Sunday, March 6, 2011

Four Basic Exercises You Should Know

There are so many machines and workouts out there that it’s easy to overlook the basics or get thoroughly confused. But no matter what muscles you are toning this week, I believe there are four basic muscle-toning exercises everyone should know. And you can do them wherever whenever with no equipment needed.

Pushups: For a lot of guys, when they start exercising, they measure how fit they are by the number of pushups they can do. For ladies, they tend to gravitate towards the cardio equipment and stay away from the “masculine-looking” exercises. But male or female, the pushup should be more than some random exercise we do.  It is a compound exercise that works out so many upper body muscles at once.

Muscles worked: Shoulders, Back, Abs, Chest, and Arms.
Proper form: Lie flat to the floor on your stomach. Lift yourself up, and balance on just your palms (palms to fingers) and your toes. Make sure your body is in a straight line from head to butt, and then from butt to toe. Some people say your whole body should be in a straight line, but we all know our lower backs and knees curve slightly. Make sure your bum isn’t sticking out, your palms are right under your shoulders, your stomach isn’t sagging toward the floor, and your elbows are close to your body. This is the upper pushup position.

To lower down, keep your elbows close to your body, and press downward keeping your body’s form. When you get low, make sure your knees are not touching the floor. It should still just be your palms and toes.

This up and down motion continuously is the proper pushup form. If you cannot do the full pushup, you can still do the pushup on your knees. Just make sure you’re not lifting and dropping your legs as you lift and drop your upper body. So if your knees are on the ground, whether your legs are raised or on the ground, just keep them fixed in one position.

Planks: If you receive Eights & Weights daily email fitness tips, you have probably heard me rave about the plank. It is another great compound exercise that does not require movement, but requires strength and endurance.

Muscles worked: Back, Abs, Arms, and Legs.
Proper form: This is basically like the upper pushup position. There are two major ways to do the plank. You can do it in the upper pushup position on your palms (see above), or do it on your elbows. If you stay on your elbows, keep your hands (the part from your elbows to your palms) on the floor facing forward. Remain in this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Lunges: From yoga to contemporary dance, many forms of workouts incorporate the lunge into their routines. And if you’ve ever done the lunge, you’d know why. It’s pretty painful (most lower body exercises are) and so you know you’re working hard while you’re doing it.

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Inner and Outer Thighs, and Quads.
Proper form: Stand with one leg forward and the other leg back. Bend both knees to a 90 degree angle. The forward knee should not bend forward past your toes, and the back knee should not touch the floor. Your legs should be angled properly, so make sure your feet and knees are not flopping to the sides. Raise your knees using strength from the toes of the back leg. Switch legs and repeat. Some people jump from one foot to another to add intensity, some do the lunges forward, and some do the lunges back. Whichever way you choose, make sure your upper body is straight, your legs aren’t wobbly, and you lift carefully to not cause knee injuries.

Squats: Oh, the squat. We’ve also created various forms of this exercise, from the frog jump to the chair squat, but the fundamentals remain the same: Your butt does not thank you while you are doing it, but thanks you after. This is another compound exercise that works more than just the butt actually. So what does it work?

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, and Quads.
Proper form: There are so many ways to do the squat. The basic squat involves keeping your feet hip-width apart, your upper body straight, and lowering your butt so that your knees are in a 90 degree angle. Again, just like the lunge, your knees should not bend forward past your toes or flop to the sides. Lower, raise, lower, and raise continuously. You can stretch your palms in front of you, keep them on your waist, or just leave them hanging. As you do the squat your feet should face forward or slightly to the outer sides, but do not completely turn them out to the sides.

Other ways to do the squat involve opening up your feet wider than hip-width apart, and touching the ground when you lower your butt. Whichever way you choose, you should feel it in your butt and your thighs.

The way to get the most out of these exercises is to keep your stomach muscles tight throughout. Don’t ever forget, you are working your abs as you are working all other parts of your body!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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