Do you find yourself asking these questions?
- How do I maximize my time in the gym?
- What are the most effective exercises to get the best results?
- What can influence my metabolism and fat burning potential the most?
These are common questions every new person thinks about when first attempting to get their butt in gear and on an exercise program to lose unwanted fat, build muscle, energy, confidence and most importantly their health. So, what are the most effective exercises and ways to maximize your time in the gym? In this article, we are going to answer just that.
Most newcomers to the gym arrive without a road map and tend to get lost very quickly. Knowing a proper order of approach is essential as well as avoiding too much time spent on things that yield very little results for our efforts.
In a nutshell, we are going to encourage you to shelf the crunches, side bends, tricep extension machines and treadmills while we encourage you to learn and perform the most effective compound movements listed and explained below. These are going to have the BIGGEST impact on calories burned, muscle (which burn calories too) and your resting metabolic rate long after the workout is done. So, let’s get into it…
Most Effective Exercise #1: Squats
Hailed by most as the king of all exercises, is the weighted squat. Learning how to squat properly is one of the most fundamental places to start if you’re trying to march towards results with an effective program.
Proper squat form requires that you keep your head up, back angled slightly forward but straight, knees traveling outward as you descend, elbows tucked and chest out. Nothing is better than this to build up your quads, hamstrings, glutes and a host of other stabilizing muscles involved with the lift.
It’s important to learn how to squat properly and to learn proper squat form if you want to keep your success coming while minimizing injuries to your joints. Form is an important part of any exercise, but it’s critical when it comes to the squat, given the loads that are often involved in the lift.
Below is a short video that highlights important coaching ques on squatting with a barbell:
Be sure to consciously contract your glutes during every repetition of the squat. This will help to ensure correct alignment of the pelvis and make sure that your hips are not left open prior to the descent.
With a broom handle, a computer and YouTube, you can learn and practice this on your own to perfect it before going under a heavy bar at the gym. In fact, you can also do this for the remaining exercises explained in this article.
Or, you can find the assistance of a good, qualified personal trainer near you to teach you.
Most Effective Exercise #2: Bench Press (or Push-Ups)
The Bench Press is a great upper body compound movement. It works your chest, front deltoids (shoulders) and triceps (back of upper arm). It’s a very effective exercise to gain upper-body strength and muscle. To avoid shoulder pain, tuck your elbows 70° when you lower the bar.
Although suitable for a small population and definitely can be done with a limited range of motion or depth, you may impinge your shoulders if your upper-arms are perpendicular to your torso coming into the bottom of a bench press. So, it is probably best you tuck your elbows 70° to bench press pain-free or avoid wear and tear on your shoulders.
Watch how to safely start, execute and finish a set of dumbbell presses below:
The flat bench press can also be done with a barbell, Click HERE to see.
If resorting to push-ups to get started, this is totally fine and also very effective. Just be sure to learn and implement good form with your push-ups!
Most Effective Exercise #3: Rows
Rowing, when done properly, is one of the best exercises to develop our mid to upper back muscles and supports a good posture. In today’s modern world full of people in chairs sitting at a desk all day, its more common than ever to see rounded thoracic regions in the upper back with weak muscles, along with atrophied (shortened) muscles in the front shoulders and chest from being in a hunched position day in and day out.
Developing a strong back gives support to prevent muscle imbalances and back pain, all while improving your posture. There are many ways one can perform a row. Whether it is using a cable machine, a dumbbell for single arm rows or a pair of TRX straps, the rules are roughly the same.
When performing a one arm row, position yourself to where your shoulders and hips are parallel to the floor and you have a slight arch in your lower back. Think to drive with your elbow to the ceiling while simultaneously emphasizing that side of your chest into the row as your elbow drives to the top.
- Round your back when rowing
- Bend, or pull with wrists (this usually flows with rounding of back)
The goal is to fully engage your lats here. Don’t make the mistake of working your traps and biceps too much here as it will take away the main emphasis, or intentions which is working those “wings” to build out that “V” taper over time!
1 arm dumbbell row performed properly here below:
Most Effective Exercise #4: Overhead Press
Few would argue the most effective shoulder exercise is the overhead press. This can be done a couple different ways including a standing or seated barbell press or, with a set of dumbbells.
Done correctly, you will develop your shoulders best and also work your triceps nicely too. Anybody looking to give a nice and rounded look to and also develop their shoulder strength should not ignore this powerhouse exercise.
Many new gym goers are challenged with this movement as they struggle to properly handle the weight. When and if using dumbbells to do an overhead press, getting the weights up and down correctly and understanding how to engage the deltoids through the peak of this exercise is key to its effectiveness over the long haul.
You can take a quick look here to see what to do and what not to do when performing the overhead dumbbell press:
One of the other alternate ways here is the standing barbell military Press, which strengthens the anterior (front) shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. The standing position requires your core muscles and hips to stabilize your upper-body as you press the weight overhead. The seated version does as well, just to a smaller degree.
When performing this exercise, it is important to keep the bar just slightly in front of your face with your elbows directly under it (not behind it) as you lower it down just below your chin. This is sometimes technically referred to as scaption, which means you are following the natural 25-30 degree angle your shoulder blade runs in.
As you press it back up, exhale as you take it above the head to fully engage your deltoids at the top of the movement.
Most Effective Exercise #5: Deadlift
The last to mention here but surely could be the first to call out, is the dead-lift. There are two primary versions of this exercise: The first one is the stiff leg aka Romanian version which the knees stay pretty tight through the movement, although there is a “soft bend”.
This version more emphasizes and works your posterior chain nicely, which includes your erector muscles in your lower back, hamstrings and glutes.
Then there is the more conventional version of the deadlift in which the user bends their knees during the movement, using their quads and the previously said muscles as the primary movers.
Secondary muscles being used in both as well are those in the forearms and upper back. In short, there is a lot of work going on here and this is a demanding movement when done right!
You can see a stiff leg version of the deadlift below:
Those choosing to perform a stiff leg version will often pull a barbell off rack that is already at hip height to start, as demonstrated in the video above.
However, more conventional deadlifts will often start with the weight on the floor. While keeping your back straight and shoulders tight, pull the bar up while engaging your glutes and hamstrings, up until you’ve locked your hips and knees. Return it to the floor by moving your hips back first and then slightly bending your knees.
To deadlift with proper form means that your lower back stays neutral. Excessively rounding your lower spine during heavy deadlifts is dangerous for your back. It squeezes your spinal discs and can cause injuries such as herniated discs.
Always deadlift with your back in a neutral position to avoid injury.
It is worth repeating again, to be sure your glutes and hamstrings are fully engaged in the movement to work your posterior chain. If you focus on engaging your glutes and hamstrings while keeping a retraction in the shoulders blades, this typically helps you stay neutral in the back and safe.
Learn, Incorporate and Be Consistent for Success!
These highly effective exercises are the foundation of every person’s exercise regimen that has earned and achieved success with their programs to become stronger, leaner and healthier. Ignoring these and just walking and doing some crunches will not have you progressing anytime fast.
These exercises may sound a bit intimidating to some but with a little help and practice you can own them and be a pro in no time!
Grind to shine,