6 Staple Exercises Every Gym Goer Must Do

May 13, 2021

What are the 6 staple exercises everyone at the gym must do? Why should you do these 6 exercises? If you have been working out for a while but your gains are stalling; or you are new to working out and need advice on what exercises to start with, this article is for you. No matter what your fitness goals are, if you're not incorporating these exercises, you won't be maximizing your time in the gym and could potentially develop imbalances that could further deter your progression.

Many people go through their gym workouts without understanding why they're doing the exercises they're doing. Your training program should be designed in order to help you become better in sport or in life. Whether you're chasing aesthetic goals or performance goals, a well thought training program is crucial for your success.  

Ken Co-Founder and Personal Trainer at BLK BOX GYM believes there are 6 exercises everyone must perform in order to maximize their time in the gym, he calls them the Big 6 exercises:

What are the Big 6 Exercises?

1. Lower Body: Squat & Deadlift

2. Upper Body - Bench press (horizontal push),  Barbell Row (horizontal pull)

3. Upper Body -  Overhead Shoulder  Press (vertical push),  Pull-ups (vertical pull)  

The Big 6 exercises are divided into 3 groups. Lower Body, Horizontal Push/Pull, and Vertical Push/Pull. If you only had to choose only 6 exercises to do for the rest of your life, these are your 6. The big 6 exercises collectively hits all major muscle groups in your body.

As you will notice, except for pull ups, all Big 6 exercises require barbell movements. Generally, when you see a beginner go to the gym, you will notice they generally stick with cardio equipment and weighted machines. This is because barbell exercises are usually the most technically demanding, so many beginners stray away from them.  

However, as a beginner it should be your priority to learn and master the barbell movements. Whether its hiring a personal trainer, or doing your own research and practice, barbell movements should be the foundation of your workouts and the first thing you want to learn and master.

The Big 6 exercises are selected to balance each other out. The Squat balances out the Deadlift, the Push movements balance our the Pull movements. In this way, it unlikely to develop muscular imbalances. On the other hand, if you keep doing leg extensions for your quads and don't do any hamstring exercises, you may eventually shorten your hip flexors to a point where you develop anterior pelvic tilt (a common symptom of lower body muscular imbalance) and strain your lower back.

Make sure you practice proper technique when doing the Big 6 and constantly build your strength in these movements. When you are stronger at the Big 6 exercises, you will also be stronger at every other exercise in the gym.  

Accessory   Exercises  

Accessory exercises are exercises that are not the Big 6, but are selected to help you achieve your fitness goal. What you do beyond the Big 6 exercises depends what your fitness goal is.

For example:  

…if you're a bodybuilder and want to have bigger arms, you're accessory exercises may consist of many bicep curls, tricep extensions etc…

…if you're a power lifter that wants a stronger squat, your accessory exercises may consist of variations of squats such as box squats, pause squats, front squats etc…

…if you're a basketball player that wants to be more explosive so you can dunk, your accessory exercises may consist of plyometric type exercises such as box jumps, sled pushes, speed quickness agility drills etc…

In conclusions, train your big 6 exercises FIRST, THEN choose the accessory exercises that are most suitable for your fitness goal. The Big 6 + Accessory Exercise method is not the only way to design a complete program, but if you think your training program could use a face lift, give this method a try.

Happy Training!

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Written by

Ken Lu

Ken has a Bachelor's Degree of Psychology from the University of British Columbia, specializing in Sport Psychology. As well as being a Certified Personal Trainer, Ken is also a Movement & Mobility Specialist, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has trained for and won the 2018 NPAA BC Men's Physique Championship.