The Definitive Top 5 To Include In Your Workout Plan
Let’s face it; an Office Worker is mostly short on time. They are also limited by a range of other factors that can prevent them from achieving their fitness goals.
They can also be highly confused; overburdened with information.
They are subjected frequently to clever marketing and advertising.
All of which seem to promote the path to the results previously promised by another entity.
Enter the phase mentality.
It is not too unfamiliar to see an Office Worker go through phases in regard to their fitness programming, nutrition and lifestyle habits.
Take the yearly recurring seasonal phases as an example.
We only have to look at the month of January to see my point here; gym membership rates skyrocket only to plummet a few months later.
The eager gym goer is often roped into believing that with a New Year there is a fresh opportunity for change. That they are now ready to commit fully. They are now in it for the long-term, or so they initially think.
And we have to feel sorry for these poor fellows. They spend a small fortune: gym memberships, clothing, accessories, personal trainers and so on and so forth.
And then they go from 0-100 in regard to their programming. From limited, sparse or no exercise at all, to multi exercise full body workouts that are expected 4+ days a week.
Personal Trainers often are push and punish them and often do not communicate with them all too well.
The gym goer, not understanding their biofeedback, places all their trust into the Trainer or into nothing at all. Not understanding or appreciating what their body is telling them. Time to rest? There’s no time to rest they think.
Programmes are often not suitable or adapted to them in a way that works for that individual, for their movement patterns. Muscular imbalances and previous injuries are sometimes not even considered.
And if it’s Fat Loss that is the given goal, then it is to be achieved quickly, and achieved now. For the Personal Trainer only wants to line their pockets, and so the client must lost weight quickly or else risk losing them to the next trainer.
Alternatively, the Office Worker enters the gym on that cold rainy January morning blindfolded; with no real idea as to what they are doing and what they are hoping to achieve. But just being there is enough to make them feel better. Right now that is. In the very moment. Come March, they’ll be gone. Small results in any will be seen for their efforts.
But can we really blame them?
There are thousands of fitness professionals that they can employ.
There are thousands of workout programmes that they can adopt.
There are thousands of exercises, variations and strategies that they can choose from.
And maybe they have it right by going in as the Lone Wolf? – Is it really better to be sucked into purchasing or learning about a flashy over-complicated workout with drop set this and rest pause that?
Programmes that were designed for select pro bodybuilders or track and field athletes competing on the world stage. Where in every context and imaginable way, even down to their sleep, is different.
For some of us, it is all too easy to think that more is better or that there are secrets out there which can be learned. Secrets that have gone amiss in the past which is why the physique has never been obtained to ‘now’.
And here I must note, there are many comments above that are all simplifications and generalisations. Some but not all may apply.
But they’ve happened all too often in the past and they’ll happen again, so they need some addressing.
And with January 2017 approaching this is a highly topical issue and one I want to help reconfigure. Office Workers will soon to be bombarded, if not already. But there is no need to wait to the New Year and no need to transform from a Slouched Sloth to a Chasing Cheetah overnight.
Sometimes in life it is best to go back to the basics, I believe exercise is no exception.
So I propose a solution.
What if there were only 5 exercises that you need; that will get you the results that you are looking for. That will enable you to spend more time doing the things you love outside of the gym and not burn you out in the process. That you can see tangible results, progress. And that by keeping things simple, it is far more likely that it will keep you engaged and commit for the long-haul. So simple that they can implemented as of later on today if you so wish.
These 5 exercises should become the foundation of your training.
By not utilizing them you are missing out on some extraordinary benefits for your fitness, your physique and your health.
They should become the staple. Everything else should be put on the periphery. Optional extras if you will.
They should be mastered and practiced like any skill; so resistance can be added safely and effectively.
This is not to say that these 5 exercises are what you should ever do, but, these are the 5 exercises you NEED.
And think of these exercises as a continuation of our evolution, what we should be ultimately doing and how we should ultimately be moving. Going back to our more primitive moving self-sufficient self.
The human race has moved from being a movement based manual labourer to a knowledge based seated worker –at desks in Offices with minimal physical exertion.
Our only challenge to this is to go to the gym to simulate what should be happening in our daily lives, as part of our basic makeup in our evolution.
This is why it is so critical to get back to these 5 movements, which will now be presented below.
So let’s get started:
Exercise number one…. The Squat!
Anatomy of the Squat:
Barbells and plates will come later. First, we need to master a perfect body-weight squat. Getting down full depth, below parallel (from knee to the top of your hip). We need to be able to sit there. To rest there. As primitive societies still do all over the world to this very day.
The position is perfectly demonstrated by our little buddy below:
If you cannot reach this depth with your own body weight right now, this will be the focus. It will be something that you need to work on. This comes way before you add resistance or even contemplate using a Barbell Leg Press Machine. Before doing some fancy Jump Squats.
Spend some time dedicated to getting lower and feeling more comfortable in the position. Spend some time feeling the movement; it is the natural seated position for humans before the invention of the chair.
Consistently practice this to the point where you can sit in the deep position for some time, unassisted. This is known as the ‘Resting Squat’. It has enabled the human race to survive for centuries, and is the natural resting position for many communities around the world to this day.
Spend some time each day getting into the Resting Squat, for 1 minute. Perhaps do two sets a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening. Hang out there. Relax. Your feet position will depend on what feels most comfortable for you depending on your unique makeup. As our mechanics all differ, this will vary. On average, your feet will likely be positioned at shoulder width apart. Regardless of stance, it is important to keep your heels flat on the ground. Toes will point in slightly outwards, but like the foot positioning this too will vary. Keep your hands out in front of you (if not hanging on to some apparatus).
The Squat is a multi-joint exercise, so therefore requires the recruitment of a lot of muscles from different areas. Tightness in any of these muscles can therefore cause imbalance and cause incorrect alignment. You may need to work on your mobility in other areas, primarily the ankles, knees, calves, and hip flexors – they may require stretching or specific conditioning if these areas are overly tight and require loosening. At first, you will likely need some assistance, so feel free to grab hold of a bar or door knob or other object to keep you from falling backwards/forwards or whatever way you may fall down.
The overall aim is ultimately to get your Glutes down further than your knees. When you squat down and initiate the movement, push your hips back; your knees will follow accordingly. They should not however, shoot over your feet. Keep a neutral spine and head up. For more on technique, I suggest you read Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength which provides an in depth guide to the major compound lifts including the Squat. It can be accessed by clicking here.
Ultimately, you want to mind you body and find the movement pattern that works best for you.
Once you can complete this full body weight squat – then you have permission to utilize Squat variations such as Jumps, Barbell Back Squats etc., and other gym machines that work the legs.
Why the Squat?
The more muscle that you have on your frame, the more fat that is actively being burnt. Viewing the squat in this context, it enables us to work an entire range of muscle groups that includes: the Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves and a host of stabiliser muscles including the Core and Upper Back.
Going further, with our focus turned principally to the Quads. These are some of the largest muscles in the human body. As muscle is your bodies’ fat burning machinery, it follows building the Quads and utilizing the Squat will be the most effective. This directly dwarfs the benefit that would be obtained by working smaller muscle groups such as the Biceps or Triceps.
What’s more Squats, which are by their nature a high intensity resistance exercise, result in elevated post exercise hormonal responses. Favourable responses that is. Studies have concluded that Testosterone and Growth Hormone concentrations rise following workouts that incorporate the Squat and its jumping variations.
Testosterone is related to so many positive assets to health, but stated most simply:
More Testosterone and Growth Hormone = better physique, better health = better longevity.
So by working on our lower body, we leverage the hormonal response most effectively. It accelerates the metabolism.
The Variations of the Squat
Squat Jumps amplify this process most profoundly, as noted in the studies:
Conduct a full-body squat, followed by an explosive jump. Land with soft knees and then return to the deep squat position before explosively jumping again.
Jumping adds the required intensity.
Ultimately, adding resistance via a Barbell Back Squat is what we hope to achieve. Once technique, form and movement patterns are mastered.
As far as the hormonal response, Heavy Barbell Back Squats are the King/Queen of eliciting these adaptions.
Progressive overload over time; adding weight slowly. Getting stronger whilst maintaining form.
Pistol Squats, Goblet Squats Box Squats, Squats with Bands, Squats with Chains, are also other variations to consider.
Weight, speed and duration are variables to manipulate.
So don’t skip leg day; in fact, emphasize leg day.
The amount of ‘leg days’ depends on the duration, the intensity, the resistance. By changing these variables you can hit different muscle fibres and give the already worked fibres a chance to repair and heal – grow stronger and bigger.
Every other day works well for Barbell Squats
Other variations, such as body weight squats, can be practiced daily.
But ultimately, I think it is fair to say that you want to spend more time squatting, and more time building the Quads.
Exercise number two… The Deadlift.
Anatomy of the Deadlift:
How to Deadlift:
The Conventional Deadlift – where you take weight up off the floor. It’s a push movement. It’s like a leg press to move weight off of the floor. Once the bar hits knee level, the hips drive forward to stand all the way up.
For an excellent run-down of how to Deadlift. I would advise reading the Stronglift guide, found here:
Why the Deadlift?
The deadlift works more muscles simultaneously than any other movement. Referencing back to the notion that muscle is your fat burning machinery – the deadlift will therefore also provide a huge return on investment.
Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Core, Shoulders, Traps, Forearms and the majority of muscles in your back are all used during this lift.
Not only that, the deadlift has real life application. Bending down and picking stuff up of the floor for example.
In evolution we picked up heavy objects off the floor – via a Squat, Deadlift. Being able to conduct a deadlift therefore taps into something primal; something that our genes are expecting of us.
As Office Workers, we spend far too much time sitting. This leads to tight hip flexors and a ‘sleeping backside’. Glutes that do not fire as they should. This is known as reciprocal inhibition and robs us of strength. The idea is that as one muscle is active, the opposing muscle relaxes to ‘get out of the way’. By sitting so much, we are ‘turning off’ a lot of muscles.
And the deadlift in particular, can resuscitate the backside and the Glutes. This is the principal reason in why the Deadlift is so valuable to us Office Workers.
A final benefit of incorporating Deadlifts is that they provide direct core and abdominal work. The core is part of the movement and helps stabilise the lift. This will therefore mean that you do not have to do as many if any Ab Crunches at all. This is great news as crunches can be dangerous if not executed with perfect form.
Hip-hinge, which is a flexion and an extension, is a movement that can be utilized to work the posterior chain (back of the body). It is the upper half movement of the deadlift.
The knees are slightly flexed, the hips shoot back and the spine remains neutral as you lower your torso down. This is a fantastic exercise to counterbalance all our daily sitting.
Load can be added to the hip hinge relatively quickly in comparison to other exercises. It’s something our bodies are genetically wired up to being able to do. You can start with just a barbell squat or even more simply, a broom-stick.
Deadlifts with bands, Sumo Deadlifts, Single-Leg Deadlift,
Romanian deadlift; this is where the focus is on the eccentric portion of the exercise. The ‘putting down of the weight’ is emphasised.
Exercise number three… The Push-Up.
Perhaps the most notorious exercise there is. Even young children know that this is a go-to to get strong!
Before you go over to the flat bench, and begin adding massive amounts of weight, can you do full push-ups with your own bodyweight?
Why the Pushup?
Like the Squat and Deadlift, Push-ups work an entire range of muscle groups that includes: Chest – the Pec Major and Pec Minor, Triceps – all three heads, Anterior (Front) Deltoids and Core.
Due to the range of muscles involved, hormonally, the push-up further enacts a response for Testosterone and Growth Hormone. This can even be achieved with your own body-weight, but is more effective when progressive overload and more intensity is applied.
This movement is incredibly basic for the human. In essence, it’s the ability to get up. Back to the evolutionary sense, it is being able to push things around.
So if you cannot manage your own body-weight; you should not be heading to the Barbell Bench Press and you should not be doing any bench pushing machines. Push-ups need to be the foundation that must be mastered beforehand. These presses therefore come much later.
By changing the angle you can also change the resistance. The foundational movement will see you doing it flat on the floor. But if you are not able to do this yet, you can do an Incline Push Up, where your feet are flat on the floor but your upper body is elevated. This is easier, as gravity assists the movement.
At Home – consider using a counter in your kitchen, or the side of your sofa in your lounge.
At the gym – this could be utilized by using the Squat Rack or even the Smith machine. Lower the bar to hip level and begin to push off the bar. This will work primarily your upper chest but is a great place to start if you feel weak in this area.
Aside from the Incline Push Up, you can vary the basic push up by changing the angle.
This leads on, to once the exercise is mastered to, Barbell Bench Press, Incline Press, Chest Press; essentially and pressing movement where the Chest is engaged
Even Dips are another press depending on the range of motion used.
Kneeling Pushups, where you are on your knees instead of your toes is perhaps the most basic push-up variation that can be used if this area is weak.
Exercise number four… The Pull Up (&/or Chin-up)
Anatomy of the Pull-up
Distinguishing between the two is quite simple; it’s about hand position. For both, you pull yourself up and over the bar.
With a Pull-Up, your hands are flipped upside down, your palms are pointed away from you – a pronated grip:
On a Chin-Up, the hands are reversed, the hands face towards you – a supinated grip:
On a Chin-Up, ensure that your Chin goes over the bar.
Each variation, whether you choose to do a Pull-Up and or Chin-up will hit different muscle fibres. But either one can be classified as a pulling movement.
Evolutionary, these two were critical; you needed to be able to pull yourself up. Like if travelling, fleeing, climbing trees etc.
The range of muscle groups included in this motion: Latissimus Dorsi (wings), Traps, Deltoids, Biceps.
Bands, Eccentric Focused Chin-Ups – using a chair to get to the top of the bar and slowly lowering yourself down.
Assisted Pull-up Machines, Lateral Pull-Downs, are also options in the early stages when building up strength. Pull-Ups and Chin Ups using a bar reign supreme mind you and should be the focus. This way you learn the natural function of the movement and stabiliser muscles are also worked.
With the Lat Pull-Downs, you can vary up the hand grips so that you can in essence, also perform Assisted Chin-Ups.
Use the movement that feels most comfortable, but if you can do Pull-Ups, do Pull-Ups.
This exercise can ultimately be transitioned into Muscle Ups. This is essentially a pull up that goes right into a dip at the top of the bar.
Exercise number five… Lunges
It’s time for the final exercise on the list: Lunges.
There are three functional patterns: even feet, standing on one foot and split-stance.
Why the Lunge?
The Lunge works by utilizing the latter of the three. If you don’t do Lunges, you are essentially missing out on one third of your bodies’ movement patterns.
The Lunge trains your legs in both flexion and extension at the same time. – adding to its utility.
As this is a squat variation, little needs be said into its effectiveness which has already been layed out above.
The Walking Lunge improves Hamstring strength, whereas Jumping Lunges can improve sprinting and running parameters.
For Walking Lunges, getting from Point A to Point B, your knees should not be shooting out in front of your toes. The body should remain upright with a neutral spine.
Forward Lunge – this is where you stand in place and pushe your body right back up to the starting position. This is done with one leg and each leg is switched after each repetition. Reverse Lunges are a variation of this further where you simply step back after each rep.
Weighted Lunges – Resistance brought in via Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Sandbags or even a Barbell on the back.
Split Squats – Legs are separated, but you squat down in a split stance.
Bulgarian Squats – Back foot placed onto something – usually it is raised. This can be down with body-weight or with resistance.
The Basic Walking-Lunge is the go to, and must be mastered first before the variations are attempted. Well before the Leg Extension machine and Leg Press which is usually the go to.
Benchmarks; When to Progress? When Is it Time For The Gym?
A good rule of thumb in understanding whether you are at an adequate level of Fitness in these key exercises is by achieving a set-amount of perfect reps:
*Disclaimer – there are conditions against the above, where it may vary on person to person.
These are numbers to shoot for; general benchmarks and about understanding progression.
It’s about understanding the basic movement patterns, and the basic athletic elements. The foundational stuff. Moving your own body in space.
The general concept being: be able to move yourself before you add accessories.
It’s a Round-Up:
So there you have it – 5 exercises that rule them all.
You won’t even need a gym membership at first.
They can be done at any time of day
They can be done anywhere.
They can be sequenced in a number of ways, they can be included at different times to create a workout, or an exercise can be selected individually for specific focus.
And if you don’t believe the potential benefits you can get from these 5 exercises, look no further than Calisthenics. Some people have obtained phenomenal shape by utilizing just their body-weight – and these exercises form the basics.
So if you would like further help with programming these 5, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
And in the fashion of the great Patches O’Houlihan