Alright, we have explored the nutritional essentials and habits necessary to fuel your body for physical performance, now what exercises will make the best use of those nutritional building block, and allow you to see the progress you want as soon as possible just in time for pool season?
Compound movements —
Think of compound movements as the “big movements.” The three core compound movements are the bench-press, the squat, and the dead lift. We can call these compound movements due to how they integrate a multitude of muscles into the movement, and by doing so, ultimately engage and cause growth in a larger number of muscles compared to other movements specific to a particular area such as an isolation movement. The reason describing these as the “big movements” is appropriate because they all ultimately engage and grow a larger number of muscles than other exercises specific to a particular area (an isolation movement). Big movements = big progress.
Now, the benefits here are two-fold: the first is quite obviously that you are engaging more muscles, meaning each rep results in more progress, rep for rep, than an isolation movement that only targets one muscle. During each of the big three (Bench-Press, Squat, Dead lift), you’re constantly using muscles throughout your back, arms, and core to balance the weight naturally as you move through the rep from start to finish.
Beyond this, because you’re using more muscle fibers as a whole to stabilize the movement, you naturally elevate your testosterone levels – this is particularly applicable to the squat and dead lift where the lift engages your legs, where the largest amount of muscle mass in your body is, triggering the most natural testosterone production and growth.
The Bench-press: Although the bench-press is considered a chest exercise, it really is an exercise for so much more (and not just your ego). As you bring the barbell to and from your chest, you utilize your triceps in your arms, your core and legs to keep you body flat, and even your traps and shoulders to stabilize the key muscles, the pectorals in your chest.
The Squat: Once again, although the hamstrings, quads, and glutes provide the majority of the force as you go ass to the grass and back, your core, lower back, and calves are all activated too, as they help stabilize throughout the movement.
The Dead lift: A movement that makes you feel like a monstrous caveman moving boulders, the dead lift predominantly engages the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erector, but also the traps and calves to stabilize. In additional to these larger muscles, grip strength also plays a critical role.
In summary, you can make immense progress with just these three basic exercises that simulate natural human movements of pushing, pulling, picking up, than any of those crazy looking bow-flex machines that just end up collecting dust in your garage. My training partner and I still do days where the only exercise we do, is one of these three compound movements – they are still the most difficult, most exhausting, and most fulfilling workouts.
The following posts will explore proper technique for max gains and safety for each movement from both the physiological perspective, as well as personal tips I’ve learned improving from not being able to push my own body-weight a few years ago, to pushing twice that now.