Most gym veterans accept without question that a free weight workout produces superior results than a workout using machines. There are multiple exercises designed to isolate, build, and define nearly every skeletal muscle and muscle group in the body.
Isolation can help your body look great. But isolation is a problem. A great looking body is not necessarily a fit body. But the foundation of any fitness program must be exercises that build basic whole body strength and stamina. Muscles do not work in isolation.
Every movement we make requires our muscles to move with or against each other. Every time we sit, stand, twist, bend, jump, step, reach or any of a thousand other movements, various muscle groups are working together to push, pull and stabilize. True fitness requires training movements, not muscles.
The following exercises concentrate on building a foundation of functional whole body strength. Each compound exercise activates multiple muscle groups, including the vital core muscles of the torso.
The deadlift is a compound exercise involving lifting the weight from the floor to waist level, mimicking everyday bending and lifting. The deadlift targets multiple muscle groups including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors.
Performing the deadlift: Stand in front of the barbell with your feet shoulder width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. Grip the barbell with an alternate grip (one palm out, one palm in) and squat with your hips back, your weight on your heels, and your arms straight. Drive your hips forward and extend your knees to lift the weight from the floor, keeping your back straight and your head up. Keep the barbell close to your shins and thighs during the lift. The finish position should find you standing straight up with your shoulders back and the weight at thigh level.
Return to the starting position by flexing your hips and knees. Keep your back straight at all times. Perform 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions using 75% of your maximum weight, resting 2-3 minutes between sets.
There is a reason you do not see many people at the gym performing squats: They are hard. Known as the “King of exercises”, squats develop muscle mass and power in the quadriceps. Like the deadlift, squats also activate other muscles of the back, legs, abdomen and butt.
Performing squats: Position the barbell on a rack at about mid chest level. Grip the bar with a wide grip and place your head under the bar with your knees slightly bent. The bar should be across your shoulders and upper trapezius muscles. Do not rest the bar on your neck.
Place your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward, keeping your back straight and head up. Lift the bar by straightening your knees and step back from the rack. Lower your hips and buttocks until your knees are bent 90 degrees and your thighs are parallel to the floor. After reaching the bottom position, push your hips forward and up in a slow fluid movement. Repeat the movement for 10 repetitions. Never bounce out of the bottom position of the squat.
A variation of the traditional squat is the front squat, where the barbell rests on the upper chest, held by your fingertips.
Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions at 60% of maximum weight.