As the New Year approaches, many people resolve to begin an exercise program. If you’ve followed my blogs before here on OrthoCore Physical Therapy you’ll know my recommended method for effective exercise is strength training. But where does one begin? How do you decide which ones to incorporate into your workouts? Don’t fret, in this article we’ll discuss the basics of building a progressive strength training program.
We’ll start with lower body workouts as they are essential to overall strength development and they produce the most testosterone output and involve your largest and strongest muscle groups. Lower body training helps to improve stability in the hips, knees, and ankles and some of the best core training comes from exercises like front squats, deadlifts, and split squats.
So where to begin? I recommend finding an FMS certified trainer who can perform the functional movement screen for you so you can identify what areas you need to focus on most. Once you’ve completed your screen, you can begin getting into your program.
Most people associate squats, deadlifts, and lunges with lower body training but, there is so much more to consider. Examine the results of your movement screen. Before you get into any major lifting, you’ll want to work on mobility and stability and familiarize yourself with the basic actions of the hip joint. Exercises here would include : supinated unilateral leg raises, side lunges, assisted squats, assisted lunges, dowel hip hinges, farmer’s carries, controlled side shuffles, and others. Your first 2 to 4 weeks should consist of these kinds of movements until you feel familiar with the actions of the lower body joints.
Your next step is lifting. Strength training involves mix of muscular endurance, explosiveness, and strength. Training for all of these involves various set and rep ranges, light and heavy weight, and different techniques applied to similar exercises for different training results. You’ll want to stick with a few basic and key movements for about a month, and then progress to different movements as you begin to adapt so you’ll continue to improve. Repeating the same workouts over and over will begin to slow your progress and leave you stagnant in your routine.
So... what should you be doing? Without working one on one with you, that’s tough to answer, but I can give you an example. I like to hit lower body twice a week, and vary my workload every week. Think month by month, week 1 I’ll lift heavy, week 2 I lift moderately heavy, week 3 I lift very heavy, week 4 I lift light and let myself rest from 3 weeks of heavy work. By then it’s time to switch up most of my ancillary movements and probably change the technique on my major ones. Let’s take a look.
Box Squats (a great introduction to barbell back squats) 3-8 sets of 3-5 reps
Conventional Speed Deadlifts (training for explosiveness) 3-10 sets of 2 reps at 50%-65% of your 1 rep max
Walking Dumbbell Lunges (great for stability) 2-4 sets of 8 reps each leg
Reverse Crunches (hip movement and abdominals) 3 sets of 12 reps
Planks (abdominals and erector spinae [lower back) 3 sets of 30 seconds
Front Squats (squat variation that forces core activation) 3-6 sets of 6 reps
Rack Pull Deadlifts from kneecaps (partial range of motion deadlift that trains your grip and helps you pull heavy deadlifts from the ground) 2-4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Split Squat (incredibly core/balance intensive single leg movement) 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps each leg
Cable Pull Through (hip hinge movement that preps for Romanian deadlifts) 2-3 sets of 10 reps
Wall Sits (bodyweight concentric holding training) 3 sets of 30 seconds
In the examples shown, you have great selection of exercises that all strengthen the lower body, but also have their own benefits beyond just leg strength, as well as a suggested set and rep (weight) range. When you’re ready to progress beyond that beginning phase, take the same principles and apply them to these excellent lower body exercises as well.
Suggested progressive program exercises
Level 2: Romanian Deadlift, Bulgarian Split Squat, Step Up, Pistol Squats to Box/Bench, Stability Ball Walk Outs, Trap/Hex Bar Deadlift, Pallof Press, Reverse Lunge, Suitcase Farmer’s Carry
Level 3: Snatch Grip Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Sumo Squat, Cable Chops/Twists, Speed Free Squat (light barbell back squats without a box [see speed deadlifts]), Isometric Hold Split Squats, Elevated Front Foot Reverse Lunges
Level 4: Heavy Free Squat, Heavy Conventional Deadlift, Front Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift, Trap/Hex Bar Farmer’s Carry, Pin Front Squats (squat low enough that your bar rests on the spotter arms and pause for 2 seconds), Glute/Ham Raises, One Legged Romanian Deadlift
As you get stronger, you can implement not just harder exercises with heavier weight, but more advanced techniques. Those techniques can include unevenly weighting dumbbell exercises or suitcase carrying to add extra stability, adding pauses and isometric/concentric holds, incorporating minisets, dropsets, supersets, circuits etc. Remember to always keep a goal in mind and focus on a few key movements, but every 3-4 weeks make sure you choose the right exercises to keep progressing and avoid stagnation. Keep to those principles and viola; you have yourself a strength training program. Check back next time for upper body ideas now that you know how to build a program! Contact OrthoCore to start your year off powerfully!