In the previous article “Weight Training For Masters”, I mentioned the importance of exercise selection for those who are 40 and over. Here, we’ll go into quite a bit more detail about pairing, supersets, complementary movements, and how each play a role in overall intent as it relates to masters.

To get some terminology out of the way, we’ll begin by taking a look at a handful of movements I use to build programs. I call these “essential” given their functional nature as exercises that translate to daily life.

The 5 Essential Movement Patterns.

1. Bend/Hinge – These are lower body exercises that involve flexion and extension of the hips, and typically serve to strengthen the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back). The most recognizable exercise in this category is a Deadlift. Performing a truly technically sound deadlift is a skill, and serves several important purposes: strength, mobility, stability (core), grip strength.

2. Squat – A pretty straightforward movement, but also requires plenty of skill to maximize results. The Back Squat is frequently advertised here, but not always appropriate. For most, a simple Dumbbell or Kettlebell Goblet Squat is a solid alternative.

3. Single-Leg – What I consider to be the most, well, essential of the essential movements, the single-leg pattern can be adapted to fit any ability level. Further, it’s an extremely primal human movement if you think about how many things we do on 1 leg–ya know, like running and walking. There are too many Lunge variations here to name that work well.

4. Upper Push – The first upper body movement, which generally requires less skill, can include bodyweight (Push-Up) and weighted (Strict Press) exercises.

5. Upper Pull – Very similar to above, but with pulling movements, such as Pull-Up and Barbell/Dumbell Row variations.

Complementary Movements.

For a majority of my masters, I often combine a couple of the above movements that complement each other. Below are some movement pairings that work well together:

  1. Bend/Hinge+Upper Push
  2. Squat+Upper Pull
  3. Bend+Single Leg
  4. Upper Push+Upper Pull

The “A” and “B” examples mix upper and lower body, while “C” and “D” pair lower and upper together, respectively. Each of them are complementary, however, meaning they don’t repeatedly pick on the same muscles groups, which is important for those at a higher training age.

Pairing and Supersets.

Now that we’ve determined what goes well together, let’s explore how we can combine them. Using the “A” example above, we could have the Bend/Hinge movement stand alone from the Upper Push, using the following design:

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 8 reps x4 sets
  2. Dumbbell Bench Press, work up to a tough set of 5 in 4 sets

By separating these 2, we can more effectively focus on the skill of the bending pattern, while getting in some tough strength work on the upper pushing exercise.

Conversely, we can combine the same pairing in what’s known as a superset in the following:

A1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 10 reps x3 sets

A2. Dumbbell Bench Press, 8 reps x3 sets

By designing these 2 to be done in sequence, we can get more done in a shorter amount of time without excessively targeting the required muscle groups. Further, the back-and-forth nature of supersets demand submaximal loads, thereby controlling intensity and promoting longevity, which should be the cornerstone of most fitness programming for masters.


To conclude, intent, or purpose, should dictate all of the above. This is highly individual as it varies broadly depending on your skill and fitness level, which is defined by the years spent, or not, in the gym. For my masters athletes who have trained less, we focus more on developing the skills associated with each movement pattern above. For those with a higher training age, we’re often aiming to stay strong, while prioritizing technically flawless movement. In either case, the 5 essentials are constantly being tweaked to support each individual need.




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