Whether you’re a cyclist, yogi, or Mr. Olympia-in-training, fitness looks a little different for everyone. Whatever your personal flavor of fitness looks like (and wherever you are in your journey), though, experts agree that you should definitely be doing some strength training. But are there certain strength moves everyone should do, regardless of their goals?
Strength training doesn’t have to completely take over your routine—but certain key movements are definitely worth your while. “Foundational exercises, like squats, deadlifts, pushups, pull-ups, and overhead presses are essential,” explains strength and conditioning coach Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
In addition to working your major muscle groups, these movements also reflect activities you do in everyday life (like squatting to grab a rag under the kitchen sink or walking up a flight of stairs), Liu explains. If you want to feel stronger and more capable in everything you do, these moves help make that happen.
Here, trainers break down the five strength moves everyone should do.
If you’re going to do just one of these moves, make it the deadlift. “Deadlifts recruit a variety of muscle groups in both the upper body as well as the lower body,” says Melissa Vogel, C.P.T., founder of Busy to Bomb Fit Mom. That means it not only torches tons of calories—but also helps you build full-body strength for life.
To do a deadlift:
- Stand with your feet about hips-width distance apart and toes beneath a weighted barbell.
- Keeping your core tight and back flat, push your hips back, and grab a hold of the bar with your hands just wider than your knees.
- Push through your heels to lift the bar off the floor. (The bar and your hips should rise together.) Keep the bar close to your body, as if you were going to drag it up the front of your shins.
- When you come to a fully-extended standing position, squeeze your glutes and lower back down.
They might remind you of middle school gym class, but pull-ups are worth your while. This staple is one of the strength moves everyone should do because it not only engages all of the muscles on the back of your upper body, but your core, too, says Liu.
To do a pullup:
- Grip a pullup bar with your hands shoulders-width apart and your palms facing away from you.
- Extend your arms completely to hang from the bar.
- Then, keeping your core tight, squeeze your shoulder blades back and down and bend at the elbows to pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar.
- At the top of the move, squeeze your lats (the big back muscles that extend from your shoulder blades down to the sides of your lower back) and upper back, and then lower yourself back down, with control.
If you can’t perform full pullups on your own, try negative pull-ups, suggests Liu.
To do a negative pullup:
- Place a small box directly beneath the pullup bar and grab the pullup bar with hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you.
- Jump up to bring your chest to the bar and squeeze your back to hold the position.
- Keeping your core and back tight, lower down as slowly as possible until you come to hang with your arms fully extended.
- Hang for 10 to 30 seconds.
3. Squat Curl-To-Presses
Looking for a move that engages your upper and lower body at the same time? This compound exercise does just that—and puts your core to work, too.
Read More: Should You Be Doing Compound Exercises?
“Squat curl-to-presses are a great movement that incorporate all elements of the mechanics of daily living,” shares Erin Mahoney, CPT, Vice President of Education for the International Sports Sciences Association. Need to grab groceries from the floor and pop them onto the top shelf of your fridge? This exercise builds the strength you need to make that so much easier.
To do a squat curl-to-press:
- Grab a weight that is challenging yet feasible to lift for 12 to 15 reps.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands holding the dumbbells at your sides.
- Squat down as if you’re sitting in a chair.
- Push through your heels to return to a standing position, bending at the elbows to curl the dumbbells up to chest level while doing so.
- Push the dumbbells up overhead until your arms are fully extended.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells and return to the starting position.
4. Weighted Step-Ups
Weighted step-ups offer the one-two punch of building functional strength and also testing your balance. “This lower-body exercise helps strengthen your ability to perform functional movements such as climbing stairs and walking uphill,” says Mahoney.
It also requires balance, and so can help you stay injury-free in the long run.
To do weighted step-ups:
- Stand comfortably facing a box or step, holding dumbbells in your hands at your sides.
- Plant your right foot on the box or step and push through your right heel to lift up until you can place your left foot next to your right. (Keep your core tight and back straight.)
- Slowly and with control, lower your left foot back down onto the ground.
- Repeat on the other side.
5. Glute Bridges
Glute bridges may not be fancy, but they’re great for anyone who spends lots of time at a computer.
“In addition to working your glutes and hamstrings, glute bridges also work your hip extensors, core stabilizers, and lower back muscles,” says Nicolle Harwood-Nash, C.P.T., trainer for The Workout Digest. “Generally, people who spend all day sitting behind a desk or those who live sedentary lifestyle suffer from weak glutes and lower-back problems.”
That’s where glute bridges come in. According to Harwood-Nash, this simple move can help strengthen glutes, improving hip mobility and taking pressure off the lower back.
To do a glute bridge:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground hips-width distance apart.
- Push through your heels to lift your hips up until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes hard and hold this position for a few seconds.
- Slowly return to your starting position.
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