You want to get ‘toned’.
You want to get fit
and look fit right?
But you really don’t
have much time to do it.
What exercises can
you do that give you the most bang for your buck?
I shall tell you...
One thing I want you
to remember about strength training, or resistance training as it’s
also known, it’s all about moving a weight. Moving the weight from
the starting position to the end position and back again.
And the best
exercises are the ones that use the most muscles to move that weight.
That’s because the
more muscles you use to do one movement the more muscles will be
getting stronger with just that movement.
There’s also a
bigger calorie burn which is an added bonus.
But they’re not
the only reasons you should focus on compound movements.
Using more than one
group of muscles is what you do for most everyday activities. Think
about it, you generally don’t do a bicep curl in every day life.
You do use your
quads, your calves, your glutes, your lower back, your upper back,
your biceps and triceps, your latissimus dorsi, and all of your
abdominal muscles to lift heavy shopping bags off the floor.
You do use your
calves, your quads, your glutes and your abs to walk up the stairs.
You do use your
calves, your quads, your glutes, your core, your back, your biceps,
your triceps, your lats to pick up your kids and give them a cuddle.
Yeah, most of our
everyday activities use the muscles of our entire body. So when
you’re training, when you want to get stronger, it makes sense to
train the muscles of your body as one unit, instead of isolating
Don’t get me wrong, exercises that isolate muscles, that concentrate on smaller muscles, do have their place. If you have a weakness for example, you’ll want to strengthen that particular area, but, for quick and effective strength training workouts stick to compound lifts.
Before we get into
that, let me first say, these aren’t the only compound movements.
Or, the only exercises that you should ever do.
But when answering
the question ‘what are the 5 basic strength training exercises’
these are the ones I would suggest.
They are great for beginners because they are basic movements. You’ve probably already done them as bodyweight exercises, or something very similar and once you master the techniques you’ll be able to transfer the movements to more complicated exercises like tyre flips, barrel carries, log press, pull ups and pistol squats.
The deadlift has got
to be one of the most synonymous strength exercises.
It is a favourite in
most strength related competitions, whether it’s powerlifting,
crossfit, Strongman (or woman), the deadlift is a classic.
It uses pretty much
all of the major muscle groups in your body.
Your legs drive the
weight off the floor. Your core keeps you stable while you hold the
weight in a standing position. Your arm muscles are holding the
weight all the way through. And your back is supporting you.
I don’t think
there is any strength exercise quite like the deadlift.
Because of the
amount of muscles groups working when you deadlift, the calorie burn
when you’re doing them is going to be high. But, proper recovery
after your session is vital.
They are very
taxing, especially heavy deadlifts, to your body and your central
nervous system so make sure you only deadlift heavy weights once a
You can do another
lighter session to get more of a cardio element going, or to help
with your heavy sessions, but actually deadlifting heavy...just once
a week. Or you will get burnt out pretty quickly.
How heavy is heavy?
That kind of depends
on you. Any weight you can lift comfortably for 5 reps, but then the
6th is a push, is heavy. If you’re hitting around 10
reps, that’s not heavy. And whilst you don’t want to be doing
them every day either, you can do it more than once a week.
But, deadlifts are
great for more than just the calorie burn.
They are the
ultimate in functional exercises.
They really help you
learn to lift heavy weights off the floor. And I bet you do that a
lot. I know I do.
Bending your knees,
keeping your spine in alignment, protecting your lower back. They are
all crucial elements of deadlifting. If you don’t get them right
you won’t be lifting heavy. It’s that simple.
So, next time you go
to lift your toddler off the floor, just notice how you’re doing
Ask yourself what
muscles are lifting the weight.
If it’s your lower
back, get to a personal trainer and learn to deadlift properly. Your
weight loss goals and your lower back will thank you for it.
Squats have got to
be another classic in the strength world.
Getting them right,
and lifting heavy, is not just a show of strength, but of
flexibility, mobility and core control.
Whether you decide
to use a barbell, dumbells or kettlebells, heavy squats will do
wonders for your physique. But they are a great way, one of the best
ways, to keep your knees strong and supple. Contrary to popular
It’s actually a
common misconception that squats, particularly heavy squats will
weaken your knees, but it has been shown, many, many times, that they
do the opposite.
Let me explain, all
squats, even a bodyweight squat will strengthen the muscles of your
lower body. That means they are strong enough to work properly during
your day to day activities, meaning your knees are free to do what
they were designed to do, bend your leg.
Your knees aren’t
supposed to take weight. But all too often legs muscles, quads,
hamstrings, calves and glutes (yes, I know they’re not leg muscles,
but they play a huge roll in anything lower body related) don’t
perform as they should, and your knees are left taking the strain.
So, if you have knee problems, squat.
And if you can’t manage squats quite yet, work on strengthening your legs with different exercises until you can squat.
Ok, so back to the
squat, as with deadlifts, they are a compound exercise, meaning they
get more than one group of muscles working.
are predominantly a lower body exercise, but when you add in weight,
your upper body plays a roll. Holding it, stabilising it. They really
do become a full-body movement.
They aren’t quite
as taxing as deadlifts, mainly because they’re not quite as lower
back heavy, but you still don’t want to go mad with squatting
Limiting any heavy
lifts to once a week is a good rule of thumb. But don’t try and do
more than one heavy lift a day. By that I mean, deadlift heavy on day
one. Rest the next day. Squat heavy on day three. Rest the next day.
Do a heavy upper body lift on day five. Rest two days.
Does that make
The chest press is
the first of the upper body strength exercises we’re going to look
at. Just so you know, this is also called a chest press.
I have to say it’s
not a favourite of mine. Mainly because you can’t really do a heavy
chest press on your own. You will need a spotter. And someone who is
stronger than you to lift the bar off you if all goes wrong.
I say this because,
for the bench press you lye on your back and lift a heavy bar
straight up. If you get the movement wrong, add up the weights wrong
on the bar, or just think you’re stronger than you are it could all
go wrong very quickly.
Heavy deadlifts and
squats are fairly easy to abandon if you need to. The bench press not
You also need a
bench, which, can get pricey and they take up a lot of space if you
do it at home.
That being said,
they are a great exercise, and if you watch body builders or
powerlifters do a bench press, you can see how it could turn into a
full-body workout. But, I’m going to assume you don’t really want
to be either of those, and you don’t want a weight bench cluttering
up your living room.
So, let’s talk
about alternatives. What could you do instead of a bench press?
A push up.
Yep. A very
traditional bodyweight exercise could be a replacement for a bench
press. There are obviously going to be differences, but unless you
need to work on actual bench press movement, a push up will be a very
They use basically
the same movement and the same muscles.
So, if you don’t
want to fork out for a bench, and you want something you can do on
your own, do push ups.
But how do you
Before we get to
that let me just say, push ups are very, very hard to do properly. So
it will take a while before you’re ready to progress them.
Work on getting your
torso as close to the floor as you can. And when you’ve mastered
that get it closer, without actually touching it.
there are lots of variations for a push up. Diamond push up. Hover
push up, where you hold your body over the floor for a few seconds.
One handed push up. Even a weighted push up.
There all ways to progress once you’ve mastered the basic push up.
This is one upper
body exercise that you can do heavy on your own.
There are a number
of parts to this exercise and if you’re lifting too heavy you’re
not going to get it overhead. And if you do, you can drop it out of
the way if you need to.
I love an overhead
press, or a shoulder press. For me it’s more of a show of strength
than either the deadlift or squat.
I love lifting
something heavy overhead. But, this isn’t about me so let’s talk
why you should be doing an overhead press.
Again, it’s a full
The weight starts on
the floor, your legs drive it up into a racked position, where your
core helps you hold it in position. Oh yeah those arms are working to
hold the weight as well.
And then your legs
drive again as they help you to lift it overhead. While you hold it
overhead your back muscles, shoulder muscles and rotator cuff help to
Yeah, full body,
calorie torching and really good fun.
But just think about
what you can do if you get stronger overhead. You can carry your
shopping bags overhead instead of down by your side.
Cleaning the ceiling
would be easier.
toddler up in the air would be a breeze.
And how much would
they love that.
Get stronger, make your toddler smile.
For the last of my 5
basic strength training exercises I’ve gone for some core work, and
some would say the most classic of all the core exercises...the
I’ve gone for this
one because it has so many benefits and crossovers to other
Yes it’s going to
improve your core strength but, it can be turned into a full-body
exercise very easily.
I had the fortune to
be trained by a StrongFirst qualified kettlebell instructor. And one
of the first things he taught me after he qualified, was the
It’s a low plank
position, so you’re on your forearms, but it’s on steroids.
To do it, you tense
every part of your body.
You don’t just
hang out in the plank. You actively engage every muscle you can. Pull
you lats back and down. Engage your core, obviously. Engage your
glutes. I mean squeeze your gluteus maximus like you’re dying for a
Your legs, don’t
forget your legs.
The acid test is to
get someone to try and move you. Just by nudging you I don’t mean
diving on top of you or anything. But nudge you. If you move you’re
not tensing enough. You’re not engaging enough.
And you can’t do
this type of plank for long. So forget trying to last for a minute.
Try 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds and go again.
If you can last for
a minute, you’re not doing it properly.
But why have I
chosen it for this list?
Because it has so
That tension you
feel when you’re doing a hard style plank is the tension you should
feel at the top of a deadlift. Or before you press a weight overhead.
Or, before you descend into the squat. Or, at the top of a kettlebell
swing. Or, before you descend to the floor for your push up.
Having that tension
makes every single exercise you do target all of your body.
It also protects
your body. It makes sure you’re muscles are being activated when
they should be. Working the way they should be. Which will protect
the muscles and joints that shouldn’t be working in that movement.
The hardstyle plank is one that everyone should do.
What are the 5 basic strength training exercises? And what should you be using?
The easy answer to
what you should be using for these five best strength training
exercises is weights.
I would always opt
for free weights over weight machines.
Free weights are
much more efficient. You can use more power. You’re using more
range of motion and more of your body. And free weights are much more
So, if you’re
working out at home and you’re stocking your home gym, opt for free
weights. You’ll get much more out of them. Both in the time you’ve
got available and the money you’re going to be spending on them.
But what are free
So, anything that’s
not attached to a machine.
kettlebells. They’re all examples of free weights.
And when you’re
considering which weights to go for, don’t necessarily opt for
light weights. They really won’t last you long.
You’ll soon be
looking for heavier weights, for more of a challenge. Honestly,
you’ll get the bug and want to see just how much you can lift.
I’m also going to
throw this one into the ‘what you’re going to need section’...a
personal trainer. Even if it’s just for a few sessions. Ask for
them for Christmas, or your birthday.
A personal trainer
will make sure you’re doing these basic exercises with correct
form. And proper form will mean you’re less likely to get injured.
But they can also write you a plan. A strength training program to
ensure you’ll hit your goals, train safely and not over-training.
Because over-training will just end up in burn out.
So, please consider chatting to a personal trainer.
So, what are the 5 basic strength training exercises?
The deadlift, the squat, the push up, the overhead press and the plank.
They are my five
favourite strength exercises. Basic movements that work the most
muscles at once. Which means you’ll be making the most of your
workout. In terms of calorie burn and building muscle.
So, whatever your
workout routine looks like now, make sure you’re including at least
one strength training workout in your fitness journey. You will thank
me for it.
My top piece of
advice would be to not automatically think you need light weights.
Opt for a slightly heavier weight. You’re stronger than you think.
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