All exercises we engage in using correct form and intensity will give a benefit. Even lifting a teaspoon repeatedly is better exercise than none at all. There are however some top exercises which have the added advantage of involving several muscle groups in their execution.
Most of these exercises can be done using body-power alone, and this is one main reason why they've become all time favorites in the history of physical fitness.
The motivation to exercise comes from an inherent need for bodily exertion, and this can be based on one or several grounds. The obvious one to most of us is to improve muscular and cardiovascular strength. Other regards can be weight loss, more flexibility, sharpened athletic skills and of course, all the general health (mental and physical) enhancing factors derived from exercise.
Ideally, we should all be able to engage in a holistic training program where the purpose of the individual exercises meet our specific needs in all possible ways. This can be achieved by integrating variation in the amount of repetitions, sets, angles and intensity of all exercises in our program. With this in mind we present here 4 all-round top exercises which on their own stimulate most of the important muscles in the body. And given the choice, their execution constitutes the absolute minimum, or the starting point of any effective fitness program.
The Lunge (Lower Body)
The Lunge is a single leg compound exercise which targets most muscles in the lower part of the body. The main stress is on the Quadriceps (front of the thighs), with synergy involvement of the Gluteus maximus (buttocks) and Soleus (back part of the lower leg). It engages the Hamstrings (back of the thighs) and the Gastrocnemius (Calf) as dynamic stabilizers. The Lunge also makes use of a whole array of muscles in the core area and legs for pure stability.
A single leg exercise like the Lunge allows those with back problems to train the lower body without risking unnecessary strain. It can be performed with or without weights and with different techniques.
To perform the classical Lunge, stand balanced with feet shoulder-width apart, then step forward, landing with the heel first. The back leg straight as you stretch the calf muscle. The front knee should be at 90 degrees and directly above the toes, never further. The motion is continued until the back knee is nearly touching the ground. Return to the starting position by pressing upward with the front leg.
The Crunch (Abdominals)
Among all the different kinds of crunches, the Bicycle Crunch is one of the most efficient exercises you can do for your abdominal muscles. This move stimulates the 'six-pack' muscles of your abdomen like no other exercise. The bicycle crunch is the most effective exercise in targeting the Rectus Abdominis and the obliques, according to a study done by the American Council on Exercise.
Crunches can be done lying on your back on the floor, on a stability ball or on a bench (flat or declined). The important thing is that the legs must be lifted to an angle while executing them.
To perform the Bicycle Crunch, you must lie flat on a mat on the floor. Press your lower back to the ground and position your hands lightly on both sides of your head. Lift your knees to a 45 degree angle, and begin a bicycle pedal motion, alternating touching each opposite knee with your elbow as you twist.
The Push (Front Upper Body)
Pushing something or yourself with your hands is the best known way to target the Pectoralis Major muscles of your chest. Secondary stress is placed on the Anterior Deltoid (front shoulders) and the Triceps Brachii (at the back of your overarms).
Push-ups are the simplest and more functional form among all pushing exercises. They can be practiced anywhere, and when done properly they involve the core muscles as well. If you can't do the standard version you can start with wall or table push-ups while standing, or by supporting yourself with your knees while pushing off the ground.
Pushups are done by placing your toes on the floor with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend your arms to lower your body until your nose is about 2 inches from the floor, then push back up. You may enhance the intensity of pushups by increasing your speed, changing the distance between your hands or raising your feet higher than the level of your hands.
The Pull (Back Upper Body)
Pulling something towards your torso, or pulling yourself towards something is the way you train your Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major muscles (upper back), with secondary emphasis on the Biceps Brachii (front upper arm) and Posterior Deltoid muscles (rear shoulder).
If you have dumbbells at home this can easily be done by implementing rowing movements like the Bent-Over Row.
The Pull-Up is the king of the pulling exercises. But in order to execute it you will need something you can hang onto. The most practical device for this purpose is a fixed bar. You begin a Pull-Up with the arms extended above the head, gripping a hold. The body is pulled up, until the bar gets close or touches the upper chest. The body is then lowered until the arms are straight.
A chin-up bar is simply a smooth horizontal metal bar, often a pipe, held solidly above ground by a wooden or metal frame. The chin-up can also be performed using an inverse grip, where the palms of the hands are facing the participant (supination). This is what is commonly referred to as a chin-up. This type of grip usually places more emphasis on the intercostals and the biceps, whereas the traditional grip is more of an upper-back and latissimus dorsi exercise.
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