The Movements and Exercises You Need to Build Real Strength

Mastery of these movements will set your physique free.

You won’t see anything fancy here. That’s because you don’t need fancy to get the job done.

You also won’t see a lot of variety. That’s because variety can hinder progress.

You see, the goal is to pick one exercise for each movement and get really proficient at it.

Remember: strength is a skill. Much like baseball players perfect their swings and basketball players perfect their shots, you too must perfect your movement in resistance training.

Let’s get into it.


Movement: horizontal push

Exercise examples: push-up, bench press, band chest press

Horizontal push movements primarily work the chest, triceps, and front deltoids. The horizontal push is one of the most abused movements in resistance training, so remember that it’s only a tool in your toolbox, not the toolbox itself.

What type of resistance is best? The only difference between exercises within these movements is going to be the resistance. Obviously the body-weight exercises use your body-weight, weight training exercises use weights, and when you use bands you use, well, bands. Body-weight exercises are great for beginners, but they’re tough to add lots of resistance to. More resistance can be achieved by using a weight vests or adding weights where possible. Weight training exercises will be easiest to load and progress in, but have the highest learning curve and require the most equipment. Bands are great for older trainees or those with a history of injuries, but similar to body-weight in that resistance can be tougher to add. More resistance means using stronger bands in this case.

Movement: vertical push

Exercise examples: overhead press, handstand push-up, band overhead press

Vertical push movements will work the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps.

Overhead pressing was a staple of old time strongmen such as Eugen Sandow and George Hackenschmidt. Indeed, getting strong in overhead pressing is a MUST. It will keep your shoulders healthy and stable and build tons of upper body strength.

The overhead press with a barbell, dumbbells, or a band is what I recommend, as handstand push-ups are only for very advanced and coordinated trainees (read: you will break your neck if you attempt handstand push-ups before you’re ready).

Movement: horizontal pull

Exercise examples: row, inverted row, band row

Rowing works all the muscles of the back, and the biceps.

Rowing can be done with a barbell or dumbbell or with your bodyweight inverted. Rowing is a critical movement that will not only help develop your back, but help your posture as well.

Movement: vertical pull

Exercise examples: pulldown, pull-up

Vertical pull movements work all the muscles of the back, and the biceps.

The pull-up is the best test of relative strength there is, as it controls for bodyweight.

Movement: squat

Exercise examples: back squat, front squat

Squatting works the whole upper leg and glutes. It’s a natural human movement and a must for any training program.

You can load the squat with a barbell and dumbbells.

Movement: lunge

Exercise example: walking lunge

Lunging works the whole upper leg and glutes. It’s a great single leg movement.

Movement: hinge

Exercise example: deadlift

Hinging works the spinal erectors, glutes, and hamstrings. Hinging is imperative, as these days we’re more likely to have weak spinal erectors, glutes, and hams from sitting and inactivity.

If you’ve ever picked something up off the ground you know how important the hinge movement is, and that goes double if you’ve ever tweaked your lower back.


Movement: Trunk flexion, extension, side flexion, rotation, anti-flexion, anti-side flexion, anti-extension, anti-rotation

Exercise examples: sit-up, back hyper, side bend, trunk twist, plank

The core is one of the most important areas of the human body when it comes to movement (and no movement!).

The core is meant to bridge lower and upper body movements, helping with power transfer from the ground.

It’s also meant to stabilize the lower and upper body from movement while under force.

Indeed, core work is imperative to not only looking awesome, but for healthy movement and preventing injuries.

Movement: ankle extension

Exercise example: calf raise

I include the calves as they’re important in movement.

Movement: neck flexion, side flexion, rotation

Exercise examples: plate flexion, plate side flexion, rotation

Often overlooked, neck work is also a must to not have a pencil neck and to prevent injury.

Movement: wrist flexion, extension, and grip

Exercise examples: wrist curl, reverse wrist curl, dead hangs

Nobody really does grip training anymore. That’s because it’s not sexy until you need grip strength in a real life situation (cliffhanger, anyone?).

BONUS: strengthening the feet and ankles

Exercise examples: barefoot workouts, band ankle inversion and eversion

I’m willing to bet less than 5% of guys ever worry about foot and ankle strength. That is, until they get plantar fasciitis or sprain an ankle. Your feet, and ankles, CONNECT you to the ground. You MUST pay some attention to them.

That’ll do it.

I will be doing several in-depth articles on proper form of each of these movements, stay tuned.

I’ll also be going into proper programming and progression in a future article.


Originally published December 18th, 2018 | Updated December 28th, 2018