shoulders, as well as the triceps.
A couple things to consider in the set up of this exercise:
The final variation I will show you for pressing is the one arm dumbbell shoulder press. As the name suggests, this exercise focuses on the shoulders, and also includes some help from the triceps. Here is what it looks like (thanks again Fitocracy for the excellent demo video of this exercise):
A couple things to note here regarding the form:
Pulling exercises are going to train your upper back, lats (latissimus dorsi), and biceps. These movements are also very important because they can positively affect our posture and undo a lot of the damage we do while sitting all day with less than perfect posture.
The first variation I will show you is the inverted row, also called a let-me-up. You'll see why in a second:
A few points about the form:
The next pulling variation is going to be from a different angle. It's called the lat pull down, and true to its name, it targets your lats and your biceps. It is another good movement for improving your posture when done properly as well. Here's a demo:
There are a few key differences between the lat pull down and the inverted row (or any row for that matter). Some of them include:
Just like everything else, keep the chest up and out, pull the shoulders back and down as you pull the bar downward, and pull the bar towards your upper chest, just below your collar bones.
The last pulling variation we'll go through today is the one-arm dumbbell row. Here is what it looks like:
This movement is great because it trains one arm at a time. This eliminates imbalances between your arms, prevents injury, and prolongs the set. A longer set means it is more metabolically challenging, and that means more muscle, more fat loss and more change in your body.
Just like the other pulling movements, keep your chest puffed out, squeeze your shoulders back and together as you row the weight, keep your elbow tucked in to your side, and pull the weight towards your stomach, not towards your chest.
Finally we have some core work. To make sure we're on the same page here, when I say 'core' I'm referring to the muscles making up your mid section, primarily your abdominals, obliques and spinal erectors.
The first exercise we'll go through are called supermans (or superwomans). These hit the low back muscles, the hamstrings and some upper back as well. The really nice thing about these is that they also stretch out muscles that are typically tight in most people-- the hip flexors, abdominals, and pecs-- while strengthening the back.
Here is a demo, once again courtesy of Fitocracy:
In this movement you're raising your arms (which are in a Y formation) and legs off the ground, pausing for one second at the top, and coming back down. It also looks like you're flying like superman, so there's also that.
The next movement I like to introduce is the plank. The abdominals are built for stabilization, and this exercise trains them that way. Here is a look at a plank, courtesy of Fitocracy:
The goal is simple, maintain this position for an extended period of time. Similar to the push up, you want to avoid letting your hips sag down, but you also don't want to shoot your butt up in the air either.
Once you start to feel like it is difficult to maintain form, end your set. Make sure to time your sets so you can track your progress.
But Mitch, you didn't even mention cardio! Believe it or not, you will get all the fat burning, muscle sculpting you need from these exercises if you work hard at them. With that said, there's nothing wrong with a little cardio, and it should be included for overall health and performance reasons.
Keep it simple. Find something you enjoy, whether it be a machine at the gym, hiking, or a sport. Do it for between 20-40 minutes, and work hard enough that you're breathing harder than normal, but you're still able to talk and carry a conversation.
This will be an excellent in combination with your resistance plan, and will offer some added fa loss benefits. Of course, all of these protocols work even better when paired with proper nutrition, but that's another article for another day. Actually, search my site, I talk a lot about it.
The fitness industry seems to make this more complicated than it needs to be, but don't let it overwhelm you. The basic movements are the cornerstone to ANY solid training plan, and you're going to practice and master them. Work on getting stronger and more proficient at these movements, complimenting the workouts with some cardio and solid nutrition, and you are officially Crushing your goals.
I also recommend resistance training three days per week and if you're doing cardio, include it two to three times per week.
To get things started, here is a sample workout using the movements listed above that you can use as your first workout. If you've been working out and need something a little more challenging, feel free to use some of the more advanced variations, and adding 1-2 more sets to your movements.
Body weight box squat: 1-2 sets of 15 reps (rest 90 seconds between each set)
Stiff Leg Dumbbell Deadlift: 1-2 sets of 15 repetitions (rest 90 seconds between each set)
Push-Up: 1-2 sets, as many reps as possible while maintaining good form-- as soon as the repetitions slos down, end the set (rest 90 seconds between each set).
Reverse Lunge: 1-2 sets of 8 repetitions per leg (rest 90 seconds after each set)
Inverted Row: 1-2 sets, as many reps as possible with good form, once you are unable to get your chest all the way to the bar, end the set (rest 90 seconds after each set).
Supermans (or womans): 1-2 sets of 12-15 repetitions (rest 60 seconds between sets).
I hope you found this information useful, and a great place to begin your mission for a stronger, leaner and fitter body.
There are a few other factors to consider when you begin a mission like yours that will be an important addition to your work in the gym. A few of those factors are:
Hiring a coach is a great way to ensure your success with these three factors as well as your training in the gym.
For a Free coaching consultation with a fat loss and strength expert (that's me!), click the link below and I will contact you shortly.