There are some moves you just have to have in your fitness arsenal. Think of them as like… the little black dress or perfectly tailored suit in your closet (or… for some of you, the perfect running shoe and black legging).
Like the peanut butter and rice that are always in your pantry, these moves will be your mainstays, your go-tos — and they’re useful no matter what kind of workout you’re into, no matter what the season is, no matter what the fitness trends are.
RELATED: No, Strength Training Won’t Make You Bulky
Let’s Start With The Basics
To kick things off, let’s clear one thing up: strength training is simpler than many people realize. Yes, it’s powerfully transformative, but no — it’s not just for the super muscly guys at the gym. In fact, the basic moves are more basic than you’d guess — and an ideal way to help you simply move better in your everyday life (think: sitting down and standing up, picking something up, getting in and out of a car, holding your balance on the subway… ).
It’s one of those things you don’t realize until it happens: how much easier everyday movements can be. Strength training is designed to make life easier to live!
So let’s talk about the best moves for beginners — no weights required. If you’ve yet to start your weight-training journey, we want to help you focus on this primary goal: getting your body to move the way it’s intended to move. This will leave you feeling powerful, confident, more in control — and not worrying about any physical “shortcomings.” Let’s get you moving through life with power, grace, and a spring (literally!) in your step.
Start By Using Bodyweight For These 5 Beginner Moves
We’re not even going to touch weights in this first phase — and there’s a method to this madness. We’ve seen so many beginners take on these moves with heavy dumbbells or kettlebells and seriously injure themselves because they didn’t have the foundational form dialed.
This is why we’re starting with the most important part: form. By learning strength moves as bodyweight moves first, you’ll ensure you’re not only doing the exercise correctly (and working the proper muscles!) but that you’re not hurting yourself from being out of alignment. One of the biggest examples of this is with deadlifts: so many newbies (even more advanced exercisers!) don’t know how to hinge at the hips, and end up really hurting their lower back as a result of poor form.
Ah squats, one of the exercises that most directly translates to many everyday movements. The beauty of squats is that you can do them anywhere — while brushing your teeth, waiting for your popcorn to pop in the microwave, holding a baby, watching TV… you get it. Working the glutes via a good squat can help protect your low back and posture. And it doesn’t just work your booty: a good squat works the lower abdominal muscles, too.
Squat Form Tips
Lock in your lower abdominals, keeping a tight, firm hold on your midsection.
Keep the weight in your heels, without lifting your toes (you want to be planted… just don’t keep the weight in the front of your foot).
Keep your knees tracking behind your toes (ideally in line with your ankles and heels).
Use your glutes to power you upward, squeezing them at the top.
A high-school gym class classic — properly done, it uses muscle groups in your arms, chest, back, torso, butt, and legs! There are classic push-ups, triceps push-ups (sometimes called chaturanga in yoga), and many more ~flavors~ of this OG move. Now drop and give us 20.
Push-Up Form Tips
Keep your neck in line with your spine, creating one long line from the crown of your head to your heels.
Keep your core tight, butt squeezed, and don’t let your hips “sag” or fall while you’re performing this exercise.
Keep your shoulder girdle locked in — no sagging here, either!
Make sure your feet are hip-width apart and parallel.
Learning the alignment of a lunge can carry into so many different workouts and exercises. There are front lunges, reverse lunges, side (lateral) lunges, lunge hops, skip lunges, lunge walks… the list goes on. Because this exercise is found in many different types of workouts, it’s essential to get the form correct, particularly so you don’t hurt your knees and hips.
Lunge Form Tips
For a standard forward or reverse lunge, you want to create two 90-degree, right angles with your legs. Ensure your front knee is tracking over your ankle, and not past the toes.
Keep your shoulders back, with the crown of your head reaching for the sky (posture is important!).
Activate your core, particularly your lower abdominal muscles.
Keep most of your weight in your front heel.
Planks: like a push-up without the fuss. While it may appear incredibly simple, executing the perfectly-formed plank is more of a task. Then there’s the whole holding it bit, which you may already know, rocks your core. Like push-ups, this exercise also works almost every muscle group when performed correctly.
Plank Form Tips
Similar to push-ups, keep your neck in line with your spine, creating one long line from the crown of your head to your heels. Do not let your hips sag.
Ensure your hands (or elbows) are directly under your shoulders.
Squeeze your glutes to keep your legs strong and active (and protect your low back), while activating your core muscles.
Perhaps the most advanced move, if you can get a deadlift form dialed, you can basically conquer the world. The deadlift involves the elusive hip hinge that befuddles even experienced gymgoers — but it’s one of the most important movements to master so you can reap the benefits of this full-body exercise without injuring your spine.
Romanian Deadlift Form Tips
Ensure your feet are hip-width apart and parallel.
Instead of bending over (curving your spine), imagine the upper body and lower body are two solid, inflexible parts, hinged at the hips only. Using this “hinge,” move your hips backward, as if you’re trying to touch a wall behind you with your backside.
Don’t kink the neck while you’re hinging: create one long line from the pelvis to the crown of the head.
Use your glutes to propel you upward to come out of the hinge — squeeze at the top to complete the motion.
Don’t rush it: it’s ok to go slow and ensure you’re using all the right muscles so you don’t hurt yourself.
A Note About Why Form is Such a Big Deal
As mentioned, doing these moves with poor form can seriously injure you, keep you from exercising for long periods of time while recovering, and not even work the proper muscles (so you’re not even getting what you wanted out of the exercise!).
Nailing the form will allow you to get stronger, prevent injury, and allow you to start movin’ on up in the world… by adding weights!
When to Add Weight
It takes a while to create muscle memory for these moves and perfect form — and fortunately, they’re all excellent bodyweight exercises that still pack a punch, even without added weights. Once you feel that your form is solid (ie, you’re doing deadlifts in your sleep) you can begin to add weight, little by little. Start small — resist the temptation to jump into the deep end — and build-up, making sure your form is perfect with each increase in additional weight.
To be safe, try observing your form with a video on your phone, or with a mirror (but be careful not to kink your neck if using a mirror!). You can also ask a friend to observe you to make sure you’re in alignment and not on a fast track to injury.
If you’re ready to get going and haven’t joined the FitOn community yet, sign up for free! You’ll get access to unlimited free workouts, including a whole strength training category and beginner classes to help you really dial in on form and start seeing results.