The Big 4


If you walk into any standard globo-gym you will find yourself surrounded by a myriad of machines. Machines to work your quads, another to work your biceps, another to work the lower section of the left hand side of your right forearm. The list goes on and the machines get more and more ridiculous.

There are, in fact, just four basic exercises you can do that will work your entire body. And these 4 are just the basics.  And all you need is a barbell, a squat rack, some space to yourself and a pull up bar.

  1. The Deadlift

  2. The Back Squat

  3. The Push-Up, or Ring Dip

  4. The Pull-Up

A lift, a lower, a push and a pull.

The Deadlift

Lifting a weight up from the ground.

Without going into detail of every single muscle you use when doing a deadlift, I’ll just list the general areas.

Abdomen, Back, Legs (front and back), Hips/Glutes, Forearms.

Within these groups you are working various posterior and anterior muscles.  All from simply picking up something heavy, and putting it back down a few times.

Back Squat

Placing the barbell across the top of the back, squatting down so your glutes are lower than your knees and then back up to a locked out standing position.

Primary muscles used: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abdomen.

This can of course be done without weight and just using your own body weight with higher repetitions.

Push Up, or Ring Dip

A conditioning and calisthenics staple.

A simple movement raising and lowering the upper part of the body using the arms.  But what most people don’t realise is that if done correctly a push up will work a lot more than just your arms and chest.

Keeping your core switched on and your entire posterior chain tight, your push-up will work from head to toe almost.

This can be made harder by different hand positions (closer together, further apart, higher or lower, stable or unstable flooring, single handed), raising the feet (all the way to a handstand position), or adding plyometric movements to different heights, adding claps etc…).


Using muscular effort to raise and lower the body to and from a bar.

Ensuring the whole body is tight you will utilise the trunk, arms, shoulders, abdominals, pelvic floor, glutes, hands and forearms.

Pull ups are not just an arm and shoulder motion, if done correctly you are strengthening your entire body.

The 2 basic guidelines for this is that your chin goes above the bar at the top, and your arms are fully extended (but not relaxed, keep your shoulders packed) at the bottom.  Hands over or under do not matter, as this simply changes from a pull-up, to a chin up.  Simply targeting a few different areas (chin up will put more focus on the chest with the internal rotation of the shoulders).

Not Hard Enough? Try These Variations

Weighted, one arm, close or wide grip, clapping/plyometric, chest to bar, muscle up.

So forget all your fancy machines and equipment, and get back to the basics of strength and conditioning.


Sandra Merliere