Want to start making real progress in the gym again?
It starts with you taking a smarter approach to programming movement.
You could train all-out for years, and never achieve the body composition you want.
You never took the time to understand how to program the right movements, at the right times.
On the flipside, with a solid understanding of the 5 foundational movement patterns you should be building your training program around, you suddenly have a simple, effective framework for a functionally strong + aesthetic body.
Ready to learn the framework you need to start seeing change in the gym again?
Let's dive into it.
These five patterns you're about to learn are always the foundation I build my online clients training programs around. They're essential to helping you achieve your most functionally strong, aesthetic body composition ever.
The beauty of this approach is, as long as you're training...
1. A knee dominant movement
2. A hip dominant movement
3. An upper body push
4. An upper body pull
5. A core movement
...you've trained every major muscle group in your body.
So building your training days around this framework ensures that you're distributing volume as needed to truly create your best body composition ever. (For templates on exactly how to program these patterns into different training splits, check out this blog.)
Here, you're training patterns primarily centered around movement at the knee joint.
These are primarily going to be quad-dominant, but will also work some glutes & hamstrings, and often some core.
Most often, this will be a squat or lunge pattern.
—> Important Consideration: Unilateral Work
There are tons of different variations we can program here, both bilateral (using both legs at the same time) and unilateral (using only one leg at a time).
One of the biggest issues in most people's knee dominant movement selection is a glaring lack of single-leg work.
I've found this to be especially true for online clients coming from a CrossFit style of programming...they'll back squat and front squat multiple times per week but spend very little time (if any) working on single leg strength.
To build a body composition that's both functionally strong & aesthetically pleasing, you need some single-leg work programmed into your training.
From the functional standpoint - most people develop imbalances training bilaterally too often (one leg becomes stronger than the other) which leads to pain and an inability to train intensely enough to build the strength or aesthetics you want.
Plus, if you're aiming to build a body that's truly a weapon, the ability to do things with one leg is a must.
This is exactly why my online clients always get a steady dose of single-leg work in their training programs... it's just too important to skip.
—> A few knee dominant variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 1-2 bilateral, 1-2 unilateral to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- High Bar Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Safety Bar Squat
- Landmine Squat
- Machine Hack Squat
- Landmine Hack Squat
- Foam Roller Hack Squat
- Cyclist Squat
- Leg Press
- Dumbbell/Barbell Walking Lunge
- Dumbbell/Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Dumbbell/Barbell Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
- Safety Bar Bulgarian Split Squat
Here, you're training patterns focused on movement at the hip joint.
These are primarily going to be glute and hamstring dominant, but train some quads, and often core as well.
This will most often be a "hinge" pattern.
In comparison to the squat/knee dominant movement pattern, the hip dominant movement pattern often gets neglected. Many have been misled to believe the knee dominant movements are good glute builders (e.g. back squats for glutes), which really isn't often the case... but leads people to neglecting the movements that are actually great glute and hamstring builders (hip dominant movements).
—> Important Consideration: Low Back Stress
One of the main issues most run into with hip dominant movements?
Many create a relatively large amount of stress on the lower back. Anecdotally, most online clients have a pretty limited tolerance for movements that put a lot of strain on the lower back, before running into issues with low back pain.
So this is something we want to take into consideration when creating your program. More on this below.
—> Important Consideration: Stimulus-To-Fatigue Ratio
Similar to the above, it's important to realize that some hip dominant movements are very fatiguing.
If your weekly dose of these very fatiguing movements is too high, you'll hit a "fatigue ceiling" before being able to apply enough weekly stimulus to the muscle to grow... your body will feel smashed, but you also won't have created enough muscular fatigue to encourage your body to grow.
To illustrate this point, let's compare and contrast a Conventional Barbell Deadlift vs. a Barbell Romanian Deadlift.
- Conventional Deadlift: Likely your strongest lift - it allows you to pull A LOT of weight, and is also very fatiguing.
That said, the muscle building stimulus provided from the amount of fatigue generated isn't that high (a Barbell Deadlift from the floor is essentially an isometric for your upper back, your hamstrings never reach their fully stretch position, and there's no "concentric" component - which is very important for muscle growth - as most people essentially just drop the weight).
So, a lot of fatigue, but not that much stimulus as far as building muscle goes.
- Romanian Deadlift: You achieve a much greater range of motion, and a maximal stretch on the hamstrings with this movement. There's also a strong focus on the negative portion of the lift.
But, the weight you lift + the load on your spine is much less. So the movement has a lower "fatigue cost" but likely creates more "stimulus" for most.
If you've done both of the movements, you'll know - your glutes and hamstrings straight up just feel much more "disrupted" after a Romanian Deadlift
Now, this isn't at all to say that you shouldn't do conventional deadlifts, but it's important to think about the fatigue costs you're racking up when programming them.
For example, let's say you're following a 6x/week Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower split.
High fatigue, low stimulus programming for your main hinge pattern would look like:
- Lower Day 1: Conventional Deadlift
- Lower Day 2: Sumo Deadlift
- Lower Day 3: Conventional Deadlift
Smart fatigue management for your hinge pattern would look something like:
- Lower Day 1: Conventional Deadlift
- Lower Day 2: Barbell Hip Thrust and/or Glute Dominant Back Extension
- Lower Day 3: Romanian Deadlift
This is another thing that many modalities of training like CrossFit often get wrong, and it absolutely kills your ability to change your body, while leaving you feeling smashed in the process.
—> Important consideration: Many lunge patterns can be made into a hip dominant hybrid
By focusing on intent, many of our lunge variations become great movements for glute/hamstring development.
For my online clients chasing functional aesthetics, this is one of my favorite ways to kill two birds with one stone, as you're now training the oft neglected glutes/hamstrings + adding in more single leg work.
Cues to think about here:
- You want to achieve a bigger stretch on the glutes and hamstrings. A forward lean + focusing on initiating the movement by pushing your hips back is helpful here.
- One the way up, focus on driving your weight through your front heel + extending at the hips (think: pushing your hips up/forward towards your knee) instead of extending at the knee (pushing your knee back toward the hips). Since your glutes and hamstrings are primarily responsible for hip extension, this will make the movement more hip dominant.
—> A few hip dominant variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 1-2 bilateral to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- Sumo Deadlift
- Barbell Deadlift
- Barbell Elevated Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Barbell/Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Glute Focused Back Extension
- Landmine Romanian Deadlift
- Glute/Ham Raise
- Rear Foot Elevated Romanian Deadlift
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Single Leg Landmine Romanian Deadlift
- Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbbell/Barbell Reverse Lunge
- Dumbbell/Barbell Deficit Reverse Lunge
- Dumbbell/Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Glute Dominant Lunge
Here, you're training patterns focused on movement at the shoulder joint, and pushing a load away from your body. These are primarily going to be training your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
We can split your upper body push movements up into two variations:
1. Horizontal presses - These will be more "chest dominant", but will also train your front delts (the front of your shoulders) and triceps.
2. Vertical presses - These will be more shoulder dominant, but will also train a good amount of triceps, and some chest (varying depending on your torso angle).
It's incredibly unlikely that you're not including some upper body pushing in your training, and for good reason. If you're chasing an aesthetically pleasing body composition, a strong chest and well-developed shoulders are a must.
—> Important Consideration: Ratio Of Horizontal To Vertical Pushing
Here's the thing when it comes to pressing... most of us can horizontal press with ease. But, many of us are lacking the prerequisite mobility to press vertically too often.
I've also found that many online clients simply can't handle more than 6-8 hard sets of vertical pressing per week before their shoulder joints start to feel beat up. Most of our bodies just can't hold up to lots of vertical pressing every week.
Plus, we have to consider that while horizontal presses do a great job of stimulating both the chest and front delts... vertical presses do a pretty shit job of stimulating the chest.
So, if you're doing lots of vertical pressing, the "rate limiter" for your horizontal presses will be your delt fatigue... NOT chest fatigue, like we would want. (Basically, too much vertical pressing can hinder your ability to stimulate your chest, but lots of horizontal pressing won't hinder your ability to stimulate your shoulders.)
All of this means that it's likely a good idea for most of you to devote the majority of your pushing volume (number of hard sets) to horizontal presses, and keep the vertical presses limited to ~4-8 sets/week.
—> Important consideration: Dumbbell work
In my opinion, dumbbells are the single best training tool for someone like you, who's chasing functional aesthetics.
Barbells are great for adding load (and don't get it twisted, they're a big piece of many of my online client's programs), but they also keep you locked in one specific position as you press. This becomes a problem, because this position often causes irritation or pain for online clients with banged up shoulders (a.k.a. 90% of us).
The beautiful thing about dumbbells is, they allow much more customization in your pushing. You have more free movement, and can experiment with which positions feel best for your unique anatomy and injury history.
For most chasing a functionally strong, aesthetic physique, limiting barbell presses to 1-2 variations per week, and devoting the rest of the pushes to dumbbell work is a good rule of thumb.
—> A few upper body push horizontal push variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 1-2 to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press
- Barbell/Dumbbell Low Incline Bench Press
- Barbell/Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
- Barbell/Dumbbell Floor Press
- Dips/Weighted Dips
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Low Incline Bench
- Dumbbell Alternating Incline Press
- 1-Arm Floor Press
—> A few upper body vertical push variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 1-2 to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- Barbell/Dumbbell Standing Overhead Press
- Barbell/Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press
- Barbell Push Press
- Dumbbell Arnold Press
- Barbell/Dumbbell Z-Press
- Viking Press
- ½ Kneeling 1-Arm Dumbbell Press
- ½ Kneeling Landmine Press
- Dumbbell Standing 1-Arm Shoulder Press
- ½ Kneeling Filly Press
Here, you're training patterns centered around movement of the shoulder blades and shoulder joint, and pulling a load towards your body/pulling your body towards a bar (e.g. a pull-up bar). These are primarily going to be training your back and biceps.
Similar to pushing, you can split your pulling movements into two different variations:
1. Horizontal Pulls
2. Vertical Pulls
—> Important consideration: Execution
Your back is made up of a plethora of muscles. But generally with your pulling work, you're focusing on targeting either your Lats or your Rhomboids...
Both vertical and horizontal pulls can be both lat focused or rhomboid focused, depending on your execution of the movement.
- A pulldown will be more lat focused if you stay relatively upright, and focus on driving the elbows low to the hips (if you look at the picture above, you'll see that this would lead to the lat muscles shortening).
- A pulldown will be more rhomboid focused if you lean back, flare your elbows, and focus on driving your elbows back + squeeze your shoulder blades (if you look at the picture above, you'll see that this would lead to the rhomboid muscles shortening).
- A dumbbell row will be more lat focused if you focus on driving your elbow low to your hip as you row the weight up.
- A dumbbell row will be more rhomboid focused if you allow your elbow to flare more, and focus on pulling your shoulder blade back as you row.
...you get the idea.
Now, while the specific ratio of rhomboid to lat focused pulling movements depends highly on you as an individual, most will build their best physique with a relatively balanced blend of both.
—> Important Consideration: Most Have Neglected Training Their Backs
Similar to our conversation earlier about how most people have spent significantly more time time training their quads (accidentally or not) than glutes and hamstrings, most individuals have also spent more time training the more visible muscle of the upper body - the push muscles (chest, delts), and neglected their back. With online clients, I've found this to be very true for both men and women alike.
This can lead to some imbalances, and often pain when pressing. The cure for most is a steady dose of lots of pulling movements.
—> A few horizontal pull variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 2-3 to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- Barbell Bent Row
- Dumbbell Chest Supported Row
- Dumbbell Seal Row
- T-Bar Row
- Smith Machine Row
- Trap Bar Row
- Head Supported Dumbbell Row
- Helms Row
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Row
- 1-Arm Barbell Row
- Meadows Row
- 1-Arm T-Bar Row
Here, you're training patterns focused on movement at the spine or resisting movement at the spine.
—> Important Consideration: Proper Programming
It takes a special type of programming achieve functional core strength and stability along with the looks. We want to move and feel just as good as we look.
Because you're chasing both aesthetics and performance.
Now, if your training is anything like most online clients before starting coaching, you’ve probably done lots of crunches and leg raises… and not much else.
While this focus on strictly spinal flexion movements (think: crunch & reverse crunch or leg raise variations - you're "flexing at the spine") is fine for building up your "6-pack muscle" (the Rectus Abdominis, which is the visible layer of muscle we consider our “abs”) - your core is many more muscles than just the Rectus Abdominis.
So by only training spinal flexion, you're not training most of the muscles that help resist movement.
As you see, only training your Rectus Abdominis leaves a lot on the table when it comes to developing a truly functional core.
Neglecting the rest of the core manifests itself as trouble stabilizing your trunk, and often low back pain when doing movements like squats and deadlifts. This leaves you unable to get functionally strong and build the lean, athletic body you want.
To feel your strongest and most confident, you need to follow a smarter core programming protocol.
—> Important consideration: Training Your Core For Aesthetics
Let’s start by breaking down how to train your abs for looks. When we talk of building you a strong and aesthetic core - this is primarily the aesthetics portion of your training.
You’re focusing on spinal flexion, which means the aesthetics portion of your training consists of:
- Leg Raise, Knee Raise, and Reverse Crunch variations
- Sit-Up and Crunch variations
Like every other muscle group, you’re best suited to stick to the 5-30 rep ranges most of the time when training abs, and pursue "effective reps" (most of your sets need to be within a few reps of failure).
—> A few spinal flexion variations it'd be smart to build your program around (choose 1-2 to progress for multiple mesocycles/training phases):
- Cable Crunch
- Weighted Crunch
- Decline Crunch
- Weighted Decline Crunch
- Reaching Sit-Up
- Sicilian Crunch
Reverse Crunch Variations
- Reverse Crunch
- Decline Reverse Crunch
- Hanging Knee Raise
- Hanging Straight Leg Raise
- Strict Toes-To-Bar
—> Important consideration: Training Your Core Performance
Now, we’re training your core for strength and performance.
This portion of your training takes you from just looking good, to a truly weaponized body. Your core is geared up for functional strength and performance.
We're using the term anti-movement training to encompass all of the other core movements and muscle groups you don’t hit when you’re training your rectus abdominis.
—> A few anti-movement variations it'd be smart to build your program around (for your strongest, most function core, progress at least one variation from 2/3 of the categories below across a mesocycle):
Anti-Extension (Here, you’re working to resist extension at the spine)
- Ab Wheel
- TRX Fallout
- Renegade Row
- Hollow Body Sweep
- Hollow Body Flutter Kick
- Hollow Body Holds
- LLPT Planks
- Modified Candlestick
- Slider Body Saws
Anti-Rotation (The goal here is to resist rotation at the spine)
- Anti-Rotation Dead Bugs
- Pallof Press Holds
- Renegade Row
- Swiss Ball Stir-The-Pot
- Birddog Row
- ½ Kneeling Push/Pull
- Landmine Bus Driver
Anti-Lateral Flexion (Here, you’re working to resist bending sideways at the spine)
- KB Bottoms Up + Farmers Walk
- Chaos Farmer’s Walk
- Suitcase Carries
- Farmer Carries
- Zercher Carries
- Side Planks
- Side Plank + Row
From here, you can add in accessory work and variation as needed depending on your current goals, weakness, or specific muscles you want to build. But consider these 5 patterns, the "foundational staples" you should always be focused on progressing weekly.
You have the framework, now it's time to apply what you've learned, and go build an absolute weapon of a body, that looks great as well.
If you'd rather take the guesswork out of the process, and have a coach build you a customized, science-backed program based on the principles in this blog, click here now to apply for online coaching with me.
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Podcast and Instagram for more educational content.
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