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Essentials of a Good Strength Program

This week, I want to give some information about the fundamentals of a good lifting program. Any strength program should include movements that fit into these basic categories: squat or quad dominant movements, hip hinge, upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and some rotation and anti-rotation movements. Within these movements, you can get increasingly specific about what should be in a strength program. Let’s break this down a little bit and talk about why it matters.

Squat or Quad Dominant Movements

Whether you’re training for life/health/longevity, a sport, or aesthetics, you want to include some kind of squat in your program. It doesn’t have to involve a barbell. It might include holding onto something for balance. Coach Aaron likes to say that there is some version of a squat that will work for you, and we just have to find the one for you. Squats are important because this is the basic pattern of getting up and down from a chair or the floor. Squatting helps to prep for picking up weight from the floor (think like picking up your kid or dog). It’s also important to include some single leg movements (things like nobody’s favorite: lunges). I call this category squat or quad dominant because you can also include things like leg presses or extensions that are not a squat, but still train the same pattern and strengthen your quads.

Hip Hinge

Deadlifts are one type of hip hinge, but there are other ways to train a hip hinge. Hip hinge movements help train your posterior chain, including the glutes. Strong glutes can help reduce or prevent low back pain. The hip hinge can be difficult to learn, but it is a fundamental movement pattern, and getting stronger in this pattern can help improve your quality of life.

Upper Body Pushing

You can push in a bunch of different directions. Push things over your head, away from your chest, out to the sides. Our shoulders are so cool like that! We like to include multiple types of upper body pushing, both different directions, and also single arm work. Single sided work can be helpful in reducing imbalances from one side to the other. It’s really common to be stronger on one side, and this can be more significant for folks who do sports or work that involves a lot of movement on your dominant side. Think about sports like golf, baseball, or boxing where your stance is based around your dominant hand. Hobbies or careers in construction, sewing, hair styling, or art projects can lead to a stronger dominant hand, and doing a bit of work in the gym to even this out is helpful.

Upper Body Pulling

Similar to pushing, you can pull things with your upper body in multiple different directions, and it is important to train them all. You can work these pulling movements bilaterally and unilaterally. In our programs, we will often cycle between bilateral and unilateral work, because it’s important to train all of these movements, but if you try to do all of the variations all of the time, you’ll end up spending a looooonnnng time in the gym.

Rotation and Anti-Rotation

Rotation and anti-rotation primarily work your core. These can be included as part of another movement (things like lunges with a trunk rotation) or as a separate movement (Pallof presses). Training these movements helps you build stability to move through your daily life, and through other sport specific movements. Many sports have movements that require you to be able to do powerful rotation, or to stabilize against rotation.

You’ll see lists of “primary movements” that might include additional categories that I didn’t include here. It isn’t wrong to include more categories; I typically include things that other people list as separate categories as more of a sub-category. No matter what you’re training for, you should have movements that cover all of these movement types to be a well rounded mover. Even for our push-pull training program, we still include a version of a squat because it is an important movement pattern to train.

I hope this gives you a small “peek behind the curtain” at how strength programs are built! If you want to take the guesswork out of your strength training, we’d love to help you! We offer remote programming where you will work with a designated coach to achieve your fitness goals. We do both personalized programming (great if you’re rehabbing an injury, training for a specific event, or have more complex needs) and group programming (generally ideal for folks with a bit of lifting experience who are prepping for a PPG event or just looking for some structure and guidance). The first step is to book a free no-sweat intro and one of our coaches will walk you through our options.

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