6 Exercises that should be the basis of any resistance training programme

I always get asked ‘What would you say the best exercises in the gym to get strong?’

So I though I would put this together, to show that we don’t need to over complicate programmes with Advanced Training Systems and Complex Movements. Below I have put down what I think are the best Compound exercises that everyone should be doing. I recommend sticking to basics and doing them well. Depending on the goal then Sets/Reps/Rest will vary. So here we go:


  • Strength: 3-5 Reps 3-5 Sets 2-3 mins Rest
  • Hypertrophy: 8-12 Reps 4-6 Sets 1-2 mins Rest
  • Endurance: 12-15 Reps 2-3 Sets 30-60secs Rest

Squat (Barbell)

Ones of the best exercises pound for pound which gets the whole body working. Targeting the lower body (Glutes, Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius) as well as using the upper body as fixators such as the Core muscles and Latissimus Dorsi which will be working Isometrically. Squat will give you the foundations to build strong fundamentals and help with any compound lift. One to definitely not to skip.

Teaching Points:

  • Stand tall with the bar placed across your upper trapezius, with feet shoulder width apart and brace core muscles.
  • Initiate squat by flexing the hips and then the knees.
  • Lower slowly to a comfortable position with weight going through your heels.
  • From the bottom position drive upwards, keeping the chest lifted throughout to maintain neutral spine.
  • Keep knees in line with toes and heels down throughout exercise.

Deadlift (Barbell)

Another great exercise that will get the whole body working especially targeting the posterior chain (Erector spinae, Glutes and Hamstrings). The Primary muscles that will be working are the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Erector Spinae, Trapezius and Rhomboids. Deadlift can be performed in slightly different ways but the main teaching points will be the same.

Teaching Points:

  • Place feet under the bar so shins are slightly touching the bar.
  • Bend at hips and flex the knees, grasp the bar with a pronated (Palms facing your shins) or reverse grip (One hand facing shins & one facing away) slightly wider than shoulders.
  • Chest out, head up and maintain neutral spine.
  • Lift the bar from the floor by raising your hips and shoulders together maintaining neutral spine.
  • As the bar passes the knees drive the hips forward and stand up, keeping the shoulders back throughout.
  • On the return to the start position driving your hips backwards and tilting forwards from the hip.
  • As the bar descends past the knees allow them to flex until reaching the start position.
  • Keep chest lifted and maintain a neutral spine through out.

Bench Press

The populations favourite exercise is still seen as one of the most effective upper body exercises. The muscles that will be targeted will be Pectorals, Anterior Deltoids and Triceps. A great compound exercise to build all those muscles that are needed for an effective forward pushing motion.

Teaching Points:

  • Lie on the bench with upper body and head supported on the bench with feet firmly on the ground.
  • Grip the bar firmly with hands outside shoulder width and keep wrists straight.
  • Barbell should be level with the chest.
  • Extend the arms without locking out and return to bar to mid-chest level without resting on the chest.

Bent Over Row (Barbell)

The Bent Over Row comes hand in hand with Bench Press as they work on the same movements. It counterbalances the muscles worked by the Bench Press by working the posterior muscles, especially those in the upper back including Latissimus dorsi, Rhomboids, Posterior Deltoids and Biceps. It ensures good posture and provides a great pull motion and core workout.

Teaching points:

  • Pick the bar up as stated in the Deadlift above.
  • Once in the standing position bend at the hips ideally to a 45-90 degree angle with the arms hanging below shoulders, whilst maintaining neutral spine.
  • Raise the bar directly up towards your diaphragm (bottom of the ribs) keeping the elbow close to the body.
  • Lower back down under control ensuring elbows don’t lock out.
    • Lower back issues should try an alternative such as a Seated Cable Row.

Shoulder Press (Dumbbells)

The Shoulder Press is an exercise that targets the Deltoids and triceps. We use our deltoids in so many exercises, so it is incredibly important to have strong deltoids. Another great compound exercise that gets the core firing and will help with the other compound lifts.

Teaching points:

  • Stand with feet a comfortable distance apart, knees soft and neutral spine.
  • Position dumbbells to the side of shoulders with elbows below wrists.
  • Push/press dumbbells up until arms are extended overhead but not locked out.
  • Lower and repeat.
    • Lower back issues should ensure they are keeping slight bend in their knees and hips as well as engaging the core.

Pull Ups

A Pull Up is an upper-body compound pulling exercise that targets the Latissimus dorsi, Posterior Deltoids and Biceps. Forget bicep curls, Pull Ups will get those arms strong as well as your upper back and core. This counterbalances the muscles worked by the Shoulder Press and on the same plane of motion.

Teaching points:

  • Grasp the bar using a pronated grip (overhand).
  • Brace abdominals and back muscles to maintain neutral spine.
  • Breath in and pull body towards bar (Controlled no swinging).
  • Pause briefly (Chin inline with bar), then slowly breathe out and lower to start position.
    • Lat pull down is a good alternative which replicates the same movement as a pull up.
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