What are the Best Exercises?

Are you still using the hip extension machine to work the hamstrings (back of your thighs) and gluteus? Are you still doing endless curls to pump the arms?

This may not be the best way to get the results you want – neither in calories burnt nor in strength or muscle tone.

When you do isolated exercises either with machines or free weights you use fewer muscle groups. Multi-joint exercises “allow an intense work on a maximum number of muscle groups in a minimum time,” explains one of my favorites, Frédéric Delavier, author of “The Strength Training Anatomy Workout.”

This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your bicep curl or leg extension completely, but if you want to take your workout to the next level, have reached a plateau or simply want to get the most out of your daily gym appointment, make sure that you incorporate exercises that tackle different muscles at the same time.

Want a better posterior view?

Performing a hip extension will stress the gluteus maximus (the most “visible” one among the three muscles that compromise the gluteus) and to a lesser extent the hamstrings. However, when doing a deadlift, you work all the muscles -- from the trapezius, the abdominals, the latisumus dorsi (back muscles) to the gluteus and hamstrings.

In fact, when athletes did the deadlift, researchers noticed that not just the hamstrings got a workout but so did the the quads. And by doing the more traditional move, they predicted that they used 25 to 40 percent more energy.

The deadlift can be incorporated when working the muscles of the back, the legs or when doing a circuit-type workout addressing all major muscles. To get the most out of this move, keep it between 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets. Make sure that every reps counts and check the position of your body at all time. Proper form is a must in such a complex move.

Great Deadlift: When you deadlift, let your arms hang loose and use them simply as anchors. Do not lift with your arms. Use an overhand grip (palms facing toward you) or an alternating grip (one hand palms facing you the other with palms facing out) for heavier loads.

Step to the bar with your shins almost touching the bar, which is resting on the floor. Bend your knees to grip the bar. Keep your head and chest up, a position that helps keep the back from rounding. Tense up the entire body, keeping your butt high and knees bent. The pull goes straight up, the bar close to the body and pushing through your heels. Stand straight to finish. Don’t hyperextend your back. Keep it straight. Lower the bar in the control, keeping it close to your shins.

Want to work the arms, the back and even the chest at the same time?

A curl is certainly one of the most effective exercises to isolate the biceps when looking to add volume and definition to this muscle. However, there’s one move that only will rip up the biceps but also the back and even the chest muscles.

The reverse chin-up is a great exercise to prove how strong you are. Women – due to the less upper muscle mass when compared to men - may have a hard time doing this exercise. But if you commit to doing inverted rows and assisted chin-ups on a regular basis, you can definitely progress to do this move without help.

The reps for this exercise vary accordingly to the individual fitness level. If you’re struggling with doing this exercise, follow these tips:

a) Do as many reps as you can (even if it’s one) and finish the rest of the reps by doing assisted reverse chin-ups.

b) If you’re doing this exercise as part of your upper-body routine, do it at the beginning so the muscles are fresh.

c) Ideally, do it before working legs or cardio. This way, you’ll save strength and energy to really focus on mastering this exercise.

Great Chin ups: With your palms facing you, grip the overhead bar. Focusing on using your lats raise the top of your chest to the bar under control. Don’t let your body swing. Lower your body in control.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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