New training systems come out on a daily basis nowadays which can leave people who want to start training confused and overwhelmed. A person might find himself asking which training regimen is best for me? Is training system X for $49.99 really that much better than training regimen Y? If only I had money to buy the cobra training system that has all these sophisticated exercises, right? Look my friend, you have every right to be overwhelmed. With so much diverse information and training tips, beginners will usually end up being frustrated and might dismiss the idea of training altogether. There is just a teeny tiny problem with most training regiments; they’re stupidly designed! The perfect training regimen is the training regimen that is custom tailored for YOU! That training regimen will take into account your stats, availability, lifestyle, stress levels, hormonal levels, circadian rhythm and many other factors. But since not everyone has the luxury to hire a knowledgeable personal trainer who will design such a program, a good enough generic program will also yield good results, don’t worry. I have seen many different training systems over the years and most of them are poorly designed, designed to get money out of your pockets and no wonder they yield little to no results. I will do a complete guide on how to design an optimal training program that fits you personally, but for now, let me tell you about 5 exercises that I think every intelligently designed training plan should have.
1- Squats – ATG
People who train and don’t train both know what squats are. For some odd reason, most people still can’t squat with proper form, I don’t get it! Squats are one of the best exercises to build your lower body and upper body too. The mechanical stress applied from the heavy loads you are stabilizing on your back force your body to work as one to get this “danger” off you. ATG refers to @ss-to-grass or in other words ATG squats mean deep squats. Stop doing those half or even quarter squats to satisfy your ego! Especially you men. Squatting 3 plates may look impressive but if you are not getting proper stimulation due to lack of range of motion, you are better off decreasing the weight down to 2 plates or so and doing full range of motion.
Main muscles trained: Quads, glutes, hamstring and traps. However, many more muscles are involved during the squat.
How to perform?
Start off with your hips under the bar, place the bar directly on your traps as you would in a regular squat. Take a deep breath through your stomach to apply pressure against your spine. Look forward and pretend that you are going to sit down. Keep your chest up through the whole movement and push from your heels. Proper range of motion will be as low as your body’s mechanism allows with PROPER form. Push your knees out as you are squatting. Stop doing half squats, parallel squats, or quarter squats. Lower the weight and do the damn move properly.
Since exercises are a bit harder to explain in writing, here is a video of doing proper ATG / deep squats with perfect form.
Deadlifts are yet another popular move to fitness enthusiasts and non-fitness enthusiasts and it’s for a good reason; deadlifts work! However, deadlifts are sadly another one of those “ego” moves that people like to show off. Hey buddy, maybe you can deadlift 4 plates, but if the weight is so heavy for you that it makes your back arch like a camel’s hump, then you are doing more harm than good. I’m not sure where deadlifts got their name, but I am assuming it’s because they snapped more backs than Mike Tyson in his prime. On a serious note, deadlifts can help you build a wide and thick back and a nice pair of legs. They will also help develop those tiny traps you have on your shoulders. There are many variation to the deadlift; Romanian deadlifts, still-legged deadlifts, conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts. They’re all great movements when implemented properly, however, they distribute mechanical stress a bit differently from each other. For instance, Romanian and stiff-legged deadlifts will apply most of the stress on your glutes and hamstrings while sumo deadlifts will focus on over all leg development. Conventional deadlifts are just that, conventional and thus they distribute stress throughout the body and involve more back than the other variations. Depending on your flexibility and goals, pick the corresponding variation, however, all variations are effective.
Main muscles trained: Back, traps, legs. Once again, deadlifts train many more muscles just like squats.
How to perform?
Start off with a shoulder width stance. You can also place your feet just outside your shoulder. If you are doing sumo deadlifts, your stance should be somewhat wider. Place your hands on the bar just outside your legs/knees, preferably with an overhand grip. Keep your back stiff and neutral, DO NOT let your back curve. Keep everything nice and tight and lift the weight off the ground as if your whole body was one moving unit. Here is a visual demonstration.
3- Pull Ups
Pull ups are one of those exercises that everyone should be doing. They are a great underestimated exercise that can build a nice back, rear deltoids, traps and biceps. They are a great compound movement that should be included in every workout routine. Pull ups are also very safe, so you don’t have to worry about injuring yourself with ego lifting or similar stupid injuries. In fact, I personally think pull ups are superior to Lat pull-downs and rows for many reasons that will be discussed later. If doing pull ups with your body weight is too light for you, superman, just add some extra weight through a dipping belt or simply hold a dumbbell between your feet (not recommended and might cause pain).
Main muscles trained: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius muscles, reader deltoids and biceps.
How to perform?
Place your hands just outside your shoulder and use an overhand grip on the bar. Simply hang off the bar and pull yourself up through your LATS, not your arms! Pull with your back, people. Squeeze your lats at the top of the moment for a brief second and lower yourself slowly to the bottom of the motion. A full range of motion is starting from a dead hang and pulling yourself all the way up. One trick that can help you learn how to pull with your back is to simply flex elbows, but don’t get used to it because it can get inconvenient when you increase the resistance. However, this tip will improve your mind-muscle connection. If you still can’t do a pull up with your own body weight, you can also use pull up machines that have assisting pads, and in no time, you will be able to pull yourself up. YOU GOT THIS!
2- Dumbbell bench press
I am aware that most people are more familiar with barbell bench pressing, which is still a great movement. I personally prefer dumbbell bench presses due to how easier it is to get the form right as opposed to barbell bench pressing. Barbell bench pressing is more technical and requires a bit of mobility and arching to effectively focus the stress on your pecs as opposed to pushing with your triceps and front deltoids, which can cause some shoulder discomfort and even some injuries. If you can learn the proper form of barbell bench pressing, go for it! It’s a great exercise. But for most people, dumbbell bench pressing offers the perfect alternative in terms of effective adding mechanical stress on your pecs and decreasing the amount of stress applied on your triceps and shoulder (they’re still somewhat used, of course). This eliminates any potential injuries and makes it an effective exercise that can build a nice pair of pecs. Ladies, you should bench press too! You won’t grow a pair of oversized pecs, I promise.
Main muscles trained: pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps, front deltoids.
How to perform?
As usual, start with a decent weight that will be challenging without being stupidly heavy (ego lifting). Lift the dumbbells up, place them on your thighs by your knees and “flick” them up with your legs as you are laying down on the bench. Your arms and the dumbbells are probably perpendicular to the ground and your body now. Lower the dumbbells slowly just outside your pecs while keep your chest up, feel the stretch in your pecs and then push the dumbbells up together in an explosive movement while squeezing your pecs. Repeat this rhythm for however many reps you are shooting for. Keep the load on your chest throughout the movement and do NOT push with your arms or shoulders. Keep your chest up throughout the entire movement.
1- Leg Extensions
For some odd reason, many guys believe that this is a useless “sissy” exercise and thus they avoid it like the plague! Well, you are an idiot. I personally have some strong legs and I can surely attribute some of that strength to doing leg extensions regularly. Leg extensions are great for isolating your quad muscles and keeping constant tension on them. Also, leg extensions are very safe when implemented properly. If you want to take your leg development to the next level, add leg extensions to your workout routine.
Main muscles trained: Quadriceps.
How to perform?
Simply adjust the seat to your height, leg mobility and leg length. Use a challenging weight and tuck your feet into the cylindrical pad. Push the pad up with your thigh and DO NOT LOCK OUT YOUR DAMN KNEES! lower the weight slowly as low as you possibly can and repeat the movement as desired. Keep the tension on your quadriceps throughout the movement. I repeat, do not lock out your knees, flick the pad up past your knees or swing through the movement and you will be doing an exercise that will make your legs grow! Leg extensions are not meant to be done for low heavy reps by the way, however, do a moderate number of reps and squeeze those quadriceps.
You may not have enough funds to hire a personal trainer that customizes a training plan for you. You may not have funds to purchase a sophisticated training system that will most likely won’t be any better than other routines out there, however, you have the internet! And with scientific and real world knowledge that you can acquire through this powerful tool called the internet, you can design your own program that fits your own needs. However, make sure you include the above 5 exercises for superior growth and performance.
If you know somebody who squats with a crappy form, share this article with them ;). Don’t let ego lifting ruin your progress and expose you to injuries.