There are three major tasks that correspond to the types of exercises that are most beneficial when lifting weights: picking things up, putting them overhead, and carrying a load for distance. Just think about some of the common activities we all engage in. You might reach down to pick up a box full of books. When you travel, you take a piece of carry-on luggage with you and put it in the overhead bin. When you go to the grocery store you leave with several bags full of groceries and you carry them in each hand out to your car. Those are everyday tasks that require strength that can be built and maintained through lifting weights. Here are some of the top exercises for building that strength.
Deadlifts are pretty simple. Pick up a bar and stand up with it. Of course, you want to make sure that you keep your back straight while doing it, and make sure that your knees don’t straighten before your hips or vice versa. If your joints and spine can take the load, you can lift as much as you’re physically able. A younger person in good physical shape can work up to lifting 300 pounds in a matter of months. If you’re older or have a history of knee problems, shoulder problems, or herniated discs, you’ll probably want to keep the weights pretty light. Thankfully there are both lightweight training bars and lightweight training plates available to enable you to get the benefits of the exercise even if you’re not able to lift a huge amount of weight. Deadlifts will engage just about every muscle in the body, from the arms holding the barbell to the legs and back moving the weight, the abdominal muscles keeping the torso straight, and the neck keeping the head in place.
Squats are a great exercise for those who have the flexibility to do them. The two major types of squat are the back squat and the front squat. In the back squat, a bar is placed on the back of the shoulders and held in place with the hands. Squatting this way is best done Olympic-style, with the bar high on the shoulders and squatting all the way down. This reduces stress on the knee from trying to stop the squat when the knee reaches a 90-degree angle. Olympic-style squatting also works the hamstrings more since they are responsible for moving the body up out of the bottom of the squat. Because of the extra work involved in squatting low, less weight should be used than if you were to stop the squat higher up.
Front squats require squatting to the same depth as back squats, only this time the bar is held on the front of the shoulders. This requires a lot of balance to keep from tipping over forwards, working the stabilizing function of the abdominal muscles. You also won’t be able to use as much weight as in the back squat, maybe only about 75-80% of your back squat weight.
Overhead presses, also sometimes called the military press, are also pretty simple. Bring the bar to your shoulders, push it above your head until your arms are straight, then lower it back down to your shoulders and repeat. You can do overhead presses with both arms with a barbell, or with each arm individually with a barbell (careful to balance the bar in the center) or with dumbbells.
Farmer’s Walk and Side Carries
A farmer’s walk requires dumbbells or some other sort of weight being carried in each hand for time or distance. It increases the endurance of your grip and if the weight is heavy enough it will tax the upper back muscles that are responsible for holding the weight. Side carries, or suitcase carries, in which the weight is only carried in one hand, will strengthen the grip and back too but will also work the abdominal muscles which will fight hard to stabilize the torso and keep it from leaning to one side.
Curls sometimes get a bad reputation from people who overdo them, especially when they curl in the squat rack. Curls can be performed with a standard barbell, a specialized curl bar, or with dumbbells, which replicate the action of, say, picking up a shopping bag to put it in the trunk of your car. The variations are endless, but performing curls with lighter weights for higher repetitions can help strengthen the tendons and ligaments of the arm, decreasing the chances of tearing a bicep when picking up heavy weights from the ground.