Let’s face it: Some exercises are simply more effective than others. If you are going to make the effort to incorporate regular exercise into your life, then you want to get the most out of each workout session.
In order to help you get in the best shape of your life, we have laid out the top-10 list of the most effective exercises out there. You’ll notice we didn’t say the best.
A lot of people just want the best exercises and are just looking for a magic bullet.
It does take hard work to get in shape. And we recommend people follow a healthy meal plan and adopt an exercise regimen that includes both cardiovascular activity and resistance training. We also want to remind people to consult their doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
Certain exercises stand out in terms of overall effectiveness. Most of the exercises we have selected involve compound movements, which impact multiple muscle groups. Though isolated movements are also good, we believe performing exercises with compound movements will give you better results.
We have also selected these exercises based on a balanced approach to overall fitness. Most people are out of balance with regards to strength and levels of flexibility. If you choose, you can do these 10 exercises as an individual workout. We recommend doing 10-12 repetitions for the upper-body exercises and 10-15 repetitions for the lower-body exercises.
1. Dumbbell chest press: This exercise activates the muscles in the upper, middle and lower chest, as well as the shoulders and triceps. In order to complete this exercise, you need to lie on a flat bench with your spine in a neutral position (no pressure). Now, hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest level with your upper arm parallel to the floor and your elbows facing outward.
Contracting your chest muscles, press both of your arms upward above the chest until they are almost fully extended, with a slight bend in both elbows. Slowly return to the starting position.
It is important to maintain proper form throughout the movement. When you reach the top of the movement, do not fully lock your elbows. And be sure to contract the chest muscles, as opposed to just extending the arms.
2. Dumbbell alternating shoulder press: This exercise impacts the entire range of muscles in your shoulders, as well as the biceps and triceps. Sit up straight on a bench with your feet comfortably resting on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle with your palms facing forward. When you do this exercise, your hands should be slightly higher than your shoulders.
Contracting the shoulder muscles, raise one arm toward the ceiling and stop when your arm is fully extended, with a slight bend in the elbow. Slowly return your arm to the starting position. Raise and lower the other arm in the same manner. Alternate the right and left sides in order to complete the set.
You don’t have to do one arm at a time. They can both go up at the same time.
3. Barbell close stance squat: This exercise works the butt, quadriceps, hamstrings, inner thighs and outer thighs. Stand tall with your feet closer than shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees. Place a barbell across your shoulders. Be sure the bar is not resting on your neck.
Contracting the quadriceps muscles, begin to lower your body by bending from your hips and knees and stopping when your thighs are parallel with the floor. Slowly return to the starting position, stopping just short of your knees fully extending. Do not let your knees ride over your toes (you should be able to see your feet at all times).
You may want to try this exercise without weights until you master the movement. It is a very effective exercise that involves most of the muscle groups of the lower body but if done improperly, it can lead to injuries.
4. Dumbbell lunges: This exercise works the front of the legs and the bum. It also works the back of the legs to some degree.
Stand straight with your feet together. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down at your sides. Step forward with the right leg and lower the left leg until the knee almost touches the floor. Contract the quadriceps and push off your right foot, slowly returning to the starting position. Alternate the motion with the left leg to complete the set.
If you have one leg that is more dominant than the other, start out with the less dominant leg first.
5. Bench dips: This exercise works the back of the arm, the triceps and the shoulder.
Our fitness experts would prefer that you perform straight dips, but not everybody can do them.
Using two benches or chairs, sit on one. Place your palms on the bench with your fingers wrapped around the edge. Now, place both feet on the other bench. Slide your upper body off the bench with your elbows nearly but not completely locked. Lower your upper body slowly toward the floor until your elbows are bent slightly more than 90 degrees. Contracting your triceps muscles, extend your elbows and return to the starting position, stopping just short of the elbows fully extending.
Beginners may wish to start with their feet on the floor and knees at a 90 degree angle.
6. Dumbbell double biceps curl: This exercise works the biceps and part of the shoulder. Sit on a bench or chair with both feet in front of your body and keep your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at each side and your palms facing forward.
Contracting the biceps muscles, raise the weights toward your shoulders, stopping just short of the weights touching the shoulders. Slowly return to the starting position.
Your upper arms should remain stationary throughout the exercise. Do not rock the elbow.
7. Double crunch: The reason we like the double crunch is that you are activating the entire abdominal area. The key is to contract tightly at the top part of the movement.
Lie on the floor with your head facing up. Bend your knees until your legs are at a 45-degree angle, with both feet on the floor. Your back should be comfortably relaxed on the floor. Now place both hands behind your head.
Contracting your abdominals, raise your head and legs off the floor toward one another. Slowly return to the starting position, stopping just short of your shoulders and feet touching the floor.
8. Bicycle manoeuvre: Research consistently rates this as one of the most effective abdominal exercises. It works your entire ab region.
Lie on a mat with your lower back in a comfortable position. Put your hands on either side of your head by your ears. Bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle. Slowly go through a bicycle-pedaling motion - alternate your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.
This is a more advanced exercise. Do not perform this activity if it puts any strain on your lower back.
9. Cable wide over grip lat pull down: This exercise impacts a number of muscles, including the upper back, the shoulder and the biceps.
Ideally, I would choose the chin-up, but most people are unable to do them. This exercise simulates the same movement, though. It is a good alternative until you are strong enough to perform chin-ups.
In order to perform this exercise, extend both arms up and reach for the straight bar. Now, sit tall with your knees supported under the leg pad - with knees and hips at a 90 degree angle. Your arms should be a little more than shoulder-width apart, and you should use an overhand grip and keep a slight bend in the elbows. Relax your shoulders and keep your chest raised.
Contracting the upper back muscles, pull the bar down, leading with your elbows and stopping when the bar is just above your chest. Slowly return to the starting position and stop just short of the weight stack touching.
Do not rock your body when performing this exercise. And do not allow your upper back to round or your chest to cave in.
10. Fitball prone trunk extension: This exercise works your lower back.
Most people don’t work the lower back, and the lower back needs to be strengthened. You can also do this exercise in your own home if you own a fitball.
Lie on the fitball with your knees on the floor and your feet up on their toes. Place your hands behind your head. Maintain a neutral spine with your head and neck relaxed as a natural extension of the spine.
Contracting the lower back muscles, raise your chest off the ball slightly. Now, slowly return to the starting position. Exhale while lifting your body and inhale while returning to the starting position. Do not hyper-extend your back or overdo the range of motion.
As always, check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program. Before attempting any of these exercises in a gym, make sure you have been shown how to use machines and weights properly by a trained instructor.