There are thousands of different exercises out there, and it can be intimidating, going into the gym for the first time and not knowing where to start. Instagram is a minefield of people in great shape… giving out bad advice. It’s so easy to get caught up in what everyone else seems to be doing and never make any progress.
So what should you be doing? What makes a ‘good’ exercise? Firstly, it’s important to state that the only good exercise is the one your doing, cliche but something is better than nothing so just get moving. However, if your goal is to build muscle, get stronger, perform better, not all exercises are created equal. There are three key aspects of any good exercise…
It’s a Compound Movement – This means there is movement at multiple joints throughout the exercise and you work multiple groups of muscles. You’re not going to find any bicep curls or delt flys on this list, they have their place but they are not the foundation of an optimal programme.
It can be Progressively Overloaded – Building muscle and getting stronger requires you to constantly work harder, lift more, do more reps. There are no booty bands on this list because what do you do once that heavy band isn’t heavy for you anymore, just call it a day for your progress? The sky is the limit for how much you can progressively overload these movements.
It’s Simple – this is subjective of course. These movements do take some time to learn and it is 100% worth learning them properly, get a coach, watch tutorials, whatever you need to do. However, these movements aren’t so technical that it will take you months or years to learn to do them safely.
5. Pull Up
The king of all bodyweight exercises, the humble pull up should be a staple in any programme, whether your goal is strength, aesthetics or performance. Want to grow a big back, hit those pull-ups and develop your lats, traps and biceps simultaneously all while getting stronger. It’s so versatile, the strength you gain will transfer into your other big lifts like your bench press and deadlift and it can be easily scaled to make it easier or harder depending on your level of ability.
4. Power Clean
Jump higher, run faster, squat more, this exercise here does it all. It’s a little bit more complex to learn and it may take some time but that investment pays off big time. This is my number 1 performance exercise for any athletes looking to increase their explosive power, the power clean works on producing high amounts of force through the ‘triple extension’ of the hips, knees and ankles, which is a movement pattern we also see mimicked within almost all sports.
3. Bench Press
What do you bench bro? Bench press might seem like it’s just the ultimate demonstration of gym bro life. And it is… but it’s also one of the best ways to build upper body strength and muscle. It will help build your chest, triceps and anterior (front) deltoids, as well as increasing your overall pressing strength. A strong bench press will give you a solid foundation on which to build an impressive upper body.
This movement might well be the ultimate test of strength, how much can you pick back up and put down again. The deadlift is a true full body movement, it engages almost every major muscle group in the body, this makes it a great exercise for adding a few pounds of muscle. It also has a huge functional impact, even though as humans we now spend a lot more time in front of a computer than doing any sort of manual labour, picking stuff up still remains an essential part of our existence, being accustomed to the deadlift is going to help with this.
*Bonus benefit – Strong, round, powerful glutes! Guy or girl everyone wants that peachy booty
The squat, you know you should be doing it, but somehow you still try to avoid it. Squats put huge amounts of stress on the lower body and will help you build those legs and glutes you’ve always dreamed of. Performed properly the squat will also help you develop core strength and mobility in the lower body, which is essential for injury prevention and overall functionality. The squat is a movement that we learn at a young age and we need to perform all the way through to old age, from getting out of the sofa to getting off the toilet the squat is everywhere, so it should definitely be in your gym routine.
There you have it, these exercises are a great place to start your fitness journey, you might well want to branch out and try some new things as you get years of training under your belt or as your goals get more specific but these exercises will provide everything you need to be a beast, look great and be strong as hell! I’ve added links to helpful videos of how to perform each movement, so go check those out if you want to learn more. I’ve tried to keep it super simple but let me know if you want to hear some of the science and reasoning around why these exercises are so effective and I can make that happen.
Let me know, do you agree with my list or have I missed something? Comment below let’s have a little debate!
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