When you hit the gym, how do you decide what to do?
Do you have a specific routine your follow, or do you do whatever you feel like doing that day?
If you’re like many people, there is a tendency to work on your “mirror muscles” more than anything else. Mirror muscles are pretty much what they sound like – they are the muscles you see when you look in the mirror. We tend to want nice arms, a flat stomach, and toned thighs because that’s what we see every day.
But how much attention do you pay to the muscles that you don’t see in the mirror?
If you want to be sure that you’re strengthening your entire body, not just your mirror muscles, it’s time to train using the 6 primal movement patterns.
These 6 movements will help you look good in the mirror, but more than that, they will balance your strength, help you prevent injury, and improve your performance in every activity you do.
The 6 Movements Necessary for a Complete Workout
Before we dive into the movements, it’s important to know that you don’t necessarily have to do all 6 of these in each workout. Instead, aim to include each of these at some point in your weekly exercise, maybe emphasizing those that you’ve skipped over in the past.
Pushing is likely the one movement people do too much of. Push-ups, shoulder presses, chest presses – all of these moves are great for strengthening your chest, arms, and shoulders (yes, all mirror muscles).
Are these exercises important? Definitely. Just be sure to balance them with some of the less-common movements coming up.
Almost everyone needs to pull more. Rows, pull-ups and pull-downs are a few examples of pulling exercises that will strengthen what’s called your “posterior chain (i.e. the muscles that connect all down the backside of your body).
Unlike pushing, which causes your shoulders to slump inwards, pulling can dramatically improve your posture by opening up your shoulders and eliminating any forward hunching. A side benefit: better posture will make you look leaner.
Start pulling more often!
Squatting might be the most “functional” exercise you can do in the gym because it’s great practice for so many things you do in real life. You squat to pick up your cat. You squat to sit down for dinner. You squat to go to the washroom.
Life is full of squats, and by practicing squats with good form in the gym, you’ll be able to squat with good form in daily life activities and chores for years to come.
I’ve had many people ask why they should bother with lunges at all. “I already do lots of squats to strengthen my legs. Why do I need to lunge too?”
While squats are great, lunges provide something that squats don’t: instability. When you take a long lunge, your body is forced to engage many muscles in your legs, hips, and core that prevent you from falling over sideways.
These stabilizer muscles aren’t “look good” muscles like your mirror muscles, but they are the ones that protect you from injury and help your body perform better in any athletic or complex movement. If you have a performance goal in mind such as running a race, playing a sport or mastering new yoga poses, lunges need to be a priority in the gym.
No injury can put you out of commission as quickly as a back injury. Maybe that’s why so many people avoid bending in the gym? Could bending over too much lead to back problems?
Quite the opposite, actually.
Just like practicing squats in the gym will help you squat more safely in daily life, bending exercises like deadlifts, back extensions, and bird-dogs will strengthen and protect your back 24/7.
If you’ve been doing 50-pound kettlebell deadlifts in the gym each week, you’re unlikely to throw out your back when you bend over to pick up the newspaper.
Twisting is another motion you likely do on a daily basis without even realizing it. You twist to get out of bed in the morning. You twist every time you get in and out of your car. You twist to check your blind spot when driving.
As you know by now, practicing a movement in the gym will prevent injuries when doing that movement outside the gym. But, twisting offers benefits beyond injury-prevention: If you’re an athlete who throws or shoots, twisting in the gym will give you more power. Twisting also tightens your waistline by strengthening your oblique muscles. Twist and you will look slimmer.
Try some Russian twists, oblique cable twists, or standing twists while holding a medicine ball.
You may not need to overhaul your workout routine in order to make it a truly full-body practice. Just be conscious of the movements you’re doing each week. Are you including all 6 we looked at here?
If not, choose a few exercises for each movement you’ve missed out on and emphasize those while giving your body a break from the movements you’ve always trained. Soon, you’ll be stronger, more balanced, and you’ll look your best. Make it happen!