What are the 5 Basic Strength Training Exercises?

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises: You want to get toned but you can't, or don’t want to, spend hours in the gym to get that look. What you need are my 5 basic movements that will make your workout quick and effective.

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You want to get ‘toned’.

You want to get fit and look fit right?

But you really don’t have much time to do it.

What exercises can you do that give you the most bang for your buck?

I shall tell you...

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises? Ones that can make your workout quick and effective

The Best Strength Training Exercises are Compound Movements

One thing I want you to remember about strength training, or resistance training as it’s also known, it’s all about moving a weight. Moving the weight from the starting position to the end position and back again.

And the best exercises are the ones that use the most muscles to move that weight.

That’s because the more muscles you use to do one movement the more muscles will be getting stronger with just that movement.

There’s also a bigger calorie burn which is an added bonus.

But they’re not the only reasons you should focus on compound movements.

Using more than one group of muscles is what you do for most everyday activities. Think about it, you generally don’t do a bicep curl in every day life.

You do use your quads, your calves, your glutes, your lower back, your upper back, your biceps and triceps, your latissimus dorsi, and all of your abdominal muscles to lift heavy shopping bags off the floor.

You do use your calves, your quads, your glutes and your abs to walk up the stairs.

You do use your calves, your quads, your glutes, your core, your back, your biceps, your triceps, your lats to pick up your kids and give them a cuddle.

Yeah, most of our everyday activities use the muscles of our entire body. So when you’re training, when you want to get stronger, it makes sense to train the muscles of your body as one unit, instead of isolating them.

Don’t get me wrong, exercises that isolate muscles, that concentrate on smaller muscles, do have their place. If you have a weakness for example, you’ll want to strengthen that particular area, but, for quick and effective strength training workouts stick to compound lifts.

What Compound Exercises Should You Do?

Before we get into that, let me first say, these aren’t the only compound movements. Or, the only exercises that you should ever do.

But when answering the question ‘what are the 5 basic strength training exercises’ these are the ones I would suggest.

They are great for beginners because they are basic movements. You’ve probably already done them as bodyweight exercises, or something very similar and once you master the techniques you’ll be able to transfer the movements to more complicated exercises like tyre flips, barrel carries, log press, pull ups and pistol squats.

what are the 5 basic strength training exercises: Deadlift 

Five reasons you should deadlift

The deadlift has got to be one of the most synonymous strength exercises.

It is a favourite in most strength related competitions, whether it’s powerlifting, crossfit, Strongman (or woman), the deadlift is a classic.

It uses pretty much all of the major muscle groups in your body.

Your legs drive the weight off the floor. Your core keeps you stable while you hold the weight in a standing position. Your arm muscles are holding the weight all the way through. And your back is supporting you.

I don’t think there is any strength exercise quite like the deadlift.

Because of the amount of muscles groups working when you deadlift, the calorie burn when you’re doing them is going to be high. But, proper recovery after your session is vital.

They are very taxing, especially heavy deadlifts, to your body and your central nervous system so make sure you only deadlift heavy weights once a week.

You can do another lighter session to get more of a cardio element going, or to help with your heavy sessions, but actually deadlifting heavy...just once a week. Or you will get burnt out pretty quickly.

How heavy is heavy?

That kind of depends on you. Any weight you can lift comfortably for 5 reps, but then the 6th is a push, is heavy. If you’re hitting around 10 reps, that’s not heavy. And whilst you don’t want to be doing them every day either, you can do it more than once a week.

But, deadlifts are great for more than just the calorie burn.

They are the ultimate in functional exercises.

They really help you learn to lift heavy weights off the floor. And I bet you do that a lot. I know I do.

Bending your knees, keeping your spine in alignment, protecting your lower back. They are all crucial elements of deadlifting. If you don’t get them right you won’t be lifting heavy. It’s that simple.

So, next time you go to lift your toddler off the floor, just notice how you’re doing it.

Ask yourself what muscles are lifting the weight.

If it’s your lower back, get to a personal trainer and learn to deadlift properly. Your weight loss goals and your lower back will thank you for it.

what are the 5 basic strength training exercises: Squats

Five reasons you should be squatting

Squats have got to be another classic in the strength world.

Getting them right, and lifting heavy, is not just a show of strength, but of flexibility, mobility and core control.

Whether you decide to use a barbell, dumbells or kettlebells, heavy squats will do wonders for your physique. But they are a great way, one of the best ways, to keep your knees strong and supple. Contrary to popular belief.

It’s actually a common misconception that squats, particularly heavy squats will weaken your knees, but it has been shown, many, many times, that they do the opposite.

Let me explain, all squats, even a bodyweight squat will strengthen the muscles of your lower body. That means they are strong enough to work properly during your day to day activities, meaning your knees are free to do what they were designed to do, bend your leg.

Your knees aren’t supposed to take weight. But all too often legs muscles, quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes (yes, I know they’re not leg muscles, but they play a huge roll in anything lower body related) don’t perform as they should, and your knees are left taking the strain.

So, if you have knee problems, squat.

And if you can’t manage squats quite yet, work on strengthening your legs with different exercises until you can squat.

Ok, so back to the squat, as with deadlifts, they are a compound exercise, meaning they get more than one group of muscles working.

Bodyweight squats are predominantly a lower body exercise, but when you add in weight, your upper body plays a roll. Holding it, stabilising it. They really do become a full-body movement.

They aren’t quite as taxing as deadlifts, mainly because they’re not quite as lower back heavy, but you still don’t want to go mad with squatting heavy.

Limiting any heavy lifts to once a week is a good rule of thumb. But don’t try and do more than one heavy lift a day. By that I mean, deadlift heavy on day one. Rest the next day. Squat heavy on day three. Rest the next day. Do a heavy upper body lift on day five. Rest two days.

Does that make sense?

what are the 5 basic strength training exercises: Bench Press

Five reasons you should do a push up and how they can be used instead of a bench press

The chest press is the first of the upper body strength exercises we’re going to look at. Just so you know, this is also called a chest press.

I have to say it’s not a favourite of mine. Mainly because you can’t really do a heavy chest press on your own. You will need a spotter. And someone who is stronger than you to lift the bar off you if all goes wrong.

I say this because, for the bench press you lye on your back and lift a heavy bar straight up. If you get the movement wrong, add up the weights wrong on the bar, or just think you’re stronger than you are it could all go wrong very quickly.

Heavy deadlifts and squats are fairly easy to abandon if you need to. The bench press not so much.

You also need a bench, which, can get pricey and they take up a lot of space if you do it at home.

That being said, they are a great exercise, and if you watch body builders or powerlifters do a bench press, you can see how it could turn into a full-body workout. But, I’m going to assume you don’t really want to be either of those, and you don’t want a weight bench cluttering up your living room.

So, let’s talk about alternatives. What could you do instead of a bench press?

A push up.

Yep. A very traditional bodyweight exercise could be a replacement for a bench press. There are obviously going to be differences, but unless you need to work on actual bench press movement, a push up will be a very good alternative.

They use basically the same movement and the same muscles.

So, if you don’t want to fork out for a bench, and you want something you can do on your own, do push ups.

But how do you progress them?

Before we get to that let me just say, push ups are very, very hard to do properly. So it will take a while before you’re ready to progress them.

Work on getting your torso as close to the floor as you can. And when you’ve mastered that get it closer, without actually touching it.

Progression wise, there are lots of variations for a push up. Diamond push up. Hover push up, where you hold your body over the floor for a few seconds. One handed push up. Even a weighted push up.

There all ways to progress once you’ve mastered the basic push up.

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises: Overhead Press

Five reasons you should be doing an overhead press in your strength training workout

This is one upper body exercise that you can do heavy on your own.

There are a number of parts to this exercise and if you’re lifting too heavy you’re not going to get it overhead. And if you do, you can drop it out of the way if you need to.

I love an overhead press, or a shoulder press. For me it’s more of a show of strength than either the deadlift or squat.

I love lifting something heavy overhead. But, this isn’t about me so let’s talk why you should be doing an overhead press.

Again, it’s a full body exercise.

The weight starts on the floor, your legs drive it up into a racked position, where your core helps you hold it in position. Oh yeah those arms are working to hold the weight as well.

And then your legs drive again as they help you to lift it overhead. While you hold it overhead your back muscles, shoulder muscles and rotator cuff help to stabilise it.

Yeah, full body, calorie torching and really good fun.

But just think about what you can do if you get stronger overhead. You can carry your shopping bags overhead instead of down by your side.

Cleaning the ceiling would be easier.

Throwing your toddler up in the air would be a breeze.

And how much would they love that.

Get stronger, make your toddler smile.

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises: Plank

Five reasons you should be doing a plank and how they can be turned into a full body workout

For the last of my 5 basic strength training exercises I’ve gone for some core work, and some would say the most classic of all the core exercises...the plank.

I’ve gone for this one because it has so many benefits and crossovers to other exercises.

Yes it’s going to improve your core strength but, it can be turned into a full-body exercise very easily.


I had the fortune to be trained by a StrongFirst qualified kettlebell instructor. And one of the first things he taught me after he qualified, was the hardstyle plank.

It’s a low plank position, so you’re on your forearms, but it’s on steroids.

To do it, you tense every part of your body.

You don’t just hang out in the plank. You actively engage every muscle you can. Pull you lats back and down. Engage your core, obviously. Engage your glutes. I mean squeeze your gluteus maximus like you’re dying for a poo.

Your legs, don’t forget your legs.

The acid test is to get someone to try and move you. Just by nudging you I don’t mean diving on top of you or anything. But nudge you. If you move you’re not tensing enough. You’re not engaging enough.

And you can’t do this type of plank for long. So forget trying to last for a minute. Try 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds and go again.

If you can last for a minute, you’re not doing it properly.

But why have I chosen it for this list?

Because it has so many crossovers.

That tension you feel when you’re doing a hard style plank is the tension you should feel at the top of a deadlift. Or before you press a weight overhead. Or, before you descend into the squat. Or, at the top of a kettlebell swing. Or, before you descend to the floor for your push up.

Having that tension makes every single exercise you do target all of your body.

It also protects your body. It makes sure you’re muscles are being activated when they should be. Working the way they should be. Which will protect the muscles and joints that shouldn’t be working in that movement.

The hardstyle plank is one that everyone should do.

What to Use for Your Strength Training Exercises?

What equipment do you need for your strength training workout?

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises? And what should you be using?

The easy answer to what you should be using for these five best strength training exercises is weights.

I would always opt for free weights over weight machines.

Free weights are much more efficient. You can use more power. You’re using more range of motion and more of your body. And free weights are much more versatile.

So, if you’re working out at home and you’re stocking your home gym, opt for free weights. You’ll get much more out of them. Both in the time you’ve got available and the money you’re going to be spending on them.

But what are free weights?

So, anything that’s not attached to a machine.

Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells. They’re all examples of free weights.

And when you’re considering which weights to go for, don’t necessarily opt for light weights. They really won’t last you long.

You’ll soon be looking for heavier weights, for more of a challenge. Honestly, you’ll get the bug and want to see just how much you can lift.

I’m also going to throw this one into the ‘what you’re going to need section’...a personal trainer. Even if it’s just for a few sessions. Ask for them for Christmas, or your birthday.

A personal trainer will make sure you’re doing these basic exercises with correct form. And proper form will mean you’re less likely to get injured. But they can also write you a plan. A strength training program to ensure you’ll hit your goals, train safely and not over-training. Because over-training will just end up in burn out.

So, please consider chatting to a personal trainer.

What Are The 5 Basic Strength Training Exercises?

Why you should concentrate on compound lifts for strength training workout

So, what are the 5 basic strength training exercises? 

The deadlift, the squat, the push up, the overhead press and the plank.

They are my five favourite strength exercises. Basic movements that work the most muscles at once. Which means you’ll be making the most of your workout. In terms of calorie burn and building muscle.

So, whatever your workout routine looks like now, make sure you’re including at least one strength training workout in your fitness journey. You will thank me for it.

My top piece of advice would be to not automatically think you need light weights. Opt for a slightly heavier weight. You’re stronger than you think.

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