Foundational Exercises for a Stronger You

Foundational Exercises for a Stronger You

Every year, so many people take the leap and make it a goal to exercise more. 

Exercising is so important for your overall health, but it goes further than you’d think. Physical activity is not only good for your health, but also the quality of your life (1).

The way I see it … The stronger you are throughout your life, the better you’ll move as you get older. I don’t want to have to use a walker when I’m older, do you?

A good way to train for this is with exercises that strengthen functional movements. When you start any workout routine you need a strong foundation.

So, the best place to start is with foundational exercises. 

Every other exercise, for the most part, builds off of these movements.

Getting good at foundational exercises can make a huge difference in your overall body strength in the long run. That, and they can help you perform better in more specialized movements down the road too.

So let’s dive into some specific benefits of exercise in general. After that, we’ll get into the foundational exercises themselves.

The Benefits of Exercise

An active lifestyle comes with so many benefits! I'm sure you can at least think of a few of those benefits right now. The truth is though, there's a lot more to exercise than meets the eye.

These are only a handful of the benefits of regular exercise (2)(3): 

• Benefits mental health
• Increases academic performance
• Lowers the risk of chronic disease
• Improves your physical performance
• Boosts overall wellness

So I think it’s safe to say you should want to exercise regularly. Exercise can also help you look and feel better overall, can it not?

Now, if you're just getting started, I recommend starting with foundational exercises.

These foundational exercises can help strengthen your body for just about anything life throws at you. At least, whatever you’ll have to do physically. With the mental benefits of exercise, perhaps even mentally too.

In this next section, I’m going to cover the 6 foundational exercises that most exercises are based on.

6 Foundational Exercise Movements

Here are the 6 foundational movement patterns I've been referring to. Master these, and you can more easily master basically every other exercise!

Foundational Exercise #1: Squats

First up is the squat. It's one of the most foundational exercises in the book! Just think about how many times we actually squat in our day-to-day life.

This exercise works your entire leg. This includes your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, and calves.

There are dozens of variations of the squat. So, once you master the basic squat, you still have plenty of room to grow mastering other variations.

Some of those include: 

• Front squat
• Back squat
• Goblet squat
• Suitcase squat

How to Perform the Squat

1. Stand upright with your legs just slightly wider than hip-width apart.

2. Bend your knees slowly while pushing your hips back like you’re sitting down in a chair. Be sure to keep your back straight, core tight, and push your knees away from each other.

3. Sink into your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

4. From here, push your feet against the ground and squeeze your glutes to stand back up.

Foundational Exercise #2: Lunges

The lunge is another lower-body exercise similar to doing a single-leg squat. It’s not really a single leg exercise though because your other leg is helping you to stabilize.

Why focus on one leg at a time, though? Single-leg exercises are all too often neglected by most people. They can play a crucial role in balance, stability, and functional movement patterns. They can also give you a great workout!

When you do a bunch of these in a row, trust me when I say you’ll feel the burn! We often do a lot of lunges in our day-to-day life as well. Just think about any time you go to tie your shoe as an example.

There are other types of lunges, but I would start with traditional forward walking lunges.

Then when you’re ready, move into variations like split squats and jump lunges.

How to Perform the Lunge

1. Start by standing upright with your legs shoulder-width apart.

2. Take a big step forward with one foot. Also, make sure your feet are still shoulder-width apart as you do this. Keep your chest high, core tight, and back straight.

3. When your foot lands, bend your front knee and lower yourself until your back knee is almost on the ground.

4. Drive your front heel into the ground to stand up and bring your back foot up next to your front foot.

5. Repeat with your opposite leg.

Foundational Exercise #3: The Hip Hinge

The hip hinge is another lower body movement we do every day.

The hip hinge movement pattern is vital for performing daily activities. If you couldn’t hinge at your hips, you couldn’t sit down.

While the squat and lunge seem like a hinge, a true hip hinge takes your quads mostly out of the equation.

Strong hip muscles can help prevent injury, enhance your performance, and help with stability too. It’s also a foundational movement pattern for many exercises.

This movement is exemplified by exercises like the deadlift, RDL, kettlebell swing, and cleans. A deadlift, for example, is something we do almost every single day. I'd be surprised if you didn't!

If you have to bend over to get something off the ground, that's a hipe hinge! Or, when you bend down to pet your dog or cat, that's a hip hinge! There are plenty of instances where you'll be hinging at your hips in daily life.

How to Perform the Hip Hinge

1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Cross your arms in front of your chest.

2. Keep your back straight and push your hips back while keeping your knees slightly bent. Make sure to keep your weight in your heels and bend until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

3. Next, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to raise yourself back up to a standing position.

Foundational Exercise #4: Push-Ups

Push-ups are an exercise everyone has heard of. If you haven’t … Well, now is your chance to learn!

The push-up is an upper body exercise that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Even if you haven't exercised to this point, the push-up is the same movement you use in everyday life. If you've ever pushed to open a door or move an object ... Your body is doing the same exact thing it does in a push-up!

Learning to perform this well can also help prepare you to do heavier pushing exercises down the road. If you want to build muscle, then you definitely want to push heavier weights!

The push-up serves as the most foundational exercise for pressing movements. It’s also the most functional being done with just your body weight.

Push-ups help to build core stability, joint stability, and upper body strength. You’ve likely tried at least one variation of an upper-body push movement before: 

• Bench press
• Overhead press
• Dips
• Machine chest press

There are a lot of ways to perform a pushing exercise, but we’re focusing on the push-up. It’s the most basic of them all and requires no equipment.

How to Perform the Push-Up

1. Start in a straight-arm plank position on your hands and feet. Be sure to keep your core and glutes engaged with your back straight. Your hands should be beneath your shoulders or slightly outside.

2. Allow your elbows to bend as your upper arms move back at a 45-degree angle from your body.

3. Lower yourself until your chest is almost touching the ground.

4. At the bottom, squeeze your chest and push against the ground to drive yourself back up to a high plank.

Foundational Exercise #5: Pull-Ups

This is another upper-body exercise that I’m sure you’ve heard of. You may have done them in gym class growing up too.

Pull-ups are an amazing foundational exercise, and can really help you build a strong back!

Pulling exercises in general are essential for everyday life. Have you ever picked up something you had to carry with both arms?

Guess what? You had to use your pulling muscles to hold it close to your body. Ever go rock climbing? Yeah, you need those pulling muscles too or you wouldn’t climb anything.

Pull-ups aren’t easy to do if you’ve never done them. If you struggle with them, you may want to start with an assisted machine, or a resistance band for extra help getting started.

Pull-ups are just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of different pulling exercise variations.

I’m sure you’ve heard of at least a couple of these exercises before: 

• Bent-over rows
• Lat pulldowns
• Single-arm dumbbell rows
• Renegade rows
• Dumbbell pullovers
• Bicep curls

Again, there are a lot of options for performing a pulling exercise, but we’ll focus on the pull-up. It's just about the most foundational exercise when it comes to pulling movements.

All you need is a horizontal bar that can hold your body weight. It also needs to be set up at least arm’s length above your head. They’re available at gyms or parks, and many people can get a portable one for their home workouts. 

How to Perform the Pull-Up

1. Stand directly below your pull-up bar.

2. Place your hands on the pull-up bar in an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

3. Lift your feet from the floor so you’re hanging from the bar.

4. Pull your shoulders down and back and focus on pulling your elbows down to your sides and your chest to the bar.

5. When your chin makes it over the bar, slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

If this is too difficult for you, don't worry. You can loop a resistance band around the bar to put your feet through for extra support. You can also find a machine at your gym that offsets some of your body weight to make it easier.

Foundational Exercise #6: Carries

Carrying exercises, like the farmer's carry, are some of the most functional exercises out there. We all have to carry things from time to time.

At the very least, we carry groceries and laundry baskets pretty regularly. It definitely can’t hurt to train for that!

Carrying weights can help improve balance, coordination, posture, and total body strength.

The traditional exercise is the farmer’s carry, so I recommend starting there. Anyone can do these, and you can adjust the weight used as needed.

It’s great for building grip strength. That means there won't be a single pickle jar you can't open!

Other variations include the overhead dumbbell or kettlebell carry. These exercises offer additional stability benefits over a traditional farmer’s carry. 

Let’s take a look at how to perform this exercise. 

How to Perform a Farmer’s Carry

1. Grab a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells and hold one in each hand.

2. Engage your core, and pull your shoulder blades down and back keeping an upright posture.

3. Keep your head up, and core muscles engaged as you walk with the weights.

4. Continue walking for your desired time or distance.

Jumpstart Your Fitness Journey with Foundational Exercises

These 6 foundational exercises can help you kickstart an active lifestyle. They’ll also help prepare you for more advanced exercises down the road.

We all start our fitness journey somewhere, and this is a great starting point for most people. The reason behind you getting started in the first place matters too, though.

Are you getting started because you know getting movement in is good for you? Do you want to start building muscle? Do you have a goal to lose some body fat? Do you want to do a combination of both?

We all have our reasons, but I say this because your end goal matters. If you have a specific fitness goal, this is a starting point, but it doesn’t give you a whole lot of direction on where to go from there.

If your goal is to build muscle or lose body fat, your diet matters. Daily movement outside your workout matters. Staying consistent and on track matters.

If you’re wanting to make a change, let us help you!

We’ve developed an incredible all-in-one health and fitness app called the 1st Phorm App for just that. We give you every tool you need to help you reach whatever fitness goal you may have.

Need help with your workouts? The app has a full library of plans to choose from for your goals.

Need someone to teach you what and how much to eat? We give you an expert advisor certified in personal training and nutrition coaching. You can also log your food directly in the app to make sure you're on track to see great results.

Need to learn more about health and fitness overall? We host daily live streams and educational content in the app every day!

Want to measure your progress? The app has tools to measure your progress and make sure you're seeing results.

Need accountability and support? Between your advisor and the community inside the app, you'll have both!

The 1st Phorm App has everything you need to simplify the process of earning results.

If you have questions, feel free to reach out! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches right here in St. Louis, Missouri. Send us an email at or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 any day from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

If you're ready to crush your goals and look and feel your best ... Download the 1st Phorm App now!

Download the 1st Phorm App


(1) Marquez DX, Aguiñaga S, Vásquez PM, Conroy DE, Erickson KI, Hillman C, Stillman CM, Ballard RM, Sheppard BB, Petruzzello SJ, King AC, Powell KE. A systematic review of physical activity and quality of life and well-being. Transl Behav Med. 2020 Oct 12;10(5):1098-1109. doi: 10.1093/tbm/ibz198. PMID: 33044541; PMCID: PMC7752999.

(2) Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jul 2;8(7):a029694. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029694. PMID: 28507196; PMCID: PMC6027933.

(3) Redondo-Flórez L, Ramos-Campo DJ, Clemente-Suárez VJ. Relationship between Physical Fitness and Academic Performance in University Students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 10;19(22):14750. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192214750. PMID: 36429470; PMCID: PMC9690464.


Other Popular Articles

View all