Search online for how to best exercise and you will find more information than you could digest in a lifetime. Everyone has an opinion about this and in most cases, the prescription is designed to wow you. There isn’t so much a wrong way to exercise as much as there are just less optimal ways to spend time out of your busy day to exercise. This is especially true for those of us who are already juggling a full plate with other things that tend to take priority like our families, homes, cars, and our careers.
Let me ask you this: are you going to spend your very limited time and energy exercising in ways that don’t directly translate into the world outside of the gym or do you want to work your body in more productive ways? The more typical approach to exercise prescription you will find if you type something into a search engine will have you doing a variety of exercises to target a specific muscle group each day for moderate to high reps per set. You’ve all see this before, right? The “chest-day” or the “back-day” etc. and there are more and more video-based workouts out there that are essentially cardio (even if it says it is a strength workout) that can be done at home in the living room while the kids play in the back yard. Truth be told, I am all for people moving in whatever way that they want, as long as it gets them off the couch I am happy. What I am talking about though is optimizing our exercise to see the most carry over into our lives. We are busy, we work crazy hours, and we don’t have the time or the energy to waste.
If we are looking to optimize our workouts we need to think about doing as much work as we can with as few exercises as possible. Enter compound movements, or more specifically the four major barbell lifts: The squat, The bench press, The deadlift, and The press. We all know them and have an idea of how to perform them and there is a ton of information and not nearly enough good information on their execution and even less clear and easy to digest ways to implement programming them, particularly in ways when it comes to daily life enhancement.
These four lifts should be and will be the core of nearly any workout program. Be it for size or strength. But for someone who has not become sufficiently proficient in the execution of these four lifts, learning how to perform them and learning what heavy actually feels like should be the primary focus. This requires frequent and stressful exposure to each of the lifts. Ideally 3 times per week with an alternating schedule for the pressing movements and an appropriate load increase in a rep range with sufficient volume that would produce the required adaption. Three sets of five reps is the golden standard.
These workouts are initially very short and almost comical in their ease but quickly become very difficult and become a battle of will and commitment and this is where something very unique happens. Strength training develops the adaptation of mental fortitude and the realization that our limits are not where we believe them to be. This is how to truly begin to improve yourself. Once you break free from the limits you have unknowingly placed on yourself you see the world in a different light. Work becomes less of an obstacle, your relationships are viewed from a different, more alluring perspective. Your body and mind become stronger and more resistant to the ebbs and flows of life.