You know fitness matters. By being active, you can improve your physical and mental health in a myriad of ways, especially as you get older. But there are a dizzying number of workouts you could be doing – which ones should you start with?
With the help of personal trainers, we’ve determined the best exercises that suit a wide range of fitness goals. These exercises will improve your strength and endurance and benefit your long-term training journey. You can also modify it according to your fitness level and still get the same benefits. Add these expert-approved exercises to your workouts today.
The deadlift is a Compound exercise that has you lift a heavy weight off the floor bending the hips and lying back. There are many variations to choose from whether you are a beginner or an experienced weight lifter. Some variations include kettlebell deadlift, Romanian deadlift, conventional deadlift, stiff-legged deadliftsumo deadlift and trap bar (or hex bar) deadlift.
“The deadlift is a great exercise because it helps strengthen your core, back, shoulders, arm muscles, as well as your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves,” he says. John Gardner, a NASM certified personal trainer. He explains that the deadlift is an essential exercise that simultaneously stimulates the upper and lower body, allowing more muscles to be engaged at the same time. “You’re burning more calories, and you’re doing an extremely effective exercise over time,” adds Gardner. As a result of doing deadlifts, your posture will also improve because of the way it targets your muscles and shoulders.
If you’re considering deadlifting, have a personal trainer or an experienced weightlifter watch your form. A common mistake people make when doing deadlifts is squatting (and bending the knees too much) instead of hingeing at the hips. Another mistake is arching or rounding the back, instead of engaging the upper body and core muscles. This can lead to a low back injury due to the pressure it causes on your back. You also need to be careful not to extend the neck and head and must keep in a straight line.
If you have a history of chronic back problems, a spinal injury or are pregnant, it is best to consult with your doctor or personal trainer before doing this exercise.
The push-up is beneficial for building your upper body strength and targets your chest, triceps, shoulders and back. Although it is a well-known exercise, it is also what it is commonly done incorrectly – also from experienced exercises.
“The great thing about the push-up is that it can be easily modified to suit your skill level,” says Dr. Brittany Noel Robles, a certified personal trainer and OB-GYN. Some modifications include doing a push-up against the wall, or with the hands raised on an incline to make it more challenging. Once you have mastered the push-up from these angles, you can take it to the floor and practice by changing the time or your hand position.
“Everyone should include push-ups in their workout because they’re a functional exercise that translates into real-world situations,” says Robles. “Specifically, the push-up trains the functional movement model of horizontal push, or the ability to push objects away from you.”
3. Pallof presses
The Pallof press is an anti-rotation movement that limits the rotation of your spine. It is considered a core strength training exercise that can easily be done with a cable machine or a resistance band. “Your transverse abdominis, or your inner girdle, helps secure your lower back as a muscle deep in your core,” says James Shapiro, an LA-based sports performance coach. “By getting more active and getting stronger, you’ll be able to increase your strength in compound movements and increase activation in your rectus (your six-pack).”
There are variations that allow you to effectively train your heart. To perform this movement, you will need a resistance band attached to a power rack (or a sturdy base) or a cable machine with a handle set up depending on whether you will be standing or kneeling. You can do this movement lying in a staggered position, half kneeling or kneeling on the ground. If you have back problems, the Pallof press can be performed either sitting or on your back on the floor. Shapiro recommends that beginners start with a very light weight and hold the position while breathing.
4. Reverse row
The inverted row is an exercise that beginners and advanced exercisers can do to strengthen their upper back. It also improves scapular retraction, which can help prepare you to do pull-ups if your goal is to master them. Typically, the inverted row can be done using TRX suspension straps or using the bar from a barbell positioned on a rack above you while you are in an angled horizontal position. Your arms should extend fully above you, keeping your body above the floor.
“To make the inverted row more challenging, you can lower the bar, step your feet forward, raise your feet on a box or add weight,” says Chris Matsui, a certified strength conditioning specialist and USA Weights coach. . If you need a modification, I suggest walking your feet further back, lifting the bar or bending your knees.
5. Split squats
The split squat is a single leg exercise that forces you to use your core for balance. It targets your glutes, quads and hamstrings. There are also many ways to do it to make it easier or more difficult, depending on your fitness level. “It’s not a technical exercise, so it’s easier to do with fewer compensation models to worry about,” says Matsui.
The split squat can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, kettlebells or your own body weight. To make the exercise harder, you can place the back foot on an elevated surface to perform a Bulgarian split squat (another variation of the split squat) or to modify it, you can keep your foot on the floor and use your own body weight.
6. Dumbbell squat to press
The dumbbell squat to press, also known as propellant, is a compound exercise that starts in a front squat position and ends in an overhead press. This full body movement can be done with dumbbells, a barbell or kettlebells. It is a power exercise meant to be performed quickly when moving from a squat to a press.
“From a conditioning standpoint, with the right weight and the right timing, this full-body movement can really increase cardiovascular demand,” says Shinekwa Kershaw, a personal trainer at Blink Fitness. She suggests that if you have knee limitations, make sure you only squat parallel or just above them. This can also be performed as a squat sitting on a box or chair. If you have problems with overhead pressing, another option that Kershaw suggests is to do a squat to bicep curl.
The traditional squat is an important exercise because it targets the muscles in your lower body, like your glutes, quads, hamstrings, abs – even your upper body. You can load the squat with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and sandbags. “Not only is the squat a functional move that mimics everyday life like sitting and standing in a chair, it increases our anabolic hormones, and is important for the spine and heart strength,” explains Natalie Yco , the LA-based fitness trainer.
There are also different variations of squats such as squat jumps, single leg squats, back barbell squats, front squats, goblet squats, sumo squats and more. “Squats strengthen the muscle around the knee to help prevent knee injuries and can help improve flexibility while moving through a deeper range of motion,” says Yco.
If you’re new to squats and haven’t mastered the move yet, Yco suggests trying wall squats with a stability ball placed between your back and a wall. Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and back against the ball, and lower yourself into a sitting position by bending your knees to a 90-degree angle. The goal is to keep your lower back firmly against the ball. This modification takes the stress off your lower back and makes it easier to squat down.
8. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell exercises have become popular even outside the Crossfit crowd. One exercise in particular that is a favorite among fitness experts is the kettlebell swing. The total body exercise uses your hips, core, hamstrings, glutes and upper body to produce an explosive movement. It’s an excellent way to get cardio in while also strengthen your posterior chain (the back of your body).
“I love the two-handed kettlebell swing because it’s an exercise that builds total body strength and also improves your cardiovascular fitness,” says Jennifer Conroyd, an ACE certified trainer and USA Track and Field Coach. Before doing the kettlebell swing (or any other kettlebell exercise), you should have an expert with kettlebell training teach you the proper technique. Kettlebell training is all about mastering the technique first, before moving on to swing or snatch heavy kettlebells.
“It’s really a phenomenal all-in-one exercise and it’s important to focus on good posture and use your hips to generate movement,” says Conroyd. If you’re just learning to swing, she suggests modifying the movement by decreasing the weight of the kettlebell until you feel comfortable with the movement. If you have shoulder or shoulder injuries, you may not be the best candidate for kettlebell swings and you should consult with your doctor or physical therapist before trying them first.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health practitioner regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.