7 essential movements for a today body workout.

7 essential movements to include in any total body workout

© Scott Webb

As personal trainer Ben Longley explains, there’s more to a workout than just slapping a bunch of random exercises together and getting hot and sweaty. In fact, there’s quite a methodology to it.

For the average person in 2018—who’s likely desk-bound for most of their working day—postural issues, muscle imbalances and niggling aches and pains are a common occurrence. This in mind, the way you structure your workouts is of paramount importance.

Exercise should help you counteract the negative consequences of your lifestyle by promoting mobility, functionality, strength and cardiovascular fitness. In turn, this will lead to those all-important results: losing body fat, increasing muscle tone, and feeling limber and pain-free.

Total body workouts can enable you to get the biggest bang for your buck in a training session. The key is to focus on big, fundamental movements and stimulate muscles over your entire body, which will boost your metabolism and burn a ton of calories in the process.

Here’s an overview of some of the best exercises to incorporate into your total body workout.

1. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are one of the best full body workouts you can do.
Deadlifts are one of the best full body workouts you can do.

A deadlift is one of the best total body exercises you can do, and will stimulate more muscle than any other movement alone. The basic premise of a deadlift is picking something heavy up from the floor. Whilst probably the best single exercise you could do for yourself from a functionality, strength, and fat loss perspective, it also has a lot of practical carryover to every day life.

Learning the proper mechanics of how to bend or ‘hinge’ at the waist, without flexing your spine is an integral part of this movement. Due to the nature of it, taking the time to start light and learn proper technique is of utmost importance.

Deadlifts probably the most commonly butchered exercise in terms of form and technique, so keep in mind that deadlifts done badly are bad for you.

If you have no idea how to do these properly, hire a good trainer to show you how. The main muscles used for deadlifts are hamstrings, glutes and your entire back musculature, making it a great postural exercise. It’ll strengthen basically every muscle on the back of your body to help ‘straighten’ you up.

2. Squats

Squats have been labelled 'the king of exercises'.
Squats have been labelled 'the king of exercises'.

Squats have been labelled the ‘king of exercises’ by many fitness experts, and for good reason. They require a good blend of mobility, stability and functional strength to perform properly, and when done so, are a fantastic full body exercise.

Everybody should at least be able to perform a good looking, controlled, deep squat for a basic level of fiitness, functionality and quality of life.

This exercise is very ‘metabolic’, meaning it will stimulate a huge amount of muscle on your body. And it’s not just a leg exercise – this is a full body movement, especially if you add additional weight. Squats will predominantly target your quads, glutes hamstrings, and lower back muscles.

3. Lunges

An athete lunges in the gym.
Lunges are similar to squats, with an extra stability component.

Lunges are another great exercise, which offer many of the benefits of squats, with the added requirement of stability as you try to co-ordinate and balance whilst moving on one leg.

Lunges will target many of the same muscles as squats, as well as the smaller stabiliser muscles required to keep your balance in an uneven stance. For those with back issues or lacking the mobility to squat properly, lunges can be a great alternative (though ideally, you should do both)

There is a big carryover from your lunging functionality and prowess to walking, running and most athletic endeavours. Hip instability is also one of the biggest contributors to falling over amongst elderly people, and unfortunately our modern day ‘sitting’ lifestyles tends to weaken and ‘deactivate’ our hip stabilisers. So get to lunging!

4. Pushing

An athlete does a push-up in the gym.
Any pushing will use a combination of chest, shoulders and triceps.

Pushing exercises are literally anything that involves a pushing movement.

Pushing can be further broken down into horizontal pushing (e.g. push ups) and vertical pushing (e.g. pressing something above your head).

Any pushing exercise will use some combination of chest, shoulders and triceps. Depending on the angle of the push, these muscles will be stimulated and used slightly differently.

If anything, pushing exercises are the most common types of exercise included in most training programs, but if not balanced out with ‘pulling’ exercises, can create muscle imbalances, shoulder problems and exacerbate postural issues. So whilst important, don’t overdo pushing movements at the expense of the other exercises.

5. Pulling

Pulling movements can help counter the pitfalls of desk work.
Pulling movements can help counter the pitfalls of desk work.

Pulling movements are literally any exercise that involve a pulling or rowing movement. Like pushing, pulling can be further broken down into horizontal pulling (eg. seated row) and vertical pulling (e.g. pull ups)

Horizontal pulling movements are a must for anyone who works a desk job, as they will strengthen all the postural muscles in the back and help to balance out the slouched, rounded shoulder position inherent to sitting at a desk.

If you are a desk jockey, including two pulling movements for every pushing movement is a good rule to stick by.

6. Loaded carries

Loaded carries can help bullet-proof your body (not literally).
Loaded carries can help bullet-proof your body (not literally).

Loaded carries are simply walking while carrying heavy things. These heavy things can be dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, sandbags – you name it. It’s good to mix up the object and the way it is carried, as long as it’s done safely.

A simple and straightforward variation is the farmers walk, just grab a heavy kettlebell in each hand and walk with perfect posture (with an imaginary book on your head) for 30-60 seconds. Loaded carries will go along way in bullet-proofing your body, and will greatly improve core and hip stability, back and grip strength and total body conditioning.

7. Front and side planks

Planks are the ultimate core exercise.
Planks are the ultimate core exercise.

Core training at its best, planks help prevent unwanted movement through the core and help stabilise our lower back and hips. So instead of doing sit ups and crunches, which will wear away the discs in your spine (and do nothing in terms of fat loss or functional carry over) try planking variations to help with core stability.

Instead of holding a relatively passive plank, create your own tension by drawing your elbows towards your toes, straightening out your legs, and squeezing your glutes.


About Ben Longley

Ben Longley has been a personal trainer for over 12 years, and is the owner of The Fit Stop, a personal training and group training facility in St Kilda East, Melbourne, specialising in strength training, functional movement and fat loss. For more info about their services, you can visit: www.TheFitStop.com.au.