The way to exercise is to train movements. Think about it. You want to retain your ability to move well, easily, and without pain. So when you exercise, why not train your movements to be as effective and efficient as possible?
Forget about muscles. Sure you want to exercise your muscles, but what you’re really doing is training your body and mind to use your muscles as effectively as possible. That’ll make you move well, feel good, and have plenty of energy and vigor. You’ll also be strong—without needless bulk.
Forget about looks. By training your movements, you’ll developed a balanced, well-built body that’ll look fantastic, and you’ll be spend less time doing it.
The Movement-Based Approach to Exercise
The movement-based approach to exercise I’m discussing here has five components: pulling, pressing, level change, rotation, and locomotion. There are different movement patterns (for example carrying)—just realize the main idea is that you move away from focusing on muscles and instead focus on movements and let the muscles take care of themselves (don’t worry, they will).
The body pulls vertically or horizontally. Pulling develops the back side of the body, the lats and the biceps in particular. With the big exercises like pull ups and bent over rows, you’re working a majority of your upper body muscles, getting huge bang for your buck.
Vertical pulling involves pulling yourself up, like in a chin up, pull up, or when you’re climbing a rope, a tree, or a mountain. Machines make it possible to do vertical pulling as well, although you’re no longer pulling yourself up, you’re pulling something down towards you—it’s still vertical pulling though.
Horizontal pulling is achieved when you pull something towards you, as in dumbbell row, or pull yourself towards something, as in Jungle Gym bodyweight row. You practice your horizontal pulling when you pull to start a lawnmower. Just think—now you can improve that skill. One pull starts from now on.
The body pushes both vertically and horizontally as well. The pushing movements balance out the pulling movements.
Vertical pushing just involves pressing something overhead. A bodyweight version is the handstand push up.
Most people are familiar with the types of exercises here—the bench press and the push up. I don’t recommend the bench press for the average person, it’s been the cause of a lot of shoulder pain and can exacerbate rounded shoulders (which most people already have anyway). If you can do it correctly, that’s great, I just don’t think the risk is worth the reward. Dumbbells are a good alternative.
Exercises like push ups and one arm push ups are also great horizontal pushing exercises.
Level Change (Leg Exercises)
The legs are often neglected because they take a lot of energy and aren’t as visible as the upper body. They are extremely important, however. Just consider what takes you around from place to place. Yeah, that’s right, your legs.
This is where you change levels and keep your back relatively upright. For example, a squat, a pistol, or a lunge.
This is where you change levels but your back moves more towards parallel with the ground, for example a kettlebell swing, a single leg deadlift, or a kettlebell snatch.
Rotation (Abs / Core)
The “core” as they call it. This is an extremely important area for your back. It is also an important area because all the force the gets generated from the ground up has to come through you stomach without being lost. Of course, it’s also an important area for those looking for six pack abs.
Your abs get worked when you do exercises like one arm dumbbell presses on a swiss ball, or military presses with one arm, or even just swings. If you’re doing push ups, your abs and core are stabilizing you. You can also incorporate ab movements into traditional exercise, for example, by adding a knee raise to a chin up. If you like doing specific ab exercises hanging leg raises, Turkish get ups, and ab wheels are all great. Exercises with a strong stabilizing component like renegade rows are also effective.
Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, hopping, skipping, etc. An important part of your training since locomotion is what gets you from place to place. If you don’t use it, you lose it. You don’t have to lose your ability to walk as you age.
What about “cardio”?
Cardio can be incorporated as part of locomotion—think running and sprints. Cardio can also be incorporated as part of movement-based training. A set of squats followed by swings is “cardio.” Instead of weights, you can incorporate a bodyweight circuit of push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, etc. and get cardio that way.
Neglecting endurance training is a mistake because resistance training alone won’t sufficiently challenge your heart, lungs, and ability of your body to generate energy for your muscles. In other words, you won’t be as healthy and fit.
How often should I change my program
Not often. You don’t need to. Make some adjustments. Add a few reps, compress some rest periods, maybe try a more challenging variation (for example weighted pull ups). Every three to six months consider making a more fundamental change.
How often should I work each movement pattern?
The minimum is once per training “week.” Hint: The training week does not have to be a week.
Do you have exercise descriptions?
There are some descriptions and videos on this site.
How much should I exercise?
Don’t make the mistake of training for stimulation instead of training for results. How strong you need to be? How flexible do need to be? Attempting great feats of strength or flexibility for their own sake does have merit, however, it is not a requirement to be healthy and fit. My goal for myself, and my goal for you is to present a simple framework of exercise that produces superior results in the least amount of time possible. The questions ask yourself is, how little do I need to exercise? (Note this is not saying not to be active, but in terms of stimulating your muscles to be strong, 2 – 3 days a week is all you need, 20-30 minutes per session.)