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  • Daniel Rockman

6 foundational movements to put in every program

Updated: Jan 23

It's easy to get lost at the gym in the variety of exercises on offer: flys, reverse flys, lateral raises, lateral pull downs, Romanian this and Bulgarian that.


In reality, all exercises will be beneficial, but not all exercises are created equal. Some exercises will give you more bang for your buck and some exercises will hit the muscle groups you wanna hit. Don't get lost in all the confusion. If you don't have much time to spend in the gym or you just want to get the best results, you need to read this. Here are the 6 foundational movements that you should hit to make sure you are developing all of your major muscle groups.


Developing a well rounded body is important to reduce injuries and maximise results by increasing the total you can lift. If you hit a variation of the following movement patterns every week you will be developing a solid, well built body:


  1. Lower body push - Squat pattern

  2. Lower body pull - Hinge pattern

  3. Upper body horizontal push - Bench press pattern

  4. Upper body horizontal pull - Row pattern

  5. Upper body vertical push - Overhead press pattern

  6. Upper body vertical pull - Chin up pattern + Core


Some people like to split these up into push/pull splits or upper body/lower body splits or full body workouts. I've looked at the research and I don't care how you do it, you can do them all on one day or you can spread them out, as long as you are providing the stimulus for your muscles to grow you'll be seeing the benefits.


In general, 8-12 hard sets per muscle group per week is ideal for peak muscle growth. This can be achieved by utilising 2-3 different exercises in the same pattern. For example if you want to train the front of your thigh, the quadriceps muscle, you can use the following exercises: squats x 4 sets, lunges x 4 sets and leg extensions x 4 sets throughout the week = 12 sets for the quadriceps. Add in hip thrusts and you've now hit glutes for 12 sets too.


Lower body push - squat pattern


The squat pattern is defined by a large bend in the knees and a pushing the ground away action. The squat pattern mainly targets the anterior (front) muscles of the legs such as the quadriceps as well as the glutes.


The most common squat pattern variations include: sumo squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, Spanish squats, leg press, goblet squats and step ups.



Lower body pull - hinge pattern


The hinge pattern is defined by a hinge at the hips and often involves thrusting the hips forwards. The hinge pattern mainly targets the posterior (back) muscles of the legs such as the hamstrings and glutes.


The most common hinge pattern variations include: deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, good mornings, glute-ham raise and hyperextensions.





The lower body is a little bit special in the fact that hinge patterns and squat patterns aren't fully separate, they can exist on a continuum. This means that we can make a squat more like a deadlift, or vice versa, just by altering positioning.


This is summarised nicely in the following graph by Dr John Rusin on Instagram:



Make sure you're covering both squat and hinge movements to ensure the front of your legs and the back of your legs are both being trained.


Upper body horizontal push - bench press pattern


The horizontal push is characterised by a force coming towards your body in a horizontal fashion. The horizontal push mainly targets the chest and triceps.


The most common horizontal push patterns are: bench press, floor press, chest press, flys, dumbbell press, push ups and incline press.




Upper body horizontal pull - row pattern


The horizontal pull is the opposite to the horizontal push, a force pulling away from the body perpendicular to your chest. The horizontal pull mainly targets rhomboids, lower traps and biceps.


The most common horizontal pull patterns are: dumbbell rows, seated rows, barbell bent over rows, incline rows, band rows, reverse flys and band pull aparts.





Upper body vertical push - overhead press pattern


The vertical push is characterised by a force coming down from above you. The vertical push mainly targets deltoids, upper traps and triceps.


The most common upper body vertical push movements are: dumbbell overhead press, barbell overhead press and seated overhead press.




Upper body vertical pull - chin up pattern


The vertical pull is characterised by a pulling motion from overhead towards the body. The vertical pull mainly targets the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and biceps.


The most common vertical pull variations are: chin ups, assisted chin ups and lat pull downs.



Core


"... wait, that's 7 movements Mr Rockman, sir"


I know, I know, but it's hard to write a program without someone mentioning the "core". Everyone and their grandmas want to train their "core".




The problem is most people think the core is just your 6-pack muscle and that you just need to do more sit ups to get one. So, let me take the time here to set things straight.


YOU GET MORE CORE WORK FROM LIFTING HEAVY THINGS THAN FROM SIT UPS

and furthermore,

CORE EXERCISES DO NOT REDUCE ABDOMINAL FAT


These are not new findings, but it does take a long time to dispel old myths.


Alas, for those of you who do want to perform core exercises, there are strength and endurance benefits, and this can help with heavy exercises and daily life (even if you can't see an 8-pack in the mirror).


Core movements can generally be broken down into 4 patterns: Extension - eg. fitball pushbacks Flexion - eg. crunches Lateral flexion - eg. ankle taps and rotation - eg. Russian twists


But these are boring, old school exercises that your auntie did at her aerobics class back in '83. In my opinion, these exercises aren't even the best for training the core to be good at what you really want it to be good at.


The core should be trained how it is used, which is mainly resisting movements. The best core exercises are the opposite of the 4 patterns mentioned above: Anti-extension - eg. planks

Anti-flexion - eg. in compound lifts such as goblet squats

Anti-lateral flexion - eg. suitcase carries

and anti-rotation - eg. shoulder taps


One of my favourite methods of training the core is carries. They are heavily underutilised, require loads of core control and have a large carry-over to everyday life. Check out Dr Aaron Horschig of Squat University breaking down why carries are so beneficial.





So remember, to build a well-rounded, injury-proof body, make sure you include all these movements in your gym program:

  1. Lower body push - Squat pattern

  2. Lower body pull - Hinge pattern

  3. Upper body horizontal push - Bench press pattern

  4. Upper body horizontal pull - Row pattern

  5. Upper body vertical push - Overhead press pattern

  6. Upper body vertical pull - Chin up pattern + Core


So, don't get lost at the gym in the cacophony of different exercise choices. Use these 6 categories to make sure you are hitting every major muscle group in the body. That way you know you'll be doing everything you can to build a well-rounded body.


Now go forth and spread the gospel.


Stay strong!

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