These exercises are some tried and true winners! Only five exercises and you can get a full-body, time-efficient workout. It’s not like these exercises are the only ones you should know for the rest of your life, but they’re a pretty darn good start.
I hope you enjoy them – don’t hesitate to ask me questions or we can skype to make sure you’ve got the right form! Here’s the all-star line-up:
#1: Squat + Wood Chop
The squat targets your whole lower body, but, most especially, your glutes – aka booty! This is your powerhouse muscle. Think of it as the ringleader of your body’s other muscles.
The wood chop works your entire core as you brace and twist. We’re talking obliques, “six-pack muscle” and “corset muscle” all at once! Not a bad deal.
Squats – keep your body weight shifted back or into your heels as you bend down. Be conscientious of where your knees go at the bottom of the movement too – make sure you control and stabilize them so that they don’t drift inwards towards one another (puts excessive strain on your MCL, knee cap and joint – ouchy!).
Wood chop – twist through your core, not your lower body. Keep your abs pulled in so that you brace your body and can effectively decelerate the weight. Keep the weight closer to your body for more control or farther away for more challenge – your call! Just remember to work both sides of your body.
#2: Lunge + Shoulder Press
The lunge is a slightly more advanced, split-legged version of the squat, so many of the benefits are the same. The lunge is more difficult to balance though, so you get an added challenge (and benefit!) of having to stabilize as you perform it.
The shoulder press not only strengthens the shoulder, as one might easily suspect, but also enhances posture! Yes, it’s true, the back muscles aren’t the only important ones when it comes to sitting tall and pretty! And for reducing back discomfort…that’s pretty important too, as I’m sure many of you would agree…
Lunge – keep your body weight evenly distributed between both legs for optimal form and muscle engagement. Your knees should each bend to about 90 degrees (helps ensure you’re working your glutes!). Try to find a focal point to look at if you’re feeling wobbly. Take your time if these are tough for you and begin by stepping forwards, not backwards, for improved balance.
Shoulder Press – your dumbbell should stay over your shoulder in order to engage all three aspects of the deltoid muscle. When your arm is fully extended, be cautious not to lock your elbow as that puts stress into the joint (a weight lifting no-no). If you’re having a hard time getting your elbow fully extended, try a lighter weight, turn your palms in towards your body (instead of facing out), or press up in between lunges instead of during them.
*PS – if you’re pregnant like me, it’s probably a good idea to modify this one. Note; I only did this for demonstration purposes. Email me for customized options based on your trimester: email@example.com
#3: Chest Fly + Double Leg Lift
The chest fly exercise is generally harder for people to control compared with a chest press. This is because the arms reach wide with straight elbows, creating more challenge in the pectoral muscles. More challenge = better strength gains!
The double leg lift works off of a similar principle as the chest fly; you’re increasing your lever length (arm or leg distance from your center) and thereby upping the intensity of your exercise. The double leg lift is also a great way to stretch and thereby engage the lower part of your core; the abs have to work double time to help bring the legs back up from the ground.
Chest Fly – While lowering and lifting the arms, take your time. Be careful not to lock your elbows. Controlling the weight is important for good form and to ensure that you don’t drop dumbbells on your head! Due to this risk, loaded exercises while lying face-up on a bench or mat, should be given extra attention. If you’re ever wary of your performance, simply ask a nearby gym-goer to spot you. It may seem scary to ask for a spot but guys do it all the time, so they won’t be surprised if you ask. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend or strike up a hot date?! Oh la la!
Double Leg Lift – Most important is protecting your back during a full leg lift. Since you have a long lever in this exercise (i.e., stretched out legs), the back may become strained if your core strength is not strong or if you’re tired while performing the movement. Thus, keep the rhythm slow (no bouncing/ballistic movements that could throw your back into a spasm) and actively engage your core by exhaling as you lift. You can also protect your lower back by keeping your abs and lumbar spine pressing gently down towards the ground the whole time. If you’re still experiencing strain in your back after implementing these guidelines, simply keep your knees bent or lower only one leg at a time as you perform the exercise. Keep modifying to easier options as you need – safety first! 🙂
#4: Side Lunge + Bent Over Rows
Side Lunges are one of the most neglected lower body exercises around. Most often, they are avoided because people don’t know how to properly perform them. This is quite unfortunate (from this fitness professional’s perspective) because nailing the form on side lunges can help people improve full-body functional movements, hip stability and back comfort. I kid you not, I make 90% of my clients practice proper side lunge form on day one of their exercise programs. Yes, they’re THAT important.
Bent Over Rows can be equally tricky when it comes to nailing down form. Again, the effort is 100% worthwhile because of the many benefits of having a stronger back, including improvements in posture, comfort and freedom of movement. And with all of the aforementioned generally comes stress relief, too!
Side Lunge- When you step side to side, make sure that your foot, knee and hip are all in one straight line (i.e. hip over knee and knee over foot). Your toe should be pointing straight forward. This seems like a minor detail but it’s incredibly important since the angle of your toe/ankle will dictate the angle of your knee. A lot of people tend to perform these with the toe pointing in the direction that they are stepping. There are two issues with this: 1) you don’t work your gluts very well because they aren’t fully stretching out, and 2) depending on how you distribute your body weight, you may stress the medial aspect of your knee. Thus, keep your body in proper alignment and distribute your weight back into your heel like you would in a squat (this will fire the glutes!).
Bent Over Rows – Be wary that you don’t allow your chest to drop towards the ground during this exercise. You should keep a long, tall spine and torso that are at a diagonal (not parallel) angle to the ground. Before rowing in towards your body with your dumbbells, allow your arms to dangle with gravity while in the bottom of your side lunge. It’s from this gentle diagonal angle (almost parallel with your bent knee) that you should begin your row. Keep your elbows tight to your sides during the row and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
#5: Plie Squat + Frontal Raise
Plie squats give you the ability to concentrate work into the glutes and inner thighs. I will venture to say that these are both areas that many women care about!
Frontal Raises allow you to work through the anterior aspect of your shoulder. The reason I love this particular exercise combo, adding these raises in at the bottom of the plie squat, is because they allow you to work through the long muscles of your back. Yes, this exercise will cause you to naturally adjust your posture and spine to a taller, tighter position in order to perform it. Win – win – win!
Plie Squat – A plie squat is similar to a normal squat but your toes are turned out like a ballerina instead of pointing straight. While you are at the bottom of the plie squat, focus on actively pressing your knees wide, away from your midline. This will ensure that you’re engaging the right muscles while avoiding strain on the knee.
Frontal Raise – Raise your arms just to shoulder height. It may help to exhale during this movement. Be wary of lowering your arms really quickly as you will miss out on part of the toning and strengthening benefits that this movement affords your arms and shoulders. Lift AND lower with control.
Yours in health and wellness,
These are great exercises! Used them as the base to my workout yesterday and loved it.
That thrills me, Rachael! Let me know if you ever want some more fresh exercise ideas – I have so many stored in my brain that it’s probably bad for my health if I don’t share them 😉