Some exercise is better than none. There’s no doubt about that. Regardless of your preferred method, there are certain exercises that should definitely be part of your workout routine. These include multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises that mimic everyday movements like pushing, pulling, bending, and even the sheer act of walking.
So as not to overly complicate things, I’ve compiled a list of nine relatively low-impact exercises that are among the most efficient and effective for building and maintaining muscle, maximizing calorie burning and enhancing overall fitness levels.
Though generally classified as a “lower body” exercise, squats are actually one of the most effective exercises for your entire body. In addition to working the muscles of your buttocks, thighs and legs, ‘squatting’ also places good stress on your abdominals (‘abs’) and other core muscles, which collectively aid in the maintenance of good posture, balance, and stability.
Contrary to popular belief, squats are not bad for your knees. In fact, the more you squat, the stronger and healthier your knees become. Good form is key! While no equipment is needed to perform squats, you can greatly increase the effectiveness of this exercise by using free weights or other forms of resistance.
When it comes to the best all-around exercises, push-ups and squats are neck and neck! Push-ups help build up the chest muscles and also work the shoulder muscles and triceps, which are located on the back of your arms. But, it doesn’t stop there! Every push-up you perform taxes your entire midsection making this exercise one of the best kept secrets to great abs.
And, believe me when I say that performing 10-20 of them is much more effective and efficient than simply lying on the floor for crunch bootcamp. I must, however, emphasize that performing standard push-ups can be quite difficult if you have limited upper body strength.
If this is the case, I recommend starting with modified push-ups and interspersing them with as many standard push-ups as you can, even if it’s only 1 or 2 at a time. This way, you’ll eventually build up the strength necessary to continuously perform standard push-ups.
3. Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
With so many people sitting in chairs and in front of computers these days the back has become one of the most vulnerable areas to chronic pain and muscle injury. This holds especially true for the lower back.
One way to potentially counter this problem is by regularly performing stiff-leg deadlifts. While this exercise places primary emphasis on the hamstring muscles that make up the back of your thighs, it’s also excellent for developing your lower back muscles as well as the gluteal muscles that make up your buttocks.
You’ll need a set of dumbbells or a barbell to effectively perform stiff-legged deadlifts. The decision to use either comes down to your access to equipment, personal preferences, and strength levels.
4. Shoulder Press
As implied by the name, the shoulder press primarily works your shoulder muscles but this exercise will also help you get killer triceps. Collectively, these muscles are by far the most underrated and overlooked, particularly among women. Yet, most fawn over those of Angela Bassett and former FLOTUS Michelle Obama.
Well-developed shoulders really give the impression of a small waist contributing to the coveted hourglass figure. Moreover, vanity aside, whether you’re picking up a child, hanging curtains, washing walls, gardening or swimming, building and maintaining adequate shoulder strength is an absolute must.
Weak shoulder muscles are especially prone to pain, injury, and even disability so regularly performing the shoulder press is indeed one of your first lines of defense against such problems. This exercise is best performed using dumbbells, a barbell or some other form of resistance.
Lunges are an excellent lower body exercise, mainly because they functionally mimic walking and running, which are two of the most common forms of physical activity. Similar to squats, lunges work the buttocks and quadriceps but they also target the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs.
This is especially beneficial, as low levels of muscular strength and endurance in these areas are silent culprits in the onset of running and other exercise-related injuries.
As with squats, performing lunges doesn’t require any equipment but you can greatly maximize your results by using free weights. Lunges can be performed either one leg at a time or in an alternating sequence. Walking lunges are another effective method, which can be performed overground or even on a treadmill.
Dips are the perfect multi-joint, multi-muscle exercise for thoroughly working your triceps. The triceps are often neglected during workouts and, as a result, these muscles tend to atrophy, which basically means that they lose their strength and general tone.
As I mentioned before, exercises like push-ups and the shoulder press require the use of your triceps. But, having weak triceps can actually hinder your ability to effectively perform these exercises and any other day-to-day activities that generally require ‘pushing’ motions.
I’m sure at some time or another you’ve performed a push-up and noticed that your arms got extremely tired very quickly. This typically happens when your triceps are weak. As you start performing dips, over time, you’ll notice that you can actually perform more push-ups.
You’ll also notice improvements in your ability to carry out the shoulder press exercise. Dips target your chest muscles as well so it’s a win-win. Other than a workout bench or a sturdy chair, absolutely no equipment is needed for this exercise.
Rows are one of the best exercises for targeting the many muscles that make up your back. Lots of people only work a small fraction of their back muscles, if even at all. This holds especially true for the middle portion of the back, which works directly in opposition to the chest in a way that promotes proper standing posture.
Rounded shoulders are a classic sign of weak back muscles, which eventually can manifest as severe postural imbalances, chronic pain, and hip instability. You’ll notice almost immediate improvements in your posture after performing rows.
This exercise is also effective for building core muscle strength and works the biceps located on the front of your arms as well. Although rows can easily be performed with a barbell, I also recommend performing them one arm at a time with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell, as this helps to build good balance, coordination, and muscle definition.
While curls aren’t considered a multi-joint, multi-muscle exercise they are great for isolating the biceps in a way that helps your ‘guns’ come alive. Curls are also incredibly versatile, as they can be performed in conjunction with other exercises in a way that enhances your body’s calorie burning potential.
For instance, you can easily combine dumbbell curls with leg exercises like squats and lunges for a highly effective full-body workout. Curls can also be sporadically performed to spice up cardio exercises like walking and stationary cycling.
Curling with your palms facing up (standard curls) primarily works the biceps while curling with your palms facing in (hammer curls) places more emphasis on your forearms. In addition to using dumbbells, curls can be performed with kettlebells, a barbell or a resistance band. Whatever works best for you!
People these days are totally obsessed with the appearance of their abs. Some even spend their entire workout time performing crunches, leg lifts, and other ‘ab-centric’ exercises for the sole purpose of achieving a defined, flat stomach. When it comes to abdominal muscle development, there’s arguably no exercise that’s more effective and efficient than planks.
Planks are also one of the most powerful exercises for general core strengthening, greatly aiding in the maintenance of good posture, balance, and spinal stability.
I especially love the low-impact nature and versatility of planks as they can be performed practically anywhere and in a variety of different ways (side, reverse, walking, one-arm, and one-leg planks). Planks also challenge nearly all the major muscle groups from the muscles of the back to those of the shoulders and chest to the gluteal muscles to the quadriceps and calves.
Regardless of where you are on your health and fitness journey, there’s a plank for that!
So there you have it!
Nine of the best exercises that everyone should be doing.
When performed regularly, I guarantee they’ll help you feel better, function better, and look your very best. Due to the dynamic nature of the motions involved, these exercises collectively build muscular endurance and strength in ways that significantly elevate the metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories).
The more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate and the more calories you’ll burn during any type of activity, even at rest!
Whether you perform these exercises in a gym, at home or outdoors, every day or every other day, as little as 30 minutes of consistently working out is all it takes and you’ll start to see improvements in as little as 3-4 weeks.