By Mark Rippetoe
February 5, 2014
Strength training is quite popular these days, and is getting more popular as people realize the benefits of approaching their exercise program with a definite goal in mind. Stronger is more useful. Stronger is better. Stronger even looks better. And stronger is a straightforward process — lift a little more weight today than you did last time, and keep doing so for as long as possible.
But as simple as this process is, it can become unnecessarily complicated without a basic understanding of the nature of the exercises that make you strong most efficiently. The best exercises to use are the ones that involve the most muscle mass, the greatest number of joints, and that require you to balance yourself while you’re doing them. Put a bar on your back and squat below parallel, press a bar overhead, pick a bar up from the ground and set it back down. These are normal human movement patterns that can be turned into progressively heavier exercises that make you strong the way your body moves naturally.
You normally use your strength while standing on the ground and applying force with your hands and upper body. The hips and legs generate the force, it is transmitted up your torso and out through your arms. The press and deadlift are perfect examples of this precise application, and the squat is the best way to build strength in the hips, legs, and back. Add the bench press for upper body strength, and chin-ups for arm and upper back strength, and you have all the bases covered.
But if that’s true, why is it that when you go to the gym you are immediately shown two hours worth of movements that are not deadlifting, pressing, or squatting?
Why are you shown an array of exercise machines that divide the body into small groups of muscles to be worked separately, when the body actually uses them all at the same time? And when the Certified Trainers move you over to the large colorful balls and have you do balancing tricks on them, one foot at a time, is it really an improvement?
No, it’s not. Here’s why:
1. Deadlifting, pressing, and squatting are fundamental barbell exercises, but they are perceived as dangerous, complicated, and difficult to learn — and therefore difficult to teach.
It requires some personal experience under the bar to coach barbell exercises, but you should reasonably expect a paid consultant in strength training to have that experience. The movements themselves are simple to learn and perfectly safe when performed correctly. More importantly, they are so much more effective than isolation-type exercises that you waste your time and money if your program is not based on barbell training.
When you develop the ability to squat, press, and deadlift, you are developing a skilled movement pattern, one that must be practiced and perfected as well as made stronger. The movement pattern you perform is controlled by you, and you alone. It is important to note that when you do a standing barbell exercise, you can fall down — learning to balance is perhaps the most important and beneficial part of the initial stages of the exercise.
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