Any time we talk about effective exercises, we want to get to know those movements that really give us “the best bang for our buck!”In other words, which movements are the most solid.

Let’s break the body into areas and explore which movements work best for each.

Upper Body: The body’s ability to “push” and “pull”

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By that I mean moving resistance away from us (out and up), and bringing it back toward the body (back and down). There is a third motion which is bending over then standing back upright.

Lower Body: Leg flexion and extension

 

Upper Body

Of the (6) “solid” movements, four of them are seen in the upper body, as follows:

Bench Press

This is a very basic movement that can take on different forms of strength and conditioning exercises. This can be performed lying face up on a bench, seated at a chest press machine, standing using cables or bands, and also face down on the floor (push-ups). Regardless of which form, simply perform the movement by forcing the hand-held resistance straight out in front of you, away from your chest.

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Elbows should be flared out to the sides but dropped just below shoulder level. Hands should be out as wide as the elbows, palms down. Allow hands to follow the elbow’s “arc” back and forth throughout the movement. When returning the resistance back to the body, allow the elbows to travel back to/or just past the shoulders, then stop and reverse…pushing the resistance away for the next rep.

Dead-lift

This is an excellent movement for much of the whole body in fact. It targets the lower back (spinal erectors) but when you think about it….involves the hands, arms, traps, back, hips, legs, feet too!

Begin the movement by standing straight up, holding a barbell, or dumbbells in each hand, arms hanging down on your front thighs. With the chest puffed up, looking straight ahead, allow the hips to travel backward causing you to bend over at the waist. DO NOT “ROUND” THE BACK. By allowing the hips to travel backward a little, the bar will drop straight down onto the top edge of your kneecaps.

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As it touches, stop and reverse back up to start. The upward phase is best accomplished by driving the hips back forward. The reason this involves so many muscles is that by holding the barbell in your hands, you recruit muscles in those hands, arms, shoulders, and traps. The “bending over” movement with, good posture, goes directly after the lower back and the mid back holds that good posture for a “flat” back. By performing this standing up, you recruit hips for flexion/extension, plus legs, ankles and feet for balance.

Shoulder Press

Again, this can take on different forms, but it essentially involves moving resistance overhead. It can be performed seated or standing but I prefer seated so I can concentrate fully on the deltoids without worrying about leaning backward.

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I also prefer dumbbells for this movement. Start in a seated position, good posture. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, bend the arms and bring the dumbbells up alongside your shoulders, palms forward. This is the “start”. Next, push the dumbbells upward allowing the natural “arc” slightly inward. Stop just short of locking out the elbows then reverse back down, following the same “arc” in reverse. Allow the dumbbells to lower to the ears, then reverse back up for the next rep.

As you’re performing the reps, there will be a tendency for the forearms to tip forward. This can over-stress the rotator cuff muscles so make sure your elbows don’t travel backward as you lower the dumbbells. Keep them directly under the wrists so that the forearms don’t tip forward.

Lat Pull-Down

I list this as a Lat Pull-Down but it is the same movement as a wide-grip chin-up. The problem is that most people cannot do one proper chin-up! For this discussion, we’ll limit it to the movement that most can actually do!

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Sit at a high cable station using a wide bar. Grip the bar out wide, palms forward. Now scoot forward and lean back very slightly, the look up at the cable pulley. Puffing the chest up high, pull the bar down to the underside of your chin (don’t make contact with your throat but that’s where you’re aiming). Return to start at full arm extension then repeat. One tip here: As you pull the bar toward you, there will be a tendency to aim for the chest/sternum area. That’s too low. Aim for just under the chin. Also, as the bar approaches, the abs will try to fire and “crunch” the torso forward. This is the body trying to help bring the bar downward. Resist this by simply keeping the chest puffed up and your eye on the high cable pulley.

LOWER BODY

Squats

Once again, there are several versions of this; the most common versions being “barbell across the back” or “dumbbells in hands.” Whichever you use, here are the rules:

Pretend you are trying to sit down in a chair behind you. This will force you to move the hips backward to initiate the movement. This keeps the torso as upright as possible and also keeps the knees from traveling forward past the toes…..ideally the knees will move forward to the toes but no further. Descend down to a point just past 45 degrees. Lot’s of opinion out there on just how far to descend. Answer: At 60 degrees the knee pressure is about max. Going lower will not necessarily be problematic. It’s more about going too heavy there. The 55-60 degree range of motion is fine for most. If going lower, be most careful not to overload.

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In any event, concentrate on pushing back up through the heels, not the balls of your feet. This little tip will keep you balanced and in better form.

Stationary Lunges

The best movement for the human leg in my opinion!  Start with the bar or dumbbells just like the squat listed above. Now split your stance with one foot forward, the other behind. The distance between your front heel and rear toe should be about two shoe lengths. Keep the front foot flat, the rear foot up on its toe.

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Concentrating on the front foot, descend only a few degrees then “bob” right back up to “start”. Repeat the “bobbing” motion for reps. As in the squats, the push is through the front foot heel.

Stability tip

Draw in on the belly button to firm up your torso….this will stabilize the whole body.

These movements are classified as “compound”, multiple-joint movements. They recruit quite a bit of muscle and they have been time-tested to produce tremendous results.

 

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