Fundamental Movements for Strength Training

January 19, 2021

Guest Post From CA Trainer Keith Oelschlaeger, MS, CSCS

So it’s the new year, and you want to start strength training! You look online to do your research, and see countless videos on how to do all kinds of strength training. You notice a lot of terminology, methodology, and strategies that you do not know, so you look them up and realize how complicated strength training really is (to say the least).

The good news, it doesn’t have to be so complicated….in fact it really should not be. If you’re new to strength training, then this short read is for you. If you have some experience under your belt, then consider this a refresher. These are directions on how to do a select few fundamental movements, as well as what to watch out for to avoid improper form.

These movements were selected because they’re common precursors to more advanced training movements, and this is where the majority of people mess up their form. Plus, they strengthen parts of the body that tend to give people the most issues (low back, knees and shoulders). There are a few things that are important to note before we get into this:

  • Consult your doctor before starting a strength training program
  • Safety first
  • Start light
  • Have an experienced lifter (10 years lifting) or a professional watch you
  • Most importantly, do not lift with your ego!

Ok, now let’s get into the movements which are listed next:

  • RDL (Romanian Deadlift)
  • Squat
  • Row 

That’s right, there are only three. Remember, it does not have to be complicated!

Romanian deadlift

Hold a barbell, body bar, or a broomstick with a double overhand grip that is just outside shoulder width apart. Place your feet parallel to each other, hip width distance apart. Your shoulder width is slightly wider than hip width, so your grip position on the bar will be wider than your foot placement. 

Starting from an upright standing position with your hands and feet at the appropriate positions, unlock your knees slightly and push your hips backwards while allowing your upper body to move slightly forward. The bar will lower as a result. Keep pushing your hips back and keeping your back flat until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings or the bar is lowered at knee level. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position or keep your eyes forward (whatever feels more comfortable for you).

Make sure your feet remain flat on the ground throughout the whole movement so think push your heels AND your big toe into the ground. Keeping a rigid torso position, drive your hips forward into the starting position (stand up). This is done keeping your arms long and the bar close to your body at all times.

Watch out for:

  • The bar drifting forward and away from your body
  • Back is not flat
  • Hips are not pushing back
  • Bending the knees more than hinging the hips


For the purpose of this piece, we will look at a bodyweight squat (no additional implements or weight).

Start with your feet shoulder width apart and point your toes outward at a slight angle. You may also keep your feet parallel; whichever feels more comfortable for you works. Once your feet are in position, lower your body straight down by bending the knees and hips at the same time. Sit back with your hips while keeping your back straight. Keep your knees over your toes the whole time, with the exception of when you are in the starting position. While grounding through the lower body, keep your upper body upright and rigid. Squat down to a depth that your mobility will allow you to do without losing form. 

Once you have squatted as low as you can, drive your feet into the floor and stand up into the start position. Still keep your heels and big toes driven into the ground throughout the whole movement. You may keep your hands on your hips or reached out in front of you throughout the duration of the movement.

Watch out for:

  • Knees caving inward
  • Rounding spine
  • Heels coming off of ground
  • Bouncing at the bottom of the squat


The row can be done in MANY different ways, but for the sake of this piece we will analyze a single arm dumbbell row. The technical components that will be covered here can be applied to all kinds of rows.

The start position is the bottom of the RDL (refer back to the RDL section). While keeping your back flat and one hand on your hip, the other hand will be holding a dumbbell with your arm straight. Your head and neck will be neutral, so your eyes will be looking at the floor. The knees will not be bent too much like they would be in a squat, but will be unlocked.

To begin the row, retract and depress your shoulder blade. Translation? Think of pulling your shoulder blade backwards, and then try to tuck it in your back pocket at the same time. Once your shoulder blade is braced in that retracted and depressed position, draw your elbow straight up until it is next to your rib cage. Keep your arm close to your side as you pull. Then, lower your dumbbell back to the starting position in a controlled manner and you may allow your shoulder blade to open up at the bottom. 

Throughout the whole movement, keep your shoulders square to the ground. For every repetition of a row, make sure you initiate with the shoulder blade first, then the elbow. With practice, you will learn to turn that into one fluid motion. If you need to, you may support yourself by placing your opposite hand on a bench or a supportive box.

Watch out for:

  • Forgetting to retract and depress the shoulder blade first
  • Jerking the weight up (too heavy)
  • Twisting the torso as you pull
  • Pulling your elbow away from your side (flaring out)


Get stronger with CA

Wherever you’re at in your strength training journey, CA is here for you. Our three fitness clubs feature state-of-the-art equipment, group fitness classes, personal training programs and so much more. Learn more on our website! 

And to learn more on the benefits of strength training, check out our blog.

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