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The Art of Movement Edition 37: Training Principles 8 - Big Moves FIRST

This newsletter is not just an opportunity for me to touch base with my dear patrons and show my gratitude for your monthly support, but also to offer you a 5 minute, easily-digestible read around the world of health, fitness and exercise. Here I will troubleshoot many common difficulties my clients experience, offer practical, actionable solutions for you to put to work in your life immediately, and of course provide my weekly motivation in the form of a favourite quote, and a takeaway lesson from it.

Please send me your feedback, questions and curiosity regarding the newsletter via the messaging tool on my Patreon page!

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For the rest of this year, I will use the newsletter to summarise some important principles around exercise and training which I hope will help the average person understand the process better. These are the concepts we need to take into consideration when identifying the best way to put our next foot forward in pursuit of our exercise goals.

Edition 37 - Training Principles 8: Big Moves FIRST

This week’s training principle is all about exercise order, and the importance of putting big, multi-joint compound movements at the right place in your workout. Too often I see people in the gym doing leg extension followed by squats (queasy feeling), arm extension followed by bench press (involuntary gag), or bicep curls followed by pull ups (little bit of sick in the mouth). My message is simple: Compound exercises train the biggest muscle groups across multiple joints - do them first in your routine (post-warm up). Isolation exercises tend to only use a single joint, and target one particular muscle group - do them last.

When you lift weights, the goal is to increase your strength and muscle size, strength or endurance. Unfortunately, this can be challenging to do correctly. Bad form, imbalanced routines, and techniques that don’t target specific muscles all make it harder to effectively get stronger or build muscle. This also makes it easier to reach a plateau or hurt your body instead of helping it. In addition to good nutrition and rest, compound exercises are one of the easiest ways to ‘nail the basics’ when working out. Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at once – something isolation exercises do not. Isolation exercises may therefore be effective for targeting a specific area that needs greater focus in activating; however, if you want a complete routine that gives you the most bang for your buck - train your biggest muscle groups first, with isolation exercises coming later in your routine - keep reading for some tips on how to do that effectively!

The Importance Of Compound Exercises

Last week we discussed the ‘all or none’ principle, and the concept of some movements recruiting more motor units and muscle fibres than others. Compound movements are an example of the largest possible motor unit recruitment and muscle fibre activation! While isolation exercises are better for concentrating on individual muscles, compound exercises work multiple muscle groups all at once. This allows you to increase your overall strength while also adding some definition to your biggest muscle groups, including your chest, shoulders, back, and legs. Compound exercises are also great for helping to reduce injury because they involve more muscles working together at once, which means you’re less likely to overdo it in one particular area.

A legendary coach I learned from at university - Dan John (author of Can You Go?) - made an important point to us all, to focus on ‘movements not muscles’. In other words, if you’re going to spend valuable gym time doing leg extension, leg curl, calf raise, abductors, adductors (isolation exercises), at least make sure you’ve nailed your pushes, pulls, hinges, carries etc. as a priority. Then you can worry about the auxiliary stuff.

You can get in a great full-body workout by doing just three compound exercises - for example, deadlift, bent over row and bench, or squat, pull up and overhead press, and they will help you:

  • Get stronger quicker

  • Avoid injury

  • Compress and streamline your training

Squats are one of the best exercises for your lower body, which includes your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Squats can also help with core strength and posture, making them a great addition to any workout routine. Deadlifts are another excellent full-body strength-building exercise. They work your lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, biceps, and shoulders, while lunges are also a fantastic way to train your glutes, hamstrings and your quadriceps.

Isolation Exercises: What And When?

As we’ve said, compound exercises are best for building strength. However, this doesn’t mean that isolation exercises are worthless. There are certain points in your workout better suited for isolation than others - the idea is to go into your session with a full tank of energy, and use this energy for the biggest, most demanding movements. Doing them last while already fatigued is going to negatively impact your technical execution, and minimise the physiological adaptations available. Once you have fatigued these large muscle groups in a more global sense, this is the perfect moment to then carry out your isolation work. Generally, you are looking to target smaller muscles and single joint actions (ie. calf raise = just the ankle joint, arm extension = just the elbow joint, instead of squat = hip, knee, ankle, spine).

Compound exercises are a critical part of a well-rounded routine. They help you build strength and muscle faster than isolation exercises, and they are the most important exercises to include in your routine, so make sure you do them first!

“Every day is a chance to be better” ― Anon

Movement of the Week: Inchworm

The inchworm for me is a staple inclusion in a warm up routine, as it is a mobility drill which provides lengthening and activation in multiple muscle groups, it encourages mobility and healthy function throughout the posterior chain and creates synergy between the upper and lower body. In the press up (or planking on your hands) position, begin shuffling your feet in towards your hands, keeping your knees completely locked and pressing the heels towards the floor. This will create a dynamic stretch through the calves, hamstrings, lower back, upper back and shoulders, preparing all of these muscle groups for a workout.

That’s all for this week! Please spread the word about my Patreon channel so more people can enjoy the videos and newsletters!

Thank you,


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