They say every notable structure has within itself an arsenal of tools designed to help ensure its strength and longevity. When it comes to our bodies, the foundation of muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments are what keep us together. One of the ways we help ensure its health and sustainability is through the addition of regular exercise in the form of resistance training.
As we move, train, and perform, we consistently come across points of improvement, ranging from mobility issues within a movement to muscle weakness. If we are attentive and proactive, we put in place exercises to help us become more well-rounded and eﬃcient. This attention to detail helps prevent injury while increasing our physical limitations.
Cultivating our arsenal of exercises is not as simple as throwing a few movements together. We need to make sure all of our mobility requirements are covered, or we risk creating discrepancies in our physical abilities. To determine which exercises will be most beneficial in our progression, we need to make sure they satisfy our set standards.
- Does the exercise require compound movements that incorporate multiple muscle groups? When looking at the human body, we can see it has been designed with muscles, tendons, and ligaments, working together with the sole purpose of fluid and ergonomic movement. Our training should stimulate these regions to help reinforce our daily movement patterns while increasing familiarity with the strength and mobility of our bodies.
- Does the exercise require some level of weight distribution management and coordination? When the body receives an external stimulus that signifies a change in the bodies positioning, the information is processed and converted into mechanical movement through the frontal lobe and cerebellum. Our bodies work instinctively to keep us balanced on our feet, but like any skill, it has to be practiced and used regularly. Making the conscious eﬀort to visualize and manage the weight distribution of an exercise improves our coordination while fine-tuning our motor skills.
- Does the movement elicit a mind-muscle connection? The ability to focus tension during exercise towards the targeted muscle groups increases the recruitment of muscle fibres in the area. This increase of external focus results in improvements to eﬃciency, power, and overall force production, creating better fluidity within our movements.
Once you have assessed the exercise and it meets the above criteria, you can add it to your arsenal. It is essential to consistently cycle through your collection regardless of preference, as this is the only way to encourage growth in the diﬀerent skill sets provided by the movements.
To aid in the development of your collection, I have put together a few movements that are multifaceted and not commonly performed. The listed exercises are in no particular order as the skills learned from them directly relate to our day to day life.
Barbell / Dumbbell Thrusters
Thrusters are one of the most beneficial full-body movements you can perform. The exercise easily integrates all the major muscles involved in physical activity and exercise, with the additional benefit of increased cardiovascular health.
The start of the movement is a front squat where the barbell rests along your collar bone with your palms facing up. Your arms remain shoulder-width apart to increase eﬃciency and force production. The front squat then transitions into an overhead press. The transition between the two movements requires increased core engagement and proper wrist stability to maintain balance and coordination. Developing increased mobility in the wrists can take time, but a great alternative to the barbell is using dumbbells. Instead of the typical front rack, the dumbbells rest on your shoulders with the weight facing forward as your wrists remain locked with your fists facing upright. While the dumbbell variation places less emphasis on maximal strength, it emphasizes unilateral balance and neurological control as each side independently works to move the weight.
When performing either variation, firmly plant your feet into a squat. Press your heels and outsides of your feet into the floor. As you stand, face forward, and retract your shoulder blades to increase engagement in your spinal erectors, which are responsible for maintaining posture during movement. Use your momentum to bring the weight straight up while ensuring your wrists are locked, and fists are facing up to keep the direction of power linear. Once you’ve completed the movement, return to the starting position, placing extra eﬀort on decelerating to maintain balance.
Transitioning between the two variations will help increase your eﬃciency and understanding of the mechanics. Remember, the weight on the bar or the size of the dumbbells does not determine your level of expertise. As you become more comfortable with the movement, you will progressively become more proficient and fluid.
Overhead Lunges Front
Lower body strength and stability are essential in performing activities such as running, walking and cycling. Overhead lunges are a weighted progression of the basic lunge. The movement builds strength in your quadriceps and gluteus muscles while improving balance, core stability, and proprioception (spatial orientation of your body).
Performing the overhead luge involves balancing any weighted object over your body. The type of equipment used is almost limitless. Typically more common items are dumbbells, kettlebells, weighted bars/ barbells or weight plates.
The movement begins with your feet slightly bent and shoulder-width. Raise the weight overhead keeping it centred between your shoulder joints. Take a comfortable step forward into a deep lunge position keeping your lead knee over your forward foot and not in front of it. Push the weight up through your feet, making sure your core is tight and arms are fully extended. Once you’ve completed the movement, return to the starting position with the weight remaining above your head. For increased diﬃculty, balance the load with a single-arm. This modification places greater emphasis on unilateral balance while increasing usage of the mind-muscle connection.
The exercises listed above are a great starting point as the benefits gained by their movement patterns are easily transferable to the many activities performed in regular life. Through your fitness journey, your arsenal should grow and adapt with you as you regularly filter through exercises that meet the above criteria. Though stepping outside of your comfort zone can be daunting, trying new movements with the above considerations will further your abilities in addition to strengthening your foundation.
By Ene Mwadi