The Exercises

The squat (smith machine)

Is a functional movement pattern that involves nearly every muscle in the body and is excellent for building strength and power helping improve balance, stability and mobility, it predominantly works the lower body helping to strengthen and tone the hip and leg muscles, including the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (rear of upper leg) and glutes (buttocks) but also works sections of the upper body secondarily, including both the lower and upper back (if weight bearing) and more importantly the core, so is viewed as an all over body exercise. The smith machine is used due to its ease of use and fluidity making it a safer option than the free-weight barbell squat and requires less technical skill, which especially benefits anyone squatting for the first time. Barbell squats are more difficult to master but recruit more muscle fibres, especially the stabilising muscles as they require more control, so can be more beneficial to anyone with previous weight training experience.

To do a squat, start with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward with the bar resting on the upper back/shoulders, not the neck, directly over the ankle. Looking straight ahead, keeping the spine neutral and chest proud, engage the core, take a breath and bend at the hip and knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping knees stable and in line with the hips and feet, return to standing position by engaging the core and pushing through the heel/mid-foot, not the toes, whilst exhaling. Avoid locking knees at the top of the movement to minimise risk of injury and to keep tension on muscles, then repeat for the required number of repetitions.

The squat movement uses the same technique whatever variation is used, if performing a bodyweight squat, have arms straight out in front or behind head, if using dumbbell squats have them on either shoulder and if incorporating a goblet squat squat hold a dumbbell with both hands under the chin close to the chest.

The Exercises

The squat (smith machine)

Is a functional movement pattern that involves nearly every muscle in the body and is excellent for building strength and power helping improve balance, stability and mobility, it predominantly works the lower body helping to strengthen and tone the hip and leg muscles, including the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (rear of upper leg) and glutes (buttocks) but also works sections of the upper body secondarily, including both the lower and upper back (if weight bearing) and more importantly the core, so is viewed as an all over body exercise. The smith machine is used due to its ease of use and fluidity making it a safer option than the free-weight barbell squat and requires less technical skill, which especially benefits anyone squatting for the first time. Barbell squats are more difficult to master but recruit more muscle fibres, especially the stabilising muscles as they require more control, so can be more beneficial to anyone with previous weight training experience.

To do a squat, start with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward with the bar resting on the upper back/shoulders, not the neck, directly over the ankle. Looking straight ahead, keeping the spine neutral and chest proud, engage the core, take a breath and bend at the hip and knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping knees stable and in line with the hips and feet, return to standing position by engaging the core and pushing through the heel/mid-foot, not the toes, whilst exhaling. Avoid locking knees at the top of the movement to minimise risk of injury and to keep tension on muscles, then repeat for the required number of repetitions.

The squat movement uses the same technique whatever variation is used, if performing a bodyweight squat, have arms straight out in front or behind head, if using dumbbell squats have them on either shoulder and if incorporating a goblet squat squat hold a dumbbell with both hands under the chin close to the chest.

The Deadlift (barbell)

Like the squat is a functional full body movement, but unlike the squat, it stimulates both the upper and lower body in relatively equal amounts working the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, all areas of the back, lower/upper/middle and trapezius, plus parts of the shoulders, arms to an extent and of course and most importantly the core, ‘strong core strong body’. It improves strength and power, helps build muscle, improves posture and because it’s so taxing on the body and cardiovascular system especially, it has the potential to seriously increase the amount of fat burn, it really is ‘the king of exercises’. The downside to this lift, if there is one, is that it is the most technical exercise to master and must be performed correctly to minimise the risk of injury, it is the main reason why it is not introduced until week 3 and my advice is to start light and master the technique before adding weight, which can be added quickly once confidence is gained.

To deadlift address the bar from behind standing tall, feet directly underneath and spaced hip-width apart with the bar brushing the shins. With soft knees hinge at the hip whilst pushing the buttocks back and out transferring weight onto the heels and posterior chain muscles, do not bend at the waist, until able to grasp the bar just outside of the legs with an overhand grip. Keeping a flat/neutral spine, shoulders back and down, chest up and out with a neutral head position, take a deep breath, squeeze the glutes and engage the core. Lock the elbows and push the heels into the ground, leaning back slightly, pulling the bar up whilst keeping it in contact with the legs throughout the entire range of motion and once above the knees bring the hips right through until standing upright, glutes should be tightly squeezed, chest pushed out and shoulders back. Lowering the bar is every bit as important as lifting it and should be done in a controlled manner. With soft knees, not bent and core engaged, hinge at the hip pushing the buttocks back and out whilst maintaining a neutral back and weight mainly on the heels, keep the shoulders back and down ensuring the bar remains in contact with the legs and lower to starting position.

When deadlifting using dumbbells it is the exact same technique except the weights can be raised and lowered down the side of the legs instead of out in front which in my opinion can be easier on the back. Bodyweight deadlifts are performed on one leg at a time, still working the same muscles but placing more emphasis on the core as well as improving balance and coordination, when explained they sound easy to do but are surprisingly challenging. Stand on one leg with a slight knee bend engage the core and lean forward using a hip hinge trying to touch a point on the ground in front. Reach the non-standing leg out behind aiming to keep the back completely flat, pause briefly at the bottom then squeeze the glutes and hamstrings to return to a standing position and repeat on the opposite leg, all this should be done in a controlled manner. To progress and increase the degree of difficulty, hold a dumbbell in the hand whilst leaning forward.

Bent-over Row (barbell)

This exercise incorporates all the major muscles of the back, the rear deltoids (shoulders), the biceps (front of the upper arm), due to it being a pulling movement and because of the position that must be held for the duration of the set, the core, which must be engaged to ensure stability, easing pressure on the lower back and provides the necessary power needed whilst pulling the bar up into the midriff.

To perform the row hold the barbell with either a pronated or supinated grip (palms facing down or up) whichever is most comfortable, bend the knees slightly and hinge the hips pushing the buttocks out and keeping the back straight transferring the weight onto the posterior chain and heels, similar to the movement in the deadlift, until the bar hangs just below the knees, this is the starting position. Keeping the head up and the torso stationary, by engaging the core, breathe out and pull the bar into the midriff just below the ribcage (belly button area), squeezing the back muscles at the top of the movement briefly, then inhale and lower the bar under control back to the starting position.

As an alternative for a home-based workout a Dumbbell bent-over row can be performed in exactly the same way, substituting the barbell for dumbbells and pulling them into either side of the body at the same time.

Seated Chest Press (machine)

As the name suggests the seated chest press stimulates the muscles of the chest along with the anterior deltoids (front section of shoulders) and because it involves a pushing movement, the triceps (rear of the upper arm). As with all the selected exercises it uses multiple large muscles which really works the system and is performed on a machine for ease of use and simplicity allowing for easy set-up and smooth transition as it is performed in a circuit format with the other upper body movements.

Adjust the seat on the machine so when seated the handles are at mid-chest level and sit with back and head against the support. Push down on the foot pedal to bring the handles forward and grasp them with palms facing down, lift elbows so that upper arms are parallel to the floor to the side of the torso and push handles forward extending the arms, take feet off the pedal, this is the starting position. Inhale and bring the handles back under control stretching the chest, engage the core and flex the chest, exhale and push forward with both arms avoiding locking the arms, hold the contraction slightly before returning to the starting position again under control. This is one repetition.

A bodyweight press-up can be used instead of a chest press for use at home performed full body or a knee press-up, performed with knees on the floor, depending on capability. Lying face down place hands flat on the floor, fingers pointing forwards, slightly wider than shoulder width and in line with the middle of the chest. Push up onto the toes into a plank position, keep hips in line with the torso with core tight and head neutral. Lower the body under control slowly stretching the chest until it is an inch or so from the floor, elbows pulling back at roughly 45 degrees, pause slightly then flex the chest and push the torso away from the ground until your arms are almost straight without locking the elbows and repeat for the necessary repetitions. For knee press-ups use the exact same technique except the knees will remain on the floor with the plank (straight line) formed from the knee through the hips and torso.

Lat Pull-down (cable)

The Lat Pull-down is another big exercise that targets the back, the largest group of muscles in the body but is a vertical pulling movement as opposed to the horizontal bent-over row. The main mover is the Latissimus dorsi, or Lats, the largest back muscle which extends down each side of the spine giving the back width. The other muscles activated during the pull-down include the upper back (rhomboids, traps), rear deltoids (shoulders) and because it is a pulling movement the biceps. It mimics the pull-up which is a bodyweight exercise that requires enormous strength and is not suitable for this program due to its degree of difficulty and inability to be progressed in a suitable way. Having a strong back is key to overall strength, fitness, stability and mobility and working it can be tough and strenuous requiring a lot of effort which in turn burns large amounts of energy.

Adjust knee pad so it sits firmly on the upper part of the thigh when seated and reach up and grab the bar with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder width. Sit upright, lean back slightly sticking the chest out and tilt the head so as to look up to the bar, this is the starting position. Engage the core whilst taking a breath, exhale whilst bringing the bar down to the upper chest, just under the chin, by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back squeezing the back muscles in the contracted position. Inhale whilst allowing the bar to raise under control to the staring position with arms fully extended and Lats stretched, that is one repetition, repeat as many times as is required.

Unfortunately the Lat pull-down cannot be replicated at home unless you have a chin-up bar that can be fixed to a door frame and you are stronger than the average person. But as you can do rows with dumbbells at home the back is still being worked and this will not detract too much from the program if a home based work-out is the preference.

Shoulder Press (machine)

The primary muscles worked whilst performing the shoulder press are obviously the muscles of the shoulder (deltoids) but surprisingly it also involves the pectoralis major part of the chest, parts of the upper back including the traps and also because it’s a pushing exercise, the triceps so like all the other exercises is a compound movement and makes up the final exercise in what I like to think of as the big 6 and executing these 6 exercises will stimulate all the major muscles in the body which is the primary aim of the program.

The machine press is used for the same reason as the seated chest press, for its simplicity, ease of use and smooth transition between exercises while completing the upper body circuit. Adjust height of seat if necessary and sit down with back and head against support. Grasp handles with overhand grip and elbows tucked in to the side of the torso as much as possible, this is the starting position. Engage the core, take a breath and exhale whilst extending the arms almost fully, avoiding locking out the elbows. Hold the contraction at the top of the movement briefly while squeezing the shoulders, lower handles to just below the ears under control while breathing in and repeat for required amount of repetitions.

For a home-based workout use the Dumbbell Shoulder Press this can be done either seated or standing depending on preference. With a dumbbell in either hand, palms facing each other, just above shoulder height and with elbows tucked into the torso, take a breath and engage the core, exhale and push the dumbbells up while rotating the arms so they touch at the top and finish with palms facing forward without locking the elbows. Squeeze the shoulders and hold contraction briefly at the top of the movement lower weights under control whilst inhaling to just below the ears, this is one repetition, then repeat as many times as required.