Craig Valency, CSCS

Part Two: Whole Body Strength Training –   “Get the Balance Right!”

In Part One, I explained how to prepare your body for the strength training portion of your workout. The routine I outlined should be performed in the first part of the workout, followed by the strength training routine that I will outline now. Depending on your needs, you can spend anywhere from ten to thirty minutes on the warm-up/ prep routines before doing your strength training. In this post, I will discuss the importance of considering upper and lower body balance. I’ll also address proper anterior and posterior muscular development when planning your workouts. Finally, I will provide a basic template for designing a balanced, movement-based strength training routine.

The typical American male works out the “mirror muscles” (chest, shoulder and abs) to the exclusion of the important muscles of the back. Mr. Mirror Muscles is easy to spot at the beach, even from far away; just look for his overdeveloped pecs, anterior deltoids, and rounded upper back and shoulders. He might look buff from the front, but in the end, working out the “mirror muscles” to the exclusion of everything else usually results in low back weakness and pain.

Many women tend to focus primarily on the lower body. Take a look at the inner and outer thigh machines at any 24 Hour Fitness. There is usually a row of ponytailed women using these machines while they sip Vitamin Water and read Cosmopolitan.  The thigh workouts are often followed by leg extensions, leg curls, and leg presses. Of course, most of these women love to abuse the cardio machines and group exercise classes. What they end up with is a lower body bias. Most of their lower body work is quad-dominant, focusing on the front of the legs. This puts lots of emphasis on the knees and minimizes the hip extensor group of muscles, like the butt and hamstrings. This imbalance can lead to knee dysfunction and pain.

When I train clients, I make sure that their workouts are balanced. The upper and lower body work equally. After all, I don’t want to see one of my clients walking around sporting a huge torso perched atop a set of chicken legs. For the upper body, I balance pushing exercises with pulling exercises. This helps create a healthy shoulder girdle. If someone has a pronounced left/right asymmetry, I may work one side differently than the other, or if they are very rounded from years of “mirror muscle” workouts and long hours at the desk, I may do a two-to-one ratio of back of the body to front of the body exercises.

There are countless routines and ways to design programs. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it the only way to get a good workout. This is just a simple way to categorize movement patterns. Simply plug in the exercises that fit each category, and you’ll get a reasonably balanced and safe workout. The main categories we’ll look at include:

  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Knee-dominant (front of the legs – quadriceps & hip flexors)
  • Hip-dominant (back of the legs – glutes, hamstrings, & calves)

This template addresses both the upper and lower body. These categories can be broken down further into bilateral (using both arms and legs at the same time) and unilateral (using one arm or leg at a time) movements. For the upper body, the exercises require you to either push or pull and move in either a vertical or horizontal plane. One thing you might have noticed that is missing from the list is rotational torso movement. This will be covered in a later post regarding core strength and power. Another layer of complexity that I will address in a future post is multi-plane movement, which will address strategies for exercising the body in all functional planes of motion including forward/ back (saggittal plane), laterally (frontal plane) or rotationally (transverse plane). For this phase of a basic workout, the focus is on core stability and upper and lower body strength.

Using the body movement flowchart, simply plug in the appropriate exercises on the bottom orange row (or you can substitute your favorites, of course). You can split the routine any way you like based on how many days you exercise each week. Over the course of a week, you should try to get in an exercise from each orange box to ensure a well balanced routine.

At the end of your workout, I suggest a ten-minute cool down on a bike, elliptical, or treadmill. You can also foam roll or do static stretches. Below, I have included my Body Movement Flowchart. If you don’t have any major injuries or imbalances, you can just plug in appropriate exercises and go to town. Look at exercise videos or people you trust and respect at the gym, and see how well you can categorize the movements they are training. I am also including three sample strength programs so you can see how this kind of training template is implemented.

Body Movement Flowchart (Click to enlarge)

Sample Strength Training Programs

Full Body Strength Training Circuit #1

2-3 sets

12 – 15 reps each

Unilateral pull (horizontal) Lawnmower single arm cable row
Unilateral hip-dominant Single leg dead lift (DB or cable)
Bilateral pull (vertical) Wide grip lat pull downs
Bilateral hip-dominant Stability ball hip extensions + hamstring curls
Bilateral push (horizontal) Push ups with rotation
Unilateral knee-dominant Bulgarian DB split squat
Unilateral push (vertical) Static lunge hold with single arm DB OH press
Bilateral knee-dominant Stability Ball against the wall DB squats


Full Body Strength Training Circuit #2

2-3 sets

12 – 15 reps each

Unilateral pull (vertical) Single arm cable pull down (half kneeling)
Unilateral hip-dominant Single leg bench hip raises (supine on floor with one foot on the bench)
Bilateral pull (horizontal) TRX bodyweight rows
Bilateral hip-dominant Cable pull thrus (cable pull between legs with hip extension)
Bilateral push (vertical) Seated DB OH press
Unilateral knee-dominant DB lateral lunge
Unilateral push (horizontal) Supine single arm bench press
Bilateral knee-dominant Goblet squats

COOL DOWN (5 min)


Full Body Strength Training Circuit #3

2-3 sets

12 – 15 reps each

Unilateral pull (Horizontal) Single arm DB row with opposite leg extended
Unilateral hip dominant Single leg squat dead lift re-sets (2 Kettlebells)
Bilateral pull (vertical) Pull ups (band assisted if needed)
Bilateral hip-dominant DB stiff leg dead lift
Bilateral push (vertical) Incline DB chest press
Unilateral knee-dominant DB step ups
Unilateral push (horizontal) Single arm standing cable chest press
Bilateral knee-dominant KB hold sumo squat

COOL DOWN (5 min)