The Only 10 Exercises You Need to Get in Shape
It’s the new year and, like every other year, one of the most popular resolutions is getting into or back into shape. Whether you are trying to look great for an upcoming school reunion or wedding, or you simply want to improve your health and appearance, you’re probably on the hunt for the best workout program that will help you reach your goals. One of the reasons many people fail to reach their exercise goals is that they make it too complicated. They buy intense, complicated workout programs or sign up for classes that they’ll never be able to make it to. Then they convince themselves that getting in shape is just too difficult right now, and push it until the next year.
Fortunately, working out and getting into shape does not have to be as complicated as many make it out to be. Regardless of whether your goal is just to slim down or build lean muscle mass, you only need to know ten basic exercises to achieve your goals. Depending on how much room and equipment you have at home, you can perform these exercises in a gym or home setting, no expensive machines or fancy classes necessary. Focused on every part of the body and every major muscle group, these ten exercises are easy to learn and simple to perform. Pair them with regular cardiovascular exercise such as jogging or bicycling and you’ll reach your 2017 goals in no time.
Called the King of Exercises by many, the squat is one of the best exercises for your lower body. It can be performed with weights if you have access to Nautilus machines or free weights, or you can perform squats with household items such as cans of soup or even your own body weight. Squats must be performed correctly to gain the enormous benefits they provide, but once you get your form down, you’ll find the exercise to be quite simple.
Proper trunk or upper body position is crucial when it comes to performing a squat. Pull your head and shoulders back and keep your spine straight. If you bend over or hunch when squatting, you’re doing it wrong. Pull your head back, raise your chest, and slightly arch your back. The next thing to look at is your stance. Your feet should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart and at no time should your knees ever extend over your feet. If you’re holding weights, you can keep them at your side, in front of you, or whatever is most comfortable. When you are set, sit back as if lowering yourself into a chair. Try to descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground and ensure that your knees are not past your toes. The movement should be slow and controlled with no bouncing or jerking. Once you have reached parallel position, return to the starting position. This counts as one squat.
9 Bench Press
One of the most popular exercises in men’s fitness and bodybuilding, the bench press looks simple but is quite easy to do incorrectly if you don’t use proper technique. The bench press is a full body, compound exercise, but you will see the most results in your chest, shoulders and triceps. This makes it an attractive exercise for men looking to bulk up, but should not be disregarded by women as they need to strengthen these areas of the body as well. This exercise is usually performed on a traditional bench press setup with an overhead bar and customizable weights. If you don’t have a bench press machine, you can also perform the exercise with free weights. If you’re just beginning, start with light weights on the bar and work your way up as you feel comfortable. Many people will use a spotter on this exercise in case they get into trouble with too much weight.
Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Unrack the bar with straight arms and slowly lower to mid-chest. Press the weight back up until you’ve locked your elbows, all while keeping your body flat on the bench. Once you’ve locked your elbows, you can count this as one repetition. Start with five reps with light weight, then experiment with adding weight until five reps make your arms fatigued. When you’re adding weight, try to recruit a spotter just in case you accidentally add too much weight.
A true full body movement, many consider the deadlift a back exercise. However, it also works the legs, the butt, and the arms, making it one of the most versatile exercises on the list. Perfect for those who want to add definition to their lower body, deadlifts always deliver results. Deadlifts can also improve posture, help you burn more fat, and increase your cardiovascular ability. Many are familiar with the deadlift because power-lifters perform it in competitions such as the Olympics. Anyone can do a deadlift, though, whether you have the recognizable large barbell at your disposal or are using smaller free weights.
Though there are many types of deadlifts, the most conventional and popular type begins with your hands just outside your feet and your feet about hip-width apart. If you are using a bar, load it with 5-10 lb weights as a beginner and work your way up, then get into your stance. When you look down, the bar should be over your shoelaces. Without moving the bar or your hips and while keeping your legs straight, lean over and grab the bar. Now move your hips down and flatten your back, putting you into the final starting position. Take a deep breath, tighten your chest and core, then drive through your heels and pull the bar up as you return to a standing position. You’ve now performed one deadlift. Try to do 5-10 to begin with, slowly increasing the weight and reps as you get stronger.
7 Tricep Dips
Triceps are an area of the body that often present a trouble spot for women, especially as they age. While it is impossible to target where fat loss occurs, you can train specific areas to build lean muscle and improve appearance. The back of the arm can be a difficult area to isolate and is often missed with other arm exercises that work mainly the bicep or shoulder. Tricep dips are one of the best ways to work this area, and they need little to no equipment depending on the variation you do.
Tricep dips can be done on the floor with no elevation equipment, or you can perform them on benches, chairs, or risers. For the purpose of this explanation, we’ll assume you have a bench on which you will be performing the dips. Sit on the bench with it perpendicular to your body and look away from it. Hold the edges of the bench with your hands fully extended, at about shoulder width apart. Extend your legs forward and scoot forward so that your glutes are no longer on the bench. Slowly lower your body by bending at the elbows until you reach an angle of around 90 degrees between the upper arm and forearm. Keep your elbows tucked in as close as possible as you perform this movement and make sure your forearms are pointed down. Focusing on your triceps, bring your torso up again to the starting position. This counts as one repetition.
Pull-ups should be a staple in any muscle or strength-building routine for men and women alike, but many people will avoid them due to their difficulty. You must have very strong shoulders and good upper body strength to do proper pull-ups, and this scares many people away. However, due to their effectiveness, and the fact that little to no equipment is needed, they are highly recommended.
To do a proper pull-up, you first need to find a bar. If you belong to a gym, there will be plenty of pull-up bars. You may also have a perfect pull-up bar in your home, usually in a doorway. You can even go outside to the kids’ monkey bar set and use that for your pull-ups. If all else fails, you can find inexpensive pull-up bars and install them quickly in a convenient location. Grab your bar with your hands facing away from you with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Hang all the way down, then slowly pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Pause and then lower yourself all the way back down to complete one rep. Make sure you do not swing as you perform the exercise as it should be slow and controlled. If you have not performed a pull-up in a while, it may be a struggle to complete only one. However, as you continue to improve your overall fitness level, they will get easier and easier, and the results you will see in your back and biceps are incomparable.
Planks look deceptively easy, but if you’ve ever tried to hold yourself in this position for any length of time, you know how difficult they can be. Excellent for your core strength as well as for posture and full-body fitness, there’s a reason why the ‘plank challenge’ has become so popular. Like the sit-up, the plank can be done with no equipment whatsoever, though some prefer to use a mat to ease elbow and knee pain. Planks can also be varied in numerous ways to target different areas and add challenge.
To perform a plank, get onto all fours on the floor in the push-up position, then bend your elbows 90 degrees, and rest your weight on your forearms. Your knees should be off the floor, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Now simply hold this position for as long as you can. It might not sound like much, but two minutes is a good goal for holding a plank, and you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to do so, especially when you first get started. Try to work yourself up to three to four minutes and do a few sets every time you exercise. Not only will planks strengthen your core, but they also help firm up your glutes and build strength in your arms and shoulders. An all-around great exercise for the whole body, planks are one of the most effective exercises you can perform and you can do them virtually anywhere.
4 Barbell Curls
Barbell curls have long been a staple for bodybuilders and casual gym-goers alike and for a good reason. There are fewer exercises more effective at isolating and strengthening the bicep muscle. Though the traditional bicep curl is what we will focus on for this list, there are variations that you can perform for additional strength or size-building purposes. Barbell curls do require equipment, but it does not have to be a traditional bar with weights attached to the sides. If this is not available, you can use free weights, kettlebells or even items from around the house such as buckets of paint.
To perform a barbell curl, grasp the bar with an underhand grip. Your hands should be separated by a shoulder-width distance, and you should be standing straight with feet shoulder-width apart. Square your shoulders and allow the barbell to hang at arm’s length in front of you with hands, arms, and shoulders aligned. Focus attention on your biceps and, while keeping your upper arms still, lift the bar toward your chest. Squeeze your biceps, then slowly lower the bar until your arms are nearly straight. This completes one curl. Keep the movements slow and controlled, and don’t disregard the importance of squeezing your biceps at the apex of the movement. Try to perform a set of 10-12, then increase either reps or the amount of weight you are curling as you progress with your program and get stronger.
Lunges often get a bad rap for causing or exacerbating knee pain, but they are an incredible exercise that helps to strengthen your joints and muscles and improve functional movement. In addition to increasing your strength and mobility, lunges are also extremely effective to tone and increase lean muscle in legs and glutes, common problem areas for many women. Doing lunges properly is the key to avoiding injury and pain and form is crucial in this exercise.
Lunges are another exercise that you can do with no equipment. Some prefer to wear supportive gym shoes while they perform this exercise, but it’s not required. To perform a lunge, keep your upper body straight, your shoulders back and your chin up. Keep your core tight and choose a focal point about 3-4 feet away. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Make sure your knee is not moving past your toes. While keeping your weight in your heels, push yourself back up to the starting position. You can perform a set of lunges on one leg before switching to the other, or you can alternate legs. Keeping your upper body straight and relaxed and not letting your knee extend over your toes are the two keys to a successful lunge. A variation is the backward lung, which simply involves stepping backward instead of forward, and this variation is often more comfortable for those who have knee pain.
Even with all the machines and gadgets that have come out in recent years, there is simply not a more effective exercise to tone and strengthen your upper body than the traditional push-up. Push-ups target your arms, chest, and core, and can be endlessly varied to add challenge or account for lack of upper body strength. Though they are described as upper body exercises, your core, glutes and legs still get worked in the process. Push-ups can be done anywhere, anytime, and all you’ll need is your body weight to create plenty of resistance.
To perform a push-up, place your hands firmly on the ground, directly under your shoulders and push your toes into the floor, stabilizing your lower body. Tighten your core, engage your hamstrings and glutes, and flatten your back until your entire body is in a straight line. Slowly lower your body by bending your arms at the elbow, keeping your back flat, and your eyes focused on a point 2-3 feet in front of you. Lower yourself until your chest grazes the floor, keeping your glutes down and your neck neutral. Keeping your elbows tucked close to you, slowly push yourself back up into the starting position. Though we’ve often seen push-ups performed at a frenetic pace, the most beneficial pace is slow, steady and controlled. If you’re just beginning, doing a few push-ups might be all you can handle. You can increase strength by performing additional reps with your knees on the ground.
Most people have a love-hate relationship with sit-ups. We know we should love them and we also know how beneficial they are not just to flatten our bellies, but also to strengthen our cores for overall fitness. Unfortunately, some people complain about how much the exercise bothers their neck or how they just can’t seem to get the form right. There are plenty of sit-up variations you can do to ease the strain on your neck or to pinpoint trouble spots, but we’ll focus on the traditional sit-up for this list.
One of the best things about sit-ups is that they require no equipment except possibly a mat if you will be performing the exercise on a hard surface. Begin by lying on your back on the floor or mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your fingertips behind your ears and pull your shoulder blades back so that your elbows are out to the side. Brace your abs and raise your body toward your knees, lifting your shoulder blades off the floor. Face forward and look straight without pulling your head forward or letting your chin fall to your chest. Once you’re in the sitting position, roll back to the starting position. You’ve now completed one sit-up. Try to perform as many sit-ups as you can before your core muscles become fatigued. You may start out with just 10-15 reps when you first begin training your core, but you’ll be amazed how fast you’ll progress.
Getting fit and healthy for 2017 is a lofty goal, but one that is well worth pursuing. When in shape, we feel good about the way we look and our confidence level is boosted as a result. Also, regular exercise boosts endorphins and increases blood flow, both of which help our moods and our energy levels. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to spend hundreds of dollars a month on pricey classes or equipment to reach your fitness goals. While it may seem exciting to make plans to attend the trendiest class with your friends or to set up an elaborate home gym in your house, the truth is that you will often get bored with new equipment or find excuses not to make it to the gym. Fortunately, all you need to be healthy is regular cardio that can be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood every morning, and the above ten exercises. The best news is that all of these exercises can be performed virtually anywhere and with little to no equipment.
As you increase your fitness level and start to develop a habit of regularly working out, it may be feasible to increase your goals and perhaps incorporate a fun class or challenging piece of equipment to your routine. However, the best way to achieve a goal is to start small and work up from there. When you add a healthy diet to the mix, you will quickly see results. Good luck with your fitness goals and incorporating these ten excellent exercises into your daily life.