When it comes to training in the gym, there are a few tried-and-tested exercises which we come back to time and time again. Why? Quite simply, they work. Whether you want to develop a simple but effective weight-training routine, build power or strip body fat, these exercises are must-haves. Based around ballistic strength, they don't take much time, nor do they need much equipment. They're simple, and they work. Bodybuilders, sprinters and power athletes the world over build their training around these common lifts, and there's a reason they've barely changed since the early days of strength and conditioning. One question remains: are you incorporating these exercises in your training programme?
A great multi-joint exercise which builds strength throughout the body: lower back, hamstrings, core and the entire posterior chain. In fact, deadlifting manages to hit almost every body part. Try them and you'll see what we mean. Use an Olympic bar with no plates at first so you get your technique right. You can do straight-legged deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts and even single-legged deadlifts for the ultimate challenge. Technique is absolutely key so, before you pick up the bar, enlist the help of a coach, qualified personal trainer or experienced lifter you can trust. Once you've got your deadlift technique right, load the bar up and start with 3 sets of 8-10 reps. As time goes on, challenge yourself with heavier weights.
Everyone's favourite, this lower-body stalwart won't only challenge your legs. It will hit your core and back, too. Free weight squats, using a loaded bar or even a pair of dumbbells, will build immense power which translates into fat-burning long after you've left the gym. The best bit of equipment is a squat rack and Olympic bar. Get a qualified trainer to show you the ropes, or invest in a session with a strength and conditioning coach. Forget everything you've read about never squatting below parallel. Go deep, lower slowly and power up for a truly effective squat.
Not just the domain of guys interested in building pecs they can be proud of, the bench press is one of the big five lifts used by athletes from rugby players to swimmers. Like all of these exercises, the bench press is best performed with a spotter (someone who can help you lift the bar into place and give you a hand when you fatigue). Use the Olympic bar or any other straight bar (the Olympic bar simply weighs more and can be loaded up with more plates) and lay back on a bench. Hold the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width and lower the bar to your chest slowly. Power up and immediately start lowering the bar again. If you want to add options into your bench-press routine, do the exercise with the bench on an incline or decline, or use dumbbells instead of a bar (this will help identify and iron out any imbalances).
Also called the military press, a shoulder press done with free weights is a different beast from the ones you do on the seated shoulder press machine. Start with a light weight; you'll be surprised how quickly you fatigue when pressing overhead. Hold your core strong to prevent putting pressure through your lower back and press the bar from in front of your face to right overhead. Lower slowly and power the bar up again. Don't skimp on the bottom half of the exercise; make sure you lower the bar until your elbows are at right angles to get the most out of the lift.
Not all power exercises need equipment. We all have this great bit of kit with us at all times: it's called our own body weight. The great thing about body weight exercises is that you don't need to load up a bar and the weight you're working with is already perfectly designed for you. Using the chin-up machine, frame of the Smith machine or a plain bar, grasp the bar overhead. If you have your palms towards you, this will work your biceps more, whereas if you turn your palms away, more of the work will go through your back, particularly your lats. From a dead-hang, pull yourself up. If you can't manage that (don't worry, it's very challenging and most people can't), use one of these techniques:
• Jump up, grasp the bar, hold and then lower slowly
• Use the padded knee support to give you a hand
• Use bands and put your knees into them for extra support
Of course, if you want to progress this or any other body weight exercise, you can add extra weight by using a belt and hanging a plate from it, or wearing a weighted vest. For now, stick with body weight; it's more effective than most people give it credit for.
Whether you incorporate these lifts into your body-part splits or use them as an all-round body blaster, they will transform your training - and your physique - in no time.
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