Most Effective Strength-Training Exercises

8 Essential Strength-Training Exercises to Master

If you've been spending any time at the gym, you've probably seen (or done) more than a few sets of these strength-training moves. These exercises are trainer and fitness buff favorites for balancing and strengthening the body; they are also effective when it comes to shaping, toning, and whittling. Learn how to do these eight essential exercises in time to add them to your Summer shape-up routine!

Bridge

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The classic bridge targets the abs and butt while opening up the chest, which can need a stretch if you spend a lot of time at a desk. Add a yoga block or small ball between your knees and work your inner thighs too.

  • Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor hip-distance apart.
  • As you contract your ab and butt muscles, push your pelvis upward, away from the floor. Keep your ribs aligned with your pelvis, and make sure your knees are directly above your heels.
  • Lower your hips and pelvis to just above the floor and pause.
  • This completes one rep. Raise your hips back to the high position and repeat. Do three sets of 10.

Deadlift

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One of the most basic of weight-room moves, the deadlift is essential for correcting body imbalances and posture, as well as lifting the butt muscles.

  • Stand, holding two dumbbells (or a barbell) in front of your thighs with knuckles pointed outward, keeping your arms straight and knees slightly bent.
  • Slowly bend at your hip joint, not your waist, and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight. Make sure you keep your spine neutral with a natural low-back arch, with shoulders down. Looking forward, not at the ground, will help you avoid rounding your back.
  • Keep the weights or barbell close to your legs, almost touching them.
  • Squeeze your glutes to pull yourself up at a quicker pace than it took to bend down (for example, beginners may want to take four seconds to bend down and two seconds to pull up). Don't use your back, and do not round your spine.
  • Do three sets of 12-15 reps.

Lunge

Use lunges to increase flexibility and balance while strengthening lower-body muscles.

  • Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and chin up (pick a point to stare at in front of you so you don't keep looking down). Always engage your core.
  • Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle, not pushed out too far, and make sure your other knee doesn't touch the floor.
  • Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.

Plank

The plank can do it all — besides sculpting arms, the move challenges your balance and engages the core muscles for an extremely effective (and deceptively difficult) gym basic.

  • Start facing the floor, resting on your knees.
  • Plant your palms on the mat by your head, shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be flat; spread your fingers out wide to help support your weight and take the strain out of your wrists. Step your legs out behind you one at a time, and rest on your toes.
  • Contract your abs to prevent your butt from sticking up or sinking. Your spine should be parallel to the floor, with your abs pulling toward the ceiling.
  • Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Learn four more essential strength-training exercises.

Push-Up

The push-up is an old favorite for strengthening the upper body, but improper form can do more harm than good. Be aware of these four things as you execute a push-up: body alignment, hands, abs, and breath.

  • To start, get into a plank position (see above), making sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists and your fingers and palms are spread wide, with pressure focused in your fingertips.
  • Keep your belly button pulled in as you lower down, and keep your spine straight so your body is in a straight line. Bend your elbows outward to the sides.
  • Make sure to connect your breath with your movements — inhale as you bend your elbows and lower yourself to the ground, and exhale as you raise back up into a plank.
  • Aim for 10 or as many as you can do, and add reps as you become stronger.

Seated Russian Twist


Russian twists target the abs, especially obliques, and help with circulation and digestion while also giving your back and spine a little stretch.

  • Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your butt.
  • Lean slightly back without rounding your spine. It is really important, and difficult, to keep your back straight, so don't let it curve.
  • Place your arms straight out in front of you with one hand on top of the other. Your hands should be level with the bottom of your rib cage.
  • Pull your navel to your spine and twist slowly to the left. The movement is not large and comes from the ribs rotating, not from your arms swinging. Inhale through your center and rotate to the right. This completes one rep. Lift your feet off the ground or hold a medicine ball for a more advanced variation.
  • Do 15-20 full rotations.

Squat

The squat is one of the best functional fitness moves you can master. From picking up a load of laundry to stabilizing yourself when you lose your balance, you'll use the squat in many areas of your life.

  • Stand with your head facing forward and your chest held up and out.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Extend your hands straight out in front of you to help keep your balance.
  • Sit back and down like you're sitting into an imaginary chair. Keep your head facing forward as your upper body bends forward a bit. Rather than allowing your back to round, let your lower back arch slightly as you descend.
  • Lower down so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, with your knees over your ankles. Press your weight back into your heels.
  • Keep your body tight, and push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.
  • Do three sets of 10-15.

Superman

The Superman targets your posterior muscles to correct body imbalances by strengthening often-neglected areas of your body.

  • Lie facedown on your stomach with arms and legs extended. Keep your neck in a neutral position by looking at the ground in front of you without straining.
  • Keeping your arms and legs straight (but not locked) and torso stationary, simultaneously lift your arms and legs up toward the ceiling to form an elongated "u" shape with your body, with your back arched and arms and legs several inches off the floor.
  • Hold for two to five seconds and lower back down to complete one rep.
  • Do three sets of 12.
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