There is a common belief that exercise must be fancy, complicated or require special equipment. In reality, getting in amazing shape takes little equipment or time but requires intensity, proper technique and the right exercises. Too many people get confused when they look at exercise magazines or advertisements and then just give up entirely. While some new fitness trends may be beneficial, sticking to the basics can be simpler and will still get you great results. There are hundreds of exercises that though they may build a little strength, they may not give you bang for your buck. If you want to have quick, productive workouts then you need to focus on the most effective exercises.

Strength Training Basic Rules
Focus on compound exercises that hit major and multiple muscles. These build the most muscle mass and stoke your metabolic rate the best resulting in fat loss. These would be deadlifts, squats, pushups, pullups and presses. Isolation exercises should be kept to a minimum if used at all. These would include bicep curls, tricep kickbacks or pulldowns, leg extensions, cable crossovers, etc. Depending on your goals and your strength training experience, you should be completing between 2-4 sessions a week. These workouts should be ideally around 20-30 min and no more than 60 min. Studies show, working out beyond 60 min and doing excessive number of sets will lead to increased cortisol output (stress hormone), increases risk of injury and overtraining, impair immunity and will lead to diminished strength gains and fat loss. Intensity is far more important then length of time in the gym. Try to lift as heavy as possible without sacrificing form or safety. This would be around 70-80% of your 1RM (1 Rep max).

Beginner lifters should stay under 70% of their 1RM until they gain more experience. To determine your 1RM, perform the 10 RM test which is much safer then trying to do a 1RM test with a high load. Figure out what weight you can do safely for no more than 10 reps (to failure) and then simply divide by 0.75. So, if you can perform 10 reps at 200lbs on the leg press your 1RM would be 267lbs (200/0.75). Therefore, to work at around 70% of your 1RM, you could aim for about 187lbs (267 x 0.70). Every few weeks, you can increase the weight in small increments so you can keep progressing.

The following exercises need to be performed with proper technique in order to avoid injury and to be effective. You can watch youtube videos on how to perform them, but it would be best to hire a personal trainer for at least one session to show you how. It’s very easy to do these exercises incorrectly even if you have been working out for years. Even slight imbalances in your body or improper posture can cause a lot of issues/injuries down the road. Investing in a few sessions with a qualified Personal Trainer can be invaluable. If you don’t feel confident in doing a new exercise, don’t do it until you’ve been shown how by a qualified trainer. The following list is not the only exercises you can do, but it gives you a good idea of the types of exercises you should focus on or try if you never do them.

Front Squats or Goblet Squats
Single leg deadlifts
Single leg good mornings
Decline pushups
Face Pulls
Bent Over Row
Palloff Cable Press
Box Jumps

Leg extension/smith machine squats
Machine hamstring curl
Back extensions
Decline Chest Press/machine chest press
Cable Lat Row/ Lat Pulldown
Curl up/Crunches
Calf raises

So remember to not get too complex with your training and keep working at the basics. Happy training!

Great source for video demonstrations on exercises. Go under “Training” and then to “Huge Exercise Data base”.

Amanda Rode
Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor at Robin Mungall Fitness and Divine Health Studio.