Jan 14, 2013

Everyone should have a list of go-to exercises to choose from when trying to develop a strength and conditioning program. When I say list, what I really mean is a small pool of the biggest bang for your buck exercises you can just plug and play into your program.

As I love to keep things simple, here are the 4 main categories of movements:

  1. Lower Body Movements
  2. Upper Body Movements
  3. Core (I hate this word as it entails much more than just your midsection, but for argument's sake just think of this as anything that will enhance the connection between your upper and lower body)
  4. Explosive Movements

These basic categories will be broken down further into subcategories and the following will be a short series including the biggest bang for your buck exercises from each.

Lower Body Movements

Your lower body is your foundation and needs to be built up completely in order to become bigger, stronger, and more explosive. I break down my lower body movements into 3 subcategories:

  • Bilateral Knee Dominant (all 2-legged squat variations)
  • Bilateral Hip Dominant (all 2-legged deadlift and glute bridge variations)
  • Unilateral Knee/Hip Dominant (all single-leg variations)

Bilateral Knee Dominant

Goblet Squats
This is my go-to for beginner lifters as well as for mobility, complexes, metabolic circuits, and finishers. You can use a kettlebell or a dumbbell and it allows for a solid deep squat every single time (only after the bodyweight squat has been mastered of course).

Front Squats
Front squats allow for the same positioning as a goblet squat (because of the center of gravity) but a greater loading capacity. I find them fantastic for people who have trouble back squatting and they are just as versatile as goblet squats with the variety of implements that can be used (barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, and kettlebells).

Back Squats
There is no better way to add slabs of muscle to your body and increase your lower body strength than to back squat. I love them but they're not for everyone. If you can do them properly I would definitely add them into your program.

Bilateral Hip Dominant

The deadlift is by far my favorite lift and is absolutely essential to any program in some form or another. There are countless variations but the ones I use on the regular are from the floor, off of blocks (or from a rack but preferably off of blocks), from a deficit, trap bar deads, and RDL's. If you're new to deadlifts I suggest starting with a trap bar or using some heavy kettlebells. Just make sure you're picking heavy stuff off the ground.

Glute Bridges
These have to be THE most underrated exercise. It's one thing to use them in your warmups for glute activation and a whole other animal to do them with a heavy barbell laying across your hips. Glute bridges help to shape AND strengthen the glutes and hamstrings without putting any stress on the lower back. Try these on one leg for added core stability and unilateral focus.

Although you can probably classify swings under explosive movements, I threw them in here because I mostly use them for endurance and strength purposes. The only thing I ask is that you make sure to keep this a hinge movement. I see way too many idiots turning swings into funky squat front shoulder raises. Use the force of your hip extension to propel the weight. You can use dumbbells, sandbags, and even weight plates if they have handles.

Unilateral Knee/Hip Dominant

Lunges get a bad rap in the strength and conditioning world. Probably because you see people doing them all the time in those wimpy group fitness classes, not to mention incorrectly. There are a million variations but I suggest sticking to these 2: walking and reverse. Grab whatever type of weights you want, keep your chest high, and lunge away.

A lot of you are probably wondering what the hell that stands for even though you've probably done them before under a different name. They're Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats. These are simply static lunges with your back foot propped up on a bench, step, box, or what have you. You can load these pretty significantly with a multitude of implements. In fact, if back squats and front squats aren't an option, these should definitely be in your tool box as a strength builder.

Single-Leg RDL's
These are great builders of strength and stability. Just like they're 2-legged cousin, single-leg RDL's can be performed with any implement you choose. Push the hips back and make sure your free leg is in line with your torso.

Single-Leg Hamstring Curls
I'm not talking about machine hamstring curls either. These can be done with furniture sliders, rings, a TRX, or an exercise ball. I don't know what it is, but hitting an isolated hamstring movement with an unstable piece of equipment really gets the hammies firing. These will challenge your core stability as well.

Here's a short video I put together with a few of these exercises:

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will include the biggest bang for your buck upper body movements.

In Strength,
Franco Crincoli


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Franco Crincoli
I am a personal trainer, strength coach, and all around iron addict, with a philosophy deeply rooted in old school methods. My training has been influenced by strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, gymnasts, and the Golden Era bodybuilders. I believe in reaping the greatest rewards the simplest (not easiest) way possible and having fun doing it.
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