Simplicity doesn’t have to mean being ineffective.
Contrary to popular belief, being strong doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have big, bulging muscles. While those can and do often help, people can also be strong in other ways.
Take for instance, people who live in agrarian areas and work the lands, such as farmers. Although you won’t find many of them sporting beach body muscles, many of them are much stronger than they appear to be.
That’s because they have what’s called functional strength, i.e. they’ve derived their not-so-obvious strength from long periods of hoisting hay bales, lifting farm equipment, and the like. Functional strength, is well, functional—in that it is more useful for practical day-to-day applications such as carrying groceries (or kids), and replacing water coolers at work.
Here are some strategies on making gains in your overall strength levels, and therefore, further developing your functional strength. Just remember, you only need to do one of these primary exercises per workout session, with additional smaller exercises to complement each of them.
Concentrate on the Primary Exercises
Simply put, there are only four essential exercises that people need to know how to perform. These are the bench press, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press.
These compound moves affect the vast majority of your major muscle groups, and can be complemented by additional exercises as need be. Since they are all mainly barbell-oriented, they can be either be performed on a Smith machine or on any individual corresponding pieces of equipment (i.e. shoulder presses on shoulder press bench).
If barbells aren’t available, these exercises can also be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells.
Lie down with your back flat on a weight bench. Reach up and grasp the racked bar with a medium width grip (so that the grip creates no more than a 90-degree angle from your upper arms to your forearms).
From this starting position, carefully lift the bar off of the rack so that you are supporting all of the weight. Hold the bar directly over your chest and keep your arms straight.
Now breathe in deeply while you slowly lower the bar. When the bar touches the middle of your chest, pause for a moment and then push it back up while you exhale. When you reach the point where your arms are straightened out again, pause again, and then slowly lower the bar again.
You’ll want to push up on the bar twice as fast as you’ve lowered it. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps for a total of 4 sets.
First, stand beneath the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your toes are pointed slightly outwards.
Nuzzle up underneath the barbell so that it is resting upon the mid-point of your trapezius muscles (i.e. the “meaty part” of the traps).
Grasp the bar in an overhand grip and make sure that your hands are approximately shoulder width apart.
Un-rack the bar and slowly lower yourself while bending at your knees. This should make you appear to be sitting down.
Inhale as you lower your hips until your upper legs are parallel with the floor.
From there, explode back up while contracting your gluts, quads, hamstrings, and core. While you are rising back up Exhale.
When your body is erect once more, repeat again.
Perform 8 to 10 reps of squats, and do 4 sets in total.
Stand in front of the weight loaded barbell. Your feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart and halfway underneath the bar, and your toes can be pointed straight forward or outwards slightly. Whatever is most comfortable for you.
Slowly squat down and grasp the bar in an overhand grip. Make sure to bend at your hip joint, not your waist, until your shins are touching the bar. An alternating grip (one over/one under) or weight straps can help you to lift more weight, but for now we’ll stick to the basics.
Always keep your back straight (not rounded out) with your head up and shoulders down. Look forward—this will help you to not round out your back.
Concentrate on standing up with the bar, rather than attempting to lift the bar off of the floor. As you rise, keep your back straight and contract with your legs, gluts, and core.
As the bar passes your knees, push your hips forward and bring in your shoulder blades. Pause for a moment and contract your back muscles.
Begin lowering the weight back down to the floor as with the original rep.
Perform 10 to 12 reps and do 3 sets altogether.
Sit down firmly on a Smith machine, or bench with back support. Position the barbell so that it is slightly above the top of your head. This should give you enough room for you to lift the bar off while straightening your arms.
Grasp the bar in a pronated grip, which means your palms are facing forward. Lift the bar off of the rack, and when you’ve straightened your arms, slowly lower it so that it is about level with the upper portions of your shoulders. Make sure that you inhale while lowering the bar.
Press the bar back upwards as you exhale back out. Be sure to be mindful of contracting your shoulder muscles as you perform the upwards motion.
Perform 10 to 12 of these exercises for a total of 3 sets.
Easy Does It
Always remember that if you’re relatively new to lifting weights, or, are just getting back into the mix after a hiatus, don’t push yourself too much. If you feel that you can only do three sets instead of four, or two instead of three, listen to your body and reduce the total number. The one thing that you don’t need is a workout-related injury to set you back.
Also, it is always advised that you train with a spotter. This not only can help to motivate you, but a spotter can also assist your form, or help you to grind out those last couple of tough reps. And lastly, a training partner can spot you when you’re lifting more than your usual amount of weight, so that you don’t injure yourself, or at least lower the chances of that happening.