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A human laughs and shows off their right bicep in a strength motion.

The Only 3 Strengthening Moves You Need

Tired of spending hours in the gym without knowing what to do? Well, the good news is that you can get in shape by performing only three moves for strength.

Surprisingly, more time spent exercising doesn’t necessarily mean your workout is efficient or effective (I learned this the hard way).

I would spend two hours in the gym, four to seven days a week. Talk about a full-time hobby! On top of that, exercising all the time only made me incredibly tired and almost unable to truly enjoy other activities (like getting together with friends) afterwards.

So, when I eventually read through the research outlining the benefits of strength training, I jumped on it. I quit cardio, except for daily walks, and began spending only three days a week in the gym. Each time, I include these three key moves for strength to better my overall health.

Other health experts agree. When it comes to the best exercises for strength, these are the ones you want to be focusing on. These should be your starting point. And these lifts are the ones where you want to gradually and continually be increasing your numbers and weight if you want to get strong and get toned.

3 Strengthening Moves You Need To Do

So, let’s break these moves down. There’s the deadlift, the squat, and the chest press (with some alternatives for off-days). Let’s go! Here’s everything you need to know about them.

The Deadlift

Sadly, this exercise often gets a bad rap. It’s blamed for back pain all too often. Contrary to belief, the deadlift won’t cause back pain - that is if you’re doing it right.

This move involves a hip hinge. This means bending forward at the hip, without rounding your back. And this is a key piece that many individuals get wrong.

Keeping a neutral spine is of the utmost importance. If you don’t, the weight will fall to your low back, which can increase your chance of getting injured.

This exercise targets your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae. The calves and trapezius muscles are also required for proper stabilization. On top of this, the deadlift will definitely challenge your grip strength. I can’t recommend lifting gloves enough here!

A woman deadlifts a barbell while facing to the right of the camera. She is standing in front of a red shipping container.

How To Safely Deadlift:

  1. Stand in front of the bar, with your feet slightly pointing outwards and positioned about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend over and grip the bar with both hands. Ensure they are about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your knees slightly. Only go so far until the bar almost touches your shins.
  4. Keeping your spine neutral, brace your abs and lift up, pushing through your feet.
  5. As the bar passes your knees, squeeze your glutes and stand up straight.
  6. To lower the bar, perform this entire movement in reverse.
  7. Start with a light weight and do 8-15 repetitions for 3-4 sets.

Deadlift Alternatives: If you’re worried about using big weights for this movement, try performing the deadlift movement with dumbbells or no weight. If this is still difficult, focus on improving your glute strength, such as glute bridges, and your hamstring flexibility with hamstring stretches.

The Squat

The squat is often hailed as being the king of exercise. And in a way, it is!

This is one of the most functional movements you can perform. It’ll help you throughout your day by helping you simply sit in a chair or pick up items or objects off the ground. And it’s a killer workout for your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, core, and calves.

A man squats in his living room with a straight back and perfect form.

How To Safely Squat:

  1. Begin with the bar resting on your upper back and shoulders.
  2. Set your feet so they are about hip-width apart.
  3. Slowly lower down by sticking your butt out and bending your knees.
  4. Ensure your knees don’t track over your big toes and make sure your back stays straight with your chest up.
  5. Lower down until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
  6. Then, push up through your legs and feet, standing back up tall.
  7. Repeat this exercise 8-15 times for 3-4 sets.

Squat Alternatives: If a barbell squat is tricky, try goblet squats or lunges. These strengthening moves target the same muscles and can help you build-up to the barbell squat.

The Chest Press

While the title says “chest,” this exercise is really great for your entire upper body. It works your chest, triceps, core, traps, and shoulders.

And yes, it’s okay to just do the bar by itself (this is where I’m currently at!). If you can, load up some plates, and press some out. This one isn’t just for the bodybuilders! Everyone can benefit too (and no, you won’t bulk up. In fact, that would take a lot of work).

Let’s get back to the chest press. This one spills over into your daily activities, such as when you’re pushing that shopping cart down the aisles or when you’re pushing heavy doors. Building up your chest helps with these movements.

A woman lays down on a bench and does a laying chest press with a barbell.

How to Safely Chest Press:

  1. Lie on a flat bench, with your feet planted on the floor.
  2. Hold the bar with your thumbs underneath and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This means that at the bottom portion of this movement your hands should be directly above your elbows.
  3. Slowly lower the bar down toward your chest and stop just above your chest.
  4. Pause, then push the bar up until your arms are straight.
  5. Complete 8-15 reps for 3-4 sets with a light weight to start.

Chest Press Alternatives: Not feeling the chest press? Or perhaps it’s currently beyond your strength training level. Try push-ups - either full push-ups or knees-to-the-ground push-ups. It’s the same movement but it comes with many variations.

Work Out Smarter, Not Harder

Working out doesn’t have to be a huge task in itself. In fact, with a few key moves for strength, you can get your workout in and get out of the gym.

If you’re looking for more at-home strength training workout options, check out the article below. You can also use alternatives for the deadlift, squat, and chest press, as outlined above to help you come up with ideas on what would work for your at-home workouts and what might not.

All in all, the goal of your workout should be to improve your overall health. Strengthening moves do just that and with these three moves for strength, you won’t need anything else!

Want some exercises that are easy on your ankles and knees? Try these Low-Impact Exercises You Can Do At Home.

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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