The Best Exercises To Get You Strong

The best exercises to improve your strength and quality of life can be categorised into 4 key movements: the squat, push, pull and hinge.

These four movements form the basis of the popular exercises of the squat, bench press and deadlift. Although they are an effective way to gain strength and get a full body workout, they’re not for everyone. These exercises require a level of stability, flexibility and coordination that many people who are new to training or have injuries find difficult. You don’t have to train these specific exercises to get stronger, improve your body composition and energy levels.

Instead, at Plexus, we train all the major muscle groups using four key movements, rather than specific strength exercises. This allows our clients to get stronger, improve body composition and energy levels, regardless of their age or ability.

Squat

You’d be surprised how often you use the muscles trained in a squat in your everyday life. From getting out of bed in the morning, sitting down and standing up or bending down to play with your kids – the squat will make all of these easier.[1] When performed correctly, the squat is one of the key strength training movements which engages your lower body and core, but it is a very technical movement. For this reason, it can be difficult to perform for the many people who have bad hips or knees, muscle imbalances, or limited flexibility. Wherever possible, we help our clients overcome these challenges, but in the meantime we make sure they don’t miss out on the benefits of squats. These exercises will go through the squat pattern and train your legs efficiently:

Goblet squat

The goblet squat is great for beginners who are learning the squat movement because it uses the full range of motion while preventing common mistakes. It involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. The goblet squat shifts the load to the front of your core, easing pressure on your back.[2] It also reduces the need for shoulder mobility, which is a common issue for those new to training.

Split squat

The split squat is a type of single-leg squat which strengthens many of the same muscles as a traditional squat, but reduces the load on your lower back. This makes it a good alternative for those with back problems and it is excellent for improving hip mobility – a common issue faced by office workers. By training the split squat, you can improve your hip stability and overcome imbalances, which leads to greater mobility.[3]

Leg press

The leg press primarily works the quads and it is an easier exercise to learn since there’s less motor control involved as the machine sets the range of motion. It also doesn’t load the spine and is less fatiguing. This makes it a good exercise for those who want to target their leg muscles, without performing a complex movement.[4]

Safety bar squat

The safety bar squat is padded, and because it has handles that extend in front of your body, it eliminates the need for shoulder mobility. This makes it a good option for those with shoulder, elbow or other upper body pain.[5]

Push

The push is a movement pattern trained by the bench press and other strength exercises which build upper body strength. It will help make everyday tasks like pushing the trolley at the grocery store easier. For overall development, we recommend doing a press that is horizontal and another which is vertical. Alternatives to the bench press are:

Dumbbell press

The dumbbell press can build greater stability than the traditional barbell bench press and helps level out any imbalances. This exercise can be modified to work different muscles. For example, you may try an incline dumbbell press.

Incline press

You can do the incline press using the barbell or dumbbells. The incline press will focus more on the upper portion of the pectoral muscle and the shoulders. It helps to stabilise the shoulder and can be a suitable alternative for those recovering from certain shoulder injuries.[6]

Overhead barbell/dumbbell press

The overhead press can be performed using the barbell or dumbbells. The overhead dumbbell press will use more stabiliser muscles and allow for greater range of motion during the exercise. There’s also the option to perform this seated, which will reduce core activation.[7]

Pull

The pull movement trains the back and arm muscles and plays an important role in creating a strong back, structural balance and improving posture. It will help with picking up and carrying items like the groceries, gardening and picking up your kids. It is most commonly trained with a bent-over barbell row, or the pullup. However, just like the squat and push, there are alternative strength exercises.

Seated row

You can do a seated row using a cable row machine or by pulling a resistance band. Because the bent over row is performed standing, it uses more core stabilisation than the seated row.[8] As you are in a stable upright position, it is also a good exercise for those who have trouble with their hip hinge and lower back.[9]

Lat pulldown

You can do the lat pulldown on a cable machine, using similar muscles to the pullup but providing a more controlled movement. It also allows you to start lighter, and incrementally increase the weight as you grow stronger.[10]

Single-arm dumbbell rows

You can use the single-arm dumbbell rows to target the back and the core, either free-standing or with the support of a bench. They can help you correct any imbalances and develop stability.[11]

Hinge

The hip hinge movement is when you flex or extend your hips, and is commonly associated with a deadlift. Learning how to correctly perform and strengthen the hinge movement will help you safely pick-up items, have a better posture and stabilise and protect your back from injury. Although it is the fundamental movement for the deadlift, it is also used in barbell rows and other movements. Variations include:

Romanian deadlift

This exercise is great for teaching proper movement, including how to safely use the hips and stabilise the spine when lifting heavy objects.[12] The Romanian deadlift begins at a standing position and engages more of the glutes and hamstrings, whereas the traditional deadlift starts from the bottom position and engages more of the quads and mid-back.[13] Therefore, it is an effective way to increase range of motion.

45-degree back extension

The 45-degree back extension strengthens the lower back and glutes. It is ideal if you are a beginner and haven’t yet developed the body awareness required for deadlifts or good mornings.[14]

Block deadlift

By elevating the bar on blocks or plates you will reduce the range of motion. This is useful for those who initially struggle to get in position to pick the bar off the floor.[15]

 

In conclusion, the squat, push, pull and hinge movements are all essential exercises for building mobility, stability and overall strength. While it’s not essential to do all these specific exercises, it is important to train these four movements. As a result of building balanced strength, you will improve your quality of life and prevent pain by aligning your body.

To learn more about building balanced strength, book in a consultation today.

 

[1] https://www.aipt.edu.au/articles/2019/06/why-bench-press-why-deadlift-why-squat#:~:text=Well%2C%20for%20a%20start%2C%20deadlift,any%20other%20exercise%2C%20including%20squats.

[2] https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-goblet-squat-4589695

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/bulgarian-split-squat#benefits

[4] https://powerliftingtechnique.com/leg-press-vs-squat/

[5] https://powerliftingtechnique.com/safety-bar-squats/

[6] http://fitness-science.org/dumbbells-vs-barbells-dumbbell-shoulder-press-vs-barbell-shoulder-press/

[7] https://www.healthline.com/health/rotator-cuff-injury#causes

[8] https://www.livestrong.com/article/549033-seated-cable-row-vs-bent-over-barbell-row/

[9] https://www.stack.com/a/pros-and-cons-of-row-exercises#:~:text=Seated%20Cable%20Rows%20might%20be,scapulae%20than%20your%20lower%20back.

[10] https://www.coachmag.co.uk/chest-exercises/182/how-to-do-the-lat-pull-down

[11] https://www.stack.com/a/pros-and-cons-of-row-exercises#:~:text=Seated%20Cable%20Rows%20might%20be,scapulae%20than%20your%20lower%20back.

[12] https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/prosource/january-2016/5767/ace-technique-series-romanian-deadlift/#:~:text=The%20Romanian%20deadlift%20(RDL)%20is,lower%20body%20with%20one%20move.

[13] https://powerliftingtechnique.com/deadlift-vs-romanian-deadlift/

[14] http://coachmikeblogs.com/get-more-from-your-45-degree-back-hyper-extension/

[15] https://www.stack.com/a/best-deadlift-variation