WiRE Member Anna Mason talks us through the…
Top 10 best exercises
We all want to make the best use of the time we spend exercising, so make sure you select the best exercises. Here are the best and most effective exercises for most fitness goals.
Doing what’s best for your body
By doing the best exercises for each part of your body, as described here, you will be more likely to improve your major muscle groups. However, you should remember that variety is key when it comes to resistance training – so make sure you always do a variety of exercises for each part of your body, and exercise a number of different parts of your body rather than focus on one particular part all the time.
Best for chest exercise: the push-up exercise
The push-up wins hands down (if you’ll excuse the pun!). While the bench press is a great alternative, most of us don’t lift as much weight in the bench press as we do in the push-up. In one study, researchers found that 66.4 per cent of total body weight is lifted in a full push-up. So if you weigh, say, 65kg, that means you’ll be lifting 43kg, which is probably more than you would normally attempt in a bench press. Also, you will get added challenge for the core stabilizers in the face-down position of a push-up.
Best exercise for bottom: the squat
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to exercises that work the bottom – but the squat always wins out. The most muscle activity in the bottom occurred during squats, but only when testers went to 90 degrees or lower. This is because the deeper the squat, the more muscle fibres it fires in the gluteus maximus. However, when you’re doing squats you should only go as low as you can comfortably manage.
Best exercise for abs: the dying fly
The most muscle activity in the obliques and rectus abodminis – i.e. the six-pack and the muscles of the waist – occurred during the ‘dying fly’, in which a person extends each leg alternately and twists the opposite shoulder towards the knee as the leg comes back in.
Best exercise for the back: the lateral pull-down
A ‘wide overhand grip’ lateral pull-down is the best exercise to do to get a stronger, shapelier back.
Best exercise for hamstrings: the step-up
The best exercise for the hamstrings is step ups. Depending on your level of fitness choose either a stair or step to step up and down onto or for the very fit choose a chair. If you’re choosing a chair ensure that the angle of the knee, when beginning the step, is no greater than 90*.
Best exercise for upper arms: the triceps kickback
To do this exercise, stand side-on to a support with the closest knee and hand on the support. Take a dumbbell in the other hand and bring your bent elbow up to your side. This is the start position. Now straighten the arm, taking the dumbbell up behind you, but keeping the upper arm ‘glued’ to your side. Use the heaviest weight you can, while maintaining good technique, as research found that the medial head of the triceps did most of the work – rather than the whole muscle – when only light weights were used.
Best exercise for thighs: the squat or lunge
The exercise that comes out best for thighs in most studies is the squat – and your thighs will be doing more work if you don’t squat very deep. However, to add some variety to your program, and to work each thigh independently (to prevent imbalances), lunges come a close second. Take your lunges to the front, rather than the rear, for maximum thigh involvement.
Best for waist: the side bridge
You often see people in the gym doing side bends with a dumbbell to tone up the waist area. But this exercise will actually shorten the obliques – effectively contributing towards you losing your waist! To tighten the muscles and reduce your risk of back pain, try the side bridge instead. Lie on your side with knees and hips stacked – the top leg directly over the bottom one – and your weight resting on the lower elbow. Bend the bottom leg to a right angle at the knee while keeping the hips on top of one another. Then lift your body up so that your weight is supported by the lower part of the bottom leg and the elbow only. Consciously draw the side of your waist that is closest to the floor up towards the centre of your body. Don’t let your bottom stick out, and keep your abdominals contracted.
Best exercise for hips: the single-leg squat
Here’s an exercise that might not be in your usual repertoire! The single-leg squat is the move that most challenges the gluteus medius, or the muscle in the hip. To do this, stand on one leg and extend your floating leg slightly in front. Then bend your supporting leg, ensuring your knee comes over your toe and doesn’t roll in, it’s okay for your torso to hinge forward a little.
Best for shoulders exercise: the lateral shoulder raise
To work this muscle effectively try the lateral shoulder raise. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and lean forward 10 to 20 inches from the hips with your knees slightly bent. Press your arms out to the side with your elbows also slightly bent, leading with the little fingers, and stop at 90 degrees.
Thanks to Anna Mason