There are so many options when it comes to working out that sometimes it is overwhelming. What should you do? Cardio? Strength training? Intervals? Zumba? Crossfit? Kettlebells? P90X (or PX90 as I hear most people call it)?
Guess what? Your workouts don’t need to be fancy to be effective. In fact, I believe that by doing the 5 exercises below, correctly and consistently, you can become stronger and more fit than you have ever been before. If that sounds boring, don’t worry, you can keep it interesting by using the variations provided below as well as switching up your load (amount of weight you’re using) and your volume (number of reps and sets).
I don’t care if you want to run and Zumba your face off… go right ahead. I would still recommend adding in these 5 exercises on a regular basis as they will help you move better and get stronger. Once you’re moving better and getting stronger, it’s almost a given that you will feel better and look better too.
- The movement pattern helps you to develop a healthy and strong lower by back and works your glutes and hamstrings.
- The deadlift is the most functional exercise of all time. Why? Because everyone has to pick things up off of the ground. You might as well do it in a way where you will not get injured.
Key points when hinging:
- Start with your feet hip width apart and keep the weight in the middle of your foot.
- Movement should be through the hips as this is not a knee dominant exercise (not a squat!).
- Think about pushing your butt as far back as possible while keeping your spine neutral.
- Basic hip hinges
- Deadlifts (kettlebell deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, barbell deadlifts, sumo deadlifts)
- Kettlebell swings
2. Squats ￼
- Squats work your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves all at once.
- You want to be able to get up from the toilet on your own for a lot of years to come, right? Squats will help.
- Contrary to popular belief, squats, when done correctly, will not hurt the knees.
Key points when squatting:
- Feet hip width (give or take) and toes angled slightly outward. Knees should track toes at all times.
- Your hips and knees should move at the same speed.
- Think about pushing your knees out at the bottom of the squat instead of letting them collapse. Sink between your legs.
- Assisted squat (using TRX or similar)
- Goblet squat (usually done using a kettlebell)
- Kettlebell front squat (with kettlebell(s) in the rack position
- Barbell front and back squats
3. Rows or Pull-ups
- They work the entire body and provide an awesome (surprising to some) core workout!
- Rows are great for those of us with bad posture from slouching too much at the computer and sitting all day.
- If you can do pull-ups (especially if you are a girl) people think you are really tough.
Key points when doing rows or pull-ups:
- When doing inverted or TRX rows, keep the body in a straight line and don’t let the hips sag. Think about squeezing the muscles in your upper back together as you pull yourself up.
- When doing pull-ups or chin-ups, take a deep breath in, grip the bar hard, squeeze your core and lats, and then pull.
- Don’t cheat: don’t swing your legs to help you and get that chin all the way up and over the bar.
- TRX rows/inverted rows
- Single arm rows
- Renegade rows
- Assisted pull-ups/chin-ups
- Bodyweight pull-ups/chin-ups
- Weighted pull-ups/chin-ups
4. Pushups ￼
- They work almost all of the muscles in your body (are you seeing a theme here?) including your chest, shoulders, triceps, back and abs.
- They can be done anywhere and can be easily progressed and regressed for different levels.
Key points when doing pushups:
- Again, keep the body in a straight line.
- Hands should be directly below shoulders.
- Chest should tap the ground before pushing up (unless you are pregnant!).
- Elevated (placing hands on the wall, a chair, etc.)
- Assisted on knees
- Strict “Big Girl” pushups
- Weighted pushups
5. Hardstyle Planks
- Hardstyle planks are not just a core exercise; they actually work the entire body when done correctly.
- Unlike these minute or several-minute-long plank challenges everyone has been doing, real hardstyle planks will kick your butt in as little as 10 seconds.
- Practicing the hardstyle plank will help with your deadlift and the lockout at the top of the kettlebell swing (it’s the same position).
Key points when performing the hardstyle plank:
- Form a straight line from your heels to the top of your head, no lifted or sagging hips.
- Elbows should be directly under the armpits.
- Squeeze everything, not just your abs! This is a full body iso-hold. Forcefully contract your quads (pull your knee caps up) and squeeze your glutes,
- Hardstyle plank
Do these exercises correctly and consistently and you will see results. (Okay, as long as you clean up that diet too.)
What’s your favorite exercise?
Amanda Perry blogs at Sistas of Strength and recently opened a gym, Skill of Strength, with her husband in Chelmsford, MA. She is a personal trainer (NSCA-CPT), Russian Kettlebell Instructor (RKC), Functional Movement Screen certified exercise professional (FMS) and Precision Nutrition certified professional. Outside of fitness and nutrition she loves to spend time with her family, especially her 10 month old son. Amanda can be found on Twitter at @amandamaryperry.