I’ve been rather enjoying my running offseason. The runs are for fun and there’s less punishment going on. It’s also been interesting to see my muscles “fill up” again after months of training and races. All this, and still maintaining my weight in the mid-170s.
It got me to thinking about weight training, what’s important and those must-do things for people to have success. I’ve long said there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all method to fitness. Training should be goal- and sport-specific. But when it comes to the weight room, I believe that there are foundational exercises that need to be part of what you do. I call them the four kings of strength training. Here’s how I see it:
Chest press: Whether this is a barbell bench press, an incline dumbbell press or another variant of these two (notice: I didn’t mention decline bench), this needs to be a part of what you do. It hits big and multiple muscle groups: the pecs, shoulders and triceps. You can build off all other “press” moves with this as your capstone.
Pull-up: Any bodybuilder worth their salt will tell you this is a must. So might your best climbers. You develop a broad, strong back doing bodyweight (and for the advanced, weighted) pull-ups. Like the chest press, this hammers big muscle groups: The lats, delts, biceps and even the traps. Variants include palms out, neutral grip and chin-ups (palms in), and they’re all great. Can’t do an unassisted pull-up? Try using bands for assisted reps, or do flexed-arm hangs, ending with a slow negative down. And you might also try reverse rows to help build you up to where you can do pull-ups on your own. And whatever you do, NO KIPPING.
Squat: On this list of strength training royalty, the squat is the king among kings. It is, quite simply, the best strength training exercise there is. Your entire body gets a benefit, but the prime targets include the quads, glutes and hamstrings. These muscles are the engines of athleticism: Ignore them at your peril. Bodyweight squats, dumbbell squats and barbell squats (there are many variations, all good) are something that need to be in your training toolbox when it comes to lower body workouts.
Deadlift: Probably the most basic of lifts, you’re just picking up a weight off the floor. And yet it is so crucial and beneficial. The standard barbell deadlift (grips on this vary widely) will work your quads, hams and glutes, but also are a major driver in back development. Variations of the deadlift, like the Romanian deadlift, tend to target the hams and glutes more. And they do it so well.
Cycling off of distance training has allowed me to appreciate lifting more, and I’ll take full advantage of it during the weeks to come. I believe that weight training is a key component to becoming a better athlete — even a better endurance athlete. And more to the point, I believe strongly that these four kings of the gym are the bedrock on which successful strength training is built.
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