StrongBody Basics

By Andrew Heffernan |

The Squat

Whether it’s getting up from a chair, crouching to play with a toddler, or hunkering down behind home plate, squatlike movements are part of our daily lives. That’s one reason that some version of the move belongs in everyone’s exercise program.

“All of us need to get better at lowering ourselves down and getting back up again,” says Glass. “It’s a fundamental human activity.”

Squats thoroughly work your largest lower-body muscles, with particular emphasis on your quadriceps, or front thighs, and glutes, or butt muscles. The move is also fundamental to building muscle mass, improving athletic performance, and losing weight.

“The squat allows most people to move more weight over a larger range of motion than any other exercise,” Glass explains. That makes it an exceptionally time-efficient muscle builder. “If you have 25 minutes to exercise, three times a week, the squat should be your best friend.”

Barbell Back Squat

• Place a barbell in a squat rack at shoulder height. Load it with an appropriate weight for you (or, if you’re a beginner, use a bar without weights) and stand facing it.

• Take an overhand grip on the bar, slightly wider than shoulder width.

• Walk toward the bar and duck your head underneath it so that the bar rests on the muscles of your upper back (not on your spine).

• Pull down on the bar as if trying to break it over your back.

• Walk your feet directly underneath the bar, stand up, and walk back a few steps.

• With your feet parallel and slightly wider than shoulder width, slowly bend your knees and hips, sitting back as low as possible, aiming for thighs parallel to the ground. Keep your lower back in a natural arch and feet planted.

• Reverse the move, slowly standing back up, and repeat.

Try These Variations

The Bench Press

There’s a reason the question “How much do you bench?” is such a cliché among gym-goers the world over. “It’s a good indicator of pure upper-body strength,” says Glass. “If you’re trying to build muscle in your chest, you need to press. If you’re trying to tone up, you need to press. Athletes need to press. Grandmothers need to press.”

The press is an effective upper-body muscle builder — with particular emphasis on the chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles.

Pressing in any direction — forward, upward, downward, and everything in between — is a key motion in many recreational activities: Think of holding a downward-dog pose in yoga, or throwing a punch in the martial arts. It’s also an important part of many common movements, like getting up off the floor or hoisting a suitcase into an overhead bin.

When performed correctly, presses promote not just muscle strength, but also improved joint stability and mobility.

Barbell Bench Press

• Place a barbell in the uprights of a bench-press station and load it with an appropriate weight for you (or, if you’re a beginner, use the empty bar).

• Lie on the bench with the bar in line with the top of your head.

• Keeping your feet flat on the floor, take an overhand grip on the bar, with hands about 6 inches wider than shoulder width on each side. Lift the bar off the uprights.

• Slowly lower the bar until it contacts the lower part of your chest.

• Press the bar back to the starting position, pause, and repeat.

• Return the bar to the rack. If racking and unracking the bar is challenging or uncomfortable, which is common with heavier weights, ask a workout buddy or spotter to help you move the bar into position.

Try These Variations

The Deadlift

Deadlifts help us build the muscle necessary to heft groceries, children, and luggage with ease. “Deads” also aid us in counteracting some of the long-term effects of aging. “As you get older, your joints become stiffer and more fibrotic,” says Nuckols. That can lead to joint stiffness and back pain. Deadlifts keep those same joints mobile and primed for action, regardless of your age.

Deadlifts are the pull that mirrors the push of the bench press. By working your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, the move strengthens your entire “rear kinetic chain,” Glass explains, all of which tends to weaken in people who spend lots of time sitting.

And deadlifts only look dangerous, he says. “People hurt their backs picking stuff up because they never practice doing it. Learn good form on the deadlift and you’re less likely to get hurt — in or out of the gym.”

Conventional Deadlift

• Load a barbell with an appropriate weight for you; step up to the bar so it is touching your lower legs at mid-shin height.

• Hinge at the hips and bend your knees, reaching down to take an overhand, shoulder-width grip on the bar.

• Keeping your arms straight, your lower back in its natural arch, your chest up, and your head aligned with your spine, stand fully upright by pushing your hips forward. Squeeze your glutes at the top to achieve a full lockout.

• Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, hinge at the hips and bend the knees to lower the bar to the floor.

Try These Variations

This article originally appeared as part of “Strong-Body Basics” in the January/February 2016 issue of Experience Life. To read more on the Dumbbell Goblet Squat, Kettlebell Front Squat, Zercher Squat, Cossack Squat, Incline Bench Press, One-Arm Floor Press, Rotating Press, Bottom-Up Press, Sumo Deadlift, Rotational Deadlift, Suitcase Deadlift and Seated Deadlift, order a back issue by calling 800-897-4056 (press option 3 when prompted). To get all the articles from each issue of Experience Life, subscribe online at .

Determining how much to lift can be a challenge in itself. As a general rule of thumb, choose weights that are challenging for you to lift with good form for all of the reps in a set.Finding the ideal resistance level takes some trial and error when an exercise is brand new to you, says veteran trainer Nick Tumminello, author of .“Be conservative,” he advises. “For the first week on any new program, choose weights you can handle easily.”After you feel confident with that starting , slowly and steadily add to it. For example, if your squat program calls for three sets of five reps, and you easily completed that with 95 pounds last week, add 5 to 10 pounds to the bar this week.If you struggled to complete those sets, stick with 95 pounds until you can handle five reps for all three sets.Follow these guidelines for choosing weights that match your workout goals:And remember: Listening to your body is the key to steady and safe progress in the weight room.

Targeting glute muscles and improving hip mobility.Building coordination, core control, and hip flexibility.Improving balance and flexibility while evening out strength and mobility differences between your left and right sides.Building full-body coordination and learning to lift heavy weights overhead.Beginners, since it’s easier to learn and safer to perform.

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