Plank up + down This exercise is fantastic for strengthening your shoulders and core strength. Sarah Lawrence shows us how.The goal is to maintain a solid plank position throughout the whole exercise and to not let your hips sway.Starting on your elbows and toes, or for Level 1, on your knees, engage your core before you start. Keep your hips as still as possible, push up with one hand then the other until you are propped up in a push-up position.Lower back down to your elbows one arm at a time. Halfway through, change your leading arm so you strengthen the other shoulder as you press up to your hands.NEXT: Advanced plank variations>>
Name: Dean Somerset
Occupation: Exercise physiologist; medical and rehabilitation coordinator for World Health Clubs.
It’s easy to look at complex movements like dribbling a soccer ball, throwing a baseball, or handling a hockey puck and see how that took years to perfect. Athletes rehearse these movements endlessly, stick to the fundamentals, and trust that practice will improve execution in game situations. One day it finally does, but this happens over time, not overnight.
The same theory should apply to weight training. In a perfect world, we would all practice and progress safely, building the type of strength that allows us to handle heavy loads without injuries or negative compensation patterns.
Nevertheless, there’s almost always a look of befuddlement on a trainee’s face when I explain that they must first build a foundation with basic exercises. They simply don’t believe the basics will increase their arm size, build chiseled abs, or sculpt jean-busting legs. They want quick results from extreme plans like they see on television.
It sounds simple, I’ll admit, but my formula for success is this: commit to long-term training goals, and get the most out of the staple lifts like the push-up, dumbbell row, squat, and deadlift. These four are probably the most common exercises within weight training circles, and they’re included in nearly all of the programs you’ll see on this site.
Believe it or not, these exercises are enough to put you on the road to physique of your dreams, if you do them right. However, despite their popularity, they’re very technical movements that can be easy to butcher.
It’s easy to attribute technique flaws to a lack of mobility, but here’s what that excuse overlooks: Most exercises are corrective in nature and relatively easy to master, provided you take the time to progress through them and learn them properly.
Let’s go upstream and solve these problems before they start! Here’s what I see going wrong with the way most people perform the four fundamental lifts, and how you can perform them to get the most bang for your buck in the gym.
Many push-up issues start when people focus on what muscle groups the push-up “works.” If you’re thinking all about chest, arms, and shoulders, you’ll forget to keep the rest of the body tense and stable. This should be a full-body lift!
Make sure your hips and shoulders are lined up your arms and are in the best position to develop true pressing strength. This will help you build the most force at the bottom push-up position.
Watch The Video – 02:06
Push-up coaching points
- Squeeze your glutes and abs to lock your hips to your core.
- Keep your arm tight to the armpits.
- Hit the ground with your chest before your head.
Most issues dumbbell rows happen when the spine is held in a flexed and rounded-back position, rather than a neutral position. Improper spine positioning causes the shoulder blade to move up instead of down when the upper back is rounded, which forces the upper traps to work instead of the lats.
Focus on keeping a long, tight spine during the movement, and you should feel the burn directly below your shoulder blade, into to your tailbone, and through the lats.
Breaking Down The Dumbbell Row
Watch The Video – 02:17
Dumbbell row coaching points
- Take a wider stance than you think you need.
- Keep the spine long and straight with the chest up.
- Let the shoulder blade do the work. The wrist and elbow follow the shoulder.
Problematic squatters generally fall into two camps: those who are stiff and tight, and those who are mobile but have trouble controlling the movement. I discussed squatting issues before in a power panel with my fellow strength training coaches, but this never-ending battle is always worth discussing.
Squatting is very technical and involves many moving parts. The best plan: Don’t jump into heavy weight too quickly. Start by doing bodyweight reps within your scope of control. Once you add weight, focus on getting comfortable at hitting depth and building a more effective range of motion.
Before you even think of going heavy, ensure that you can control the movement with your heels on the floor, hamstrings resting on your calves, and your torso positioned long and tall.
Squat Fix: Low Mobility
Watch The Video – 05:12
Squat coaching points
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and press evenly throughout.
- Create force through the hips to drive the movement.
- Lean the torso forward as your hips move into the rep.
- Keep the core tense without restricting airflow.
- Keep the shoulders vertical over the middle of the foot.
The deadlift is a skill-based movement that takes reps and consistent practice to improve. Most common deadlifting issues derive from the spine doing too much work instead of the hips, which are supposed to drive the movement. The spine should be a rigid lever that transfers force from the legs and hips up through the arms, thereby moving the weight.
Get your core and shoulders tight and keep the spine stiff to assist the movement. The deadlift isn’t easy, but once you perfect your technique, you’d better believe it can be fun to lift a heavy weight off the ground.
Watch The Video – 05:23
Deadlift coaching points
- Keep the spine straight and drive the movement from your hips.
- Set the bar close to your shins at the start of the movement and keep the shin vertical, without positioning the knee ahead of the bar.
- Brace your abs, squeeze your arms down tight to your ribs, and stand tall without over-extending at lockout.
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Your goal doesn’t have to be to make it to the Olympics in order to get the most from your workouts.
Whether you’re training for a race or simply looking to stay active, why shouldn’t you at least be able to train like your favourite athletes? Fitness expert and coach Nick Grantham – who has worked with many top athletes and Olympians – thinks we should all be able to train to our full potential regardless of our individual goals.
His new book The Strength & Conditioning Bible: How to Train Like an Athlete is designed to give you everything you need to make it happen. ‘Anyone who wants to improve their fitness levels and is willing to invest some time and effort can optimise their training and performance,’ he says. ‘And that’s pretty much anyone!’
Gone are the days when you needed the most expensive training tools and elite trainers by your side to train smart. From guide books to online personal trainers, there are increasingly easy and effective ways to get training – but with Nick’s experience working in high-performance fitness and sport science, you can really count on The Strength & Conditioning Bible to not only explain what to do and how to do it, but also why you’re doing it.
‘As a coach I know the power of understanding,’ Nick says. ‘If you understand why you’re performing an activity, you’re far more likely to stick to the training programme.’
As well as giving you the chance to take exercises up or down a notch, it also preps you to continue your training confidently on your own. ‘It offers sample sessions, and appropriate progressions and regressions,’ he adds. ‘It also provides the reader with an understanding that will allow them to develop their own effective programmes.’
The workout over these pages, devised by Nick, will allow you to train your body from head to toe in a fuss-free, effective way. In Nick’s own words, no matter what your level or experience, ‘anyone can train like an athlete’.
Areas trained: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves
Holding the barbell resting on your shoulder muscles,
stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend at your knees and hips to lower your body until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Reverse the position, extending your hips and knees to return to the start position.
Perform 8-10 reps of each move one after the other in a circuit, resting between sets if you need to. Once a circuit is complete, return to the start and repeat. Keep going until you’ve reached the time recommended for your level
Areas trained: chest, triceps, core
Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Tighten up through your core, ensuring your back is flat.
Bend your arms to lower your body until your chest is about 1cm from the floor.
Drive back up to the starting position where your arms are extended.
Areas trained: hamstrings, lower back, glutes
Hold the bar with an overhand grip approximately shoulder-width (your thumbs should brush the outside of your thighs).
Place your feet approximately hip-width apart, with knees soft and your feet straight ahead.
Maintaining a flat back position, bend forward at the hips, lowering the bar towards the floor.
Reverse the position, extend your hips and return to the start position.
Areas trained: core, stomach
Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle with arms fully extended towards the ceiling.
Simultaneously lower your arms behind your head and your legs out fully until they are both close to the ground, without touching it.
Return to the start position and repeat.
Areas trained: shoulders, core, glutes, sides
Lie on your back and hold a kettlebell in your right hand, straight above your shoulder, arm vertical. Position your left arm out to the side and bend your right leg so that your right foot is alongside your left knee.
Pushing off your right foot, roll onto your left hip and up onto your left elbow.
Push up onto your left hand and holding yourself up on your left hand and right foot, lift yourself up off the ground, then thread your left leg back to a kneeling position.
You will be in a kneeling position with your left knee on the floor, right foot on the floor and the kettlebell locked out overhead in your right hand.
From the kneeling position, move into a standing position.
Reverse the movements to come back down to the starting position on the floor.
Perform on the opposite side for the next rep.
Areas trained: glutes, hamstrings, core
Set up in the position shown – your shoulder blades in line with the bench and holding a barbell to your hips.
Place your feet close to your bottom, so that at the top of the hip thrust, your calves are at 90 degrees to the floor.
Drive through your heels and focus on using your glutes to push your hips straight up. Finish with your hips as high as possible while maintaining a neutral spine.
2-point dumbbell bent-over row
Areas trained: upper back, biceps
Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, start with your feet hip-width apart in an offset stance with your right foot slightly staggered behind the left.
Take up the same position as you would for a bent-over row (your knees slightly bent and your torso bent forwards at your hips at a 45-degree angle).
Row the dumbbell up to your ribcage and then return to the starting position.
Repeat all reps in the set and then switch sides.
Areas trained: glutes, hamstrings, back, core
Hold a kettlebell with both hands and bend your knees so you are in an athletic position.
Bring the kettlebell through your legs, so your forearms are in contact with your inner thighs.
Swing the weight upward and out to eye level, using the extension of your hips to move
Return to the start position and go straight into another rep.
Buy the book
Packed with plenty more workouts just like this one, The Strength & Conditioning Bible: How to Train Like an Athlete by Nick Grantham is published by Bloomsbury (£18, bloomsbury.com). Get your copy now!