Tuesday, 18 January 2011

"What's the BEST exercise for...?"

Probably the most common question I get asked is,
"What's the BEST exercise for 'X'....?"
Let me just clarify, I HATE this question. If there was a "best" exercise for each body part, gyms would have  multiples of 5 or 6 machines and everyone would use them. So in short, there is NO "best exercise".

Another point to clarify, the best way of getting rid of a chubby stomach is NOT crunches (this is suggested by members far too often!)

As I always say, when it comes to exercise, variety is key; so, even if you found an exercise that seems to work really well for you, at some point it will need changing or adjusting.

My dislike of this question aside, you can find below my favourite couple of exercises per body part/area and reasons why.
These would be my pick of the bunch (these will probably come as no surprise to regular gym goers but a second article on alternative exercises will follow):


Bench press: Link Oldy but a goody! There's a reason that most gyms have multiple benches. The same reason that the bench press has been used in competitions and strength training programs for years. It works! One of the best ways to active a large majority of the chest muscle fibres and also gave strength and progression easily.

Variations: Incline/ fat/ decline benches. Hand with. Repetition range.

Dumbbell Flys: Link It's good to include rotation exercises in all programs as well as push/pull exercises. This encourages not only joint mobility and stability, but will also activate other muscle fibres.

Variations: Incline/ flat/ decline benches. Single hand for more of a core workout. Cables or free weights.


Pull-ups: Link Body weight exercises are often overlooked but are a great gauge of pound-for-pound strength. Pull-ups have been used in PE lessons and army training for years and are a great way of improving back strength, core stability, arm strength and grip strength. Performed correctly with a slow lowering (eccentric) phase, the chest will also benefit. Don't cut corners and carry them out with a full range of movement.

Variations: Hand grip: overhand(upper back), underhand (lower back). Grip width. Additional weight or assisted.

Bent over row: Link Until I began training people I never realised how technical and potentially dangerous this move can be. try performing it side on in a mirror, keep an eye on the technique and make sure you don't gradually stand up.

Variations: Wide grip/narrow grip. Overhand/underhand

Squats: Link Master these and the wheels will follow. Squats are very traditional and again used in strength competitions as they demonstrate true leg strength. Everyone should squat (that's aimed at me too!) Other than lunges, there aren't many exercises that will give you a full leg workout in such a functional fashion. Oh.. I've given away exercise 2...

Variation: Half squats. Sumo squats. Jump squats (advanced). Box/ sit down squats

Lunges: Link These can sometimes get a look as they have an 80's retro gym kudos at times and are often thrown into many people's comedy dance routines. However, lunges are great for improving leg strength and also offer emphasis on joint stability and core strength.

Variations: Walking. Dynamic. Elevated. Multi directional

NB: When it comes to legs, try to avoid quad extensions and leg curls machines at all costs. An 80's design that's not functional and frankly, not safe!


Military press: Link Standing shoulder press with a barbell is a great way to activate your shoulders and can be performed anywhere so no waiting around for machines necessary.

Variations: Grip width. Half range. Push press

Dumbbell lateral raises: Link A great way to target the deltoids and give men and women what I refer to as the "action man muscle". This will give attractive separation and definition between the shoulder area, chest, bicep and triceps. From one exercise you not have all of these and not just an arm and a body.

Variations: Cables. Single-arm


Crunches: LINK Performed correctly there are few exercises that will isolate your upper abs more directly and effectively. It's basic but still being used, and with good reason.

Variations: Additional weight. Timed (holding each crunch for 2-3 seconds)

Straight leg lifts: LINK Lower abs can be hard to isolate and often people with incorrect form will complain about back pain. If you can master these your entire abdominal area will get a work out with a particular emphasis on the lower region. Try to think about not using your legs and just your stomach to avoid working the hip flexors too much.

Variations: Additional weight (med ball). Twists for obliques. Half range/ full range.

As I said at the start, there is no "best exercise" and the ultimate solution is variety. However, in my opinion these moves are all great for isolating and working the desired areas.

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