There are hundreds of exercises and workout routines floating around out there. Some are beneficial for enjoyment, stress release and cardiovascular health, but a few are beneficial for body composition and weight loss. I’m going to dive deeper into the latter, but I want to make this very clear: Do what you enjoy or you won’t do anything.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned lifter, mastering these exercises will help you perform daily activities, build strength and achieve your fitness goals.
For women after the “toned” look, you have to build muscle utilizing these key exercises to get there. Even if you’re an avid runner, yogi or tennis player, adding these six exercises into your routine will build muscle, giving you energy, functional abilities and longevity to keep doing what you love – be that physical activities or just being active with your family.
The Exercises: A How-To Guide
Squats target lower body muscles, including quads, hamstrings and glutes. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly outward. Keeping back straight and core engaged, bend knees and lower hips until thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through heels to stand back up.
Deadlifts target lower body muscles, as well as back and core. Start with feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. Bend knees and hinge forward at hips, keeping back straight and core engaged. Grab the barbell with an overhand or over/under grip, keeping arms straight and shoulders back. Push through heels and stand up, lifting the barbell. Keep shoulders and chest up throughout the movement.
Hip thrusts are a great exercise for building glutes, improving overall lower body strength and protecting the lower back. Start by sitting on the ground with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a barbell across hips, holding it in place with hands. Lift hips up towards the ceiling, driving through heels and squeezing glutes at the top of the movement. Lower hips back down to the ground and repeat.
Bench press targets chest, shoulders and triceps. Lie flat on a bench with feet flat on the ground and back arched slightly. Grab the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and lower it down toward the chest, keeping elbows close to the body. Push the barbell back up to the starting position, making sure to keep shoulders back throughout the movement.
Overhead press targets shoulders, triceps and upper back. Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and core engaged. Grab the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and lift it up to shoulders, keeping elbows tucked in. Push the barbell up toward the ceiling, extending arms fully at the top of the movement. Lower the barbell back down to shoulders and repeat.
Chin ups are a great exercise for building upper body strength, targeting back, biceps and shoulders. Grab the assisted pull-up machine or a pull-up bar with an underhand grip and hang with arms fully extended. Pull the body up towards the bar by engaging back muscles, keeping elbows tucked in and shoulders back. Once the chin is over the bar, lower the body back down to the starting position and repeat.
Benefits of Functional Movements
Daily activities: We squat to sit down and stand up from a chair, use the toilet, pick up objects from the ground, and many other activities.
Athletic performance: Improves overall lower body strength and power whether you’re a runner, yogi, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) junkie or a weightlifter.
Injury prevention: Strengthens the muscles and ligaments that support knees, hips, and lower back. This can reduce risk of injury during physical activity and improve overall joint health.
Daily activities: We use the deadlift motion everyday, from lifting heavy objects off the ground to picking up a child or furry friend.
Athletic performance: Improves overall strength and power, particularly in the lower body and back muscles. This translates into overall improved athletic performance for any workout.
Injury prevention: Helps strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support your back, hips and legs. This also reduces risk of injury during physical activity and improves overall joint health.
Daily activities: The glute muscles are essential for daily activities, such as walking, running, and climbing stairs. Improves ability to perform these activities with greater ease and efficiency.
Athletic performance: Improves overall lower body strength and power. This can translate into improved athletic performance for sports and workouts across the board. I’d argue it’s one of the most underrated exercises.
Injury prevention: Helps strengthen the muscles that support lower back and hips, and requires engaging and strengthening the core. L4/L5 problems? Thrusts are a must.
Posture and balance: Strong glutes improve posture and balance, which enhances overall physical performance, protects the lower back and reduces risk of falls and injuries.
Daily activities: Upper body strength is important for a variety of daily activities, such as lifting heavy objects, getting all your groceries in with one trip, and doing things around the home and office.
Athletic performance: Upper body strength is also important for athletic performance during any workout. Incorporating bench press into an exercise routine improves overall upper body strength and power.
Injury prevention: Strengthening the muscles and ligaments in your chest and shoulders through bench press reduces risk of injury during physical activity and strengthens the push motion in order to push harmful objects (and even people) away.
Upper body strength: Performing overhead press improves overall upper body strength, which can translate into improved performance in activities such as pushing, pulling and carrying.
Daily activities: Strong shoulders and upper back muscles are important for a variety of daily activities, such as lifting heavy objects or reaching for items on high shelves.
Athletic performance: Strong shoulders and upper back muscles are also important for athletic performance. By incorporating overhead press into an exercise routine it improves overall upper body strength and power for any physical activity.
Posture: Strong upper back muscles improves posture and reduces risk of back pain and injuries. Incorporating overhead presses in an exercise routine strengthens and protects the upper back and shoulders.
Daily activities: Strong back and arm muscles are important for a variety of daily activities, such as lifting heavy objects, carrying groceries and performing household chores. By improving upper body strength through chin-ups, you can make these activities easier and safer.
Athletic performance: Upper body strength is also important for athletic performance, whether you’re a rock climber, a gymnast or a swimmer. By incorporating chin-ups into your exercise routine, you can improve your overall upper body strength and power.
Functional movement: Chin-ups are a functional movement that mimics the action of pulling your body weight up and over an object, which can be useful in real-life situations such as climbing a wall or pulling yourself up from a ledge (cue nightmares).
Benefits of Functional Movements
Not sure about some of these lifts? Ask a trainer at your gym or quickly look up a video of the lift on the internet. Start with light weight. Perform four sets of eight in each of these lifts once per week. Add five pounds each week. Adding weight each week is a method called progressive overload that’s proven to build muscle more than you will lifting the same weight every time you perform an exercise. Watch your body and mood change!
It doesn’t have to be a complicated workout throwing weight around (ouch) and performing twenty different lifts in one workout. That has actually been scientifically proven to not help you gain muscle.
I encourage you to try eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day and perform the lifts I listed above each week, applying the progressive overload method for six weeks. You’ll be amazed at the results. And the best part? It’s highly sustainable and can fit into practically any lifestyle.