The 5 core exercises
Out of the thousands of different variations of exercise out there, this is my list of exercises that you need.
Your whole routine should be based around these 6, and if your goal is to create a powerful and strong functional physique then these will all do that.
In fact no matter your goal these exercises will help you towards a flexible functional and strong body.
1. Squat- There is no secret that this is the movement most commonly crowned as the king of exercises and there is nothing that will help overall posture, strength and flexibility like the squat. Its utility lies in how natural it is as a human movement- watch a baby once it starts walking and you will notice that squatting is an instinctive and comfortable position.
Muscles targeted: All body. The squat is great for posture because to do it safely and effectively you need to have adequate flexibility and even out muscular imbalances in order to execute it.
Why is it number 1? This exercise is only going to become more and more important as our lives grow increasingly sedentary. Literally everyone who has healthy joints should be doing these
2. Deadlift- This is personally a favourite of mine and it’s not only because I seemed to be good at it quite quickly. This is probably the least performed exercise of this whole list but it is practically level with the squat for effectiveness and unless you have genuine back injuries you need to be doing it.
Annoyingly it is the one exercise that a lot of commercial gyms dislike meaning if yours doesn’t let you then you should really be looking elsewhere. I really could wax lyrical about the benefits of this exercise, but I am going to keep it to the point.
Muscles targeted- Like the squat pretty much everything. The best thing about both the squat and the deadlift is that you get so much value for effort. 3 or 4 sets of each will have all your muscles worked in a way that hundreds of sets of bicep curls, tricep push downs and machine presses could never do.
What’s more is that is has real world cross-over and it teaches you to have good posture- once you are deadlifting 140kgs+ it is unlikely there will be much in your daily life that you can’t lift.
Tied in with the squat this becomes an even more crucial exercise as the sedentary lifestyle takes its toll, as it directly works the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, lower back) that is so weak for the regular sedentary modern man and woman.
These are some of the largest muscles in your body that you are blessed with to walk, run and jump, and by sitting for 10 hours a day we are not using them to the detriment of our health.
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Luckily some more progressive companies are starting to introduce standing desks in recognition of the toll sitting puts on our backs
3. Dips- This is a bit of tricky one as an essential because to do dips it implies you have relatively good shoulder health (such as if you have had surgery after dislocations etc. you may not be able to perform these properly without over stressing the shoulder joint). However if you have bad shoulder health bench pressing is probably out of the question too.
The good thing about dips is that you can adapt it to your personal flexibility- not many people can go super low and for most an upper arm parallel to the ground position is best.
Another good thing is that they are an exercise that need no fancy equipment or a spot like the benchpress, while giving you great overall chest, tricep and shoulder development, along with some core balance and stability.
Programming wise it’s pretty simple too: if you can’t do bodyweight to start try and find a machine that gives you weighted assistance or simply work on the negative portion (get into the start position with elbows locked and lower yourself, fighting the decent. Climb back up and repeat).
Once you have your first bodyweight dip try and up your repetitions; once you can do more than 20 easily use a chain to add some weight and build up again.
Again it is one of my personal favourites and in my opinion an old school technique that should be revived as a great upper body developer.
4. Pull ups– Needs no introduction. Forgetting about any kind of development goals this is one of those exercises that is a natural movement. Everyone as a kid used the monkey bars right? Or climbed a tree and hung from the branches?
This is such a basic and natural movement as a child but becomes hard to impossible as you get older without practice.
It is safe to say that if you can comfortably crank out 10 pull-ups (as a man) or 2 or 3 as a woman it is extremely unlikely that you will not be in shape.
Therefore these need to be part of your program and should be progressed like dips; work on the negatives and keep going until you can start adding weight.
5. Hanging leg raise– This is for the ab brigade. However I don’t mean getting a visible six-pack because that is simply having a good diet and getting lean. These can help though and by developing your abdominals they can become more visible once you get lean.
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The real benefit though is not aesthetic it is about core control and strength. Like your posterior chain your core is vital for balance and posture. This exercise will help you in every situation in everyday life as well as helping strengthen your abdominals for deadlifts and squats.
Forget doing 100 sit ups and focus on 10 reps of controlled leg raises to really feel your core work.
These 5 should form the core of your training- whoever you are getting good at these will ensure you have a great posture, strength and tone. If you are unsure of the form get someone knowledgable to help you out or use any of the many ‘how-to’ videos on the internet to pick up pointers.
Dependent on where you train you might notice that seeing anyone do these exercises is rare. Everyone is benching and curling, or on the abdominal mat doing their crunches.
Well you may also notice that most people not doing these exercises have pretty underwhelming physiques. That’s because they’re still listening to the matrix, telling them that bicep curls with seven slightly different hand positions will cause ‘anabolic growth’.
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Sometimes the old ways and the simplest ways are the best.
All of the 5 core exercises are difficult to master but if you do you’ll be instantly ahead of the curve on the Men’s Health crowd, with the strength, functionality and physique to match.
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