Exercise Glossary

Coaching cues to help you along the way

The Glossary

These notes are designed to give you some pointers and coaching cues for a variety of exercises. They're split into four sections, Push, Pull, Legs & Abs. For a more visual experience, a selection of exercise videos are available on my Youtube channel.

Push

BB Bench Press

Lie on the bench with your eyes under the bar and your feet planted. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and retract your shoulder blades. Lower the bar to mid-chest under control, then drive up thinking about bringing the inside of your elbows together. Be sure not to flare your elbows as you press.

DB Shoulder Press

Set the bench at 75 degrees. You may see people do this at 90 degrees, but without excellent mobility, your shoulders will be in a sub-optimal position and there’s an increased risk of injury. Bring the dumbbells up so your hands are level with your ears. Keep your feet planted, engage core and fully extend above your head. Lower back to start position under control.

Military Press

Set the bar in a rack around chest height. Grip the bar around shoulder width, your forearms should be vertical. Look straight ahead, chest up, shoulders back, core engaged. You’ll need enough room to clear your head, therefore, push your hips forward so you can lean back without your back arching. This will allow the bar to be pressed straight up to lockout.

DB Incline Press

Set the bench at around 30-45 degrees. Think about keeping your shoulders pinned back with the emphasis being on your chest rather than the front delts. Keeping your feet planted throughout the movement will ensure stability. Don’t flare your elbows as this will cause unnecessary stress on the shoulder, instead aim for around a 45-degree angle to your torso. Think about pushing your elbows together as you press up.

Machine Chest Press

These machines can differ quite a lot, but the coaching cues to think about stay the same. Keep your feet planted and your shoulders pinned back. Look straight ahead and keep a neutral wrist position. The handles should be around mid-chest. Think about bringing your elbows together, squeeze at the top and lower under control.

DB Lateral Raise

Sit at the end of a bench with a neutral grip on the dumbbells. Leaning forward slightly and focusing on keeping your shoulders depressed will help keep the emphasis on the mid delts. The key here is to limit the engagement of your traps and front delts. As your arms come up, slightly rotate your hands inwards like you are emptying a cup. Your wrists should be below your elbows. 

Cable Lateral Raise

This exercise is best performed with cuffs as it takes the grip element out. Set the cable just below knee height. Reach across your body to grab the cuff and then raise your arm out to the side until it’s level with your shoulder. The aim is to keep the tension on the mid delt, if you feel too much tension on your front delt, imagine you’re holding a cup and tipping it forward as you extend.

Standing Cable Fly

Use a dual cable system. The height of the cable will depend on the part of your chest you’re looking to target. For an all-round fly, set it to shoulder height. For more upper chest activation set it lower. For more lower chest, set it higher. Think about bringing your upper arm across your body. You can have a slight bend in the elbow but make sure your elbow is coming far enough across your chest and not just your wrists.

Overhead DB Extension

You can do this on a lower back bench or just sitting in an upright position. Overlap your hands around the dumbbell end over end and press it straight up overhead. Lower the dumbbell behind your head. Allow your forearms to come just below parallel, then extend back to the top position. 

Dips

There are a number of variations of the technique depending whether you want more chest or tricep activation. We’ll focus on tricep emphasis. This means keeping your elbows closer to your body, legs back and torso upright. Also think about keeping your head in line with your spine. Lower down until your elbows are at 90 degrees, then drive up to full lockout.

Skull Crushers

You can use an EZ bar or dumbbells. Think about keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor. Only allow your elbows to move, you don’t want excessive movement in the shoulders. By also keeping your elbows tight and not allowing them to flare, you’ll maintain the isolation on your triceps. If using a bar, lower it to just above your forehead, if using dumbbells then it’ll be to either side.

Rope Pulldown

Set the rope attachment to the top of the cable rack. Grab the rope with an overhand grip. Aim to limit movement in the shoulders. Extend straight down to full lockout and slightly rotate your hands in at the bottom so your little fingers are pointing out. This will empathise the squeeze on the triceps. Bend slightly at the hips to lean forward but ensure you stay fixed, limiting momentum, as you’re executing the movement.

Pull

Rack Pull

Set the bar in a squat rack so it is just below knee height. The stance is the same as a conventional deadlift. Feet should be shoulder width apart and under your hips. With a focus on keeping a neutral spine, push your feet through the floor and drive your hips forward. Pull the weight up and back until lockout. Don’t hyperextend as this will put unnecessary stress on your lower back. Return the bar to the pins to reset after each rep. 

BB Bent Over Row

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, a slight bend in your knees and a neutral spine. Arms should be straight with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width and your neck in line with your spine. You can get into the starting position by deadlifting the weight up and then lowering the barbell by pushing your hips back. Drive the elbows up and back, aiming for the barbell to touch around your belly button. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and ensure you don’t become too upright as you row as this will turn into a shrug. 

Cable Seated Row

This can be done with a variety of grips. Sit with your knees slightly bent and a neutral spine. You can allow your shoulders to travel back and forth but don’t create lots of momentum with excessive movement in the lumbar spine. Keep your chest up and core engaged. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows back. Try to keep your shoulders depressed, if you find they are rising towards your ears, lower the weight as you have too much upper trap engagement.

One Arm DB Row

You can do this with one knee on a bench or simply just holding the bench with the opposite hand for support. Use a neutral grip and think about bringing the dumbbell back towards your hips. Focus on squeezing your lat and limiting activation in the bicep. Always keep your spine neutral and don’t allow yourself to become too upright, which will encourage upper trap activation.

Chest Supported Machine Row

There will be a variety of these machines but their main purpose is to reduce load on the lower back. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and driving your elbows back. Be sure to maintain a fixed in position lumbar extension. If you find you’re extending at the hips when it gets heavy, lower the weight. 

Lat Pulldown

Begin by pulling your shoulders down by engaging your lats with straight arms. Pull your elbows down and back until the bar reaches your chin, then allow back up under control. A slight lean back will enable your shoulders to be in an advantageous position, but don’t create excessive momentum.

Rear Delt Fly

These are best performed on a machine. Ensure your shoulders are protracted and depressed. This will help keep tension on your rear delts. Your hands should be pronated and at or slightly below shoulder height. The aim is to minimise use of the traps. You want to think about creating a big arc, so push your hands wide before going back. The more you can keep your shoulders protracted the more emphasis you’ll be able to place on the rear delts and away from the traps and rhomboids.

DB Curl

The main thing to focus on here is not using momentum and swinging the weight up. Keep the movement controlled and squeeze at the top. Ensure you’re fully extending your arms at the bottom to get full range of motion. Using a supinated grip will put most of the emphasis on the bicep whereas a neutral grip (aka hammer curl), will also allow some activation of the brachioradialis (forearm).

Seated Incline DB Curl

Set an adjustable bench to around a 60-degree angle. With a supinated grip, focus on squeezing your biceps and limiting movement in the shoulders. There’ll be a temptation to lift the elbows as you contract, try to keep as fixed as possible. Look straight ahead but ensure you’re not overly rounding your upper back as this will limit the effectiveness of the exercise.

Preacher Curl

The aim here is to maximise isolation the biceps. That means keeping the elbows and upper body fixed. Ensure you’re performing the exercise with full range of motion, and really squeeze the contraction at the top. There should be no gap between your underarm and the pad.

Cable Curl

You can use a variety of grips and attachments. The same principles apply as a normal curl. Isolate the bicep as much as possible by limiting swing and momentum, while ensuring full range of motion. 

Legs

Back Squat

Set the bar around chest height in the rack. Unless you’re looking to compete, go with a high bar squat as it encourages a greater range of motion compared to a low bar squat. Rest the bar on your upper traps with a relaxed grip. Then sit and lower under control until your quads are parallel with the floor. Keep your knees in line with your toes, maintain a strong braced position and then drive up through your heels. If you struggle with depth, try elevating your heels. A couple of small weight disks will do the job.

Romanian Deadlift

Set the bar in the rack just below deadlift lockout height. Grip should be around shoulder width. Your knees should be inside your arms and your feet can be very slightly turned outwards. Before you descend, brace your core and lift your chest up. You want to ensure your spine is kept neutral throughout the movement. Begin by pushing your hips back, imagine there’s a wall behind you that you’re trying to touch. Keep your shins vertical, a slight bend in the knees and the bar should remain over the centre of your feet. Come down until you can’t get any lower without your lower back rounding. On the concentric phase, focus on driving your hips forward and not allowing them to dip. 

Leg Press

Feet should be around shoulder width apart. The higher your foot placement the more it will target the hamstrings, while a lower foot placement will be more quad dominant. Start with a fairly central position and find your sweet spot. Squeeze your glutes and lower under control, then drive up ensuring you don’t lock out your knees at the top. It’s important to maintain tension throughout the movement.

Bulgarian Split Squat

This is a rear foot elevated split squat. Use a step or block that is between half way up your shin and your knee in height. You can use a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell to perform these. Keeping your torso upright, slowly lower down keeping your front knee in line with your toes. Keep the weight balanced through your front foot as your drive up. Keep looking forward to maintain neutral spine. 

Lying Hamstring Curl

Push your hips down into the pad and squeeze your glutes. Think heel up and over. Squeeze at the top then lower slowly and under control. If possible, train one leg at a time. Stretching your quads in between sets with help obtain a better contraction in your hamstrings.

Leg Extension

If possible, train one leg at a time. Push your hamstring down into the pad and lean slightly forward. Think about pushing your foot forward and then up. Squeeze at the top and lower under control. Keep the pressure under the knee on the pad and aim to limit upper body movement.

Seated Calf Raise

Squeeze calves hard and push through the balls of your feet. Think about pushing your ankles forward, not up and down. Squeeze at the top and lower under control.

Abs

Knee Raises

You can do these hanging or on the elbow pads in a dip station. Think about bringing your knees forward and up while exhaling. Squeeze the contraction at the top and then lower under control. To progress the exercise, you can hold a dumbbell with your feet. Aim to limit swing and momentum.

Rope Crunch

Start in a kneeling position and aim to limit movement in the hips. You want the flexion in the spine to come from your abs and not your hip flexors or by using momentum. Hold the rope in front of your head and aim to keep this fixed. Really squeeze the contraction at the bottom before extending. 

Weighted Decline Crunch

Hold a dumbbell or a plate over your chest. Of course, you can do these with no weight before progressing. Lower down slowly, then curl up while exhaling and squeeze at the top. Think about your elbows coming towards your knees.