For many, the hardest step to take is the first. Kicking off a new routine or habit can be difficult in itself—but if you’re doing something that takes specialized knowledge like embarking on a new fitness routine, even having a basic idea of what to do can feel daunting.
In a new Athlean-X video, fitness expert Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. outlines the 10 movement patterns that are essential for any gym beginner to train from the very start. But this is more than just a few quick lessons for newbies to struggle to apply—he also prescribes a program of exercises which will help novices build a strong foundation in each of these areas over a three-month period, in addition to variations and progressions which are heavier and more complex as they grow more comfortable in their training.
The basic pushup is a good foundational variation of this principle as it builds scapular control, while the dumbbell bench press is a slightly more advanced exercise which requires you to work on stability as you’re pushing the weights up, not pushing your own weight off the ground. “The thing about using dumbbells is that they can float freely,” says Cavaliere. “If you have any stark imbalances between the left and right side, you’re going to see it here.” The third move he recommends here is the barbell bench press.
To master this movement pattern, beginners should practice the one-arm dumbbell press. “It’s easier to move one arm at a time because, again, you can look those imbalances, and there’s less core control demanded of you using just one dumbbell,” says Cavaliere. As you progress, however, he recommends using both arms in the dumbbell overhead press, and then the barbell overhead press, both of which will necessitate stability and control in the core as you start to load and lift more weight.
Start off here with a chest-supported row, which allows you to focus on developing those pulling muscles. Then, you can progress into a dumbbell tripod row, which takes away some of that support and increases the demand placed on those muscles. Finally, the barbell row removes all support completely and forces the lower back to help you control the full weight.
An obvious place to start here is the lat pulldown. However, if you’re working out at home without access to a pulldown machine, Cavaliere explains how you can easily improvise a banded pulldown by looping a resistance band over a pullup bar. From there, you can practice a banded pullup to build your form and strength while only having to lift a fraction of your bodyweight, before attempting the final goal: an unassisted pullup.
“It’s not about pulling with your upper body at this point,” says Cavaliere, “but learning to pull with your posterior chain and hips.” A beginner move here would be a pullthrough, which uses hinging and extension of the hips to drive motion. Once you’ve mastered that movement, you can try a Russian deadlift (RDL), before finally progressing onto a classic deadlift.
Cavaliere advises starting out with a dumbbell drop squat. “The thing I like about this more than any other is that it will teach any beginner the exact place their body should be in space when they perform the squat,” he says, “because the dumbbell will drop right down to the center of gravity and take your body into the right position.” After that, you can use those same mechanics and make things more difficult by progressing to a goblet squat, and then finally to a barbell squat.
This pattern involves simply moving the body up and down in space, much like a squat, but with one leg extended in front of the other. The exercises Cavaliere prescribes here, in ascending order of difficulty, are the bodyweight split squat, dumbbell split squat, and dumbbell Bulgarian split squat. “We can increase the weight that we load here,” says Cavaliere, “and the challenge on the front leg as well.”
Similarly to the static variety, Cavaliere recommends starting off with a simple bodyweight reverse lunge. “This is forgiving on the knees if you have current knee issues,” he says. Then you can move onto a single-sided “suitcase” dumbbell reverse lunge, and finally the heaviest variation, a dumbell reverse lunge which loads weights on both sides.
Cavaliere explains that you can practice flexion of the spine with a simple rollup movement. “This Pilates movement not only teaches you how to get up off the ground, but control that segment by segment as you lower yourself back down.” The next variation, the jackknife, adds some weight in the form of your legs, and then finally the hanging knee raise gives you an opportunity to control flexion of your body while in a hanging position.
This movement tends to get overlooked, but Cavaliere stresses the importance of building grip and hand strength, starting with a dumbbell “suitcase” carry. From there, you can weight both sides with a dumbbell farmer’s carry, and then finally an overhead carry.
If you plan to follow the program beyond just the principles, make sure to take note of Cavaliere’s instructions.
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