I'm a Trainer, and These Are the Exercises That Will Help You Get Stronger in 2020
If your goal is to get stronger, there isn’t one perfect exercise or workout that will help you achieve this goal, but you probably already knew that. But with that being said, there are movements I believe everyone should master to build foundational strength – the type of strength that will get you through your everyday life.
Ahead, I’ve curated a list of moves I think everyone should learn to feel stronger at the gym, but also when you’re doing things like hiking, grocery shopping, moving furniture, and running. Some moves you’ll love and others will challenge you, and that’s OK.
Whether you add one move from this list or none into your routine, moving your body more will pay off in the long run mentally and physically. To be clear, these aren’t the only exercises you should do while training to get stronger. In fact, I recommend learning other exercises and training techniques to prevent plateauing, but these movement patterns are the root to movements you do every single day. Check them out ahead.
This move may seem easy, but it’s a great introduction to more advanced hip-dominant movements like the barbell hip thrust. This move will also help you activate and strengthen your glutes and prevent lower-back pain.
- On your mat, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Be sure to keep your feet underneath your knees, not in front. Plant your palms by each side, facing down.
- Press through your heels to raise your hips up to the ceiling, tensing your abs and squeezing your butt as you do. You should be making a long diagonal line with your body, from shoulders to knees.
- Hold for a few seconds, making sure your spine doesn’t round and your hips don’t sag. Keep your abs and butt muscles engaged.
Squatting isn’t just a movement you do at the gym. Every time you sit down, you’re performing squats, so it’s important to master this move!
- Stand up straight with your head facing forward. Pick a spot at eye level to focus on.
- Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Push your chest up and outward and hold your hands straight out in front of you, palms facing down.
- Begin the exercise by lowering your glutes down like you’re going to sit on a chair or bench.
- Continue down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your weight should be in your heels.
- Finish the move by pushing up through your heels and rising back to the standing, or starting, position.
As hard as they can feel, push-ups are a great move you can do anywhere for upper-body strength.
- Start in a plank position with your arms and legs straight, shoulders above your wrists.
- Take a breath in, and as you exhale, bend your elbows out to the sides and lower your chest toward the ground. Stop as soon as your shoulders are in line with your elbows. Inhale to straighten the arms. This counts as one rep.
- If this is too difficult, do this exercise with your knees on the floor.
Overhead Shoulder Press
I always recommend adding push movements into your workout routine because, at some point in life, you’re going to be pushing stuff vertically overhead. For example, when you put your carry-on bag in the overhead bin on an airplane.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand just above your shoulders, palms facing in.
- Straighten your arms above you.
- Bend your elbows, coming back to the starting position to complete one rep.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The bench press is a horizontal push that you’ll also benefit from learning, as you do movements like this when you push doors open.
- Grab a set of dumbbells, and sit on a flat workout bench.
- With one dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs, lie back onto the bench.
- Hold the dumbbells above your chest, shoulder-width apart, creating a 90-degree angle between your upper arm and forearm. Palms should be facing forward.
- Exhale as you push the dumbbells up, fully extending your arms. Hold for one second.
- Inhale and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest with control.
- This counts as one rep.
Adding horizontal pulling movements like the row into your workout routine are also a must. One of my favorites is the single-arm dumbbell row.
- Hold a dumbbell in your right hand – 10 pounds is a good starting point – and place your left knee and left hand on a bench. Your hand should be underneath your shoulder and your knee should be underneath your hip. Your spine and head should be in a neutral position.
- Engage your core, relax your shoulders, and extend your right arm toward the floor. Do not rotate your torso or let your shoulder lower toward the floor.
- On an exhale, pull the dumbbell up with control, driving your elbow toward the ceiling. Do not rotate your torso.
- On an inhale, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position. This completes one rep.
You can never go wrong with strengthening your core, and one of the best exercises you can do for core strength is the bird dog.
- Get on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Remember to keep abs engaged and keep your back flat.
- Reach out with your right hand and extend your left leg out behind you.
- Round your back and head to connect your right elbow with your left leg under your body. This completes one rep.
Another surprisingly hard core exercise you should consider adding to your routine for strength is the dead bug.
- Lie on your back with a neutral spine and your hips and knees at right angles with your palms pressed into your thighs just above your knees.
- Pull your abs to your spine, keeping your ribs and pelvis still as you lengthen your right arm and leg out until they are almost parallel to the floor. Keep your torso and spine completely stable as the arm and leg move.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side to complete one rep.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, progress the movement with the barbell squat.
- Start with a loaded barbell; 75 pounds is a great starting point. Beginners should start with just the barbell and gradually add weight as they become familiar with the movement.
- Position your hands about shoulder-width apart on the barbell, and lightly grip the bar with an overhand grip.
- Step in front of the rack, and rest the bar on your trapezius muscles (the muscle closest to your neck/upper back).
- With your feet about hip-distance apart, lift the barbell off the rack. Take one to two steps backwards.
- Shift your weight back into your heels. Brace your abs as you begin to lower into a squat, keeping your head and spine in a neutral position. Your knees should be as close to 90 degrees as possible. Hold for one second.
- With your core still braced, drive through your heels to stand back up. Be sure to squeeze your glutes at the top of your squat. That’s one rep.
Bulgarian Split Squat
If you’re really into challenging yourself and love when you feel shaky immediately after training, try the Bulgarian split squat. This move is great for targeting imbalances, and because it’s an unilateral exercise, you’re really going to feel your quadriceps and glute light up.
- Grab a pair of 10-pound dumbbells. Begin by placing the toes of your left foot on a bench, box, stair, or chair, with your right leg straight.
- Make sure your right foot is out far enough so that when you lower your hips, your knee stays directly over your ankle.
- Bend your right knee, squeeze your left glute, and lower toward the ground.
- Press your right heel into the ground to straighten your right knee. This completes one rep.
Plank With Knee Tap
If you’ve already mastered the plank, I recommend progressing to this move by adding knee taps to the movement.
- Start resting on all fours.
- With your palms flat, raise up off your knees onto your toes. Keep your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your bottom from sticking up. Remember to keep your belly button pulled in.
- With your head and spine in line, keep your back flat – don’t let it curve. Picture your body as a long, straight board.
- With control, slowly tap your left knee to the ground without moving your hips. Lift your left knee back up, returning to the starting position. Repeat the same movement with the right leg. This completes one rep.
The hip hinge (pushing your hips back) is a movement pattern that we naturally do, so it’s important you’re doing it correctly. One of my favorite hip-hinging movements is the deadlift.
- Holding the barbell (or two dumbbells at your side), keep your arms straight and knees slightly bent.
- Slowly bend at your hip joint, not your waist, and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight. Looking forward, not at the ground, will help you avoid rounding your back. Keep the weights close to, almost touching, your legs.
- Squeeze your glutes to slowly pull yourself up. Be sure not to use your back or round your spine!
Dumbbell Walking Lunge
Walking lunges are one of my favorite exercises because your legs and core are being worked, along with your balance. If performing this exercise with dumbbells is too challenging, start without dumbbells first.
- Stand upright, feet together, with 10-pound dumbbells at your side. Take a controlled step forward with your left leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. Your back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and your front knee should be directly over your ankle.
- Press your left heel into the ground, and push off with your right foot to bring your right leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side. This completes one repetition.
Rotational Medicine Ball Slam
This medicine ball slam variation is an intense exercise that targets your core, and it will challenge those who are more advanced in their training.
- Start standing in front of a wall holding a six- to 10-pound soft-shell medicine ball in front of your body with your arms fully extended.
- Engage your core, and raise the ball overhead. On an exhale, slam the ball down in front of you as hard as you can. Catch the ball after it bounces back up.
- Once you’ve caught the ball, pivot on your left foot and step your right leg back simultaneously as you toss the ball as hard as you can at the wall. Catch the ball, and pivot back to the starting position.
- This counts as one rep.
- If this move is too advanced, perform a set of standard medicine ball slams followed by a set of medicine ball rotational throws.
Stir the Pot
If you’re looking for a new, advanced move that’s challenging, the stir the pot exercise will you give you a run for your money. It helps with core stability and will leave you sweaty in no time.
- Begin in an elbow plank with your forearms resting on the top of a ball.
- Keeping your core strong and your body still, use your arms to roll the ball in a small clockwise circle. This completes one rep.