Basic Movements: 5 Exercises to Know Before Starting a New Workout

Basic movements are something we generally don’t think about as a society. We sit, stand, walk, go to work, and repeat most days. But it’s that time of year again where we have begun to make new years resolutions.

Every January all of us set out to become the best version of ourselves by creating new goals or habits. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids? Eat healthier? Run your first 5k? Or the most common goal I hear “I want to lose 10, 20, or even 50 lbs!”

So you get some new workout clothes for Christmas and you decide to sign-up for your local boot camp class because some of your friends do it and are getting incredible results! You know it’s intense but you want your transformation and you want it now. It’s been a few years since you’ve been on any sort of exercise routine, but that’s ok you played all kinds of different sports in your 20’s and know your body will adapt.

You arrive on the first day and your energetic instructor starts telling you to do something called burpees. Burpees? What kind of monster created this exercise where I collapse to the floor and then jump in the air as fast as humanly possible over and over and OVER again. After what feels like the 378th rep you begin to feel a slight “twinge” in your right shoulder but then you remember every coach from every movie says “no pain, no gain!” So you finish your workout and are feeling accomplished!

Your shoulder is in a little bit of pain but that’s ok you know that being sore is a part of the process. You attend a few more bootcamp classes but your right shoulder starts to feel worse so you tell your fitness instructor. They tell you not to worry because they’ll modify your workout and you continue to exercise. More time passes, and the shoulder doesn’t improve with rest…in fact you feel it all the time. It even hurts when you’re sleeping! Afraid you may be permanently damaging your shoulder you stop going to boot camp classes, limiting your ability to reach your goals of losing those 10 lbs.

So what did you take away from this story? (Besides the fact I like memes more than the average person). Hopefully, it’s that this story, although common, is one that can be prevented. When starting new workout plans it’s important that our bodies are prepared for movements. How may you ask? Great question…by getting back to the basics!

What do I mean about the basics? The basics are the fundamental movements you must be able to perform at will before starting a new workout routine…especially one as intense as a boot camp class. With enough repetitions, these movements will become automatic allowing you to perform more complicated exercises as your fitness level continues to progress. Mastering these movements will not only help you reach your fitness goals but help you prevent injuries that can derail you from achieving them. Now without further ado…the basic movements!

  • Abdominal Brace
  • Squat/Hip Hinge
  • Lunge
  • Pull
  • Push

Basic Movement #1: Abdominal Brace

The first basic movement isn’t so much a movement as it is a muscle activation. If you are to take one exercise away from this entire blog, it’s this one right here. Doing an abdominal brace properly will not only help you pick up heavy things but will help prevent low back and hip injuries. Turning the abs on properly can be difficult so we have to go one step at a time.

Step 1: Breathe with the diaphragm

Quick, stand in front of a mirror and take a deep breath. As you inhale, observe your rib cage and your belly. What expanded more, your belly or your rib cage? If you said your belly, that means you are a good diaphragmatic breather; if you said your rib cage, that’s ok you just aren’t a good diaphragmatic breather yet!

Now put your hands around your waist and literally breathe into your hands expanding your stomach. Breathing with your diaphragm is important to help protect and stabilize your low back when you lift things off the ground or pick up heavy weighs. I’ll be honest with you, this is difficult, but with practice it’ll become automatic!

Step 2: Exhale like you’re blowing out your birthday candles!

Keeping your hands where they are, exhale and blow out with your lips pursed just like you are blowing out those birthday candles.

As you exhale you should feel your tummy muscles press up into your fingertips. These are the deep abdominal muscles you want to activate when you breathe. If you don’t feel anything, try a forceful cough and feel the muscles underneath those fingertips. Now turn those on without coughing, as if someone was going to punch you in the gut and you were going to try and break their fist with your core (like the gentlemen below).

Step 3: Don’t forget to breathe!

Now that you’re turning on those abdominal muscles properly you can’t forget step 1 and keep breathing with that diaphragm. “Wait….you can turn on your abdominal muscles AND breathe!” Yes, yes you can!

This takes practice to perform an ab brace properly but using this when you’re picking up your kids or picking up things like laundry baskets you will begin to bulletproof your low back! I see many athletes with low back pain that tell me they can hold a plank for 2 minutes but can’t perform a proper ab brace. Do this and planks, pushups, and burpees will be more effective in getting you that 6-pack you’ve always wanted too!

Basic Movement #2: Squat/Hip Hinge

The next basic movement is one that must be mastered before starting a new exercise routine. Believe it or not, as an infant performing a squat was easy and automatic for you.

“Perfect 10/10 Squat!”

Unfortunately, as we get older we tend to sit more and lose the ability to squat. The squat has many important intricacies but I’m here to give you the basics.

Step 1: The Set-Up

When setting up for a squat everyone is a little bit different based on their own anatomy/skeletal structure. I recommend starting with your feet shoulder-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes should be pointed straight or SLIGHTLY out (avoid standing with your feet pointed out like a duck). After you have your positioning correct I want you to perform your abdominal brace.

Step 2: Hip Hinge

Normally, when I ask people to show me their squat the first thing they do is bend their knees. STOP DOING THAT! Instead, I want you to stick your butt backward as if you were going to sit in a chair, this is also known as a hip hinge.

As you continue your descent your trunk will slightly lean forward and your knees will begin to bend naturally. Throughout this movement, I want you to pretend that with your feet you are trying to split the floor apart. Your feet won’t actually move but this cue will help keep your knees in alignment with your toes, not only getting better activation of your glutes (aka a better base of support) but will ensure the knees don’t’ dive inwards.

Make sure to go slow and controlled. You should feel all your weight on your heels and squat down to where your femurs are parallel to the floor.

(Note: Squat depth is one of the most argued topics on the internet but because everyone is different I use the general rule of thumb to squat until femurs are parallel to the floor.

Step 3: Stand Back Up

Finally, you are going to drive through your heels while squeezing your butt together standing back up to a nice upright position.

Whether you are looking to start deadlifting or squatting 300+ lbs or just pick up some groceries from the ground; the proper hip hinge/squat is a VITAL movement for fitness success. Here is another GIF of a perfect squat.

Basic Movement #3: Lunge

Aw yes, the next basic movement…the lunge. One of my favorites, but another exercise that people assume is easy. A proper lunge requires more hip, knee, and foot/ankle stability in one leg as opposed to two legs with the squat.

Although, the principles from the squat directly relate to the lunge. As always, you want to start with a good abdominal brace throughout the movement which will help keep your hips and trunk in a good upright position.

When performing the lunge, the knee must be in alignment with your toes and at no point should your knee dive inwards or past your toes like this GIF of Nacho Libre.

Upon standing, the driving force comes through your heel activating your glute. Below is a perfect lunge, her trunk is upright and slightly leaning forward. Her knees stay in good alignment not migrating past her toes, and she is in total control of the movement.

Basic Movement #4: Pull

The next basic movement involves anything from a pull-up to a rowing machine to pulling a gallon of milk out of your fridge is considered a pulling movement. There are hundreds of different variations of pulling movements but the key to any pulling movement are your shoulder blades, also know as your scapulas.

Whenever you perform any sort of pulling exercise everything starts at the shoulder blades. They are the foundation for your house, if the foundation is weak you risk rotator cuff injuries and shoulder pain. Luckily, engaging your shoulder blades isn’t very difficult. Whenever doing any sort of row or pullup always initiate the movement by pinching your shoulder blade(s) back just like below.

Briefly, you can see her engage and squeeze her shoulder blades as her elbows and arms come backward. This is the first step to mastering pull-ups or any kipping movement.

Basic Movement #5: Push

The last basic movement is the push which ranges from the classic pushup, the bench press, and the infamous burpee.Your hand positioning and your shoulder blades both play a vital role while performing pushing exercises.

First, your hand positioning.

In the GIF above, this gentleman has his hands very spread out and as he drops down to the floor his elbows flare outwards putting a vast amount of unnecessary shear on his shoulders. In addition, he does not engage his shoulder blades. When performing many repetitions or doing a higher impact exercise such as the burpee this can eventually lead to shoulder pain like the woman in more story earlier.

In the GIF above, his hand placement is closer together, his shoulder blades are engaged, and his elbows don’t flare out staying between 30 and 45 degrees from his sides. Aka this pushup is perfect!


  • There are 5 basic movements: the abdominal brace, the squat/hip hinge, the lunge, the pull, and the push
  • It’s always a good idea to not only be able to perform these movements but master them prior to starting a new rigorous exercise routine!
  • As always, if you have any comments or questions leave a comment below

If you are struggling with recovery strategies from common sports injuries then go ahead and check out the “7 Secrets Recovery Strategies Pro Athletes Use To Get Fit & Stay Fit From Frustrating Sports Injuries”

***Medical Disclaimer***

All information on this website is intended for instruction and informational purposes only. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.

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