By Jeremy Ray, Fitness Center Coordinator, Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock
We know that in order to accomplish an improved physique there must be a nutritional component and exercise component. Following are eight exercises to shape and strengthen your midsection, legs, back, chest, and, last but not least, the shoulders.
This is the king of all leg exercises, although I understand it becomes a total body exercise once under load and I also know some will consider the dead lift as a better option.
There are different squat options –– barbell squats, dumbbell squats, goblet squats, and more, but this article is not to list the pros and cons of each but explain why the squat movement is so beneficial.
First, it’s one of the foundational movements we all do everyday, which has nothing to do with aesthetics but is extremely important. Squats work and develop the glutes, hamstrings, and quads and whether you’re doing barbell or goblets or any other version, you’re getting some core work as an added benefit.
Second, it takes a lot of energy to work multiple muscles and so, in turn, you burn quite a few calories just performing the squat movement. Also, overtime muscle mass will increase, and with more muscle means more calories burned. Do you see a reoccurring theme here? Burning calories is one of the things we’re striving to do.
On the other side, we are increasing muscle mass, giving us shape. Men and women both like shape, whether it’s for ourselves or for each other. Lastly, there’s a sense of confidence you gain from the added strength and feeling tight. So, get to squatting.
The equivalent to the squats above the waist is the push-up. You get a lot of bang for your buck on this as well. There are multiple muscles involved, which means calories expended.
Push-ups work the chest, anterior part of the shoulder, triceps, and anterior core when performed properly. Now for some people, the push-up is too difficult if performed from standard hand and toe contact position, so modifications may be needed. Reducing the lever arm and making it a hand and knee contact position will make it easier.
On the other hand, some will think the standard push-up is too easy. Modifications can be made to remedy that as well –– be it bands, tempo, chains, or unstable surfaces. What we get is an exercise that develops the pecs giving them good shape and mass depending how you train.
The same can be said for the anterior (front) part of the shoulders, which can assist in developing the round developed look you are looking for complimented with the other shoulder exercises discussed later.
Another plus is the tricep recruitment you get, which is appealing for women who frown at the thought of the back of their arms waving in the wind. Men want their arms to fill the sleeves of their shirt and have that horseshoe print stamped on the back.
Lastly, not often thought of is the core work you get. Consider the push-up to be a moving plank. Engaging the core while performing the push-up gives your six-pack area as well as your obliques a little added work.
These are a must in any program. I know not everyone can actually do a free-hanging chin-up from a bar. That’s fine because there are modifications that can be made to make it possible. There are assisted chin-up machines and bands that can be used to assist you while you gain strength.
The primary muscles involved are the lats and biceps, although you get some rhomboid, pecs, and tricep recruitment as well. This is a great strength builder as well as a good developer of the lats (outer portion of the back on both sides) and biceps. The biceps are recruited highly in this exercise.
Look at any gymnast’s arms and tell me what you see. They, in most cases, have never done a single dumbbell curl. Again it’s a big bang for your buck exercise covering a large area.
The core is always a fan favorite. With so many options to do, I like the plank and its variations because you can target just the anterior core (six-pack area), the obliques (side), or both at the same time.
Everyone likes a strong and tight core area. Although the basic sit-up will always be a default to what people fall back to. The core’s main function is to stabilize, and although I like the trunk flexion movement that sit-ups provide, once you’re past 15 to 20 percent of trunk flexion, your hip flexors kick in and finish the movement.
So, if I could only have one core exercise in my program, I would pick the plank.
You always hear people complain or rejoice that their glutes are sore after lunges. Again, there are multiple variations and multiple muscles involved such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. You also get some hip stabilizer work due to the staggered foot positioning and unilateral loading. In the lunge, you also get the single-leg functional strength benefit.
Function has nothing to do with how you fill those jeans out or what your legs look like in shorts, but functional strength is good. Aesthetically you can improve the shape of your glutes with walking lunges, forward, and reverse lunges. Lateral lunges will give you more emphasis in the inner thigh as well as glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Time for the back. This exercise is one of my favorites. It strengthens and shapes the lats and upper-middle back, biceps, challenges the grip, and gives the core some work, too. The back tends to get neglected because it’s not viewable in a mirror, but let me assure you it’s equally important.
A good tight-shaped back is appealing for women wanting to wear strapless tops and men would never turn down the opportunity to stack on some muscle. The aesthetic reasons are good but equaling out anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscles is very important. For most of us, our front side dominates due to our daily activities, so hitting the back can help counter that and assist in postural positioning.
This low-back, glute, and hamstring exercise can’t be left out. It’s slightly more technical then the others, but once you figure it out you’ll be glad you did. You can really feel those muscles being worked from the moment you start the initial movement.
I will caution that you must learn this one properly from someone who can teach it correctly. I see it butchered quite often and the last thing you want to do is hurt your lower back. One of the appealing things about this exercise is not only do you get great hamstring, glute, and low-back development, but also it’s a multi-joint exercise so you get functionality benefits as well.
I’m grouping three different areas of the shoulder in this one and providing an exercise for each.
The first is dumbbell shoulder press. There are a few variations to this one but they are all relatively easy to execute. Pressing overhead develops the front part of the shoulder and upper trap area giving someone not only good shape in those areas but also the strength to push something overhead if need be.
Next there’s the lateral (side) raise, which targets the side of the shoulder. They can be done with dumbbells or cables and can help develop that cap look at the top of the shoulders tying them into the arm. This is not one you would really use a lot of weight on. I’m not saying don’t challenge yourself, but in comparison to the other exercises listed the load will be fairly lighter.
Last but not least is the rear delts (back of the shoulders), and again this can be done with cables, rowing exercises or dumbbell. This one puts the finishing touches on the shoulders. Developing the back side of the shoulders equals out the cap look I was talking about by now developing the backside to equal out the front and side. Like I mentioned above in relation to the lateral raises, this one will not require extreme loads.
I’m aware arms were not included in this list, which I know are favorites for many. They will get a considerable amount of work with the compound exercises I listed, but definitely feel free to include some isolated bicep and tricep exercises for the finishing touches.
I hope I’ve been able to provide you with some ideas on what to incorporate into your program to give you the look and feel you want. There are certain cues and technical instructions that you should want to learn that would help prevent injury and give you the most from each exercise, so I recommend speaking to a fitness professional.