After reading the previous 2 blogs I am sure you are starting to understand where I am coming from and where my training methods stem from. I am a firm believer in pre-habilitation and stopping the onset of injuries before they occur. This does not only mean performing exercises to strengthen the muscles and joints but it also means regular visits to specialists like massage therapists and osteopaths. But before you embark on an Internet search of pre-hab and re-hab you must first learn to move correctly.
In my world a beginner must be able to do 4 simple things before they can move on. This does not mean they cannot attempt other things but these 4 movements must be mastered. There may be some arguments against my thoughts and views and I am quite alright with that. But the logic is simple. The movements are simple and I find that’s what people need. So what follows are the 4 core (“core” not as in midsection but as in the most important exercises) movement any and all of my clients or classes must learn.
This movement HAS to be learnt, perfected and practiced as often as possible. When I ask people for the first time to squat with their backsides to the floor they look at me like I asked them to sell their children. “Isn’t that bad for my knees?” Is one statement. “I can’t do that I am too weak” is another. “Is there something else I can do?”, “I injured my knee 20 years ago and I was told to stay away from squats”…. blah blah blah!
Simply put… DO IT! And I shall tell you why. The reason for your week legs, sore back, injured knee, box full of excuses is that you stopped doing what comes naturally and got lazy. If I watch a person squat it shows me if they sit at a desk all day, if they wear stilettos, if they wear flats, if they have a muscular imbalance anywhere from the upper back to the heals. It is hands down the best exercise to check for strength/weakness, flexibility /tightness, mobility and balance. Don’t believe me, watch a toddler pick up a toy from the ground (amazing!). Once you see the perfect squat from someone so young you will realize what you have been doing sooo wrong for so long.
The squat uses every muscle in the leg, lower back and middle to upper back when performed correctly. In mine and many other peoples opinion the full squat is one of the best exercises you can perform for function in any sport and also everyday life.
For me this exercise is also a fundamental movement which should come naturally. But alas it does not. Common responses range from “I can’t do push ups” to which I reply “Have you tried?”. To the redundant statement “Can I do girl pushups?”. “Girl Pushups”?!?!?!? What in the name of Eugene Sandow are girl pushups?! FULL pushups, HALF pushups or BOX pushups people. Strength does not care if you are a guy or a girl. Try the FULL and if you can’t do it move your way down the scale. Simple isn’t it?
The pushup is fantastic movement for shoulder and elbow stability. It is also a great way to see if a persons core is functioning properly. Because the body has to be held in a straight, neutral line throughout the pushup the major muscles of the core (rectus abdomens, hip flexors) have to be working as stabilizers.
The pushup uses the pectorals, deltoids and triceps as the main muscles of the movement. It also uses the core muscles stated above in stabilization.
One of the most common mistakes in working out or in weight training is the emphasis on training a “problem” body part or training the parts we can see. Because of this we tend to train our abs, biceps(on their own), shoulders, front of the legs(quads) but we seem to forget what is is keeping us upright! While using the squat as a measure to help improve back strength it only works in a static form. In order to engage the back muscles in movement we need an exercise that pulls the hands towards the body. Simply put, we need a “pull” for our “push”up. We need a balance between the front and the back.
More often than not we need more pulling than we need pushing. Due to the nature of most peoples lifestyles and gym gym habits, the muscles at the front of the body are usually stronger and tighter than the ones at the back. All you need do is look at a friends posture from the side and realize how hunched they are! Its pretty bad when you realize how many people are shaped like this. 50 years ago this was unheard of in young people (anyone younger than 60). People were more physical and had labour intensive jobs that would require an upright position. The average job today has us hunched over a desk for over 40 hours a week. The body is smart. If you are in that position for long enough your body will assume the best physique for the said position. Hence “computer butt” for men and rolled hunched shoulders for women(and men too). Pulling exercises help to strengthen the muscles that pull the shoulders back, depress the shoulder blades and help maintain good posture.
The inverted pull-up uses the lats, rhomboids, traps and biceps and is a true “antagonists” to the muscles of the pushup (agonist).
This exercise was truly demonized by the health and fitness community alike for the longest time. With statements like “It causes too much stress on the back” or “A crunch is more effective to target abs”. Both of these statements have merit but the connotation that sitting up is bad. That makes no sense. If you cannot sit up you have a bigger problem than worrying about a sore back!
I have been a trainer for many years and people I would expect to be able to rifle out a set of sit ups are usually the worst. People who “look” in shape struggle the most it seems and even if they can do a sit up, the movement is jerk and is really scary to watch. It is true that the crunch targets the abdominals more because of the continual tension on the rectus abdomens(see my blog about the core) but it really fails functionally because it helps you achieve nothing. Why not train to sit up(something we must be able to do at least once a day) and have strong abdominals at the same time?
The sit-up primarily targets the rectus abdomens and hip flexors of the trunk.
Once a client has (re)learnt these movements it makes everything else a little simpler to perform. The lunge wold be the next progression for the lower body. The shoulder press for the shoulders and triceps, the Pull-up(assisted or non-assited)for the muscles of the back and the reverse crunch for the abdominal region.
Obviously these are not the only exercises that are performed by my clients but they do form the base of every workout they do and are performed every time I meet with a client. They form the core of what I believe. Lifting the body (squats), pushing the body (push ups), pulling the body (inverted pull ups) and folding the body (sit ups). All of these moments are fundamental in function and every day activity.
If you have any questions regarding the blog, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep your eyes open for my next blog on creating variations using the lift/push/pull method