Group of women running

It’s not uncommon for patients to tell me they would like to ‘get back to the gym’ but they are not sure where to start.  They are confused about what exercises they should do, what exercises are safe, and sometimes discouraged because they can't do what they used to be able to do. In this post, you will be given a strategy to easily implement in your Re-start to exercise.

What exercises you chose to do for your resistance training which is an important part of any program but especially if you haven’t been back for a while, depends on many things but most importantly it depends on your goals.

For me, my goals are fairly simple: Feel strong enough to take care of any normal daily activity, play some recreational sports at a decent level and not wake up not being able to walk. I was on a run at Annedale State Park in Santa Rosa, CA and I saw a young man running with a ‘Marathon Finisher’ shirt. I was guessing that he might’ve been in the 65-70 year old range. I was running next to him for a few minutes and asked him which race he was training for next. He answered with “Nothing special, just my 100th birthday.” This blew me away! I couldn’t believe he looked so young and was hitting the trails like a young and spry runner. It then hit me, anyone can do anything they enjoy as long as their healthy and pain-free.

Everyone has goals when it comes to health. It’s up to you to find something that you care about and go for it. This is a guide for the gym but can easily be used at home when taking the groceries out of the trunk, lifting the car seat, gardening, cleaning, etc. All of these activities are just THAT. Activities. They require a certain level of muscular activity and if your body is not able to withstand the demands of all these activities over the course of the week, guess what? Your going to eventually hurt yourself.

EVERYONE is hyper focused on cardio related exercises to try to maximize their health. As much as I love running and cardio, if you’re planning to start exercising after a long layoff a couple weeks in a resistance based program will benefit you more. I explain why cardio should be secondary here --> (read this article for more information

Although cardiovascular exercises are important this blog is about what resistance type exercises will help you reach your goals. According to renown exercise coach Dan John, there are 5 essential movements that you need to be able to do throughout your life: Push, Pull, Squat, Hip Hinge, and Carry. If you design a resistance program around these 5 essential movements you are off to an excellent start.

1. Push

Good examples of push exercises would be: bench press, pushups, overhead press (if your shoulders are healthy). Using your lawnmower, pushing a heavy shopping cart at Costco, and getting up from the ground requires a higher level of muscular activity. All of these movements are either partially essential (lawnmower) or HIGHLY essential (picking yourself up off the ground). You can see why consistently training these movements can be particularly helpful, especially as we all age.

2. Pull

Good pull exercises would be any of the rowing variations including, bent over rows, seated rows, renegade rows etc.  Pull-ups are also excellent. Bending and trying to grab the 2 milk jugs plus the other 12 bags of groceries is a perfect example of pulling weight from a lowered position. Because come on, who likes to take one bag of groceries at a time? 

3. Squat

As I write this I can think of more squat variations than almost any of the other movement patterns.  Basic ones would be: body weight squats, rear leg elevated split squats (Bulgarian split squats), sumo squats or any of the other dozen or more variations. 

Playing with your kids sometimes requires some version of a squat, lowering down to pick things off the ground (especially heavier things) and many other scenarios in which this is an essential movement in regular life. Don’t think of a squat as only the traditional movement. Use the position and exercise within its parameters, I have given you a couple different options above.

4. Hip Hinge

This is one of the most important of the patterns especially for those with sore backs and disc issues.  A good hip hinge will allow you to bend at the waist and pick stuff up safely.  Ironically I find this is often one of the hardest movements to help people get right.  Some exercises that help are deadlifts, one-legged deadlifts (Romanian deadlifts), good mornings, and kettlebell swings.

This movement is difficult because it goes into some of the other movements. This is ‘Mr. Versatile’. Movements typically start at the hip and if you don’t have this foundational movement, lifting things can be harder than they should be. For example a ‘bent over row’ requires you to hip hinge prior to pulling the weight. If you do not hinge, you’re at a disadvantage 1. You won’t be able to lift as much this way 2. You are putting your low back in a risky position/asking for a disk injury.

5. Carrying 

This sounds simple but is so very important for activities of daily lifting because a good carrying exercise also trains your grip.  Examples would be: suitcase carries, farmer walks, rack carries and waiter carries.

Going back to the grocery analogy, we want to carry all 12 bags right? How are you going to get from your car to the fridge if you do not have the capacity for it?

Key Takeaways

Designing a program around these 5 basic movement patterns and consistently implementing it can help ensure that you can function and move well for years to come, play with the grandkids, get up and down off the floor independently, get in and out of the tub without a pull support, go up the stairs when the elevator breaks and so on and so on.

So if you are wondering how to start pick one or two exercises from each of the above movements and you are off to an excellent start to your health!