Efficient and Effective Training: Basic Exercises
Now after ranting on commercial gyms and why their routines usually suck, what’s the solution? Which exercises are the ones that provide maximal yield and bring the best progress? The answer is quite simple: Old but gold. Basic exercises. These are the same methods and training principles actors of yesteryear have trained and actors today swear by. Be it Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, they all started with basic exercises and are still doing them. It is the foundation of which their training is build upon.
However, the problem with basic exercises is that they can carry a higher risk of injury if they are not performed properly. Perfect execution is key to making good progress while staying injury free. It is of the utmost importance that when beginning to learn basic exercises you need proper support, guidance and occasional form checks (by video or a trainer of your gym) after your initial learning phase to ensure that you are performing those exercises correctly.
If you are curious now and want to train more effectively because of this article, have your trainer in your gym show you the exercises described below. After your trainer’s initial instruction you should occasionally ask him to check your form and execution. When learning a new exercise you can simply follow my 4 step-guide to ensure maximum efficiency and safety:
S – E – I – P
Show – your trainer shows you how the exercise needs to be performed
Explain – he explains what he did and tells you cues and tips
Imitate – you imitate while he is instructing you
Practice – practice, practice, practice
After learning the exercise you should practice for a few weeks with lighter loads, until you master the technique safely. Now that you have mastered the technique and feel confident that you and can also control higher weight, you should choose higher and higher loads with your progression.
You will never regret having basic exercises in your training regimen, because they give your musculature the best possible growth stimulus and also have many beneficial adverse effects: Basic exercises like the bench press do not only activate a single muscle group like your chest, but multiple muscle groups like your triceps and shoulders as well. This is why basic exercises are also called compound lifts.
The fact that multiple joints and muscle groups are involved allows you as the athlete to move much higher loads. And as you know by now, higher loads mean an even higher and better stimulus for muscle growth.
Contrary to machine exercises, which are guided by the device, compound exercises with free weights will also load and tax your auxiliary and support muscles and thereby train your intra- and intermuscular coordination. This way a more functional musculature is being built.
By now you should know why basic exercises are effective, but what makes them efficient? You simply save time, because you put load on multiple muscle groups at the same time. This way you can combine multiple isolation exercises into one big compound lift and therefore skip some of these isolation movements. Of course it needs to be said that basic exercises do not have the purpose of training single muscles individually or to work on details in your physique. They are not the carving knife, but more the broadsword in modeling your own body. However, they are unsurpassed in their effectiveness and efficiency over machine and isolation exercises, because in the end that is what you want: Maximum muscle growth.
Anyway, it should not be forgotten that basic lifts also have disadvantages. As mentioned before, they have a higher risk of injury if the execution is faulty. Of course, every exercise carries a risk for injury, but due to its complexity, basic exercises have a higher demand in coordination, which, with heavy loads, can only be maintained by intense concentration and perfect execution. Unfortunately, typical “Power-exercises” have a tendency to lure the not-so-disciplined lifter into cheating with bad form in an effort to handle more weight, do 1 more rep or impress other guys in the gym to boost the ego. However, if you cheat too much or lose focus, heavy weights increase the risk of injury a lot more than the same weight on a machine or on an isolation exercise.
The other disadvantage is actually rather individual. Due to heavy weights in combination with multiple muscle groups being loaded, basic exercises are much more strenuous and breathtaking. You can do a self-experiment if you don’t believe me: Do 15 repetitions on the “Leg Extension” machine with a heavy load you can barely do 15 with. Your quads and thighs will burn, but after a brief minute or two the burning sensation will have subsided and you will be able to do another set.
Now change the exercise to “Squats”, take a heavy weight you can barely handle 15 reps with but with good form. Without resting at the top or the bottom of the movement perform 15 reps. I can guarantee you, if you do it right with the proper execution and full range of motion, you will be out of breath and maybe even see little stars at the end of your set . Now you will definitely need more than just a minute to recover in order to do another set (more likely 3-5 minutes).
When I started lifting weights I read the quote “Squats separate the men from the boys” and no statement explains the core of an exercise program that is based on basics better. Sweat, tears and yes, sometimes even blood will be the main course in an effort and struggle to progress in basic exercises. If you really want to be strong and muscular, there is no way around the basics.