Did you know what you do during a workout can translate into how well you are able to perform activities in your daily life? Many people exercise to stay fit and for general health benefits, which are excellent motivating factors. However, it is often overlooked how important strength training exercises are to preserve functional mobility – how you move your body! In this article, we explain the one-repetition maximum, multi-joint vs. single-joint exercises, and how various exercises relate to activities you do every day.
One-Repetition Maximum (1-Rep Max)
Simply put, your 1-rep max is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift one time during a given exercise. For example, if your one-rep max for a bicep curl is 15 pounds, that means you are only able to lift a 15-pound weight for one repetition. If you were to use a lighter weight, you’d be able to get more reps in. Why does your one-rep max matter in everyday life? All day you are required to use your muscles in more functional ways like pushing a door open, carrying groceries, or lifting items onto shelves. These activities require your muscles to work, even though they may not feel like traditional exercise. If your one-rep max for bicep curls is only 5 pounds, which is about the equivalent of a gallon of milk, your muscles will fatigue after lifting a 5-pound item only once, making it more difficult to complete other tasks throughout the day. As you perform strength training and grow stronger, your one-rep max should increase, allowing you to lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions – which means moving your body and lifting items during your everyday life will become easier.
Multi-Joint vs Single-Joint Exercises
Multi-joint exercises are just as they sound, exercises that utilize multiple joints at once. They are sometimes referred to as compound exercises and require you to use multiple muscle groups at the same time. An example of a multi-joint exercise would be a regular squat in which there is simultaneous movement at the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Single-joint exercises involve the use of only one joint and are performed to target a particular muscle group. Bicep curls are a good example of a single-joint exercise that targets the bicep muscle in a specific position.
Incorporating multi-joint exercises into your exercise program is important because they are the most functional. Think about how many times during the day you need to move multiple parts of your body to complete a task. It’s much more common than isolating movement at a single joint since our bodies are designed for motion in multiple planes and directions, which requires various muscle groups to work together efficiently.
Upper Body Exercises
While there are multiple variations of a kettlebell carry, a basic starting place is to hold one kettlebell in your hand (or one in each hand) and then take a few steps forward while keeping your shoulders retracted and your core engaged. To make it more challenging, you can up the weight or try holding the kettlebell in different positions. This exercise helps to strengthen your hands, shoulders, and core making it easier to perform everyday activities like carrying grocery bags.
This exercise can be done with free weights, barbells, or machines and is an effective way to target the shoulder, arm, and upper back muscles – with slight variations depending on the equipment used and the position of the shoulder joint during the exercise. It’s an effective exercise that targets the muscles necessary for lifting items overhead, like putting a pot into a cabinet.
Front raises are exactly as they sound. When performing this exercise, you hold a free weight in each hand with the thumbs facing up and raise your hands to shoulder level, keeping your elbows straight. This exercise strengthens the shoulder muscles necessary to raise your arm out in front of you. You perform this movement when you reach up to grab or lift something – like picking up your grandchild to say hello!
This exercise can be performed standing in a bent-over position using free weights, seated or standing using weight machines, or seated using specific rowing machines. Performing rows target the back muscles that help you maintain proper posture along with those that allow the arm to perform a pulling motion. You use these muscles to stabilize your upper body and anytime you go to pull open a heavy door.
Lower Body Exercises
Squats are a great multi-joint exercise that strengthen the muscles you use every day to sit in a chair or bend down to pick an item up off the floor. You can further challenge yourself by progressing from a regular squat to a squat with an overhead press. This is a full-body exercise that works your leg, core, and arm muscles simultaneously.
Deadlifts target the muscles of your posterior chain such as the glutes, hamstrings, and back. It’s important to practice your form before adding weight to prevent back injury. This exercise strengthens the muscles necessary to lift heavy items safely from low surfaces. To progress a deadlift, try a combination move. First, perform a deadlift using a barbell or free weights, then transition into a bent-over row – a movement in which you utilize your core and upper body muscles to row the weights towards your chest while hinging at the hips. This is a compound exercise that also targets many muscle groups simultaneously and requires a sufficient amount of muscle strength and coordination.
Lunges are another compound exercise that can be modified and progressed with several variations. Start with a basic forward lunge or stationary lunge to ensure proper form. Make sure your knee stays in line with your toe and does not cave inward. Once you feel ready, try adding weight, a trunk twist, or an overhead press to increase the challenge!
It’s important to train in multiple planes of movement since your daily activities involve moving your joints in various directions. Lateral step-ups might seem simple, but they are another functional, compound movement that you likely do every day without realizing – basically anytime you step sideways! The muscles you target with lateral step-ups also help stabilize your hips and pelvis, which is crucial for basic functional mobility like walking. If you want to make this exercise more challenging, increase the height of the step or add weight.
Progress Your Exercises Safely
Always use caution and safety tips when performing new exercises. Be sure to consult with your physician or physical therapist if you are new to exercise or want to progress your current program, especially when you plan to include higher-level activities or heavier weights. A physical therapist is a great resource who can perform a thorough physical evaluation and prescribe a customized exercise program designed to address your goals and adapt your program as you make progress. Your physical therapist will show you proper form and ensure you are performing exercises appropriate for you.
1. One Rep Max (1RM) Calculator. NASM. Accessed July 25, 2022.
2. Strength Training. Physiopedia. Accessed July 25, 2022.
3. Mahaffey, K. Functional Training: Compound Workouts For Fitness. NASM. Accessed July 25, 2022.