Seven Basic Exercises in the Gym

The most frequent question we get asked in the gym—is how to structure a workout routine. With thousands of websites dedicated to fitness and health, it can be difficult to determine which sources are reliable. Fitness encompasses a huge spectrum of various types of exercise, from running to powerlifting and bodybuilding to CrossFit. Although some may be intimidating on where to start, this article will briefly outline how a beginner in the gym can build a balanced body.

There are seven basic movements the human body ( and rugby players) should perform and all other exercises are merely variations of these seven: Pull, Push, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Rotation and Gait.

When performing all of these movements, you will be able to stimulate all of the major muscle groups in your body. These motions focus on recruiting multiple muscle groups, making them efficient for those using time as an excuse not to exercise. Let’s begin!

First, we have the pulling motion which consists of pulling a weight toward your body or your body towards your hands. This can be a vertical or horizontal pull, such as a pull up or barbell row, respectively. The main muscles being worked in these set of movements are the mid and upper back, biceps, forearms and rear shoulders.

The second motion is pushing, which is the opposite of the pull. This movement involves pushing a weight away from your body or your body away from an object. This group is also divided into a vertical and horizontal component as well. Exercises in this group include pushups and dumbbell shoulder presses. The muscles targeted are the chest, triceps and front shoulders.

Next, we have the squat—considered to be the most complex movement the human body is capable of. Variations of the squat include goblet squats, sumo squats, front squats and much more. The squat targets the glutes, core, quadriceps and to a slight degree, the hamstring muscles.

Another lower body movement is the lunge, which involves your body in a less stable position of one foot further forward than the other. Since your body is at a disadvantaged stance, this movement set demands greater flexibility, stability and balance. Some exercises in this section are step ups, side lunges and Bulgarian split squats (despite its name, it is still considered a lunge). The lunge hits the glutes, quadriceps, core and hamstrings like in squats; however, it stimulates all three of the glute muscles to a greater degree because of the split stance.

Fifth on the list is the hip hinge exercises, which are executed by kicking your butt back and leaning your torso forward while maintain a neutral spine—like when picking up something off the floor. The most crucial exercises in this group are deadlifts, with varying forms such as sumo deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell deadlifts, etc. These exercises build the posterior chain, which comprises of the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

The sixth movement, rotation, is unique from the other six movements because of the plane that it works in. The other exercises involve moving forward and backward or side to side, yet rotation involves twisting at the core. This motion is underrated despite being essential for success in sports. Rotation is seen while throwing a ball, kicking a ball, changing directions while running and many other actions. The core (specifically the obliques) are the main contributor to this set of movements. Exercises that fall under this group are Pall of presses, Russian twist and wood chops.

Lastly, we have gait, which is the technique of walking. This might seem trivial, but walking is a fundamental movement. Gait is a combination of multiple movements (involving lunging, rotating and pulling with the hamstrings). Exercises that could be done in this group include jogging, jumping and farmer’s walk.

After breaking down the seven fundamental movements, balanced exercise routines can be built by creating a plan that entails all of the motions at least once a week. Since these movements target all of the muscle groups, after reading this you will be equipped with the basic puzzle pieces to be creative and explore different ways of putting together a plan for yourself.


Initially Written by Julian Nguyen Long Beach State University

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