Here we are, first week of January. Happy New Year! How were your holidays? Totally amazing, right? You’re well-rested and well-fed and ready to CRUSH your goals for 2019!
How many of you have been to the gym this week? How many times? Or do you avoid it because it’s crazy town? The wait for the squat rack is a lineup longer than a Black Friday sale at Best Buy? I feel you.
Or maybe you’ve been steering clear of the gym because you’re not exactly sure what you’re supposed to do while you’re there. Run endlessly on a loop without actually getting anywhere, like a hamster? Grunt explosively in between taking selfies in the gym mirrors while you practice your posing and search for the best lighting to create muscle definition?
Never fear! Everyone you see strolling nonchalantly around in spandex (in public!) had a first day in the gym. The staff at the gym are there to provide guidance and direction (and if they don’t, it might be time to find a new gym!). Seasoned gym-goers are usually more than happy to help and impart their vast (ahem) wisdom and knowledge. Just don’t interrupt in the middle of a set to ask questions or for a spot.
To help you ensure that you make the most of your time in the gym, I’ve created this week’s Instagram series and Facebook posts on the foundational exercises that a well-rounded strength training program should include. Now, ALL of these exercises do not need to be included on each and every day, but they should be distributed fairly evenly across your total workouts for the week.
Are you ready to get your sweat on? Grab those headbands and legwarmers and let’s get ready to read!
The squat has a pretty basic, solid name. You might not realize what a fancy-schmancy compound movement it really is! The humble squat is a triple-joint (hips, knees and ankles) movement that involves flexion and extension of each joint over the course of the movement. No need to be intimidated though – we “squat” routinely each day, especially on the “throne,” as it were. Toddlers and young children are also squat masters. It’s time to recapture your youth with the awesome squatsome!
The squat is a great candidate for the first exercise after your warm up. Yes, that’s right, you still need to warm up. Be sure to start each workout with approximately ten minutes of light to moderate cardiovascular activity such as brisk walking to get your core temperature up, increase blood flow and breathing rate, lubricate your joints to get them primed for movement and get you mentally IN THE GAME for your sweat session. Getting large muscle groups working with compound movements (such as when you recruit the muscle groups in your legs for a squat) should be prioritized in the workout before smaller muscle groups and isolated movements.
Form tips: keep your eyes level and back neutral. Tip forward ever so slightly at the hips as if you were craning to see over a high balcony but were afraid of heights. Keep your weight centered through all four corners of your feet as you bend your knees and sink straight down with a neutral spine. Avoid leaning forward or back.
Inhale as you lower to a comfortable depth for YOUR body. Pause and make sure your knees are tracking directly over the center of your feet and not collapsing inward or bowing out. Exhale forcefully as you push firmly back up to a standing position.
Squat variations are endless: bodyweight, back squat, front squat, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc. Ask a trainer or check out YouTube for form tips and variations.
Like the squat, this is another triple-joint (hips, knees and ankles) movement that involves flexion and extension of each joint over the course of the movement. It can emphasize the posterior chain (back of the legs and booty) muscles as well as the upper body and grip strength because you hold the weight with your hands down by your knees. This is another exercise that goes well near the front end of your workout.
Form tips: keep your back and neck neutral. Let the weight hang down by your knees, creating as straight a line as possible from your shoulders to your hands. Avoid rounding your upper back or letting your shoulders round forward. Your eyes can be gazing slightly down to maintain a neutral neck position. Looking up while lifting creates strain at the back of the neck and is a common mistake and risk of injury.
There are many deadlift variations: conventional, sumo, stiff-legged (Romanian), dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc. As above, ask a trainer or check out YouTube for form tips and variations.
It’s time for some more lower-body love with this staple movement. You can begin with a stationary split squat (one leg forward and one leg behind you) – if needed, hold onto something for balance. You can make it harder by adding weights and/or movement: reverse lunges, forward lunges, side lunges, elevated lunges, walking lunges…my personal favourite is the rear foot elevated split squat, also known as a Bulgarian split squat (those Eastern Europeans – pretty serious weightlifters!). It’s a stationary lunge with the rear foot elevated on a bench or other sturdy platform.
Form tips: the entire front foot should be firmly planted. The back foot is on the ball of the foot. Maintain at least a ninety degree angle in the knees and keep an upright posture with ears over shoulders and shoulders over hips throughout. And of course, you can always ask a trainer or check out YouTube for form tips and variations.
In your body there are groups of muscles that push, and they are opposed (or balanced) by muscle groups that pull. For example, the quadriceps muscles on the front of your thighs push during a squat or leg press and they are balanced by the hamstrings muscles on the backs of the thighs that pull as you complete a deadlift or do a hamstring curl.
Now the upper body can get in on the action. Consider push-pull pairs like push-ups and pull-ups, or chest presses and rows or triceps presses and biceps curls. Save the smaller muscle groups for later in the workout. Hint: the largest muscle groups are generally part of or near the core of the body (i.e. legs & booty, chest and back), whereas the smaller muscle groups are in the limbs, with size and strength decreasing the farther you get from the core (think biceps and triceps, forearms and finally calves and shins). What other push-pull pairs can you think of?
Form tips: when you’ve selected your push and pull exercises, ask a trainer or check out YouTube for form tips and variations.
Planks / Core Exercises
Round out your programming with additional targeted work for your core, including your various abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the lower back, hip flexors and booty!
Of course, your core should always be engaged during all other exercises as well, to create a stable base of support from which all movement originates. That’s true whether you are performing a heavy squat or a light biceps curl.
In addition to engaging your core, you can also do targeted core exercises like planks, sit-ups (avoid pulling on the neck!), crunches, and leg raises, which get your hip flexor muscles in on the action as well.
Form tips: when you’ve selected your core exercises, ask a trainer or check out YouTube for form tips and variations.
Speaking of trainers, I’ve actually created two separate series for core exercises. Each series includes thirty workouts and each and every workout is exactly eight-minutes in length. These are great to add on for core work at the end of your training session OR as a quick stand-alone session when you’re pressed for time. You can even mix and match from the two series!
You can grab the full series, complete with full-length workout videos for just $14.95 (no shipping and handling!).
Have questions about an exercise or an entire program? I’m always happy to chat!