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 By Nathane L. Jackson, RHN, CSCS


Getting to the gym is the easy part. Putting in the work isn’t. But effort alone won’t be enough to win in the gym. In fact, if you don’t know how to hit all the major muscles in your body, then you won’t see any gains. Here are our best picks for moves that target your whole body.


Trap Bar Deadlift (Hips and Hamstrings)

There’s no better exercise than the deadlift. It’s king of the hip hinge, hitting nearly every muscle on the posterior chain starting from the prime movers – hips and hamstrings – to all the muscles of the lower, mid and upper back that are used to stabilize.

The trap bar sets the lifter in a safe, lower back friendly, yet powerful position. Don’t let the opinions of others deter you from using a trap bar. Unless you’re competing in a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competition, there’s absolutely no rule that states a deadlift must be performed with a barbell.


Anterior Loaded Static Front Lunge (Quadriceps)

The two main quadriceps dominant exercises are squats and lunges. You’re better off getting strong unilaterally before introducing bilateral squat exercises. The split stance is great for eliminating imbalances between legs and it mimics everyday life and sport requirements better than the squat. Tip: The shorter the stride you take, the greater the tension on your quads.

Let’s face it: Most of us are a product of our times. That means sitting all day with excessive posterior pelvic tilt and upper back flexion. This posture, in addition to a barbell placed on your back, compresses your spine increasing the risk for injury. The anterior load not only eliminates the unnecessary compression, but demands greater core strength and stability. Using an anterior load can be accomplished starting with a dumbbell or kettlebell in a goblet position. It can be progressed by using two dumbbells or kettlebells in a rack position and then to a barbell in a front rack position.


Dumbbell Single Arm Bent Over Row With Arc (Latissimus Dorsi and Rhomboids)

All rowing exercises are great lat builders, especially when rowing with an arc. The muscle fiber orientation of the lats doesn’t run vertical or horizontal, but rather diagonal. Instead of rowing straight up and down, row with an arc to match the direction of the muscle fibers. In addition to hitting the lats, rows also strengthen the scapular retractors, namely the rhomboids.

Start with a dumbbell just in front of your shoulder and focus on pulling your elbow back and up towards your hip. Performing rows this way also helps to ensure your upper arm doesn’t travel behind your body causing your shoulder to roll forward into anterior humeral glide.


Dumbbell 15-20° Incline Squeeze Bench Press (Pectoralis)

I may take some heat for choosing this exercise, but hear me out. The pectoralis major has two functions, shoulder flexion and horizontal shoulder adduction. Setting the incline bench to 15 to 20° flexes the shoulder more than in the flat bench position, but not so much that the exercise becomes clavicle head dominant. Squeezing the dumbbells together throughout the entirety of the lift demands horizontal adduction of the shoulder.


Kettlebell Bottoms Up Overhead Press (Deltoids)

Everyone has had a shoulder injury at some point, most likely from lifting beyond his or her capability or from overuse. That’s why I prefer this exercise. The demand the bottoms up position places on the smaller intricate muscles of the rotator cuff makes it a winner. In addition to hitting the deltoids, the weight displacement of the kettlebell requires a stronger grip than a dumbbell or barbell, which creates irradiation down the arm and into the shoulder stabilizing the rotator cuff.

It’s important to note, no matter which overhead press exercise you choose to perform, proper shoulder mechanics are a mandatory prerequisite. If you can’t raise your arm straight overhead, or if you can but need to elevate your ribcage and hyperextend your lower back to do so, then you should opt for the landmine angled press.


Tripod Forearm Plank (Abdominals)

Once you can hold a plank for 60 seconds give the tripod forearm plank a try. This version hammers core stability by forcing you to resist lumbar and hip extension, as well as rotational pull. Beyond the core, this exercise also targets your shoulder and hip stabilizers, as well as your pecs and lats.

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