Weight Training For Beginners, Part 4: Building Your Workout

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9:37am

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

In Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series I emphasized that the body knows movements, not muscles, and that you should train as if your body were a complete system rather than a collection of unrelated parts. I also talked about the squat-push-pull formula as a means of building a workout. In this part of the series, I’m going to elaborate on what that might mean in practice.

Samples of 4 basic movements

1.  Squatting type movements

These movements are what you do when you get out of a chair or jump up for a slam dunk. They’re any movement that extends (straightens) the ankle, knee and hip joint simultaneously. The prime movers for squatting movements are the big muscles of the lower body: the thighs and butt. Smaller muscles such as spinal erectors on the low back, deeper hip extensors and calves help out. Sample squatting type exercises include:

  • Back squats (with the barbell across the upper back)
  • Front squats (with the barbell held across the front of the shoulders)
  • Single leg squats or lunges (with one foot held out in front, or to the side for a side lunge)
  • Dead-lifts (these can also be considered a pulling exercise)
  • Jumps

2.   Pushing type movements

These include pushing overhead (such as putting something on a high shelf); pushing forward (such as pushing a car door shut or punching); and pushing down (such as pushing down on a chair’s armrests to get out). They’re any movement that extends the elbow and shoulder joint simultaneously. Prime movers for pushes are the pectorals (chest), shoulders and triceps. Sample pushing type movements for the gym include:

  • Bench presses (both flat and incline bench)
  • Overhead presses
  • Push-ups
  • Dips

3.   Pulling type movements

These movements include pulling down from overhead (such as reaching up to pull down the garage door), pulling things toward us (such as opening a door), or pulling up (such as shrugging up a heavy suitcase). Pulling movements tend to flex (bend) the elbow and retract (pull back) the shoulder blades. Prime movers for pulls are the back and biceps muscles. The forearms usually get a bit of work too. Sample pulling movements include:

  • Rows
  • Pull-downs
  • Pull-ups/chin-ups
  • Shrugs

4.   Midsection stabilization movements

These can be bending, twisting or holding the body stable under a load. When the spine flexes or curls up, like curling into the fetal position, the abs are the prime movers. When the spine extends or arches (for example, if you push your chest and belly forward), the spinal extensors such as the erector are the prime movers. In all movements, the deeper abdominal and spinal muscles, along with diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles, are active so that the torso stays stable. Doing compound lifts such as squats and standing overhead presses will give these muscles lots of work, but if you want to address these areas directly, sample exercises include:

  • Crunches (for abdominals)
  • Cable wood chops (for abs and obliques)
  • Back hyperextensions


Sample workouts

So what might this look like in a routine? Here are some basic sample workout templates:

Workout 1

  • Squat
  • Standing overhead press
  • Seated lat pull-down
  • Calf raises
  • Weighted crunches (with weight plate held to chest)

Workout 2

  • Lunge
  • Push-ups
  • One-arm dumbbell or two-handed seated cable row
  • Calf raises
  • Back extension on Roman chair

To see photos and descriptions of exercises by type and body part, here’s a great site: ExRx.net.