Here we are, still in the early part of the New Year, when many people are wanting to make themselves over….not just “tone up” a body part or two, rather try to improve their overall bodies.

This is a valid approach for sure!

I could call this article “Best Bang For The Buck”… but that’s what it is really all about: getting the most out of your workouts to transform your entire body!


I want to explore the 5 best exercise movements for this goal.

The key here is to involve as much muscle as you can without losing focus or form.

We’ve all seen “combinations” of movements which blend more than one movement, but many of those actually invite poor form and the end result is diminished accordingly. Remember: “Quality of the Movement” is the most important factor with exercise. It gets you results and keeps the movement(s) safe!

First, let’s divide the human body into three parts:

Upper Body–Front

Upper Body–Rear

Lower Body

The muscles of the upper body-front contract to create a “pushing” motion. This engages the muscles of the chest, shoulders, upper arms(triceps) and also engages the abs to a degree.

The muscles of the upper body-rear contract to create a “pulling” motion. This engages the muscles of the back (lower, mid, upper), shoulders, and upper arms (biceps)

Finally, the muscles of the lower body/legs contract to create flexion/extension of the hips, and knees.

One thing you might notice is that “pushing”, “pulling”, and flexion/extension of the legs are ALL “normal” or “functional” movements which we all need to get through our daily lives and physical activities. Makes sense!

Now let’s take a look at which exercise movements will give us the most benefit.

I’ll preface this with the fact that these movements are quite traditional, quite effective, and multiple tests over the years have shown they are simply the best movements. No gimmicks, no fads, no magic……just effective movement.

The 5 Best Exercises:

Upper Body–Front:

#1: Flat/Incline Bench Press or Push Ups:

Same movement here. Feel free to include approx 20–30 degree bench incline…no more angle than that. If you don’t have equipment available, push ups are a great exercise. You’ll be able to perform more and more reps as you develop, so go for it, maxing out at 15-20 reps.

#2: Shoulder Press:

Do these seated or standing. I prefer seated so I can focus on keeping the arms traveling straight up and down without allowing the elbows to move backward while also keeping my torso from leaning back.

Upper Body–Rear:

#3: Bent-Leg Deadlift:

Use a barbell or heavy dumbbells. Keep back flat, feet slightly wide, tummy tucked in at belly button. Start from upright position, allow buttocks to move backward while bending over forward.


Allow hands to simply drop straight downward. Stop at top of kneecaps, then back up to start position. This range of motion should approach 90 degrees…that’s plenty…and it’s safe too!

This engages the lower back and muscles of the hips, legs and ankle/foot balance. Arms, shoulders, and traps are also engaged as stabilizers, so a LOT of muscle(s) involved here!

#4: Lat Pull-Down or Pull-Ups: doing pull-ups/chin-ups take us back to school PE class! Most people STILL don’t like ‘em!

Fact is: the average number of reps an adult can perform? NONE!  ZERO!… Now, with time and effort, that of course changes, but until then,  we have the seated lat pull-down using a high cable and wide bar. Use a wide palms-forward grip. Scoot forward a little so you can lean slightly backward with your chin directly under the cable pulley.

Looking upward, pull the bar toward your neck… Right under your chin (NOT toward your chest). Puff the chest upward as you pull. This will keep the abs from excessive contracting and helping.

You want the lats to contract and the mid-traps to retract simultaneously. This will properly engage the targeted back muscles and also engage the biceps.

Lower Body:

best toning exercises_2

#5: Squats or Stationary Lunges: both of these movements come out on top when comparing effective exercises for our legs.

I actually prefer stationary lunges as each leg works on it’s own when in the forward position. Either way, please descend only to approx 45-50 degrees for safety. If squatting, you CAN descend all the way down to thighs parallel to the floor but make sure the weight is light. Otherwise the partial range of motion should be plenty.

These movements engage the hips, thigh muscles, knees, and quite a bit of balance through ankles and feet…again a LOT of muscle(s) involved here.

Well there you have it. If you perform these five exercises properly, you will begin to see your body transform, and your strength and endurance improve.

Good luck!

WatchFit Experts change lives!

And they can do the same for you.


Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans