Three Basic Movements to Master

By Will Kuenzel/Lowcountry Strength

This particular article is meant for beginners or for those new to training folks.  Whether you’re trying to do this on your own or you’re being a friend/trainer to someone who is brand new to working out, these are fundamentals that should not be overlooked.  For the rest of us, this is a refresher of where we started. 


Not every person that walks through the doors of the gym will know what they’re doing.  We all have to start somewhere.  The basics.  That’s where we start.  Most resources will tell you there are seven basic movement patterns.  For the brand new folks, I only start with 3.  Squat, push, and pull.  That’s it.  Those 3 basic movements build into almost everything that you see happen in the gym. 

From these basics, we build our training repertoire.  Squats lead to step ups that lead to lunges.  Push ups lead to bench press that lead to every other pressing movement.  Inverted body rows lead to all rows that lead to pull ups.  While pull ups are one of the most basic movements, they are also one of the most difficult but at its root, we can make it easy enough for anybody to do. 


We all have to sit down to the toilet.  I actually have brand new trainees start from the seated position.  Getting up is the movement.  While yes, going down is important.  It helps to understand the movement when we look at the bottom position first.  This isn’t a box squat.  I don’t overcomplicate the squat.  Not at first, anyway.  This is simply a matter of sitting down and standing up.  Look for something that’s right at or just above (yes, above) parallel. 


Box squats are a precursor to step ups.  A lot of the mechanics remain the same and if you look at the angles from the side, you should see the similarities. Same goes for lunges.  You’ll see the angles are very reminiscent of the squat.  A proper lunge is a critical movement that I feel needs to be properly executed before moving on to weighted squats.  If a trainee is not able to properly perform a lunge then I do not believe they are ready to do loaded free squats.  It is part of a natural progression.  When things are performed out of order then improper techniques are learned and poor motor patterns are developed. 



Push ups:

Along the same lines as the box squat to lunge progression is the push up to bench progression.  In most instances, I will not allow new trainees to bench press until I feel they can properly perform 10 push ups.  The body strength and stability control is necessary to bench.  If the stability is not there (and usually contributed with strength) then the bench press has a much higher risk to reward ratio.  As stability increases then the risk goes down and the bench can start to be utilized more appropriately. 

I use a progression here that starts with elevated push ups.  As strength is increased then the angle can be lowered slowly over time to the floor.  Push ups are a closed chain kinetic activity and generally have the least risks associated with them.  But as they get progressively easier and easier then we take greater and greater risks for higher reward.  Hence why we move to the bench press.  It can be rough on the shoulders.  It can be rough on other joints but to maximize strength, there’s not much in the way of upper body exercises that can beat it. 



Pull ups:

This one is a tough one.  It is one of the most basic movements but one of the absolute most difficult.  Not out of technique but simply the strength required to complete it.  Slightly in its defense though, most just do not do enough heavy back work.  I know some big 300+ men that can do multiple sets of multiple rep pull ups.  They have big strong backs.  On the flip side, I’ve met many uneducated (fitness-wise) folks that can’t do a single pull up because they’ve neglected all but the mirror muscles.  All rowing leads to pulling and doing pull ups.  At its root, whether vertical or horizontal, rowing is simply pulling the elbows back.  Not the hands.  The elbows.  Engage the lats.  They’re a big huge muscle that has the potential to be very, very strong.  If they are properly used. 

A progression here is to start with inverted body rows.  These can be done on a smith machine, TRX straps, gymnast rings, etc.  Fatman rows as they’re commonly called.  Same as with the push ups, the angle can be slowly lowered over time to make them more difficult.  I generally like to see a good angle close to the ground before I will start with some of the general pull ups progressions.  You’ll find a handful of articles all over the internet for that, but my personal favorite is the jumping pull up to a slow negative.  Control is imperative. 


pull up

These movements are, in my humble opinion, the absolute basics.  They cover everything.  I see these skipped or glossed over way too quickly and way too often.  Sure, there’s all these other nice, shiny, and exciting exercises that folks push.  The basics have always worked and the basics will always work.  Don’t get fancy before you have to.  When you’ve mastered the basics, then you can move on to more complicated things, or more flashy exercises.  Not before.  Learn the proper mechanics and how they correlate to each other and to every other exercise.  If you can do these properly then there’s not a single other exercise out there that you couldn’t eventually do.  But if you can’t do these then more than likely you won’t be able to do most others.

 Start with the basics.  Period. 



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Low Country Strength

Will Kuenzel is the owner of Lowcountry Strength ( in Charleston, SC. Will started his athletic endeavors as a pole vault; finishing up his collegiate career with a best vault of 16’9” at a whopping 160lbs. He the track and field world to pursue bodybuilding, his first show in 2005, he won 1st place in Men’s Novice as a middle weight. One year later he took 2nd as a Men’s Junior heavy weight. Since 2007 he has been a competitive powerlifter and totaling elite as a 220lber. His best lifts in multiply equipment are a 710lbs squat, a 605lbs bench press, a 615lbs deadlift and a 1930 total. In 2008 Will started Lowcountry Strength out of his garage. Since then it has moved into a 16,000 sq/ft facility and shares space with a mixed martial arts studio. With all disciplines of powerlifting, strongman, MMA, jiu jitsu and other sports in the Charleston area getting trained under one roof, Will heads up the strength and conditioning for a wide variety of athletes and clients.
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