You can learn a lot about what to do by examining what not to do. You probably don’t want to be that unfortunate older gentleman with the badly hunched-forward posture or that guy in the gym with twig legs and tree-trunk arms (and probably wearing tank tops and sweat pants to hide those legs.) Nor do you want to be that guy who looks fit enough, but fails miserably when it comes time to actually display fitness by lifting something heavy or moving fast with skill.
To help you not be that guy, here are eight moves every man should do, with a brief explanation as to why.
1. Deadlift – life is going to make you lift heavy stuff
This was the first one I thought of and the universal top answer by the individuals I spoke to about this topic. Life will present you with heavy stuff that you need to lift. The deadlift demands a great combination of mobility and ability. Tip: Mix up your grip between overhand and underhand to vary the feeling of the movement. Steer clear of the old mixed grip (one hand overhand, one hand underhand) as it creates an asymmetrical spine load—not a smart thing to do when going heavy.
2. Hip Thrusts – your booty is the boss whether you admit or not
Check your calendar: There’s a day for everything—except glutes. There’s no “glute day” in the gym either, but there should be. Your hips are pretty much in charge of your movements across the earth so they’d better be capable. This exercise puts heavy weight on the hip bones and creates a strong extension of the hip. Just start thinking of your glutes as the “pecs of your lower body” and you’ll have no problem attaching the appropriate level of importance to working them.
3. Single-leg Squat – life is primarily a single-leg experience
You spend more time on one leg than on two, so you’d better get good at being on one leg. When walking, the only time you’re on two feet is for that brief moment when both feet are on the ground. The same is true with climbing stairs. Running is a strictly single-leg activity—you just alternate legs. Most people do squats, but not everyone does single-leg squats—probably because they are hard. However, when you make your training harder than life, life gets easier.
4. Single-leg Body-weight Hip Thrust – re-read the reasons for exercises #2 and #3 above
Just like squats should be complemented by single-leg squats, hip thrusts (your new favorite exercise) need a complement of a single-leg hip thrust to get you ready to handle anything. Body weight is enough for most people on this one. Your goal is more range of motion rather than more load.
5. Kettlebell Get-up – get good at getting up and nothing can keep you down
This classic exercise adds asymmetrical resistance to getting up from a supine position on the floor to a standing position. Most people get the sequencing after a few practice reps. The goal is quality of movement above all else. You may also see this exercise referred to as the Turkish Get-up, but adding useless terms conveying no information to exercise names (like country names) only confuses people. It’s hard enough already without making the name difficult.
6. Directional Squat Jumps – because sometimes things go sideways on you
Life is a 360-degree experience. By the time you finish life, you will have had to move in all directions, and often quickly. It might be to avoid getting run over by a jogger on a street corner, to keep yourself from slipping on wet tile or ice, or to avoid a mosquito trying to bite you. The better you are at moving quickly, the better you’ll perform and you’ll be less likely to get injured.
7. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch and Back Extension – you sit too much; don’t take that sitting down
Almost all of us sit too much, even if we exercise regularly. Modern living is what it is, and it’s not going to change anytime soon, so we have to manage its effects. Lots of sitting results in tightness in the front of the hips and excessive forward bending of the middle part of the spine (opposite your ribs.) Notable fitness expert Robert Sherman recommends this move to open the hips and restore thoracic extension (thoracic is the middle part of the spine.) Tip: Tuck the hips under gently and lengthen the arms while moving only the upper half of your spine backwards.
8. Sprints – even if you can’t play your sport, you can feel like an athlete
“Moving fast can give you the feeling that sports provide even if you can’t play,” argues ACE fitness expert Pete McCall. Maybe you haven’t played your favorite sport in a while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t run all out. When was the last time you ran as fast as you can? There is a sense of abandonment and losing yourself in sprinting because every part of you is devoted to moving fast. Who cares if you aren’t as fast as you used to be—you always have a top speed and it’s good to use it now and then.
There you have it—the moves that make you a (fit, capable) man. You’ll be able to lift heavy stuff, handle single-leg stuff, move quickly away or after stuff, and keeps your hips and torso open and flexible…and stuff. Stick these exercises in your workouts for a little while and see if your movements don’t feel more, well, manly.