The exercises we use in this program are quite varied and will cover, between them, every muscle group in the body. I want to outline why they’re chosen as they are, and hopefully offer you some personal education on which exercises are going to matter most, why, and provide a way of selecting exercises for yourself in future.
This section is going to cover the what and why of training exercises—from the warm-up to the workout—and why I think each of them deserves a spot in this program.
This part will also set the stage for the program itself—when you come to the program, you’ll be familiar with all the exercises that are included and why you should be prioritizing them.
Principles Of Good Exercises Election
I could just tell you what exercise you should be doing, but that would be missing the point. What matters is choosing good exercises and understanding why they’re the right exercises—you need to learn what has made them useful. why they’re effective, and how they’re selected.
Remember: getting your fitness together is as much of a process of selfeducation as it is just doing workouts and eating healthily. Understanding the what, why, and how of your strength training exercises is as important as understanding what role proteins play in the diet or which workout you’re doing today.
I want you to be able to leave this section with a basic understanding of how you’d choose any exercise, or at least pick from a group of alternatives. That way, you’ve got a little more freedom and a lifelong skill, which are key to long-term improvement!
SCALING: REGRESSION AND PROGRESSION OPTIONS
One thing you want to look for is how easily an exercise scales up or down to meet your personal experience, strength, and skill levels. This is something we see with a lot of the best exercises that offer a good “on-ramp” to get to them.
These are important because we all come to exercise from a different medical and psychological background, so we want something that anyone can start with. This might mean changing the exercise to suit reduced experience, but that’s fine because that is simply the fastest way of progressing for that person or situation.
There are many good examples of this—we can look at a simple movement like the lunge as an outstanding example. You can scale a lunge all the way back to a low step-up, then work through reverse lunges which are a little more challenging, then walking lunges, side lunges, and ultimately the Bulgarian split squat.
This is great because you can get on the path to progress at whatever level you’re at, while also knowing that the strength, muscle, injury-resilience, and skill development results are going to be consistent well into the future. It regresses well, and it progresses well.
This is often true of larger compound exercises, such as the overhead press and the squat, and the simpler we get, the more room for scaling there tends to be. This does require learning a little bit about an exercise, but fortunately we’re going to offer scaled options in our workouts in this book.
The more opportunities an exercise offers for practicing important skills, the better. To return to the lunge example, we’re getting balance, single-leg strengthening, asymmetrical hip strength, some core work, and learning to support weight during movement.
These are skills we want to develop for life, but also for progressing through our exercises and getting better at movement. These are the keys to long-term control and stability benefits—and why are we exercising if not to move better?
Exercises that build key skills like this should be given some priority, and we always want to understand how an exercise carries over to other exercises and activities. This is especially true if you’re new to exercise, since these skills are going to be under-developed.
This is closely related to the skill development section, but notably different.
This refers to the different kinds of structural effects that an exercise might have, as well as the role it plays in the workout plan. Does it combine two muscle groups we want to train? Does it build strength and power?
This kind of multi-benefit movement allows us to achieve a lot of results with a relatively smaller input of effort and skill-demand. It’s a great thing to work on and—of course—the lunge is a great example.
It’s a leg and hip movement, builds core strength, has tons of interesting variations, and helps us to improve mobility and balance alongside muscle and strength. I’m going to pack the workout program with this kind of exercise because the results are great, and your time is valuable.
ADAPTATION SPECIFICITY: STRENGTH, POWER, ENDURANCE, HYPERTROPHY
When you’re choosing your own exercises, it’s going to be important to make them specific to your goals. This applies at a number of levels, however.
First, it’s about the adaptation you want: you’re not going to get muscular with running, and you’re not going to improve your 5k by bench pressing. The things we do produce more progress in similar activities, and less in dissimilar ones.
Equally, exercises can be more or less appropriate when compared with each other for certain goals. A jump will build leg power, while a squat will build leg strength (which is the basis of power, but not the same thing).
So, when it comes to exercise selection, you need to figure out your main goals and make sure your exercise choices are suited to that goal. Focus at least near the specific thing you’re trying to improve.
CONVENTION: BASICS ARE GOOD, BUT THERE’S MORE TO
Exercise selection is often about justifying everything you do to align with one of your goals or something you’re trying to achieve within a session, week, or training program.
Convention does tend to lead the way in some choices because it’s good for the categories I’ve set out above: squats, lunges, presses, hip hinge movements, and rowing/pulling all have their classic entries.
We’ve all seen a bench press or a bicep curl, and these are clichés because they’re good ways of achieving the result: a stronger chest or bigger arms. Equally, push-ups and sit-ups are popular forms of bodyweight exercise because they’re easy and accessible.
Convention can be a good place to start, but it should also be met with the same question from above: why am I doing this? You can use convention to find inspiration, but it still needs to be vetted for appropriateness for your training experience and your goals.
You can also venture out beyond the conventional if you’re willing to be even more skeptical. Novelty and variety can be a good driving force for progress: trying something new that you like the look of is fine, as long as you’re not replacing everything in your workout plan all the time.
Focus on the basics, but allow yourself the freedom to experiment with your non-essentials—the stuff that’s just about building some muscle and isn’t very skill-intensive!
Our Favourite Mobility And Warmup Exercises
We want to pick warm-up exercises that have a few key factors. Number one, they should have the scope for movement, since this helps to improve warm-up efficiency while also being effective in building better mobility and flexibility.
Additionally, exercises that can be scaled up or down are great, because then you can tailor your warm-up to your personal needs. This is key to making sure that you’re getting the most from your time, and that you’re not getting injured by over-exerting yourself in the warm-up
I’ve put together a few of my favorites, where you should see what I mean by this, and how you can adjust them to your personal needs.
We also want to use exercises that are able to develop comfort and mobility in multiple joints at once. This is an awesome way of improving the quality of your warm-up time, and making sure that you’re getting all your joints prepared for exercise.
Finally, we want to focus on exercises that are going to have at least some similarity to what we’re doing within our workout. This is going to be important because warm-ups are a chance to practice movement!
If you can get moving better during your warm-ups, then you can improve your exercise technique for better muscle growth, better performance, and reduced injury risk. This is an all-round win that deserves the time and effort.
A key exercise for opening up the hips—make sure to keep your core and glutes active. You can improve this by moving backwards and forwards through the position to improve the effectiveness and make it more applicable to exercises like lunges and squats.
A great way to get your glutes firing, which is key to getting stronger and keeping your lower back healthy. Squeeze and hold at the top, and you’ll soon be feeling like your hips are more mobile at the front and more powerful at the back!
This is an excellent glute stretch, though it can be a little challenging at first so take your time. We often neglect glute stretching, so regularly performing the pigeon is going to keep your hips healthy and avoid knee injuries.
Partial cossack squat
Cossack squats are awesome for opening up the hips, getting the knees and ankles prepared for exercise, and waking up the core. They can be challenging, so be prepared to start with partial movements and focus on control and balance as you go.
Hinge drill/Good morning
Developing a good hip hinging pattern isn’t optional—you need to learn how to move your hips while keeping your back in one place. The broomstick hip hinge drill is perfect for this. You can really wake up your hamstrings and get them feeling looser with this movement.
This is a great starting point for many really effective stretches. Equally, it’s a great way of getting your hips open and stretching out the lower back, inner thighs, and hamstrings.
This is simple: work your shoulders through their full range of motion. Get comfortable with all of it! Think about keeping the stick/band as far away from your body as possible at all times, and never be passive.
These are ideal for opening up the chest and getting the upper back involved in the motion of your shoulder. This is crucial for proper movement and many people will benefit from it in terms of posture, as well as strength and mobility.
This is a classic stretch, helping to loosen off the often-tight chest muscles that roll the shoulders forward. Again, a great postural exercise—and one you should vary between shoulder-height and higher variations, making sure to open up all the muscles in the chest.
Preacher and offset preacher stretch
Preacher stretches are perfect for opening up the lats, as well as getting your shoulders moving in multiple directions. Use a combination of normal and side/offset versions of the stretch to make sure you’re getting a complete warm-up for the upper back.
Underhand stretch (mild)
The seated shoulder stretch can be quite challenging because most of us have neglected shoulder extension, so now we’re all tight. It’s an excellent way of stretching the shoulders and even the neck/trap muscles, if you’re patient and consistent with it.
Dead-bugs and bird-dogs
These are two great exercises for preparing your spine for exercise. They build core strength, teach you how to balance your rotation in the spine, and will naturally keep the spine healthy and stable during exercise. Pause in the end positions for both exercises, focusing on keeping the core in one place throughout the movements.
Planks are perfect for getting your core ready for exercise. They’ll help reinforce proper hip-spine position and engage your abdominal muscles. Get a few 20-second holds on the normal plank and the side plank to really wake everything up and make sure you’re taking care of your core.
Single leg quad stretch
This kneeling quad stretch is a great way of opening up the hip flexor and reducing strain on the knee itself. It can be developed patiently and even performed with both legs as you get stronger, more mobile, and more confident with the stretch.
Standing/kneeling hamstring stretch
This is like the quad stretch mentioned above, but for the other side of the knee. It helps you to move the hamstring through full range—a muscle that gets very tight for most people due to lots of sitting, not much hip hinging, and weakness.
MOVEMENT PREP + PRACTICE
Once you’ve gone through these warm-up exercises, you need to perform light versions of your strength exercises for warm-ups. This is often, in the example of weight training, performing sets at 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90% of the intended workout weights.
This should also be performed with fewer reps as you increase weight, and jumps should always be smaller than those before to ensure you’re not overexerting yourself during the warm-ups or taking unpredictable weight jumps.
Here’s what a warm-up might look like for a set of 5 squats at 100kg:
- Empty barbell (20kg) for 5 reps
- 50% (50kg) for 5 reps
- 75% (75kg) for 3 reps
- 90% (90kg) for 2 reps
Again, the goal is to work on technical changes in movement and make sure
everything looks and feels okay. This prepares the mind and body for the
intensity and effort expected in the working sets.