We train to be fit and to build muscle by doing a myriad of exercises and different moves, adding weight as we get stronger. That’s how we load the muscles to break them and make them grow while burning calories and trimming fat. But all our movements in our everyday life can be broken down into only three groups – pulling, pushing and hip extension.

Dumbbell Press

On the same note, all our exercises can be reduced to these three movements as well. I don’t need to remind you of the benefits of full body exercises but if we combine these two concepts together (pushing, pulling, hip extensions as full body exercises) we get pretty much an all around complete routine that is necessary to stay fit and build muscle. That’s because as we do these moves and train our muscles in the most basic movements to human physique, we train all the right muscle groups as well as keep away the injuries if we do it right.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to stop doing other exercises and isolation moves, pro bodybuilders will have a word to say if I do. But if we’re getting back to basics, if we want to know what the essentials to our fitness are, these are the three movement types we need to look at.

Push Ups and Dumbbell/Barbell Press

Male Workout - Pushups

Push up is the basic pushing move and if you start anywhere to begin building muscle, it’s here. Do the correct full push up in controlled movements, add variations such as decline, weight, unstable surface and other technique variations to make it more difficult as you go.

Always keep in mind that you can make your muscles work much harder if you do slow and correct form repetitions, don’t spring back up and don’t use momentum. Push ups are great no matter your level of fitness.

Dumbbell and barbell presses work your chest more and your core less but if you need more emphasis on the chest muscles this is a go to exercise. Generally speaking, dumbbells are better for presses as they allow your shoulders to move more freely which helps avoiding injury, but a barbell allows to gradually increase weight.

Pull Ups

Exercise Illustration - Wide Grip Pull Ups

One of the best full body exercises overall are the pull ups. They’re perfect to train your vertical pull which involves arms, shoulders and back muscles. It’s a difficult exercise as it is but you can add weight to increase the difficulty too.

Overhead Press

Male Workout - Shoulder Press

To train your vertical push you can do hand-standing push ups or more realistically, overhead dumbbell presses. It’s a great exercise to train your shoulders and it’s easy to pick up heavier dumbbells as you go. As you perform this movement you can engage your core and a little bit of hip extension by bending your knees a little and pushing your weight up.

For a full range of motion, lift a single dumbbell at a time and alternate your hands.

Rows

Kettlebell Exercise - One Arm Row

Whether you use weights, cables, trx, or a bar to do horizontal rows this is the movement to train your horizontal pull. Pull ups are great but this is a different range of motion that affects your muscles in a different way and has to be addressed in your workouts.

Squats

Male Workout - Squats

Hip extension is the third basic movement which affects your legs and lower back. Strong hips can prevent knee injuries and strong glutes will save your lower back. So even if you don’t lift heavy things off the ground much in your life, you will benefit not only from nice legs and that’s enough reason not to skip a leg day.

Squats, free and weighted is the number one exercise to train your hip extension. Form is just as important here so make sure you keep your spine straight and push your butt back, thrust your hips forward as you stand up. It’s that much more important doing barbell squats.

Deadlift

Kettlebell Exercise - Deadlift

Deadlift is a great strength exercise and will train your hip extension strength. Human body is designed to lift heavy things so it’s important to train yourself for it, even if you won’t lift anything heavy in your daily life. It will help you stay fit and build muscle, it will develop a strong core and your over all strength.

Start with lower weights, such as kettlebells before you jump on heavy barbells and make sure to use correct form. Just as you do squats, keep your spine straight, butt back, your bodyweight on your heels and thrust your hips forward as you lift the weight, don’t lift with your arms.

Lunges

Kettlebell Exercise - Lunge press

For a full range of motion, do lunges. They will help strengthen your leg joints and hips, not to mention the obvious which is that this is the exact motion you do as you walk, run, climb the stairs, etc.

As you advance, take weights in your hands and continue with walking lunges.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell Exercise - Side Step Swing

The final, and often overlooked exercise that trains a very important movement, that is the ability to accelerate weight. Weight swings develop explosive strength and athletic power.

The exercise is performed by starting in a slight squat position with the weight between your legs and thrusting the weight forward and upward by extending your hips. Don’t use hands to move the weight, the power generated to thrust the weight comes from the hips.

Workout

So how do you workout using all of these moves? I suggest splitting each of the three movements (push, pull, hip extension) into different days and performing movements related to it that day. Use any workout techniques you know and like, feel free to add any isolation moves too (such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, or your favorite machines), but these 3 basic movements are the most important.

For example, you could do each exercise with variations in drop sets:

  • Dumbbell press until failure
  • Decline push ups until failure
  • Simple push ups until failure

Then,

  • Overhead dumbbell press until failure
  • Overhead push press until failure
  • Pike push ups until failure

Or do them in sets of 8 reps. The technique, while it matters, is not the key point that I want to share with this article. It’s the importance of the basic movements that you need to do to be fit and build muscle.

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