Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. — Albert Einstein
That is one of my favorite ideas when it comes to fitness, and it rings especially true in strength training. We've been told that variety is the most important factor in a workout ("muscle confusion," anyone?) and many gyms nowadays seduce members with fancy, complex machines and daunting WODs.
But the difference between an amateur and an expert remains: an expert has mastered the basics.
Over the next few months, I'll help you master the basics one by one, so you can get the highest return on your investment of time and effort in the gym. We're starting with the lift that I consider the most fundamental exercise of all time: the deadlift.
Picking something heavy up off the ground safely is a fundamental human skill with endless transferability to other daily activities, from tying your shoes to shoveling your driveway. Simply put, the deadlift is the most productive thing you can do in the gym, bar none, pun intended.
However, the deadlift doesn't just improve your strength-related abilities. It's critically important if you're a runner or yoga enthusiast. Consider this: running, even at an easy pace, produces forces around 200 percent of your body weight through your joints with every footfall. Even a short run will comprise thousands of footfalls, and potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds of volume exerted on your body. Bringing up your deadlift will strengthen the muscles and connective tissue that support your ankles, knees, and lower back -- the very areas that tend to ache after a hard run.
As for yoga, many people (especially women) suffer hip injuries from repeatedly stretching the hips to the limit of their range of motion. Flexibility is great, but as always, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. Deadlifting provides the hip, leg, and back strength that, together with flexibility, create healthy joints.
Watch the video for detailed instructions, but here are your quickstart instructions:
1. Approach a loaded barbell and stand right up against it, your shins touching the bar. Stand with your feet a few inches wider than your shoulders.
2. With your shins still touching the bar, push your butt backwards, as if you're trying to sit in a chair that's a bit too far behind you. Picture Jackie Chan in horse stance.
3. Keep reaching your butt back until you can grasp the bar with your arms straight and perpendicular to the floor.
4. Flex your spinal erectors -- the muscles that run like ropes on either side of your spine -- to lift your chest. Pretend you're trying to chest-bump a buddy.
5. Clamp your armpits tight. Think about using your armpits to "shorten" your torso. This activates all your back muscles!
6. Pull the bar tight against your shins, then push your heels through the floor and slide the bar up your body until you're standing. Do not lean back; just clench your butt and stand tall.
7. Slide the bar down your body quickly (but under control) until it is back on the floor.
Marshall Roy is the owner of RISE gym, a private strength training facility in King of Prussia which offers 1-on-1 training and small strength classes. He is the 2014 "Best of Philly" personal trainer, and you can access 20 of his innovative kettlebell workouts and 48 video demonstrations for free at KBformula.com.